The phrase “Smart Home” is heard more and more often in recent years but the meaning behind the phrase remains quite “blurred”. It could start with transferring the operation of a water heater to a cell phone and really end up reaching the limits of our imagination. The idea of our home appliances “talking” to each other has come to stay but what they will say to each other, when and why, we have to define – either with our needs or with our imagination.
The smart home space is favored by technologies that have been produced and tested for many years in much more demanding applications such as industrial automation, internal communications (eg teleconferencing) and the security / access control of multinational companies with offices around the world. even security force operations centers where the optimal operation of all systems is critical.
The technologies and products that support these capabilities are so numerous and specialized that if one does not monitor the market daily, it is difficult as it is particularly demanding in knowledge to be integrated into a system that is at the same time simple enough to handle easily. in every moment of our daily lives and complex enough to be able to manage dozens, even hundreds of devices in a single system.
The study, consolidation and implementation of the above is called “integration” and there are now several companies that have accumulated experience from all sectors involved and have executed a variety of technologically demanding projects. The training of their specialized technicians comes not only from higher education institutions, but very often from the companies that produce the equipment themselves in an effort to offer an excellent end result, which as we will see below is a function of many factors, not only equipment.
Categories of devices
Let’s start by taking a look at the equipment by category.
Lighting in a Smart Home is not just about lighting or dimming our lights. The luminaires themselves can provide different colors but also different white temperatures (cold / hot). Our lighting can now “follow” the outside, not only in terms of brightness, but also in terms of color, thus favoring the natural rhythms of our body.
Roller shutters, awnings, curtains, pergolas and other shading solutions are now motor controlled. This allows us not only to handle them easily but also to automate their use according to our needs and environmental conditions. Proper use of awnings / curtains, etc. reduces air conditioning requirements and energy consumption. This makes the smart home energy efficient and cheaper in its daily use. It is no coincidence that a plethora of public buildings around the world use automated shading to reduce their energy requirements.
The various sensors allow our home to respond to changes in the outside world or our presence. We can measure parameters such as lighting, time, presence, temperature, humidity and whatever else you can imagine and based on these measurements all the appliances in our house will respond. From a simple thermostat, to a fully automated home that responds to your presence and your lifestyle by making sure the spaces you use have the conditions you prefer and the spaces you do not use close without having to bother.
Audio / Video
The handling of AV devices and media is increasingly passing through networks and the internet. This makes it increasingly easy to integrate these devices into the smart home. You can now watch and listen to all your favorite movies and music anywhere you want without dozens of remote controls, except for the interface you choose. This can be from your phone, a touch screen, even a unified remote control with a screen that can show you for example the artwork of the album you are listening to or information about the movie you are watching.
A security system in 2020 now has enormous potential and does not remain on alarms and cameras. Doors can be opened or locked whenever we want and at the same time maintaining the classic mode of operation so that they work even if the power goes out. Security systems can now be integrated with the rest of our home and with each other so that we can manage them centrally and in case of need we can judge in time what the danger is, where in the house it comes from (even in homes with dozens of rooms) and if actions are required to be taken automatically or notifications sent. For example, taking a photo of the attacker and sending the photo to you.
Video Conferencing has now entered our daily lives. From a simple video call, children’s lessons, to communication and coordination between public organizations. Video conferencing in the smart home is integrated with the entertainment system and we can for example if we accept a video call while watching a movie, when we accept it to pause the movie automatically, the TV source turns on the call and activates the microphone in touch our panel. Otherwise, we can see the call directly from the touchpanel while the movie is stopped and it starts automatically when the call stops. The final behavior of the system can now fit perfectly to the needs of the user.
Controllers – Where it all comes together!
The controllers are essentially the “soul” of the smart home and that is where the connections of the whole house end up so that it can function as a unified system. Even when our application requires multiple controllers, they can function as a single system. The use of multiple controllers is even indicated when the proper operation of the house is required even in case of equipment failure. Even in the extreme case where a switch or router is useless and the controllers cannot communicate with each other, your switches, sensors, lighting / shading and other subsystems will continue to operate locally. At the same time, diagnostics are offered that can either notify you of the problem, or if you select it, automatically notify the necessary technician via email.
The possibilities of “Integration”. Who communicates with whom and why
Whether you are the person who wants to control everything, or you want the desired result with minimal contact with technology, it is certain that you will be in the place where one device must communicate with the other. Rather than picking up your awnings due to strong winds, turning on your decorative lighting when daylight falls or your projector lift and the screen go down when you choose to watch a movie, what Smart Home smart does is harmonized communication between devices. Where can this go?
Because it is really impossible to limit the possibilities, it is better to see it as events (things that enter our system) and actions (things that leave our system). For example, if we press a button or a sensor sees us, these are events. Turning on a light or closing a curtain is action.
Events can be chronological. For example, we can turn on or off lights or turn down the volume depending on the time of day or the position of the sun on the horizon (astronomical clock). In this way we can adapt the environment of our home to our daily schedule. The water heater can be waiting for us with hot water when we return from work or the gym, our lights can change color temperature to mimic natural light and help our circadian rhythm or light by dimming too late to wake us up in a natural way. In a similar way,
Events from sensors
But the control of our devices can also be determined by a variety of sensors. In the same way that we can turn on a light from a presence sensor, we can turn off your entertainment system if you are away from the space for a period of time that you specify. In fact, in combination with time events, this behavior can be different during the day and different at night. With the same example we used above, your lighting could change when the presence sensor sees you only at night or even in combination with a light sensor when the lighting is low – regardless of the time. Or imagine falling asleep while watching a movie and going to bed leaving all your equipment on.
Sensor could even be considered a button. Imagine for example that you have an external gateway and one or more internal inputs, each with its own intercom. It is now possible to have different sounds for each entrance with different volume depending on the time and / or space, to make automatic video switching so that your interface shows the video of the intercom that rang and if the volume in the entertainment area you are on is up from a certain limit, to lower it temporarily or to mute it and press pause!
Since we are now talking about information and not just devices and because we live in an age where the transmission of information is easier and faster than ever, nothing stops us from seeing or even operating and supervising our home while we we are missing. Telemetry and remote control are now commonplace. This way we can see if we forgot to turn on the water heater (or any other device) and turn it off without having to go home or even lock our door. You can really leave your home as it is and go on vacation, and with the push of a button while you are on the road to get your home on vacation. To close shutters, to gather awnings, to turn off all the lights (or whichever you choose), to lock the doors, turn off all TVs and turn off all audio systems. When you return you can restore your home exactly what you want by pressing the same button.
How is the quality of integration judged?
The connections and protocols are really countless and change daily, while a home is something stable and permanent. At the same time, this complexity should not be transferred to the user because it “destroys” the user experience. This creates the need for companies that no longer simply undertake the sale and installation of devices, but a complete package that starts with the study of your needs and can end up with technical support 24 hours a day.
A “good” integrator must first of all be a well-trained partner, but at the same time he must be someone you can trust enough to guide you in your choices, explain what lies behind the marketing terms and execute installation and maintenance work inside your space keeping the disturbance to the “absolute minimum”. So it focuses more on providing high quality services and less on selling equipment. The “bad” integrator, on the other hand, is the one that focuses more on equipment sales and less on their services and quality.
Of course, the quality and capabilities of the equipment are extremely important and the market is “what you pay you get”, but if the quality of installation and programming is low, then the best equipment you can buy may end up cumbersome or even dysfunctional.
Smart Home is not a change in our lifestyle. It is our way of life in a technological environment that can now meet even our most “irrational” desires. For this reason it is what we want it to be and there are now companies with know-how to be able to help us throughout our journey. From initial consulting support, system design and user experience (UX), infrastructure installation and long-term technical support.