Home Automation technologies have remained out of reach of the mainstream consumers for a long time. The high cost and custom installer requirements have restricted them to high end homes. The multitude of technologies in this space has also been detrimental to the adoption rate. However, the rise of smartphones and tablets has suddenly brought about a big shift in the landscape.

Wi-Fi networks have become ubiquitous in almost every home now. Smart device manufacturers have realized the advantages of integrating Wi-Fi instead of ZigBee or Z-Wave in their products. Some aspects such as power consumption, range and, to some extent, cost are still not optimal with Wi-Fi. However, with silicon vendors becoming active in this market segment and work progressing well on the 802.11ah front, these will be addressed soon.

In home automation terminology, 'scenes' refer to the linking of devices in intelligent ways based on events. Simple device-based control using a mobile app opens the door. But, one also needs a central device which can perform the orchestration. This makes it necessary for specialized HA protocols to have dedicated controllers. In a pure Wi-Fi based system, I can see this orchestration running as an app on the router. For example, Netgear allows third-party developers to write apps for their routers using Java and post them in the Genie marketplace. If the HA devices have open APIs and developer documentation, creation of scenes in a pure Wi-Fi based system will probably not require a dedicated controller.

What does all this mean for the average consumer? The most important takeaway is that home automation products, particularly Wi-Fi based ones, will see an uptick in adoption. This will, in turn, fuel the development of more innovative HA devices. This will be a boon for consumers who already have a HA system in place. What about users who are starting afresh? It is very important to not get tied down with a closed system. Products such as Nest and Belkin WeMo may boast of excellent industrial design and a great feature set. However, unless they open up the APIs and access for third parties to create a common custom home automation interface, they can't be recommended. Products such as those from Radio Thermostat and Visible Energy may not have great industrial design or the marketing budget that others have. However, we can recommend them without reservations for their feature set (including the well-documented APIs for developers).

A host of Wi-Fi enabled HA products and concepts have already started capturing the attention of the consumers. Coupled with the rapid rise in Wi-Fi based home automation, the talk of an 'Internet of Things' will soon become a mainstream reality.

 

Miscellaneous Wi-Fi-Based Home Automation Devices
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  • at80eighty - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I have been poking around very recently to check out articles about this very topic, and wouldn't you know, you guys do something about it. thanks for the read.

    is this something you could be exploring as a series of articles? maybe something every few months; would love to know more in depth info esp. DIY stuff.
    Reply
  • slickr - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    How is this awesome? Its 1984 on steroids. If you don't think government isn't going to use this to spy on your 24/7 and turn you into a mindless slave then you don't know history.

    Basically what you eat, what you drink, which appliances you use, how you dress, who you with, etc... will all be public for governments or hackers to get a hold of.

    I think this is ridiculous, its bad, its negative, its Orwellian, its NAZI Germany like, its Brave new world like.
    Reply
  • Axedall - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    How exactly do you think a government would use information like this? What are you eating that would anyone would be interested in? Babies? Are you dressing yourself in radioactive waste?

    And what makes you think that this information isn't available to pretty much anyone who wants it anyway? Do you use a credit card? Do you have a bank account (other than off shore)? A membership card for any kind of store? Unless you are using cash for every transaction you make, they are all being recorded and tracked. Not likely by the government, but certainly by corporations who will use it to tailor marketing strategies.

    I'm surprised you are even using the internet. You realize that every website you visit can be tracked as well as your location don't you? Quick, better crawl back under a rock before 'they' find you!

    As an aside... great article and thanks for providing information on emerging technology like this. Maybe some coverage on security issues would be a good idea, however, as this seems to be a pretty big concern for a number people. Admittedly, if I can control electrical appliances in my house remotely from a smart phone, someone else potentially could too.
    Reply
  • rangerdavid - Sunday, October 28, 2012 - link

    The only way you can prevent this from happening is by using this tinfoil. Wrap it around your head.

    Yes, just like that, but you missed the area covering your mouth.

    There, better. :)
    Reply
  • Violated - Tuesday, September 03, 2013 - link

    Wow, I wish I would have read this last year! Slickr hit the nail on the head. I had Night Owl surveillance cameras outside my home and all new appliances and a new furnace, as well as a fully formally monitered security system. My ex while living here allowed access and set up basically a home I had no privacy, control or in reality ownership of. To make matters worse she was an especially vindictive woman and made me listen to unpeakable things via a RPC 2700/Ubuntu network she had secretly set up!!!

    I'm just finally figuring it all out, thankfully I'm still alie and can prove all the crazy things she's done.
    Reply
  • DaveLessnau - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    And I'll bet that all these Home Automation vendors will put just a bunch of effort into hardening their products so that the fine people of our society won't hack our houses and turn our lives into living nightmares.

    Right.

    Heck, they don't even harden medical devices. For that matter, they don't harden cell phones (which have turned into the core of people's lives).
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    If wifi wins the standard war anyone who has half a clue should be able to use WPA and a strong password to secure their HA systems. Granted the half clue needed to do so is a relatively high bar; but the clueless will break any other protection system too. Reply
  • k2_8191 - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Agreed.

    I will never buy such network-enabled appliances.
    I don't want to see my house flooded by hot water of a badly-designed spa :(
    Reply
  • ntspam - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    You can buy flood and freeze sensors that alert your phone. By the way you can pick and choose what you automate. Reply
  • aruisdante - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Even if vendors do nothing, it's as secure as any home WiFi network is. All you have to do is enable WPA2 and its unlikely that anyone that would care is going to be able to get into your network. Reply

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