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What do you want to see in Home Automation?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I'm involved with a company that's producing a new cloud-based home automation platform on top of the Zigbee protocol (and a couple others, like Bluetooth 4.0). The company is still in "stealth mode" but a Kickstarter project is in the works for this month, as well as a consumer launch later this year. I'm happy to share a link or name this company if it wouldn't be considered spamming. The driving idea of the project is to 1) remove the complexity of home automation for regular consumers, and 2) embrace the developer and open hardware communities.

1. I know many of you, like myself, have spent a ton of time researching or implementing existing solutions. What are the biggest things on your wishlist?

2. I'm curious what the home theater crowd would like to see in their ideal product, either from a developer's perspective or a consumer perspective. What would you like to make your home theater do? Some examples:
  • Turn on your home theater and tune to the right channel if your favorite show is coming on, and your presence is detected in the room. Otherwise, just record it.
  • Set the volume of the music according to the ambient noise level in the room (for perfect party volume)
  • Turn on your home theater when weight is detected on the couch. Turn it off after 20 minutes of no weight being detected.

I see the current home automation offerings as broken products. They are either difficult to use, difficult to install, restrictive in which devices are compatible. No one has nailed it yet, IMO. But there's a bit of a renaissance bubbling up, and some exciting things happening in the space. Thanks for any insight -- and there's a good chance suggestions will be incorporated in the final product.
post #2 of 10
Customizable User Interface for these devices:
iOS/Android tablets/phones
PC-Mac "e-control" meaning you can use a web browser or local application that turns your computer into a control device
Handheld remote control with hard buttons and touchscreen or LCD+Buttons "soft key" area.

Control Protocols:

Communication "flexibility":

HUGEMONGOUS device data base that gets updated in almost real time as new devices hit the streets. This IMO is the single point of weakness that keeps most home automation products from becoming "plug and play consumer ready". Example...just about any remote/control system on the market can control Lutron lighting from a $10 learning remote at the drug store to multi-thousand dollar control system. But how? Spend hours on a forum learning all about it? If this is your plan then get in line behind everyone else that is already doing what you are trying to do. if you want to be ground breaking or revolutionary you need to have your software/device database constantly updated so that an end user can select his remote model in software and then select any product he could possibly own from a data base that auto-populates menu pages and builds macros. This is why harmony is popular and IMO its whats required to make a new control/automation product relevant.

Setting volume levels based on noise levels is an example of what im talking about. This can be done right now (for a long time now) with multiple products. Very cool feature seems easy enough but currently it requires a mix of products and programming to make it happen. Build a single device and the back end driver to make this as easy as clicking a radio button in software and you will have a winner. Make it so that we have to cobble together products and create a bunch of code and you are basically giving us what we have already.

I wanted to comment on the other bullet points... The example of weight on the couch is a BAD idea for automation because every time someone adjusts their ass the lights come on for 20 minutes. I personally don't care for lights being part of some other macro because real life is never as perfect as your imagined movie watching scenario. Ive seen guys make the play button turn the lights off and the pause button turn the lights on. its like a disco in there when trying to use a DVR. Tuning to a specific channel at startup is cool if you are single or always watch the same thing when you sit down. otherwise it could potentially create a level of annoyance because now "we have to wait every time we turn the damn thing on before we can select the channel we want". In other cases its very cool because if you have a "novice" user who gets stuck out in PPV land and cant figure out how to channel down from 9000 you can have "TV" start at channel 2 (or whatever) to keep them out of trouble.
post #3 of 10
If you really want to get into a mode of creating an expanding user base, figure out how to make it so your grandmother or elderly aunt can set it up and program it. There's plenty of good software on the market already, BUT even the simplest to use takes at least some programming sense to get it going. That limits it to the DIY technically oriented crowd. There would be little need for another "me too" application in the marketplace.
post #4 of 10
It's nice to see somebody is actually thinking about this.

Why has no one got home automation right? I can think of many ways but it all comes down to this...it lacks "automation" and "intelligence"

Failure #1 The Programmable Home - Pretty much every "home automation" product requires I download an app, or access the user interface and first thing I do is set my preferences. Wait a minute, so you're telling me, right out of the box, they left out the "automation". It may as well be called "Programmable Home" because that's what I'm in effect doing. Now that it's a programmable home, they've immediately lost 90% of their audience who are not "programmers". It doesn't matter how easy you make it to program, the point is most people see little value in something that doesn't "automate". Nest is a good example of a device that learns on its own with little to no setup.

Failure #2 The Wireless Home - Since we are down to 10% and targeting just the techie's who enjoy programming, the home automation products lose even more because there are too many protocols and they do not interact with each other. Do I get Zigbee, Z-Wave, WiFi, Bluetooth or a combo of them? Even if I choose all one format, I still end up with 10 apps on my smartphone and none work together. For instance, I come home and I want to listen to music, I use my remote app to turn on my stereo and start playing my favourite tunes. Now the home phone rings. Oh no, before I can answer the phone, I have to open the app or get my remote to turn down the music. Again, I lose the "automation" in home automation, and even worse, they've made my "smartphone" a truly dumb phone again. I still have to do it myself, the only thing I've gained is doing it wirelessly but it's still not "automated". Lowe's recently announced IRIS which tries to play nice with all formats, but now we move on to the next problem which I call...

Failure #3 The Backward Senses - As humans, we naturally communicate with our 5 senses but probably the top 3 are ; Hearing/Speaking, Sight, and Touch and probably in that order from most to least. But how do we interact with computers? Probably in the backwards order of Touch, Sight, and then Hearing/Speaking. So if it's backwards, then we interact with computers on their terms. As example, to communicate to a person we typically talk first if we can. Voice recognition and artificial intelligence is probably the hardest and last implementation in any device so they design them to be touch first with a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. The second example is if we want a person to recognize us, we typically will immediately once we see their face or recognize their voice. Computers on the other hand, require you to type a user name and password or touch a profile. Pretty much every computer interaction is backwards from a human interaction. You may argue that computing power wasn't capable before recently for such interaction and I completely agree. But since this is home automation let's have the computer accommodate us for once.

Failure #4 Timing is Everything - Simply, computers and people for that matter cannot read our mind so there's no point in trying...or can they? I can read my wife's mind...to a degree. For example, she comes home, I recognize her, I know what music she likes so immediately I put on her favourite album. She's going to love that I did that for her without her asking...then I get a shoe in the head. Why? Because I didn't see that she was crying. So before I do anything, I check her mood. Is she smiling or upset? Is her voice raised or calm? Also, if she comes home at 11pm, I doubt she'll be happy if I blast the stereo. There are many ways we recognize whether it's the right time to do something and we don't need to be a mind reader to do it. Shouldn't home automation be the same? If it's going to do something for me automatically, it should be smart to know when and what to do.

Failure #5 It's all about me - So let's say you've developed the coolest home automation ever, it recognizes our face, listens to our commands as we speak or gesture. understands our moods, interacts with other devices, but doesn't take into account there's more than one individual in a house, again it fails. As an example, I start watching a movie by myself and had to stop for whatever reason. Later that day I return to the couch and this time I come back with my kids and it auto resumes the movie. Oops! That movie wasn't exactly something I'd want my kids to watch so why didn't it suggest something more family oriented? Another example, I come home with my wife, I like Heavy Metal, she likes R&B, but we both don't like each other's favourite genre. We do however both usually listen to Jazz when we're together. Shouldn't the system be smart to know to play Jazz when we tell it to play music? I can go on and on, but it should take into consideration there are more than one person in a home at any one time.

There are probably other problems or issues I haven't listed here but I think you get my drift. The common failures of home automation products is companies spend a lot of time designing "what to automate" and forget that "how to automate" is actually more important and the missing piece. Why not be the Apple of Home Automation? They concentrated on the platform and API's and left the rest to others. That seemed to make them pretty successful.

Food for thought...

post #5 of 10
Not to be flippant, but all of what you said could be boiled down to: Give up, go spend your money creating something else. Little of what you indicated is really doable in any practical sense, and won't be for a very long time. Some of them are not almost impossible to due to technological limitations, but just due to practical limitations.

For instance, how is #1 going to work unless every device in the home is completely automatable without any intervention. This applies to almost nothing. Not only that, the fact that an automation system could do such a thing would be a massive security problem, because if it can then anyone who gets into your network can. If you don't have to take action to tell the automation system what you want to allow it to do, then effectively that means that anything the devices can possibly do are automatically exposed to anyone who can connect to them, without security concerns. Do you really want to chance that a hacker can blow your home theater speakers or turn off your heat in the middle of winter while you are away? It also effectively assumes that every device is on the network somehow by magic in a way that the user never had to do anything to cause to happen.

On the mood stuff, that's so far away from reality that it's not even worth worrying about. And I imagine that, much like even on the vastly simpler scale of things being driven by movement, you'd soon find that it's annoying, because not even you can really always know your own moods, much less someone else, much less a computer. It sounds reasonable that you'd want the automation system to just always do things for you automatically, but if another person did that it would drive you crazy. If other people immediately walked up to you ever time you woke up or walked into a room and started doing things that they think you want because that's what you normally do, you'd soon be screaming at them to leave you alone. It's just vastly more practical to have an automation system be a passive servant for the most part, both technologically and in terms of just not becoming a completely annoying, overly clingy roommate. Should it turn on the lights when you enter the living room? What if the windows are open? What if you are naked? How could an automation system remotely know what to do in hundreds of such detailed situations, even if it could try to learn your 'moods'?

Similarly for voice activation, it sounds cool, but it's not really as nice as it would seem. The practicalities of it mean getting a lot of hardware in place so that everywhere you need to issue commands from (pretty much everywhere) is covered by a mic that can get a sufficiently good signal at normal speaking levels, over other noise that might be going on in the room. How can you tell it to change the music is the music already blaring and making it impossible for it to tell your voice from the music in the room, for instance? Or even if the kids are just yelling and running around, or the leaf blower guy is just outside the window and you want to tell it to close the window? It will require installing mics in probably multiple places in many rooms and running them all back to a mixer. But, if you have multiple people in the house that won't work since all the noise in every room will become part of the recognition signal. So you'd probably need an input for every room, which would be a pretty heavy requirement, it would seem to me.

For #2, that's an unsolvable problem. No one is going to make every vendor of every piece of gear use the same protocol. No one can enter the automation arena unless they are wiling to deal with that fact. Unless they are so deep pocketed that they create one of every piece of gear out there, and convinece to pay them 10 times more for it than they can get it from elsewhere (since you could never build them at remotely the same scale), or the scope of what you promise to control is a specific system that they also have to install (which puts you right back into the other problem area, more or less, since they then have to figure out how to do that.)

So, anyhoo, though clearly what you say makes sense in various ways, it is equivalent to saying "don't bother" pretty much.
Edited by Dean Roddey - 8/6/12 at 2:15pm
post #6 of 10
Well, that's your opinion and you're certainly entitled to it. I didn't post to start a fight or discourage anyone, I simply meant to contribute ideas that would make a product that appeals to the masses and my thoughts why current technology doesn't do it today. Who knows, maybe someone will read it and actually be inspired to make one!

Here's my rebuttal, but please take it with the greatest respect...

#2 is certainly possible. I've worked in a systems integration company for many years and all we did was make separate devices and protocols talk to one another. Here's a link to a company doing that today in home automation...


Facial and mood recognition is not only possible, once again a pretty famous company is doing it right now...perhaps licensing their technology. Apple does it.


I'm not sure where I said security should be wide open anywhere and thus exposed to hackers. And regards to no programming, I simply meant that it should have little programming and used the Nest Thermostat as a good example. You obviously can still have complete control, but it's main selling feature is "it learns" or automates.

Finally, how do we solve the microphone problem? That's up to someone to figure out, but you can guarantee whoever does will have a great idea. smile.gif In the meantime, use your smartphone or tablet, but please hire a Human Factor Engineer and Business Analysts to design it. Too many products are designed by some tech dude which designs products for more tech dudes. And before you flame me, I'm a tech dude too, just also have experience being a regular guy on the side.

My point is, I'm encouraging the poster to think outside the box, and yes some of it is beyond current technology but as I've shown, most of it isn't. But even if it all were, I think that's the whole point of creating a new product, isn't it?

Have a great day!! All the best!

post #7 of 10
I didn't assume you were trying to start a fight, I was just pointing out that, in terms of what the guy was asking, your suggestions are mostly equivalent to "don't bother" because there's no way they'll come within a million miles of any of that. Microsoft could probably chew up a large percentage of their company value without acheiving it, much less a small startup.

And, yeh, #2 is clearly doable. That's what automation systems do, or one of the key functions that they have. They provide the centralized point of control for devices using various protocols. But, they can only do that by someone spending time telling them what needs to be done. They can't automagically do it. Effectively a lot of what integrators get paid to do is provide this integration between such disparate devices. The Nest thermostat thing is such a trivial bit of functionality that there's not really any way to extrapolate from that to the larger picture where the possible scenarios become almost infinite, and where the automation system would also have to be aware of the shortcomings of the various devices it has under it's control, not down at the low level communications realm, but at a high level. Inconsistency in functionality and capabilitiies of devices of a given type makes it hugely difficult to even come up with simple control screens that are really widely applicable, unless they are very least common denominator.

Anyway, I'm not trying to discourage the guy either, or pick a fight. I build automation systems, so I know how hard it is to do these sorts of things in a way that makes them really bullet proof, and how hard it is to have almost no configuration required to achieve a working system. It's incredibly brutal within the realities of the hardware that exists out there, and if you can't work with the hardware folks have, then you are kind of out of luck since few people will toss what they have and buy all new stuff.
post #8 of 10
The number one thing I don't want to see in a Home Automation program is cloud-based. Why would I want to invest in a new system that depends on the internet working or another company staying in bussiness?
post #9 of 10
Another problem is relying on someone elses security. If a thief wants to break into a person's house by circumventing security systems (say automated locks) that's a relatively low value reward for developing a system to acquire the passcode. If they can hack a company's servers and steal an entire database of passcodes and associated addresses, that is a much higher value target. So The consumer has to trust that the company puts a premium on security or is regulated to a high degree that forces them to adopt strict security measures. Unless the company publishes their security standards, i would be pretty skeptical, too much snake oil in the security world already.
post #10 of 10
Originally Posted by WayneDB123 View Post

The number one thing I don't want to see in a Home Automation program is cloud-based. Why would I want to invest in a new system that depends on the internet working or another company staying in bussiness?

THIS. I can appreciate the convenience of some of the cloud stuff, but am hesitant to depend on it.
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