Some time ago, our senior backend programmer Attila and I spoke at length about home automation. It is something that he spends a lot of time doing outside of work, and his extensive knowledge about the topic is mind-blowing. In our first home automation post, he covered the basics, and he revealed some of his own set-up along with advice on where to start in the second one.
Home automation can doubtlessly become a fantastic feature of your home. It can save you time and energy, and in that case, can even help you change your lifestyle.
In this conversation, however, I really wanted to circle in on its flaws. What happens if the system breaks? If you wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to turn on the lights? Would somebody be able to hack into your system and turn the heating off when it’s freezing outside?
Attila dived right in and even offered anecdotes of when his own home failed him.
What happens if the system breaks? In fact, how can it break? Can it become contaminated with a virus, for example?
Security is a big aspect of home automation. These systems are connected to the internet; therefore, they can be infected with a virus. However, all your smart objects can be connected to a local network with only one access point to the internet: the central hub. This is basically how I set up my own networks as well. Unfortunately, not all hubs support local control, but there is firmware that can help you work around that.
Personally, I try to create a system that keeps communication with the internet to a minimum. I have a network specifically for IoT objects, and they don’t communicate with the internet. It’s a closed, local network, and only the central hub communicates outside this network, individual objects don’t.
The hub is connected to my Wi-fi network and can connect to the internet through that. This makes it much safer.
What happens if your local network stops functioning?
Part of the system will still work. Some of the smart objects will fail as they won’t be able to communicate, but most of them will still be controllable manually. It was an express – and common-sense – request from my wife to keep all the physical switches. If, say, the sensors aren’t working, you can still turn on the lights and heating in the house by directly switching them on.
Does that mean that if the central hub dies, nothing will work?
Nothing will work automatically or remotely, no, but items will still operate as “normal”, old-school objects. You’ll just have to switch the light on and open the gate by hand.
A long time ago now, I had an issue with an SD card in my central hub: It became inaccessible, but all the data was already on the card and fed to the hub continuously. I ended up with a working system that I couldn’t amend or update.
You’re bound to have plenty of stories to tell about errors in the system.
Haha, yes, I do have a few.
Last summer, for example, we were having a barbecue with friends on the patio. As the sun went down, the system automatically closed the blinds and we couldn’t get back into the house, even though the back door leading out onto the patio was still open. The system literally locked us out.
Another time we had a campfire in the garden to cook a delicious stew in a bogracs [Hungarian for marmite]. Just as we were lighting the fire, the watering system came on in the garden as programmed. By the time I got to my phone to turn it off, the fire was already out and everyone was soaking wet.
Yet another time, my wife was home, reading on the sofa. As she was sitting very still, the sensors couldn’t detect any movement, assumed we’d left the house, and turned the heating and lights off completely.
Attila’s amusing experiences clearly show that an automated home is by no means a perfect one. They also show his infectious enthusiasm for the subjects, and it was great to find out about different systems as well as potential potholes on the road to a fully automated home.
I very much enjoyed chatting to Attila about home automation – it is a fascinating subject. He is so enthusiastic about it, and I was curious to find out all about different systems and potential issues. Is there anything you wanted to know that we didn’t cover? Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org