The smart home is designed with the homeowner in mind. Homeowners want simple systems that are intuitive, ergonomic, and pleasantly integrated into the home’s décor. The smart home provides the owner with a greater ease of management and control by understanding and responding to the owner’s instructions and preferences with intelligence… even when the owner is far away.
Although science fiction has long portrayed human beings of the future living in homes that are largely run via electronic “servants”—such as Rosie the robotic maid in The Jetsons—the growing demand today for home automation has resulted from the advent of smart phones and tablet computers. These personal devices provide an already familiar, ever present interface with homeowners which has led to the perception that technology is sleek and intuitive. Our modern workhorse appliances, in a smart home, anticipate their owner’s needs, and they make life not only physically but mentally simpler.
In a smart home, sensors, controllers, and actuators work together to detect, map, and respond to stimulus. These components communicate via cable or wireless transmission to create a responsive home environment that is more secure, energy efficient, convenient, and stress-free for its owner. When necessary, the homeowner can monitor and intervene in these interactions via smart phone, tablet, or other Internet-enabled device.
Some common functions built into smart homes:
• Environmental controls—such as self-adjusting thermostats that respond to sleeping/waking times.
• Automated home-maintenance tasks—from light house-keeping, to watering plants when they’re dry, to reminding the owner it’s time to buy certain groceries.
• Responsive lighting—for example, lighting that turns itself on when people are present and turns itself off or dims when they’re not.
• Cooking—the coffee pot and microwave are only two possibilities for automation.
• Energy efficiency—opening and closing drapes, shutting off heating/cooling units when doors or windows are left open, etc. Nest Labs’ “learning” thermostats are an example of this technology.
Two of the most common and complex functions of a smart home are home security and audiovisual integration, which we’ll look at more closely.
Originally developed for the commercial and business environments, smart, automated security systems have had their technological advances adapted for home use, where they are becoming increasingly affordable. The primary features of smart home security are the ability to use very granular stimulus-response rules, as well as allow owner interaction from anywhere in the world that he or she can access the Internet.
To give an example of what is meant by “granular,” consider the familiar driveway alarm. When tripped, the alarm emits a loud noise that tells little about the nature of what tripped it. Moreover, the home owner is very limited in deciding what should trip it. Set the threshold too low, and false alarms from squirrels will become so common that all they do is annoy the neighbors. Set the threshold too high, and you have defeated the alarm’s purpose.
In contrast, a smart alarm’s possible configurations are almost limitless. It can be programmed to respond only when specific parameters are met: size of intruder (meaning that squirrel or a family pet won’t set it off), time of disturbance (the mailman always comes up the driveway at this time, so ignore those footsteps), duration of disturbance (someone passed by but didn’t linger), and so on. Better yet, the responses can be granular as well, from sending the owner a text or photo to calling 911. A sensor can also activate the home’s video-recording system (see below).
Another feature of all this granularity is that it means you do not have to be at home to receive every person who needs access, nor do you need to give one-time visitors a key. If someone is at your front door while you are at work, you can see who it is and decide immediately whether or not to grant access.
Besides external threats, smart homes are also better equipped for in-home emergencies. For example, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors—like any other sensors—can be integrated into the system, with actuators and controllers programmed to respond. Just like commercial systems, these responses can also be localized to the area where the problem has been detected, rather than causing a whole-house response.
The first facet of a smart home’s audiovisual integration is on the lighter side: you can use your system to distribute movies, music, or TV from your entertainment center anywhere in the house. Rather than lug media or components room to room, you can even enjoy your favorite video game wherever you choose.
If the difference between passive home automation and a smart house is the latter enhances the capabilities of the owner, then a principle of domotics is to provide the owner with maximum information for decision-making. That’s the second facet of audiovisual integration. Almost all the information your brain processes comes into it through your senses of sight and hearing. A smart house, therefore, has audiovisual sensors—cameras and microphones—so that the owner can see and hear everything the house “sees” and “hears.” Moreover, the home’s audiovisual components are integrated in that they are all accessible and directed from a single wireless control.
Closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) and microphones can activate either in response to a sensor or your remote command, so wherever you are—inside the premises, or 500 miles away—you can rest assured everything at home is as it should be. A CCTV may not take the place of a babysitter, but it will allow you to monitor your child’s care anytime you want reassurance while enjoying a night out. Or if your kids are older, you can make sure they’re keeping to their curfew.
Finally, anytime you need to record suspicious activity at your house, you can do that, too. Should a break-in succeed, for example, the intruder’s image can be captured and relayed to off-site storage immediately, preserving crucial evidence for the courtroom.
Smart technology and smart homes are not a passing fad. Allied Market Research projects the global smart homes and buildings industry to grow by a compound rate of almost 30 percent between now and 2020, with revenues rising to more than $35 billion. As the market expands, prices will come down and new players will jump into the business, but don’t trust this smart investment in your home’s equity to dumb luck. If you’re wondering what domotics can do for you, seek out a local installer with a proven track record and numerous testimonials from thrilled customers: SafeT Systems (865-693-0095).
This article originally appeared in the 2014 Cityview Magazine Home Automation Guide.