So I’m almost done with the construction of my new home, it has been 2 years of actual construction and 2 years of planning. Overall, I am very happy with the results. High on my list was to design and install a complete home automation system in the house. I wanted to develop a system that is both cost effective and robust enough to expand over time. Most proprietary systems like Crestron and AMX are tailored to the ultra rich and for the non-tech savvy folks. I’m a geek, so I want a system that exposes every little hook so I can do whatever I want. I don’t want to be charged more money if I want to add a feature. My goal is really simple. There is no need to automate a toaster or have a TV screen built into my refrigerator. I believe a “smart home” should be just that. Smart. It should be bright enough to know when I’m in proximity. Lets say I pull into my driveway and open the garage door at 10pm. The house should turn on the lights leading to my bedroom at 45% brightness. If I turn lights on after midnight, to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom, the switches should know to only turn the lights on 25%, as I don’t want to be fully awakened. Heating and cooling should be zoned and controlled via the panels and remotely using a telephone (dial-tone controlled and/or HTTP). The audio and video should be able to be distributed and controlled in any room of the house. There shouldn’t ever be a need to buy multiple DVD players for each room. A video server will play a major part in the house. The idea is to keep the system simple enough so it’s easy to control and smart enough that you never really need to touch it.
Our lives are very cyclical. Think about it. We wake up around the same time Monday thru Friday. We come home around the same time. Weekends are maybe different, but typically follow a regular schedule. Maybe some weekends you wake up Saturday morning, walk to the local coffee shop, then return home and watch a movie. A good system should be able to learn. A good system should be able to adapt. I never want to have to touch a light switch (or panel) unless I want to manually override them, like to set a particular mood.
I could go on for hours discussing my ultimate vision of the perfect home automation solution, but that’s not the point of this post. I’d like to show my current attempt at home automation. I decided to build it using the Microsoft .NET platform. I have to give props to Microsoft for developing a platform that is so easy to build a product around. The beauty of the platform is that one can write programs easily for both the PocketPC and Windows realm. It’s a very, very powerful architecture. Now, when it’s coupled with Macromedia Flash for the UI layer, one can design clean and reusable interfaces that keep a consistent look and feel across devices.
My first step was to see how hard it was to write a program for the PocketPC platform. Since my next phone will be a based on this platform, and since the Flash Player 6 is available on the PocketPC, I decided to design an architecture that embeds my Flash UI on top a native PocketPC application. I used an old Toshiba e740 with built-in WiFi to test my prototype on. The UI was easy to port over to the PocketPC because I already had a full screen version of the Flash UI (the house will have two 10″ airpanels, one 15″ airpanel, and a 15″ in-wall touchscreen). That is one of the main benefits with using Flash as the UI layer. It is easy to scale and position the elements for display on different size panels. All of these panels will have the same full control of the house and will be on a closed network. When I am near my house, the PocketPC phone will notice when my wireless network is available. The application sends out a UDP message, much like the uPnP discovery model and handshakes with my home automation server. Looking for certain credentials. I can even lock it to my phone’s serial number. Once everything is good to go, it will launch and display the Grouse Control Center application (pictured above). I will then need to enter an authorization code which is encrypted and sent back to the controller. Once authenticated, I will have control of certain elements of the home. Elements like cameras, security system, lighting, climate, audio/video, and system status/alerts.
The hardest part is finding the time to complete the whole system. But, this is something I have thought long and hard about and with technology getting more accessible, I will be able to expand it as I see fit. Something I feel I could never do with a Crestron or AMX controller… certainly not for the same price.
When I get closer to finishing the system, I’ll post my complete vision to home automation and if I successfully achieved what I wanted to. Heck, I might get sick of the whole thing and go back to standard toggle light switches and an old-school rotary dial thermostat.