Home computer networks are no strangers in American homes. The Pew Research Center reports that 66% of American homes make use of broadband internet access. Many of those households use a Local Area Network (LAN) to share the internet connection and a printer with multiple computers in the home. In addition, a LAN can allow sharing of gaming consoles, use of internet radio and TV on the family entertainment center as well as on the computers and allow for communication between areas of the home via e-mail, Instant Messaging or chat.
The next stage of development in home computer networking is already being rolled out. Several companies are currently offering products that allow a user to control all components of a home entertainment center, pipe music to various rooms, control the lighting and temperature of their home, and activate motorized window blinds as well as monitoring an array of security cameras all with one remote device. Some systems allow the home owner to use the telephone or internet to access the home controls while away.
The Next Step
Currently, control over devices is achieved via add-on outlets and in-line controllers that communicate with the remote control via wireless or infrared signal. As this idea catches on, home builders will hardwire new homes with broadband networking and power control circuitry, all of which leads to a central control console. Access to the control console will be achieved through direct access (a keyboard on the console) and through remotes such as an internet capable phone or laptop computer. Additional “nodes’ will be distributed through-out the home as wall-mounted panels or built into appliances like the refrigerator. These provide system control as well as communication and entertainment throughout the home.
Appliance manufacturers are working on standardizing communication protocols so that their smart appliances can be used in any smart home. Our homes are already filled with devices and appliances that have timers in them to do certain things at certain times. But each is an individual device. The Home Area Network (HAN) will allow these devices to communicate with a central control, and each other if needed.
Home owners will be able to program the living room VCR from bed, or set limits on the hours the children’s TV will operate and enforce “lights out” in their rooms. Solenoid driven deadbolts can be used to secure doors and windows from anywhere in the home – or away from home if you forgot. Major appliances like a washing machine can be scheduled to run a load during the night when the draw on the power grid is lower and electricity prices are too. A scanner in the door of the fridge can register when new products are placed inside and track expiration dates as well as giving you a list of what is on hand.
Security cameras around the home can be used to alert the system of unusual activity, triggering an alarm or a wake-up call to the homeowner. A baby monitor with sound and video would allow parents to check on an infant any time from anywhere.
Great Convenience! – At What Cost?
There are two fronts on which consumers will need to weigh the advantages and cost of these smart home networks. First is the financial cost. Typically a control module with 2 remote outlets costs in the neighborhood of $200. Here is an example of inexpensive home networking equipment on Amazon.com. A smart thermostat costs $100 and up. Most systems are expandable; some will require purchase of additional control software for use on a computer. Individually these components are not fantastically priced, but to buy enough of them to automate an entire home adds up quickly.
The second front to look at is the issue of privacy. Any personal computer connected to the internet is susceptible to hackers and virus’s, what happens when your entire home is connected to the internet? Not only can a hacker create bedlam by taking remote control of your home’s systems, but they can use your own security cameras to spy on you.
Smart home networks are only half of the picture. The nation’s electrical utilities are already building a national smart power network designed to meet the electricity needs of our nation in the coming decades by shunting large amounts of power from areas with an excess to high demand areas as needed. They are also installing smart meters on all new construction homes and retrofitting existing homes as they are able. Smart meters allow the utility to monitor any homes electricity use hour-by-hour.
Eventually, electric utilities want to connect the smart meter to your HAN, extending their grasp right into your home to exert direct control over your appliances. The reasoning is that when a brown-out looms, they can shut down high usage appliances in the endangered area without cutting all power to a home.
They will also offer pricing plans based on how much control the homeowner is willing to give the utility. Super saver plans lock out any use of high-draw appliances during high demand periods. A certain amount of re-training will be required for consumers using the most cost effective power plans.
The Future is at Our Door
Some wonderful new conveniences are being offered to us, but we must make sure that proper controls and security measures are implemented as well. And we must decide how much of our personal freedom we are willing to let go of.
From Smart Meters to iPad Applications: Home Automation Takes Off
You may think that smart home technology is out of your reach - it's complicated, expensive and hard to install, right? Wrong. Chances are, you're already living in a smart home and you just don't know it.
What Makes a Home "Smart?"
Whether you're operating everything via voice-control, or you're just changing television channels with a hand-held remote control, you've probably got some type of home automation features in your house. Simply put, smart home technology automates functions that used to require human thought. Examples of common automation technology include:
- The Clapper: This sound-activated device was made famous in the 90's with the "Clap-on, Clap-off, it's the Clapper" commercial featured on Wayne's World. The Clapper allows you to turn lights off and on by just clapping your hands.
- Remote controls: Whether your remote control just works with the television, or you've got a remote that controls the TV, DVD player, and Roku box, controlling home electronics without having to get up and push the buttons manually is a type of home automation.
- Automated timers: Do you like to set your kitchen appliances on an automatic timer to ensure that dinner is ready when you get home? Are your sprinklers set to go on and off at certain times every day? Does your TiVo automatically record your favorite television show? These processes are all powered by home automation technology.
- Smart Meters: Many utilities are installing these devices to track energy use, and reduce your electric bills based on peak-time usage. Monitoring a home's energy use, and thereby reducing power consumption, is just one method smart homeowners use to offset the costs of today's technology. How many people are using this technology already? According to Berg Insight, at the current rate of increase, 52% of electricity-users homes in Europe will be utilizing Smart Meter technology by 2021.