The home automation mindset

Home automation is something that I have been following for several years.  I think we all have seen automation on TV.  Bill Gates’ house with music and pictures that follow you around in the 90s.  For me, it is about getting to Star Trek level of voice control with automation that does what I want with minimal interaction.  Getting to that ideal state is one of the most thought intensive projects I have taken on.  To use a meme, one does not simply automate a house. It requires a mindset.

The first thing to keep in mind is that the home automation landscape is like any other technology ecosystem but even more complex.  The one thing that makes it more complex than gaming, or photography is that home automation is so open.  I know that I can ignore news on PlayStation because I don’t have that console and I know I won’t ever be able to use it.  I also know that gaming has a limited scope that won’t impact much outside of gaming.  With automation, anything can be made compatible with almost anything and it affects my entire life.  For example, I’m thinking about getting a wi-fi souve machine.  How well does that work with SmartThings or any of the other platforms I have?  If my fridge broke tomorrow, I would have to consider automation in my replacement decision.

This openness is great because it means that I can do anything I put my mind, and time, to.  Literally, I could write an app that uses the accelerometer in my iPhone to change light colors.  I could then paint with all the colors that Hue can produce, while I dance around the living room.  I don’t have the time to do that, but that is really all that is stopping me.  Thankfully, others have used their time productively to produce tools that are more useful. But, of course, that means searching and testing the work of other hobbyists.

With the help of talented coders around the world, I can get better and more effective automation.  But that brings up the next thing to keep in mind: what do I even want to happen?  When I come home, what lights should be on?  Should it be the same lights during the day and during the night?  When does “night” start inside a house?  Essentially, I am always trying to determine what I usually do with lights and fans and temperature, and thinking about how I can communicate that to the automation systems.

All of that is the basis for the mindset needed to do home automation.  It is always on my mind.  If I’m out, I am thinking about what the house should be doing.  Should I communicate my distance to home?  What would I want the house to do with that?  When I am home, I think about what could be better.  What lights are working? Should the house be adjusting to my actions? And what would those adjustments look like? While thinking about this stuff, I also have to keep in mind how much time any solution would take, is the problem already solved, and if it is worth it.

The worst part of all of this is that the biggest hurdle faced in home automation is getting past the automation vendors themselves.  They want to take this complex and involved mind set and make it one button.  That would be fine, but nobody is that good at it yet, and the least good are the people that make the products.

So why even bother? Because of the way it feels when it works.  The feeling of a giant complex machine that culminates in a fan turning off. It’s basically magic, with magical tools, and me as the magician.