Attila, one of our senior back-end programmers, is very much into home automation. Last week I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about IoT, smart items, hubs and anything else to do with smart homes.
I have always been interested in home automation, read about it here and there, but Attila added so much to my knowledge with his detailed explanation. In this post, he covers the basics of home automation: what it is, what constitutes a smart object or smart item, the differences between a smart home and home automation as well as the pros and cons of open-source control solutions to manufacturer-supplied options.
Home Automation – The Basics
It is important to differentiate between a smart home and home automation. The two aren’t the same, but they are linked. A smart home is equipped with lighting, heating or electronic devices that can be controlled remotely and are connected to a network.
Smart items or smart objects are physical items that are active, networked, digital and can operate autonomously. They have existed for several years now and there are many different brands and types on the market. This means plenty of choices, but also one problem: Every brand creates its own software and controller for its smart objects. Originally there wasn’t any one platform or hub which was able to link all those objects, so you could have a smart bulb and a smart TV, for instance, but you had to controll them separately.
That’s where home automation comes in.
An automated system expects your devices to work automatically, responding to your home’s environment with little-to-no direction. For instance, with regular home control, you would turn off and adjust your home theatre’s lights when it’s movie time. But an automated system will automatically dim lights, turn on speakers, and lower blinds when you start the film.
Why should I invest in home automation?
Home automation can make your life easier. You can save time as your home does all the manual switching for you, from turning on and off the heating to lights and ventilation up to the watering system. It can save you a lot of money on energy bills for that very reason, and it has the potential to maximise your home’s security.
You can have access to home management insights and with that, you can monitor your daily habits, your energy consumption, or the food you cook or store in your fridge. With all this information, you may be able to adjust your lifestyle or the way you live.
The main point of home automation is to save its users’ time. And, of course, as it is my hobby, I tweak the system a lot, getting closer and closer to perfection.
How exactly does it work?
In order to access and operate all your linked devices, you need a control system. This can either be an open-source solution or a manufacturer-provided one.
Open-source solutions such as OpenHAB, Home Assistant, Open Motics and Domoticz, amongst others, are readily available today. They are very popular because you can customise them to suit your specific needs, and they offer infinite possibilities for programmers like me.
Instead of an open-source solution, I personally use a Loxone system, which comes from an Austrian manufacturer. I prefer the original manufacturer’s system over an open-source one because of its stability. Open-source solutions are flexible and can be tailored to your requirements, but they are sometimes unstable.
My system includes a mini server as well as a smart PLC, which I use to run my webserver. It also comes with its application and various peripherals: relays that can control lights, motors, sensors, and other smart items. Extensions are also available.
When you buy a smart object like a smart bulb or motorised blinds, do you get the software as well?
Yes, most of them come with their own software. But you need to be aware that most of these brands’ products can’t communicate with each other without a central hub. For example, you buy a Xiaomi sensor and a Tuya smart bulb, and they won’t be able to talk to each other directly. But once you configure them through a hub, they’ll be able to work together.
What happens if I buy an unknown, unnamed brand without its software?
If someone else has already integrated the same item once into a central hub, you will be able to download it from the database. It’s straightforward: you download the configuration file and run it on your hub. These central databases are compatible with most of the brands.
Home automation in action
In our next post, Attila talks in detail about his automated home and the funny situations caused by the schedules and rules he applied for his home automation. I also explain why it is better to call an expert rather than start building a system without experience in the field.
If you have any comments, ideas or personal experiences, feel free to share with us. We are curious to hear new ideas, solutions, and perspectives regarding the above. Don’t forget to follow us on our social media!
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