Wikipedia defines automation as "the use of control systems and information technologies to reduce the need for human work in the production of goods and services." And no matter how technologically behind-the-times you think you are, you likely use some form of automation every day. Typical examples of basic automation include timers on a coffee machine, remote controls, and the light in your car that goes on when you open the door.
However, when we talk about home automation and smart homes, the capabilities go quite a bit further. And instead of individual devices working independently, a smart home integrates multiple sub-systems that are all controlled by a master home automation controller. This main automation controller is like the home automation system's quarterback, receiving input from all devices around the home, issuing commands and controlling everything.
These controllers can run complex software, allowing them to execute single or multiple actions based on a variety of events. These events can come in many forms but can essentially be broken down to just two categories: timed and triggered.
Most home automation systems integrate an astronomic time clock. By knowing a home's geographic location, the astronomic time clock keeps up with changing sunrise and sunset events and syncs its clock over the Internet to remain accurate. With this feature, the home can perform tasks at specific times every day, like raising living room shades at 8 a.m., or adjust settings based on sunrise/sunset times, like turning on outside lights 15 minutes before sunset.
Triggered events are actions that the automation system executes based on something happening: a trigger. Common triggers include:
- A button press: "When I press this button, do this action."
- A door opening: "When this door opens, turn on the light."
- Motion being detected: "If there is no motion for 5 minutes, turn off this light."
- A sensor tripping: "If the temperature in this room exceeds 80 degrees, send me a text."
- Geo-fencing: "When you get a signal from my phone, turn on my favorite music and bring up the lights as I get close to home."
By combining a variety of timed and triggered events, there is almost nothing a smart home can't do. When combined with conditional logic — if this, then this, else this — the system becomes even more powerful. A possible command might be: IF I press this button, AND the time is between midnight and 5: a.m., THEN turn on light to 50%, ELSE turn on light to 90%. Machine-learning's added another layer of automation: smart thermostats learn your family's habits and adjust automatically.
"Smart homes" integrate a variety of sub-systems. The most common elements of a home automation system include:
- Turn on a single light, a group of lights or every light.
- Lights can be set to the desired level at each location.
- Smart switches/dimmers are available to control practically any kind of lighting load.
- Lighting control can be retrofitted into virtually any home.
- Replace your existing manual shades with motorized models that can respond to commands from your automation system.
HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning)
- Save energy by automatically raising or lowering temperature set points to avoid heating or cooling an empty home.
- HVAC control be retrofitted into virtually any home.
- On top of calling a monitoring company and alerting authorities, a security system can be integrated as part of a home automation system.
- Video doorbells show you who's on the porch — and record those events.
- Control your home's landscape irrigation system.
- Pre-heat your pool or spa before you get home so that the water is ready when you arrive.
- Be notified if there is some failure in your pump system so you don't return home to find your own Black Lagoon.
- Get your party started by playing your favorite music playlist in every room of the home with a single voice command.
- Be welcomed home every night with your favorite wind-down music.
With a home automation system in your home, you can perform elaborate functions from across the house or from the other side of the world via the Internet. From your mobile device, one command can disarm your alarm, lower the blinds, turn on the fireplace, dim the lights, heat the spa, and turn on some romantic music.
To learn more about having home automation system installed and turning your home into a smart home, search for a local qualified CEDIA member home technology professional near you.