How Smart Home System Works
Back in 1923, brilliant Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965) described a house as “a machine for living in” and slowly, during the 20th century, that metaphor turned into reality. First, the arrival of convenient, electric power started to strip away the drudgery from all kinds of domestic chores, including washing clothes and dishes and vacuuming the floor. Then, when transistors made electronics more affordable in the mid-20th century, appliances started to control themselves in a very limited way, using built-in sensors and programmers. But it’s only now, in the 21st century, that the vision of the fully automated, smart home is actually being realised. Thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to set up virtually any electric appliance in your home so you can control it from a web browser anywhere in the world and, before much longer, all kinds of net-connected machines will be talking to one another, running much more of our lives automatically through what’s known as the Internet of Things. Like the idea of living in a smart home? An automated future that takes care of itself? Let’s take a closer look at how it might work!
What is a smart home?
A smart home is one in which the various electric and electronic appliances are wired up to a central computer control system so they can either be switched on and off at certain times (for example, heating can be set to come on automatically at 6:00AM on winter mornings) or if certain events happen (lights can be set to come on only when a photoelectric sensor detects that it’s dark).
A plug-in Smiths time switch for controlling ordinary home appliances.
Most homes already have a certain amount of “smartness” because many appliances already contain built-in sensors or electronic controllers. Virtually all modern washing machines have programmers that make them follow a distinct series of washes, rinses and spins depending on how you set their various dials and knobs when you first switch on. If you have a natural-gas-powered central heating system, most likely you also have a thermostat on the wall that switches it on and off according to the room temperature or an electronic programmer that activates it at certain times of day whether or not you are in the house. Maybe you’re really hi-tech and you have a robotic vacuum cleaner that constantly crawls around your floors sweeping the dust?
All these things are examples of home automation, but they’re not really what we mean by a smart home. That concept takes things a step further by introducing centralised control. In the most advanced form of smart home, there’s a computer that does what you normally do yourself, it constantly monitors the state of the home and switches appliances on and off accordingly. So, for example, it monitors light levels coming through the windows and automatically raises and lowers blinds or switches the lights on at dusk. It detects movements across the floor and responds appropriately, if it knows you’re home, it switches light and music on in different rooms as you walk between them, if it knows you’re out, it sounds an intruder alarm.
How do smart homes work?
Assuming you’re not (yet) in the Bill Gates league of having a multi-million dollar smart home built from the ground up, you’ll probably be more interested in adding a bit of automation to your existing appliances with as little fuss as possible. Modestly smart homes like this range in complexity from basic systems that use a few plug-in modules and household electricity wiring to sophisticated wireless systems you can program over the Internet.
Wireless Internet System
Security is one of the biggest reasons why many people are interested in smart homes. If you’re away at work or on holiday, making your home seem lived in is a good way to deter intruders. A basic security system can turn the lights and the TV on and off at unpredictable times, but if you really want to push the boat out on security, a wireless, Net-connected system is much better such as the Securifi Almond. Effectively, it’s a smart gateway and security system with an interface you can access over the Web. With a system like this, you can hook up webcams to watch your home (or your pets), switch appliances on and off in real time, or even reprogram the whole system.
DIY Smart Homes
Lots of people like simple, off-the-shelf, plug-and-play systems: buy it, take it home, plug it in, and off you go. But plenty more of us are hobbyists, hackers, and geeks for whom the very challenge of doing something is at least as important sometimes more so than the thing we’re actually trying to do. If you’re one of these people, you’re route to a smart home is more likely to be through the hacker, maker, DIY community to link your computer to appliances around your home using a interface software like HomeSeer and a Z-Wave USB Hub plugged into your PC.
But do you really need a Smart Home?
You might think the idea of a smart home is frivolous and silly. Isn’t it lazy and indulgent to have a machine switching the lights on and off for you when you can do it perfectly easily yourself? Bear in mind, though, that many elderly and disabled people, and those with special needs, struggle with simple household tasks. Home automation could make all the difference between them being able to live happily and independently in their own home or having to move into expensive sheltered accommodation.
As the population ages, governments and medical charities are looking at home automation with increasing interest: why not use computers, robots and other technologies to provide the support that vulnerable people need to keep them happy, healthy, and independent? For example, people with dementia can have their homes fitted with automated sensors that check whether cookers have been left on or taps have been left to overflow. Elderly people prone to falling can have their homes fitted with lighting activated by motion sensors, so that if they get up in the middle of the night they’re not stumbling around dangerously in the dark. Blind people can finally buy ordinary household appliances and use one simple computer controller, programmed to suit their personal needs, to manage them all.
If you’re elderly or disabled, home automation systems like this can make all the difference to your quality of life, but they bring important benefits for the rest of us as well. Most obviously, they improve home security, comfort, and convenience. More importantly, if they incorporate energy monitors, such as thermostats, or sensors that cut the lights to unoccupied rooms, they can help you reduce household energy bills; automated systems such as Bye Bye Standby, which cut the power to appliances when they’re not being used, can dramatically reduce the energy wasted by appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, and TVs when they’re not actually being used so in turn we are all doing our bi for the environment too while saving some money for ourselves to spend on trips away or other little indulgences in life.
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