Home Automation – IOT – Security – Future Support

Just a collection of thoughts

I have no plan or intention with this. It is at the moment just a collection of thoughts; based on some experience.

There are few things in a home now that need to or are expected to last more than a few years. It’s only recently that it has become more common for complex technology to be built into the home itself.

Home Automation Questions

I have had a few questions asked recently about Home automation, such as what is the best system and why.

My answer is: I don’t really know.

My concerns are:

  • “standards” are not very standard, and come and go.
  • updates will not be available.
  • parts and service will not be available.
  • app or software based systems will stop working; no longer maintained and/or due to OS upgrades.

I suggest that:

  • the house will last 50+ years.
  • the automation system should be maintainable for 25 years.
  • kitchen/bathroom renovations in 10-15 years.
  • expect a major upgrade/replacement in 20-25 years.
  • design to allow for easier re-wiring (under-floor, roof spaces, ducts).
  • in the last 25 years, maybe a dozen automation systems have come and gone here in NZ.

Some years ago (late 90s) I was involved with a home automation system. I still do some repairs and support.

The problem is that systems that are each very different come and go frequently but houses last a long time.  What happens when you can’t get parts or support for a built-in automation system.  Your electrician is going to offer a re-wire and the latest system for about the cost of a week on the space station.

Another point to consider is how an automation system will affect the value of and selling the home. When new, it may increase the value.  It may be unlikely that the first owner will have the home long enough for maintenance be their problem. But what about the 2nd or 3rd owners in 10 to 20 years ?

Companies and Standards

Is the company that makes the system going to be around and supporting it in 5 or 10 years ?  Is the automation standard they are using a good standard, is it really standard, and what will it have evolved into in a few years ?

Companies change and products change. The hardware technology in a automation component is not particularly complex or expensive, ie. adding a wifi interface costs some hardware development plus about $1 per product plus the one-off software development. If enough are produced, the cost is small. Software used to be a much bigger cost. But now with more processing power, standard OS’s and modules to do the hard work, it’s a lot easier and cheaper, allowing much more complexity and bigger GUIs and APPs. This all makes it easier for companies to move to version 2 or 3 much sooner, and who wants to be supporting version 1 or 2 when version 3 is so much more shiny, and has the new APP support.

For the company, revenue is now coming from version 3, so little effort will be put into security updates for versions 1 and 2.  Will they offer software upgrades for versions 1 and 2 hardware ?  If yes, who installs and configures it and at what cost.

They tell us standards keep everything on track.  But over the last 15 years there have been a number of standards come and go. The other problem is that standards seem to be a starting point that each manufacturer uses to create their own “improved” version.

Will parts and service be available in 5 or 10 years. Will your electrician be able to provide service or will you need the manufacturers approved specialist installer to replace that light switch ?  Will the configuration and setup software or APP work on the tablet, phone or PC you have when you need it ?

Philips – Hue lighting

Apparently, Philips recently said that “other” lamps were no longer going to work with the Hue system, just their approved models. After a lot of fuss from the community this decision was reversed.

What this showed was that a system that is open and friendly today, may be locked down and a lot more expensive to maintain in the future. Companies come and go, are sold or merged or just change their minds.

In a way it’s Funny:

To think that a cell-phone upgrade in 5 years or less could eliminate the App that controls your automated house. Or will there be a need to keep that antique phone working, despite the security holes.  I wonder what will happen when holes are found in the internet and wifi connected automation systems that are no longer being updated. The home will be at the mercy of the neighbours kids. I could have so much fun with that 🙂

We looked at a basic system

So, what is a good alternative that offers some convenience, automation and safety features at a better price but without the problems and risks of a full-feature Home Automation System. ?

About 6 years ago we looked at putting together a basic control system to replace the traditional wiring structure within a typical home. We built some parts and installed two homes.

There is still a possibility that we will continue with this. Part of the idea was that it should provide useful features but not be so complicated or specialised that a good electrician could not install and maintain it. No need for a specialist or restricted parts supply.

Although a basic control system makes sense to us, the big question is, Would home builders see the sense in it or be drawn in by the glossy marketing, cell-phone APPs and touch-screen displays ?  At this time, I suspect most will go for the glossy marketing and opt for the extensive feature list.

There may be a growing market for a basic system that can be retrofitted at a reasonable price to replace systems that are no longer supported.

I guess the safest system would be relatively simple, use generic and available parts and be open source. The simplicity means that it remains understandable and maintainable. Generic parts mean it can be duplicated or repaired with low-cost off-the-shelf components. Open source means the firmware is at least available and could be fixed or developed if there was enough interest.

A Simpler System may be better than the Big Brand Name

The simpler system from a local small scale manufacturer may be a better choice than the big brand multinational. How long is the the system going to be produced and how long do you expect it to able to be maintained, upgraded or added to ?  How long is the new house going to last and will you be able to add the extension in 10 years ?  In 15 years when you decide to renovate the kitchen and bathroom, will you be able to get parts or have to buy a whole new automation system ?

Computing, Applications, IOT and the Cloud

For the average home compute user I expect that over the next few years much more will rely on on-line applications with a browser interface.  Documents, spreadsheets, photo management, home video editing, email, and web browsing.  I suspect Windows-10 is a big step towards this.  The OS and browser will be free and you will pay to use cloud based applications; that will probably also run adverts.

The Internet of Things

The “IOT” trend is going to connect many things, even the ones that don’t need to be or possibly shouldn’t be connected. Security holes in routers etc. could grant access to the oven, microwave, fridge, TVs, security system, heating, garage door, gate, spa controls, hot water. A hackers dream come true, or the corporations connection to track everything you do.

I don’t think the “IOT” is a bad idea in itself, but I don’t think it will be implemented with the customers security as a top priority. It’s more likely to be a way to ensure that everyone buys a new set of household appliances every 2 years to get the latest features, operating system and security updates. You will have to keep your appliances and control APPs up to date and in sync.

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