Updated 2012: Having used the iPad for home automation for well over a year now, the pros and cons have become more clear. The increased real estate can be put to very effective use over other controllers, and having an integrated dynamic display is useful for webcams or context sensitive information where the function of the button may change. A negative aspect I've experienced is the additional time of unlocking the iPad and waiting for a network connection (just a few seconds but still can cause you to pause). I've considered putting the iPad into 'never sleep' mode and leaving the device in a permanent state of readiness, as would be the case with a wall-controller, however or a home theater, bedroom or other location where light sensitivity would be an issue this wouldn't be an ideal solution - there may also be the issue of screen longevity, however my preliminary searches indicate it should hold up for 10 years without issue. Still, for these situations a hard-buttoned approach may seem to be a better fit. With prices coming down for used iPads, the opportunity to place dynamic whole home controllers is increasingly achievable by the day.
It seems everyone these days is concerned about reducing carbon footprint and finding ways to cut costs on energy bills. Last year Microsoft rolled out their Hohm website to assist people in making positive home weatherization and energy usage choices, and Google's PowerMeter is directly being used by power companies as a frontend interface for consumers looking to monitor their usage.
Not wanting to be left out, Apple has filed two patents related to energy consumption and monitoring. One patent titled 'Intelligent Power Monitoring' is regarding the use of computers as charging devices and discusses ways to inform users of power consumption and allow them to make changes which may reduce power grid demand. One example given is the use of a computer's USB port as a charging device for phones and such, rather than using the device's dedicated power adapter. This use increases the overall power consumption due to the requirements of the computer, and users could be informed of the potential savings as well as the optimal times of day for charging devices (non-peak periods).
The second patent deals with reducing the number of AC-to-DC converters used for electronic devices and providing additional wiring in homes which can offer DC voltage and data transmission.
With more new construction including power monitoring and low-voltage wiring as standard, we'll likely see increased activity in this area by any players with an interest (Google in collecting the data, Apple in ensuring the standards are in favor of their devices and Microsoft because they dabble in everything).
If you've been working with home automation for a while now you'll note that it's a bit of work to put a gas fireplace on your home network. It's not rocket surgery, but it requires a bit of cable running and there's always the fixed state switch vs home automation state issue (see the remote control fireplace article for more details).
Essentially, nobody in the DIY home automation space had come up with an in-wall switch to deal with low-voltage triggers until now. Control4 - which makes products based on the Zigbee protocol - released the C4-FS1-Z which provides the functionality of a dry-contact switch with an in-wall switch form factor.
Here are the specs:
350 m/W power consumption ZigBee Pro capabilities 120 VAC Available in White, Light Almond, Almond, Ivory, Brown and Black System Requirements: Control4® software release 1.8 is required to use this new product. These new models require ZigBee Pro, and cannot be used with software release 1.7.x or earlier software versions.
Let's hope that the other manufacturers (SmartLabs, Leviton et al) take notice and catch up to Control4 on this one!
In a recent commercial from Apple, an iPhone app is shown that turns on the christmas tree. A flurry of questions took over twitter and other social media sources asking what the app was and what hardware would be required to make this happen. It turns out it was the Schlage LiNK app which employs Z-Wave technology to turn the tree lights on and off.
As many of us more familiar with home automation may not think much of this mediocre display of home automation's potential, it did serve one important purpose: Awareness. Hundreds of thousands of people are now aware that things like this are possible and may very well look into the possibility of including this in their wishlist over the coming year. That, or at the very least they may not look at you so funny when you use your phone to check if the garage door is closed before going out for dinner.
Over the next two years, the North American market for home automation systems is forecast to triple, with an expected one million systems being installed in the year 2012.
One reason for this projected jump in sales is that providers of complimentary services, such as traditional security systems and broadband providers, are entering the market and are starting to offer managed home automation systems.
While this new offering likely won't appeal to the tech-savvy do-it-yourself-er, consumers overwhelmed by the perceived complexity and price tag of setting up their own home automation system will finally be able to experience the benefits that an integrated home can provide.
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group recently created a new standard that will challenge Zigbee and Z-Wave for health-care or "wellness" applications. The new standard, called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) will focus on low power consumption and quick connection initiation speeds, with a 3ms connection time. While it's possible that the standard could eventually replace infrared in remote controls, the focus of the working group was towards the expected health care monitoring applications (heart monitors via wristbands etc) with consideration for light switches and other applications where the full Bluetooth stack would be overkill.
BLE will use the same 2.4 GHz frequency spectrum as it's full fledged brother, but will be limited to a burst transfer speed of 1 MB/sec. The competing technologies such as Z-Wave and Zigbee are equally slow in transmission speeds and have a slight upper hand on energy consumption. While these other protocols use mesh topologies to connect to peers, BLE will employ a star topology which breaks free of the previous Bluetooth seven device restriction.
While the aim of the working group was to keep the costs to a minimum such that BLE could be added with a negligible difference in end-user price, we have yet to see the actual numbers for costs or power consumption.
The new standard brings the total Bluetooth variants to three, with Bluetooth High Speed, Bluetooth Low Energy and traditional Bluetooth among the repertoire for technophiles to memorize.
I’m having a bit of a hard time with an article I just read. The article discusses a new agreement being made by our government secretly and behind closed doors which will allow border guards – at their sole discretion – to search your laptops, ipods and other digital devices for any files that they think are copyright infringements. That means that all of your personal files, business files (including sensitive contracts or information) any photos or videos on your camera or iPod will be copied and viewed by any number of people every time you cross the border now – Your laptops and other devices can also be destroyed, again at the discretion of a low-level government employee. Wow.
I’m outraged on two fronts: 1. People have become very used to using their computers as diaries, having their own space organized the way that makes sense to them, and in essence providing a digital copy of our thoughts. We expect privacy for these thoughts, and why shouldn’t we? The internet is so wide and pervasive that any information that is stored locally can instantly be sent to any part of the globe, so what motivation could there possibly be to inspect a local drive – besides commercial interests, manifested in the form of a government authority. Which brings me to problem 2. That government employees, taxpayer-paid employees, who are supposed to be serving the interests of the people, are now security guards for the music and movie industry. Our taxes will be paying for their business to be profitable. Wait a minute. Talk about the slippery-slope phenomenon…If the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) goes through, it paves the way for all kinds of Orwellian scenarios.
This NEEDS to get press, people should understand the dramatic and severe impact this will have on their lives when traveling. Tell your friends, family, and anyone you know, and hopefully the public backlash will let the music and movie industry know that we won’t accept this.