I’ve been dreaming of a smart home since I first saw an X-10 switch, or maybe it was watching the Jetsons. Either way I wanted one.
Can A Home Have A Brain?
By definition a smart home has a brain. Some might think that Google, Amazon or Apple controlling the lights gives our homes brains but it doesn’t. It simply connects our home to the collective computing power of Amazon or Google or Apple.
Since the 1970’s hobbyists and electronics nerds like me have been tinkering with ways to make our homes smarter. Even in the 1950’s appliance manufacturers put timers on ovens to make them easier to use. In 1975 some people in Scotland created X-10. X-10 is now the most widely used home automation standard. Simply put it gives an address to each device and they communicate over electrical wiring.
By putting buttons on an alarm clock you could send codes at certain times and make lights automated. Before then there were mechanical timers, but every time the power went out the timer would be off time. Many enthusiasts thought it was cool, and the first system I ever saw was at a vacation home in Bass Lake California. The owner wanted the lights to be linked and he was the first person I ever knew who created a “scene” at home. It wasn’t yet called a smart home.
First Comes Logic
Like a two year old knowing it is hungry, the original X-10 clocks just knew on and off. My dads friend got very creative with his lighting scenes but the problem was every light in the scene was on or off when the scene was activated. To change anything you had to go to that switch and manually change it. Not very smart.
Eventually there were small home made computer kits and with the right adapter you could send X-10 signals. This was like watching a 3 year old learn to draw. Sometimes it even made sense to bystanders. The house could have a “home” scene and a “entertain” scene and any light could now be in one or both scenes. Logic made creativity.
The Lion Gets A Brain
In the 1990’s the world of home automation exploded. What you haven’t heard about it? Well it did. Dozens of companies began making little boxes to control X-10 light switches, outlets and even “listen” to the system to know when a light was manually changed. This is where the inspiration for CoolToys® TV came from.
Because this was seen as the next shiny object, lots of players joined the game. Some were proprietary like Insteon, others were standards like Zigbee or Z-wave anyone could pay to integrate into their product. The brains got confused. It was like trying to manage a baseball game and a soccer match at chuck-e-cheese all at the same time.
Today it is a different story. For a few hundred bucks you can get a UDI controller that gives your house a pretty good brain. It can under stand things like “If – Garage Door Open AND Night THEN Porch Light On”. It can even do “else” like “IF front door opens AND Alarm AND Night THEN All Lights On Else Front porch light On”. This way you get a nice light and the intruder gets lit up.
Along Comes IoT and Poly
The Internet of Things or IoT is the connection of our home to the collective brains out there on the internet. But maybe I don’t want the internet to see that I open my fridge at 3 am, or that my TV is watching Emily in Paris for the 14th time. The IoT is an interesting invasion of our privacy. We are giving the outside world access inside our homes. Yes I have a cover on my Echo camera. Your brother “drops in” just once while you are trying to get frisky with your partner and you learn.
With all of the brains that my house has there is one thing my house doesn’t (yet) do. When the power goes out, my solar is now useless. I have enough to power everything except the stove, oven and A/C. So why can’t my house automatically disconnect those breakers and keep the power on.
One guy said that the solar panels produce X amount of power and if you can’t use it all it fries things. I am not buying it because when the inverter shuts off, the panels are sending that power to nowhere? There has to be a way. Thanks to Universal Devices and the Polyglots, it might be able to do that soon. My fingers are crossed. For now, my home has the brain of a 5 year old that listens and turns off the lights. Hopefully it will skip the teenage years and learn how to save energy and keep working when the grid is down.