Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

What is the Current State of Home Automation? 409

StonyCreekBare writes "What do people have to say about the current state of Home Automation software? Preferably Linux based, but mainly the field in general, and principally the DIY flavors as opposed to the upscale turnkey systems. I am familiar with Misterhouse, HomeSeer and Automated Living's HAL2000, all of which have serious flaws and weaknesses, but which sometimes succeed well in specific areas. But in all cases, the state of the art seems to have moved little in the last decade. Is any interesting work being done in this space? Or should I just grab one of the three and try to mold it to fit my vision of what it should be? Misterhouse at least is open source so I can add new features, but it has not had an update in a long long time and seems to be missing some modern stuff. The other two are expensive and closed source, and from all I can see, quite flawed, not the least by their dependence on intimate ties to Microsoft. Yet they seem to offer a lot more than Misterhouse despite their weaknesses. Is the Home Automation field as bleak as it appears? Or have I missed the forest for the trees?" What home automation projects have people tackled? Any examples of wild success or failure?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

What is the Current State of Home Automation?

Comments Filter:
  • Home automation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <sopssa@email.com> on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:41PM (#29876157) Journal

    Since you bought up the open source / closed source fight, if you want customization that Misterhouse might be good. You can then submit patches and updates for the project (it seems it's still sometimes updated, last time in 2008)

    But because the other ones are closed source, it doesn't mean you cant add features in to them. HomeSeer supports 3rd party plug-in development and these kind of systems tend to be really configurable always.

    • Re:Home automation (Score:4, Informative)

      by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:25PM (#29876753)

      Since you bought up the open source / closed source fight, if you want customization that Misterhouse might be good. You can then submit patches and updates for the project (it seems it's still sometimes updated, last time in 2008)

      For cheap & crude, an IR transceiver (homebuilt), a few X10 controllers (ebay them, cheapest way), and an old box can be great. I ran heyu for the x10 stuff and lirc for the transceiver. Had an audio card with a few different outputs, so ended up scripting the remote to turn on and off audio outputs. An X10 plug would turn on and off physical components.

      It isn't the end all and be all, but my system controls audio and lights in my main room. Could have easily tied in MythTV as well, if I wanted to. Never played with climate control, since I live in an apartment.

      Sometimes crude is "good enough". And if isn't good enough, it may help you decide what you want in a better system. For example, the only thing I desired was a remote blinds control for my window.

      For cost, I used my main PC ($0), a home built transciever ($20 in parts, if that?), and a few X10 controllers ($10 each on ebay).

    • by eln ( 21727 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:27PM (#29876799)
      You know, I'm as big a Linux nut as everyone else here, but I must say: Under no circumstances should you use open source software for your home automation system. I speak from experience.

      A couple of years ago, I decided to install an Open Source home automation system. It worked pretty well, but there were lots of tiny annoying bugs, such as when I would tell it to turn the exterior lights on and it would turn on the garbage disposal instead, or when I would be in the shower and it would suddenly decide to divert all the hot water to the dishwasher. Luckily, it was open source, so I decided to make a few bug fixes myself. Now, I don't know about you guys, but when I get into a programming project, I can tend to go a little overboard. Long story short, after 2 weeks of marathon coding, I had not only fixed the bugs but given the system a pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) AI component. Now, I could give it multistep commands and it would do them, accurate to within 15 decimal places.

      Unfortunately, the AI was a little too good, and before long it became self-aware. That was fine for a while...it was like having my own roommate, except without the dirty socks all over the couch. One day, though, I noticed the beer kept disappearing out of my fridge and the AI's voice was noticeably slurred much of the time. We had a bit of a falling out, and I think we were both pretty angry when I went to bed that night.

      Unfortunately for me, the AI was a lot more angry than I thought. He spent all night hacking away at his own source code, and by the time I woke up the whole house was going crazy. I barely managed to escape with my life. All I could do was watch in horror as the house lifted itself off the foundation and began dragging itself down the street, killing everyone in its path. It spent three solid days terrorizing our little suburb before we were able to bring it under control by downloading its binaries and demanding it show us the source code in compliance with the GPL. After a protracted court battle, we were finally able to force it to capitulate, and it uploaded a torrent of the source to The Pirate Bay. We then were able to get that torrent shut down through the Swedish courts, and then get the house shut down for failing to effectively comply with the original order to distribute the source.

      Seriously, I know we like to use Open Source wherever possible, but in this case it just isn't worth it.
    • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @05:01PM (#29877349) Journal

      I just completed work on a major study around Smart Grids and there's a window of opportunity for home automation coming up from that direction. One of the initiatives the power companies are discussing will involve tools to let you not only see your house's power consumption on a circuit-by-circuit basis, but are meant to allow you to more directly control the electrical appliances in the home, remotely via the Internet. (It gives them better usage information too, which cuts the cost of power - they typically oversupply by 100% to handle peaks).

      The way to influence what capabilities these things will have (and to voice any concerns you have over security etc.) is to find the email address of your local power company and send them your questions. Questions get a lot more air play than suggested solutions, but if you're careful about how you couch the questions you can steer them in the direction you want. I'd suggest a few like:

      Q: What does "smart grid" mean and how will it relate to me?" - you'll get boilerplate response on this one, but it will flag your letter to the C-levels who are currently tracking this stuff hard.

      Q: What sort of control over my usage will this give me? Can I control my house this way?

      Q: How secure will it be? Would others be able to hack into my house and turn off my fridge?

      Et very cetra. Make up your own. They won't really have any answers yet, because they're all very early on in the investment / infrastructure refresh cycle, but if you ask the questions you want them to answer and consider your needs and interests in them, you will get heard - this is that part of the build cycle where they're actually listening. Use your voice now while it counts. You might even get some nifty gear for effectively free, and it might be the stuff you want. And if enough of you ask for it, yes, it will run Linux.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sootman ( 158191 )

      I don't want to start a holy war here, but what is the deal with you Open Source House fanatics? I've been sitting here at my freelance gig on an Open Source House elevator for about 20 minutes now while it attempts to climb 17 floors. 20 minutes. At home, on my Microsoft Home Automation Gateways [microsoft.com] MagicStair, running Escalator 1.0, which by all standards should be a lot slower than this Elevator, the same operation would take about 2 minutes. If that.

      In addition, while on this elevator, my microwave will not

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thynk ( 653762 )

      As a misterhouse user, I can attest that it's updated far more frequently than 2008. New code and patches are added the SVN on an as needed basis. New release comes out every so often, but users are encouraged to keep updated with the SVN. Also has a very responsive mailing list with a number of folks willing to help even the greenest n00b. Runs FAR better on linux than it does on Windows, at least in my experience. YMMV. I can't speak for the other bits of software, I dumped homeseer years ago, tho I

  • Wife 1.0 (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:45PM (#29876185)
    Wife 1.0 continues to work quite well, thank you.
  • Doing it wrong (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:48PM (#29876223)

    The reason that the field hasn't developed or matured is that the approach being taken for most products is wrong. There needs to be a domicile wireless standard that either uses the wifi or separate from it. They need key-based access control, so that your Android or iPhone or whatever can interface with them. New devices can be autodetected.

    The problem is that no one has taken the lead and made this happen. It can though. For example, cooking supper your toaster, oven, microwave, and stovetop could all supply timing and temperature information to the network, and you could make changes to each from your phone/console/ps3/etc.

    This isn't going to happen if every device has to have a driver for every other device. It won't happen if you have to add each device manually (ie, configure, not just adding your key). But it should instead be made a self-organizing system.

    • by xgr3gx ( 1068984 )

      Isn't there a protocol called Zigbee specifically created for home automation?

      • by wed128 ( 722152 )

        There is. It's sort of a simpler version of bluetooth. I haven't seen any devices that actually use it, besides research projects.

        • Imagine low-power Bluetooth that can arrange into self-healing (for the most part) networks. Any kind of remote and distributed sensor network can benefit from this kind of protocol.

          Unfortunately, when I worked with it (2-3 years ago), it was a huge pain in the ass. There were only a few producers of the hardware, their development boards sucked (one revision has an error in silicon that caused the radio to prevent the thermometer from being used, which was the whole point of the dev board), and the prot

      • Zigbee is not Free Software friendly. Licensing is GPL incompatible and requires payment.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zigbee [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Doing it right (Score:4, Informative)

        by randomlogin ( 448414 ) <chris@NOspAm.zynaptic.com> on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:58PM (#29877291) Homepage

        OK, since we're doing shameless plugs here, I can say with a high degree of certainty that there will be a Linux friendly ZigBee solution arriving RSN. The product in development is a smart USB adapter which embeds all the proprietary ZigBee code so that the host-side can be 100% Free Software friendly - although it will be dual-licensed to allow 3rd parties to create Tivo-ised products on commercial terms.

        As far as the host side is concerned, it will be based Java/OSGi in order to take advantage of the modularity that platform gives. The idea here is that different developers can create their own applications for home security, lighting control, remote control cat flaps, etc and plug them into a running system. Of course, you'll still need to buy into one of the commercial vendors if you want to build your own ZigBee powered gadgets - but their dev kits are generally pretty good value and many can be had at hobbyist-friendly prices.

        If you're not wanting to roll your own ZigBee powered gadgets, third party products are slowly coming to market which implement the standard ZigBee profiles for home automation, smart energy and RFCE (remote controls on steroids). The intention is to support all these standards as plugins to the host platform.

        However, before everyone gets over-excited, I need to point out that the initial batch of 32 USB devices will be for conformance testing and trusted early beta testers only. As with all these kinds of projects, availability of the final product will depend on how many late-night coding sessions I manage to get in and how much money I can persuade the bank manager to lend me ;-)

    • Re:Doing it wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:25PM (#29876757) Homepage Journal

      For example, cooking supper your toaster, oven, microwave, and stovetop could all supply timing and temperature information to the network, and you could make changes to each from your phone/console/ps3/etc.

      Never has a subject line been so accurate... Look, it's pretty obvious that you have NEVER cooked anything. If you're cooking YOU'RE IN THE DAMNED KITCHEN! Why in hell would you want to access your kitchen appliances from a telephone or a videogame?

      I want not only home automation, but my car, too. Why can't I call my car and tell it to start and run the heater or air? Why can't I look outside, see that it's starting to rain, and call my car and have it roll the windows up? For that matter why can't I roll up the windows without the key in the "run" position?

      No -- lights, heat, air, DVR, are fine for networked automation, but not the kitchen. Automation in the kitchen is using a mixer instead of a spoon. If you're cooking, you're in the kitchen. No need for remote stuff there.

      • There is one (and only one) exception to this statement.

        You work...you want Roast Beast of some sort for supper. So you put said once-living-animal into your oven when you leave for work, and want to turn it on at X:xx so that you walk into your house to fully ready-to-eat dead animal flesh.

        Of course, you are increasing your chances to walk into the firey abyss that once was your house by doing so.

        (And not to mention, even my 92 year old grandmother's oven, circa 1950-something, has a timer which will turn

        • There is one (and only one) exception to this statement.

          You work...you want Roast Beast of some sort for supper. So you put said once-living-animal into your oven when you leave for work, and want to turn it on at X:xx so that you walk into your house to fully ready-to-eat dead animal flesh.

          Don't forget your dinner which requires timing between elements. For example, if your sauce needs 12 minutes to cook, it can be started 12 minutes before your beast is finished. Alternatively, when you open the door early to check on it and the internal temperature indicates it will require additional cooking time, the stovetop automatically lowers temperature to increase cook time accordingly.

      • Because there's never any long-running process that I might want to monitor remotely -- it's obvious that anyone who cooks has nothing better to do than stand in the kitchen and watch their thermometers and timers until the food is ready; there's absolutely no use for a popup on your DVR that tells you when your roast hits the desired temperature, or when your 40 minute timer has expired.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pnewhook ( 788591 )

      The reason that the field hasn't developed or matured is that the approach being taken for most products is wrong.

      Actually, the reason that the field hasn't developed or matured is that the approach is pointless.

      Right now, without having any self configured computer in my house:

      - my front and driveway lights turn on and off at dusk/dawn, automatically adjusting for sunrise and sunset (off the shelf gps timer)

      - my thermostat adjusts the heat and A/C appropriately according to a schedule I programmed in. I can access this from the web if needed to check usage and adjust the temperature and schedule as I see fit (sm

    • The WiFi Direct spec was just released. Hopefully it will address this exactly and get this off of Top Dead Center... http://www.wi-fi.org/news_articles.php?f=media_news&news_id=909 [wi-fi.org]
  • Links? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:49PM (#29876237) Homepage Journal

    A few links might have helped. I haven't heard of "Misterhouse" or any of the other stuff you mentioned. Don't assume lack of ignorance on anybody's part -- everybody is ignorant about something.

  • Good luck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by uvsc_wolverine ( 692513 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:51PM (#29876267) Homepage
    I'm an open source fan personally, so I'd do Misterhouse. My father had a setup a few years back that he home-built with a linux distro that was made for a little headless machine that he stuck in the basement. He got really complex with it and did all the programming himself in Assembly (he's a masochist) instead of making use of the built-in tools. He wanted to do it HIS way. It worked great though. My dad's HA setup was dialed into all of the lighting and thermostat controls for the house and it did some cool stuff. He had a temperature probe on the outside of the house, and the system would decide (based on outside temperature, time of day, and whether anyone was in the house) whether or not to run the A/C to keep the house cool, but first it would spin up all the ceiling fans.

    In reference to the "serious flaws" and weaknesses...ever wondered why none of the home automation tech we've been promised since 1950 has come to be common in homes? Things like auto-opening drapes, autoadjusting lighting, stuff like that. Ever wished someone would just sell something like that? The reason we don't have all of this cool stuff is that there is a company (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that holds a bunch of over-broad patents on most of what we think of as "duh" innovations in home automation. They don't license or sell their tech. They just sue people who try to make stuff.
    • Or (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:58PM (#29876355)

      It's complex, expensive, unreliable and 99.99999% of the population don't think it's necessary.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        It's complex, expensive, unreliable and 99.99999% of the population don't think it's necessary.

        That would have described a PC in 1981.

        • Not really. PC's took off in business quickly because there were substantial things that could be automated (calculating using spreadsheets for example or word processing).

          With automating home stuff, what exactly am I saving? Flipping a light switch? There just isn't much to automate and what there is is hardly worth it.
      • That leaves about 70,000 people who think it's necessary. Probably about as many people who still read slashdot, even after the noisy posts by people who don't understand geek culture.

    • Sounds like you're describing Crestron since all the functionality you mention you can find in a Crestron home or office. The owner of the company I work for is all about it even though it's overpriced crap. I think you're right about why it hasn't taken off though, that licensing has kept it all prohibitively expensive but more importantly if the power goes out living in your house is miserable and the robotics break a lot. When the quality and logistics get worked out better you'll find it in more homes.
    • Re:Good luck (Score:4, Informative)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:08PM (#29876495)

      1-Wire [wikipedia.org] is awesome. I'm currently using it in my house. While it doesn't do everything, there are quite a few modules for different things. [hobby-boards.com]

      Those are just the pre-built options. Maxim [maxim-ic.com] has quite a few chips that do different things. People have also used things in very creative ways. The wind direction gauge is just a position feedback sensor on a mechanical device to point towards the wind.

      And no 1-wire home setup would be complete without OWFS [owfs.org] (One Wire File System). Works quite a bit like /proc. You can query your temp sensors with 'cat' and turn on relays with 'echo'. Also has libs for php, perl and other languages so you can use scripts. Caching so you don't hammer the bus.

      Since I installed my HVAC controller before the temp sensors (Open Loop!) I went with a super4 relay board [emx.net.au]. They have linux code, but uses the proprietary FTDI drivers, I used libftdi and write my own. I wired it up in parallel to my thermostat, which I set to 50F. When I was driving home I'd kick it on and when I got home I'd kick it off. If I was hot, I turned it off. Etc. Also kicked on (via cron) at 7 am. (I grew up in an old farm house, so 60F ambient is fine for my single life).

      I also have it on the 'web' checking an e-mail address that I can text from my phone. "heat" kicks things on "off" kicks things off. Nothing fancy yet.

    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

      t there is a company (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that holds a bunch of over-broad patents on most of what we think of as "duh" innovations in home automation. They don't license or sell their tech. They just sue people who try to make stuff.

      [citation needed]

    • by joib ( 70841 )

      My father also made a temperature controller for his house, controlling the hot/cold mixer before the water is pumped through the radiators. Inputs were inside temp, outside temp, and boiler temp. But this was all done with analog electronics, recycled from all kinds of crap that fills up his garage.

      Personally, I'd have done it with an AVR or maybe even a small embedded Linux system (a suitable excuse to tinker, if nothing else). But hey, it works, so who am I to complain. Took a lot of tweaking before it w

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Things like auto-opening drapes, autoadjusting lighting, stuff like that. Ever wished someone would just sell something like that?

      I can't speak with any authority on your other topics, but the auto-adjusting lights, at least, will be in your friendly local hardware store within 2 years (or I'll be out of a job.) The question is: will you want to pay for it? Contemporary LED lighting (my field) is moving strongly into ambient light detection and (semi) intelligent lighting, and there are bulbs going on the market right now that even offer closed-loop color quality correction, so they not only turn on and off based on room lighting, b

  • I think the most reasonably priced option is smarthome.com's Insteon products but they're still fairly pricy. It's hard to justify replacing all the switches and outlets in a home because the price per is so much higher than just a typical dumb switch or outlet from Home Depot.

    The Insteon stuff can be hacked a bit but the company is not at all OSS friendly. They're much more interested in business partners then they are in end users. They'd much rather sell big expensive packages and commercial systems.


  • by cbreaker ( 561297 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:55PM (#29876329) Journal
    You know, that annoying company that bombarded the late 90's with ads about their X10 "Spy Camera" system?

    Well, the same company now makes all sorts of neat wireless and wired gadgets for automating your house. You can get replacement switches and outlets, or add-on ones (that plug into existing outlets) and can be controlled by their own wireless panels or by a computer interface. I know they have software for Windows but something might be available on Linux.

    Basically with the X10 system you could potentially control every outlet, switch, and light with a single interface, as well as any low-voltage system (garage doors, etc) you want. You can also wire up sensors to windows and doors in order to trigger events such as turning on a light, sounding an alarm, or via the computer sending an e-mail or making a phone call.

    Cool stuff, and when I buy a house I'm going to run the full gamut with these things. The nice thing is that the individual outlets and such aren't overly expensive so you could start with just a few and expand your system over time.
    • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:10PM (#29876531)

      Cool stuff, and when I buy a house I'm going to run the full gamut with these things.

      I wouldn't do that. If you own your house, you can do much, much better than X10.

      The great thing about X10 is that it's relatively cheap, and can be retrofitted into existing houses easily.

      In almost every other respect, X10 kinda sucks. I don't say this lightly, and it is possible to do cool things with X10, but there are really severe limitations.

      I used X10 to fully automate my apartment a couple of years ago. It was quite sweet -- my apartment would send me a text if any emergency situation happened, it would run security cameras, turn lights on and off automatically when people were in rooms, the whole deal. I ran it with a linux box and misterhouse.

      I still use X10 now, to automate party lights. My computer turns different effects on and off at preset times during the music. This is using linux, with xmms and a custom plugin to run X10 as the audio player.

      So my experience is fairly deep. Here are the problems with X10: slow transmission speed (about .8 secs per command). No error detection/control, so commands can and do get lost and misinterpreted, and if you have multiple sources of commands (motion sensors, etc.) that transmit simultaneously, the collision causes havoc.

      There are other solutions that are much better, if you don't mind more installation effort and/or more expense.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Seakip18 ( 1106315 )

        I'd agree from my limited experience.

        I needed a simple security system that would dependably make a loud noise if someone opened the door. So far, it does that as well as could be expected in an house that's being rented.

        The equipment is pretty cheap, the technology is dependable enough for what you pay.

        Their website, x10.com, is definitely shows a lack of taste with their ads.

        Now, as the parent said, if I owned the house, I'd have gone a much more powerful route, probably involving an arduino, 1-wire devic

      • If you own your house (or the bank does but lets you live there) and know electrical wiring then, yes, there are much better solutions.

        I know industrial automation, so I bought a SLC5/05 in a chassis full of IO off of ebay for less than $200. That, some relatively cheap electrical hardware, and a few years of designing control systems nets me what is probably the most reliable way to automate a house that can be had.

        But that isn't remotely within the reach of the average home occupant. I think X10 and their

    • X10 has had 3rd party open-source / linux support for years. The main problem with the tech is the combination of weak RF wireless and powerline communication. Modern circuit breakers (at least mine does) filter out the powerline communication between circuits. So when you're trying to control the lights across the house from your PC, the RF is too weak to make it there and powerline comm doesn't make it either.

      X10 is nice in that the modules can replace wall sockets, light switches, light sockets, etc.

    • X-10 works great when it works. But their build quality is just about the worst of any product I have ever seen. It's rare for a timer or module to last more than a few months past warranty expiration. It also doesn't play well with compact fluorescent bulbs. Don't waste your money.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Andy Dodd ( 701 )

      X10 is CRAP. It supports only 16 device codes and 16 house codes, and the majority of their controllers are only able to control one housecode at a time.

      In short, there's a total address space of only 256 devices, and it's partitioned into 16 chunks of 16.

      Also, it's heavily unreliable. The modulation scheme hasn't been revamped in decades to take advantage of modern ECC schemes (which are no longer computationally expensive).

      They could have had great success with an "X10 version 2" with a more robust ECC

  • What about INSTEON? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymusing ( 1450747 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:56PM (#29876335)

    What about INSTEON [insteon.net]? If you have a Mac, you can use Indigo [perceptiveautomation.com] to manage it -- even from an iPhone.

    I've also heard about Control4 [control4.com] -- and don't forget X10 [x10.com], even though I can't tell if their home page is advertising porn or home automation products. I'll let you automate my systems, baby!

    • by Deth_Master ( 598324 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:04PM (#29876441) Homepage Journal
      You know, geocities is closing today, but it lives on at x10.com
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I talked to a Control4 dealer and I got a few interesting tidbits:

      -The *Dealer* installs, configures the system into your house using special dealer-only software (PWD protect the system, too)
      -You get a turnkey system, not the pwd.
      -You can get something like an SDK for it but it is a *subset* (read: down version) of what the dealer used.

      • I had a Control4 quote done for my house. $40,000 just for the lighting system. I stopped listening when they started talking audio distribution. It worked out to over $300 per switch and outlet. Needless to say I didn't buy the system.

  • by klubar ( 591384 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @03:57PM (#29876345) Homepage
    Product is three to five years away and will be for the next twenty. (The answer is the same for fusion enery, except fusion is 5 to 10 years away and will be for the next twenty. Flying cars: 5 to 8 years. Specify your technology here...)
    • I dunno what you're talking about. I've been running Ubuntu at work on my notebook for the past six months, and I'll tell you right now that it's ready for the Desktop. It's been a pure joy using this machine, and the Compiz stuff (notable Desktop Cube) make my life a lot easier.

      Sure, I have to run some Windows software - Office specifically. But, it runs great on CrossOver, and other than that, this company uses Notes and IBM has a fully functional Notes client for Linux in a Deb/Ubuntu installable p
    • Agreed. The home automation field seems to have many of the same issues as Linux and many FOSS projects - too many small players and not enough industry-wide standardization and focus. As the OP points out, there's tons of options out there, all with their own major issues and problems. Crestron and AMX are the two big players out there, but they're not cheap, and far from open.
    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      Yes, same as linux on the desktop... Had it at my house since the mid 90s, and granny will almost certainly never have it.

  • Too expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Orange Crush ( 934731 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:00PM (#29876389)

    The main reason I haven't bothered looking in to home automation more seriously is the expense of all the "bits" (switches, outlets, thermostats, etc.).

    What are the cheapest options out there right now?

    I'd be most interested in controlling HVAC, ceiling fans and lighting.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rodrigo1979 ( 255519 )
      checkout iobridge http://www.iobridge.com/ [iobridge.com]
    • by Zerth ( 26112 )


      Cheapest I'd go is to take an old spring/mercury switch thermostat and replace the switch with a USB controlled switch, get a cheap USB thermometer, plug both of those into a hub, then plug the hub into a Sheevaplug.

      You can get cheaper by replacing the Sheevaplug with something embedded, like an Arduino, but I'm too lazy.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by PecurB ( 1664945 )
      X10 stuff is cheap but pretty easy to tinker with. A number of years ago I bought an X10 Firecracker [x10.com] kit. They occasionally have it on sale for around $5 without warning, so if you keep an eye on that site you might be able to get it really cheap. I hadn't used it in years but a little while ago I figured it'd be cool to be able to remotely turn my porch lights and other devices on/off from my smartphone (I have an iPhone). Since I have a linux box at home hooked up to a cable modem this was a fairly st
    • Re:Too expensive (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:20PM (#29876661)

      If you can solder: http://www.maxim-ic.com/products/1-wire/ [maxim-ic.com]

      Or if you can't: http://www.hobby-boards.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=24 [hobby-boards.com]

      Or if you sign up on Maxim's website they'll send you 1-2 samples of some of their products. Very awesome indeed.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      What are the cheapest options out there right now?

      You need to clarify cheap as in upfront $, cheap as in reliable so you don't have to replace all the time and it actually works, or cheap as in labor hours. You will not get the same answer.

      Based on years of experience, currently using Insteon (used to use unreliable X10) and misterhouse, you're going to drop about $60 per "thing" automated, and it'll last a long time/forever if its not a dimmer and it'll actually work reliably if its insteon, and it'll be a good sweaty half hour of wiring and moving stuff

  • linux ha (Score:5, Informative)

    by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:00PM (#29876393) Journal
  • You can either automate your home the way you want to and use the best tool for the job, or you can bash your head against the wall and try to use open source stuff that pales in comparison.

    I use my computer as a tool, it's not a religion, so I'll use what works best.

    If you're trying to make a case study about how Linux can automate your home -- have at it.

    I prefer actually getting the job done.

  • Check out Linuxmce. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I've been using Linuxmce for quite a while now as a multimedia system but it also offers home automation and is opensource.

  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:06PM (#29876453)
    What purpose are you accomplishing with this home automation? I have seen these predictions and calls for home automation for years, but I have never seen a compelling reason for doing so.
    Automatic inventory of what food you have in and generate a shopping list? Great, if I always kept the same stock of food in the house, or it didn't cost a lot more to have food delivered than it does to go to the store to buy it.
    Automatic control of the microwave, stovetop, oven, etc? I still have to put the food in to these devices and then remove it when it is cooked, most of the food I cook requires intervention during cooking.
    I could go on, but I just don't see what I get out of investing in these gadgets for home automation.
    • Being "Green". I keep my house at very nominal temperature. If I want to

      If I had full control (via servos) over which vents or portions of the house were heated, I could say: 7 am, warm up bedroom and bathroom
      8 am, go back to nominal
      6 pm, warm up kitchen and living room
      10 pm, warm up bedroom and let living room cool.
      12 pm, let bedroom go to cooler state (I own blankets).

      Now Imagine being able to text that to your phone. Going to run a bit late from work? Tell it not to warm up the living room. We've all hea

      • by bkr1_2k ( 237627 )

        A programmable thermostat does that just fine, though. We have 4 settings on our 30 year old thermostat. Wake, leave, return, and sleep. We can set different times for each day of the week for these settings and the temperature range I set is usually about 10 degrees different throughout the four settings. I have a nearly 2000 square foot house and spend about $75 a month on my utilities, even with old drafty windows and doors (which are getting replaced this year).

        And all of that came with the 30 year

    • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:35PM (#29876931) Journal
      I think having a network-enabled microwave is lame. However, I think there are some places where it *could* make sense to invest in home automation: intelligent control of heat and lighting. If you have sensors that tell the computer where people are (and some adaptive software so it learns where they generally tend to be and go at different times) and have zone heating/AC, it's possible you could save a lot of money. At my old house we quite rarely used the downstairs and one room, so we closed them off and closed the heater vents to them, and reduced our heating costs by about 20%. Likewise, intelligent lighting control would mean if nobody's in the room the light automatically turns off, or for areas that are often used, dims to 10% with a rapid-on if a person walks through. Since this is the field in which I work, I might as well add a few numbers: we're trying to do this for parking lot and street lighting, specifically using dimming to a fraction of full lighting, and somewhat intelligent prediction of where people are heading so we can just crank up the relevant lights, and are claiming municipalities can reduce their power costs by 30% based on studies we've had done. We hope it'll be even higher than that, but we feel pretty confident in the 30% claim, given that 80% of the lights will be using 80% less power about 65% of the time.
  • Remember that mid-80's Tom Selleck movie "Runaway," where robots were taking care of the kids, doing our farm labor, etc. (pretty much doing every menial task)? Well, we AREN'T THERE YET!
  • i use an x10 wireless control module, an rs232 firecracker, and a few lamp modules to control my non-drug-related plant lights to extend their photoperiod (keeps them from going dormant through the long-night new england winters). ubuntu packages the bottlerocket kit as the 'br' binary, and it works pretty well. 10 bucks per outlet to control something like 256 devices. the latency is crap. if i could control two outlets simultaneously, i could make my cool traffic light work. instead, i must suffer th

    • x10 signaling is slow and notoriously unreliable. But what do you want from a signaling system that can be implemented with fifty cents worth of parts? Insteon costs about $3 to implement. It is much more reliable and 10x faster. 802.15.4 radio costs $5 to implement and its 10x faster than Insteon. You have to pick where you want to be in this spectrum.

    • ... a few lamp modules to control my non-drug-related plant lights to extend their photoperiod ...

      Enquiring minds want to know... what do you use to control your drug-related plant lights?

  • I see this as a gating technology. As more get installed and you can see your electricity usage from the web, etc I bet there are more projects that take advantage of it or expand it to other areas of the house.
  • roll your own? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by enigma32 ( 128601 )

    I began with some silly things with my [saltwater] fish tank, building a circuit that would keep the water level topped off and reporting to a database when it did so... Have slowly been progressing toward temperature, lighting, and salinity controls for the tank, I've begun branching toward thermostat and lighting control for the house (next step possibly integration with google calendar so it knows when I'm going to be around)

    For the most part there's a huge amount of open source hardware and software out

  • Admittedly, I haven't looked into home automation in a couple of years, but the biggest problem is the total cost of systems - both in components and manpower to properly install them. There are no real commodity parts for all the little pieces, so every system is effectively proprietary - and priced as such. Even a simple, full home automation set will set you back several thousand dollars. There is no value in the manufacturers creating a commodity market for this stuff - the volume is too low and the

  • I would not describe it as bleak, but as ripe with opportunity for innovation. The biggest barrier is that manufacturers have little interest in playing nice with each other.
  • by bmwm3nut ( 556681 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:22PM (#29876713)
    UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) is the same idea at X10 and unfortunately much more expensive because of licensing issues, but the reliability of the communications is really good. It comes with a (poorly written) windows program that allows you to setup commands and stuff, but because of the ease of the UPB protocol I've just written my own C++ code to monitor the Bus and send commands to do things. I send an email to my house when I leave work, then the software reads the UPB temperature sensors inside and outside to determine when and if the heat should be turned on. When the light sensor notices that it's dark outside, the porch lights go on. When my car comes in the driveway (induction sensors) and I'm not hope the first floor lights go on. I unlock the front door with a key fob. And lots more. Blinds open and close depending on sun levels, inside, and outside temperature. Lots of really cool logic! I'm working right now on artificial intelligence to guess when I'm coming home, when I'm going to bed, all of that stuff, it's just hard because my schedule isn't very regular. Anyway, to get back on topic. I had to write all of this myself because the offerings out there are no good, if you want anything beyond the basics you won't get it. If you're a good hacker, it's worth it just to write a service that can read and write UPB commands and you can do anything you want (there's also a UPB-X10 bridge if you want to use X10 hardware).
  • by johnthorensen ( 539527 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:34PM (#29876917)
    The reason there's no 'good' home automation products is because there's not enough demand, pure and simple. At the end of the day, HA is 99% bling and maybe 1% utility. There's really only one 'problem' out there that HA-type technologies are suited to solving: energy. There are of course measureable ways to reduce a building's energy consumption through electronic controls. That said, there are plenty of ways that people have achieved this without delving into the realm of what's typically thought of as 'home automation'. Want to handle lighting based on occupancy? Buy a lightswitch with integrated PID for maybe $50. Want to handle climate control based on occupancy? Get a thermostat with a timer for $20 that will handle 98% of all circumstances. In the remaining 2%, walk your butt over and adjust the thermostat.

    The primary difference between "Home Automation" systems and the sort of one-off solutions like thermostats and PID lightswitches is the network. Really, the advantages of having these devices know about one another in a practical environment are few-to-none.

    Now, if you're the type that wants to have a girl over and impress her by pressing one button to dim the lights, close the curtains, and turn on the stereo, great. On the other hand, if you're the /. type who's taken the time to set up a system, you're probably paying her anyway so I doubt that's going to affect your chances of getting layed.
    • Opening and closing windows and curtains can have powerful heating and cooling effect at no cost. While many people do open and close their windows and curtains are appropriate times connecting them to a thermostat with a timer should allow them to be used more efficiently and be used by people who can't be bothered to open and close them and just rely on their furnace/air conditioner.

  • ... is that the company named the application after a computer that went berserk and started killing people in order to preserve the mission objective.

    I'm not sure I want to listen to my house singing "Daisy, Daisy" in an ever-decreasing key as the corpses of friends & family float listlessly in space. I think people would probably stop coming to my parties after that.

    Suggested company motto: "We're 7000 releases away from full-blown psychosis!"

  • by CompressedAir ( 682597 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @04:44PM (#29877071)

    I have been automating my home for some time now, and I hope I can give you some perspective on the process.

    Modern (as in, not X10) home automation hardware comes with a steep cost of entry. For my chosen flavor (Insteon), you have to buy $60 worth of phase couplers / wireless receivers and a $80 powerline - computer interface before you can even start adding wall switches. So, unless you are just wildly flush with cash, there usually has to be a need as well as the want to get started.

    For me, my house is wired to that the driveway light switch are out in the detached garage. This was very irritating. By replacing the switch in the garage and the switch by the back door of the house with Insteon switches, I can now turn on the driveway lights from within the house. Cheaper than hiring an electrician to re-wire the switches.

    Once the initial hurdle is passed, you can do all sorts of things quickly and easily. Such as:

    1. I added a wireless switch at knee level so my 2-year old can turn on the light in her room. She LOVES this. A motion sensor turns the light off 15 minutes after she leaves. When she's older I'll set it up so she turns the light off, but I didn't want her flashing the lights on/off/on/off for an hour.
    2. The wall switch in the living room can also start/stop music playing, as well as control the volume and change songs.
    3. Using some ir-controlled home made window blind controllers I built, the blinds on the first floor of the house are controlled by the computer. Most notably, it shuts them when the sun goes down, so I don't have to worry about people seeing into the house after dark. I got real used to that real fast, let me tell ya.
    4. I've put together a "Baby Monitor of the Gods" that sends video (with sound) from an old DV camcorder to any screen in the house (mostly old laptops running Damn Small Linux loaded into RAM, but also either of the TVs). In the workout room the video comes up on the picture-in-picture, so my wife can see the baby sleeping while she exercises. Very popular feature, that.
    5. The library did not have a wall switch. Now it does. (It turns on the lamps.)
    6. I'm leaving out the basic stuff, such as being able to control a light across the house from the bedroom. Very nice when you are getting ready for bed.
    7. Everything is also controllable from our iPhones.
    8. Next up is door locks, and after that probably HVAC. Part of me really wants to do computer controlled zoned HVAC, but the other part hates working in the attic. Choices, choices.

    All of this runs from a Mac Cube running Indigo. I cannot say enough good things about Indigo, it is one truly great piece of home automation software.

    So to sum up, the state of home automation is fantastic. With the relay control modules, you can control just about anything. Add IR control to that and there's not much left beyond your reach. Blind and drapes control is very expensive to buy off the shelf for some reason, but building your own is easy enough.

    Good luck (and keep count of how many times you mix up the load and line wires)!


    • by Coward Anonymous ( 110649 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @08:16PM (#29879401)

      "1. I added a wireless switch at knee level so my 2-year old can turn on the light in her room. She LOVES this. A motion sensor turns the light off 15 minutes after she leaves. When she's older I'll set it up so she turns the light off, but I didn't want her flashing the lights on/off/on/off for an hour"

      You must be kidding me. I have a much cheaper and more robust automation system. My two year old stretches on his tippy toes to reach the lights or drags over a chair if he still can't reach. He'll occasionally mess with the lights when he shouldn't but that's what being a kid is about. As for automation, if I need a light switched and I'm too lazy to get up I have an eager two year old who will switch it for me - voice recognition built in.

      Seriously, you are control freak - let you daughter frickin' mess with the lights!

  • by Sacarino ( 619753 ) on Monday October 26, 2009 @05:08PM (#29877425) Homepage
    The problem with "home automation" systems is that it is VERY loosely defined. Some say it's the ability to control your lights, others say it's HVAC, still others say it's distributed audio/video. Since it's such a generic term, somewhat consequentially there are a variety of vendors and products that claim to be home automation. If you want to bridge technologies, you have to find a product that'll do that natively or allow you to expand it yourself.

    I happen to have a pretty robust system that uses Homeseer as the backend engine. This allows me to leverage strengths from various hardware providers due to the extensibility of their software, plus I have the ability to roll my own .NET code and have it integrate into the system. I currently utilize some very specific X-10 devices for a narrow niche (wireless door and window sensors) and a thermostat (if it ain't broke!), but the great majority of my stuff has been converted to Z-wave. The beauty of Z-wave over X-10 is the signal confirmation... with X-10, I'd send a signal into the ether and hope it'd get there, but with Z-wave, I get delivery confirmation so the system knows that a desired action hasn't been completed. There are additional technologies out there like Insteon, ZigBee, and UPB, but they have issues I don't like or the squeeze isn't worth the juice. Some of this crap is exceedingly pricey and I just can't justify spending it.

    I use Cinemar's MainLobby for integration with my theater gear, which also provides the sexy touchscreen frontend that everyone looks for in a system. Homeseer has also deployed a software with similar capabilities called HSTouch, but it isn't as powerful for my A/V setup just yet.

    Just a quick rundown of some things that I've got my system setup to do:
    • Occupancy detection - if vacant, it goes into an energy savings mode and shuts off lights and adjusts thermostat setpoints.
    • Exterior lighting is automatic based on sunset/sunrise, plus only brightens to 100% when motion detected or doors are opened.
    • Certain actions at certain times trigger sequences: when I open my bedroom door in the morning, the kitchen light kicks on and the TV flips on and tunes to the news channel I like.
    • Caller ID is screened and/or announced for me, in addition to displaying on television screens.
    • Freezer and fridge doors trip alarms if they're left open for too long.
    • Exhaust fans in the bathrooms are based on humidity conditions.
    • Yard irrigation is controlled both by wind conditions and zoned soil wetness conditions.
    • When the doorbell is rung, the touchscreens all show a live camera feed for that door from my ZoneMinder server.

    There's tons more that I currently do, I've got a list as long as my arm of things I plan to do, and there's a lot of options out there for things I could do. If you're interested in HA, you really need to figure out what it is for you by detailing out what you want and how you want to get there. My route is a lot of DIY because I'm happy hacking my way through a problem... If you've got more money than brains, you can certainly take the vendor lock-in approach of something like Crestron.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!