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HomeSecurityAlarm SystemsThe Fragmentation Of Home Automation

The Fragmentation Of Home Automation

Something weird happened on the way to smart homes – a great fragmentation that makes the notion of modern smart homes impossible to squeeze into a box. So functionally isolated are many of the latest device-centric solutions it’s hard to even think of them as occupying the same ecosystem.

FOR the longest time, alarm systems and smart home systems – the latter featuring I/Os to automate functions – were conceptually fixed. They managed sensor inputs and they drove outputs, always through a local controller, managed by a local keypad. As the world moved to wired and wireless networks, not only systems, but single devices, could be managed on a smart phone app – that static concept has been broken. This does not mean to say that there are no longer traditional-looking alarm and automation solutions, the latest of these built around affordable wireless with slightly longer life batteries.

What it means is that every single device in the home from the watering system, air conditioners, smart locks, baby monitoring cameras, pet monitoring cameras, lighting systems, thermostats, electric lawnmowers, weather stations, exercise equipment, smoke sensors, window blinds, alarm clocks, pool pumps, smart speakers, doorbells, video intercoms, cameras, smart switches, light bulbs, pressure cookers, barbeques, smart beds, vacuum cleaning robots, extension cords and everything in between are now automated and driven by separate apps in a way guaranteed to do a user’s head in.

In a real way, it’s as if the worst fears of home automation standardisation organisations have come to pass and the chances these devices will be wrangled into a single coherent form later seem remote, indeed. Rather than integrating devices to create smart systems, market forces are squeezing manufacturers and app developers into making individual devices smart to create sales hooks and generate recurring revenue. There’s nothing wrong with such motivations and in many cases, the devices work well enough, it’s just that they don’t make a home smart, so much as scatterbrained.

From the point of view of an end user, trying to manage a galaxy of devices using individual apps is intensely challenging to the point many smart devices are going to be relegated to the status of gimmickry and discarded once their gloss has worn off. Worst of all from the perspective of smart home installers, the impossibility of managing multiple smart devices reflects poorly on the entire notion of a smart home system in the minds of some consumers, making sales tougher.

Regardless of the weaknesses of device-based smart solutions, there are core pieces of functionality that users are going to cleave to – which pieces of functionality will appeal most are going to depend on the user – if there are security and life safety devices in such a diffuse ecosystem, it’s likely these will be among the favourites. Things like smart locks, video intercoms and smoke sensors also spring to mind. However, for aquarists or wine buffs, temperature sensors might be more important, while gardeners with North-West facing gardens might favour automated watering systems.

The complexity of these clusters of disparate devices, that are at once hard to maintain and impossible to centrally manage, proffers opportunities for budding integration businesses. For security installers getting their teeth into home automation – especially automated environments with so little cohesion – may sound like a reach. But it is possible to use unifying smart home operating systems to bring together a host of devices into a single dashboard. The best smart home operating systems will support thousands of products – in some cases tens of thousands.

There are key things to look for when it comes to unifying smart home solutions. These solutions will be managed from a touch screen and/or from an app, and in some cases, you’ll be able to hop into the dashboard via any network connected browser. A well-designed interface will include controls for air conditioning, the alarm system, CCTV cameras, lighting, video intercoms, front door locks, the sound systems and much more.

There will need to be a lot of flexibility in the interface – it’s going to need to evolve as the user (and the installation team) grows into it. The app will need to mirror much of the functionality and appearance of the primary touch screen, and it would be great if the dashboard could be mirrored on a smart TV as well, though driving it with a remote might be onerous if other options were readily to hand. Driving functions like lights and volume is going to be easiest with sliders but other functions will require on/off buttons.

While there are multiple options available to aggregate smart devices into smart home solutions, the best way to choose a system from the point of view of a security installer looking to expand, is to install and test solutions yourself – not only at the office but at home, where they can be stretched to the limit by the demands of family life.

There are plenty of open-source solutions like OpenHAB, Home Assistant, OpenMotics, HomeBridge and Smarthomatic on the market, but customising one of these is going to be a challenge and there’s no guarantee your hard-earned IP will survive sharing by an expanding customer base. Instead, partnering with a professional developer is likely to be the best option. If the solution is flexible enough, you will find a steady supply of existing and new customers eager to combine their devices and home security systems into an integrated smart home.


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SEN News
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