Home Automation and the 'Internet of Things'by Ganesh T S on October 4, 2012 10:30 AM EST
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.