There is so much buzz in the Smart Home arena it makes us wonder if Home Automation is a luxury or is it a necessity after all. Is it just one of those fancy things or a fad that interests us for a while and then slowly fades away? Let us analyse this further.
The Bygone Years
Until recent past home automation consisted of only hard wired systems consisting of controllers of huge size that require substantial space and hundreds of meters of wiring. The features are restricted to switching On/Off and dimming of lights; video cameras and control of air-conditioners joined this list a little later. Installation of these systems need planning at the conception and service by trained people. In essence these systems are expensive, complex, harder to make changes with limited functionality. Result, this type of home automation is beyond the reach of a majority of the people something only the well heeled could indulge in.
Transition to Wireless
But the tech scene today is dominated by internet, cellphones, tablets, WiFi and Bluetooth on the communication side. On the home automation front controllers with wireless communication protocols such as Z-wave, Zigbee and more recently Thread have been developed which are about the size of a wireless router. A large variety of sensors that communicate wirelessly with these controllers has also been developed. As a result a completely wireless flexible, scalable and reliable home automation system is a reality today. One that can control most aspects of the household related to comfort, convenience, energy saving, security, health and safety. Aside from new residences they can also be adopted to retrofit existing buildings or apartments as wiring changes involved are minimal. Besides these automation systems have the capability to be monitored, controlled through your smart phones even from remote location over the internet. The systems are quite simple that in most cases the end user will be able to install by following instructions (DIY-do it yourself) saving on installation costs.
Rise of the middle class
Past two decades have seen a significant rise in number of appliances used in homes and a corresponding rise in energy consumption coupled with increased purchasing power. Simultaneously, the energy costs have also been steadily rising and as a result there is a strong need to conserve energy. The home automation systems in vogue gives us the ability to monitor overall energy consumption levels and also individual appliances. The wireless and remote monitor, control capabilities enable us to have closer control of our energy consumption by automating the routine functions such as switching On/Off of air-conditioners, exterior lights, garden sprinkler, common area lighting etc., Such automated arrangements and the ability to control the lights and appliances from remote adds to our convenience and comfort levels.
We live and work in closed door conditions far longer than the previous generations used to; particularly in the middle eastern countries due to the adverse weather and the necessity of climate control. This exposes us to health risks arising out of poor air quality due to low oxygen, high particulate matter, air borne allergens, low/high humidity and therefore air quality monitoring has become a necessity in our homes and places of work towards maintaining a healthy environment. No worries there are a variety of sensors to choose that can be included in the home automation system that can monitor these parameters and give alarms/notifications when parameters deviate from set levels. Application of flood sensors protects the home from unexpected mishaps due to water leaks in kitchen, bathrooms
Security is another aspect the home owner is concerned about. While video cameras coupled with the home automation system give us the ability to record and monitor activities in and around the residence even from remote locations; use of door-window sensors, presence sensors, noise sensors, motion sensors, door bells with video and intercom in conjunction can be modelled to generate alert messages to our mobile device and simultaneously trigger alarms locally in case of an authorised attempt to break in to the property thus enhancing security. Use of smoke sensors in conjunction with alarms enhances the safety of the occupants.
The most interesting outcome of the development of the wireless technologies is today the home automation system can be designed for monitoring environment parameters, control lights, appliances and AC in a single room initially then be scaled up to cover only a few rooms or scaled up even further to cover the whole apartment or house. The scaling up can be done in multiple phases, in a modular fashion depending on the comfort level and acceptability of the end user without having to compromise or waste the initial investments made on the controller, sensors, devices etc., The point to emphasise here is though they are advanced they are also simple to use, scaleable, reliable and most important of all affordable. Therefore rather than trying to categorise home automation as a luxury or a necessity, given the conditions of modern day living, health, safety and security concerns and the convenience, comfort level expectations of the present age have all made the home automation system an absolute necessity. And the technological advancements coupled with the internet have made it an affordable luxury. Or perhaps we could say it is a luxury that has become necessary.
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