‘The availability of cheap, off-the-shelf hardware means everyone can now afford a home automation hub,' says Andy Stanford-Clark

‘Home automation will soon become the norm,’ says IBM Master Inventor

Renowned British technology engineer Andy Stanford-Clark has told PCR that home automation is set to become ubiquitous in the near future.

An IBM Master Inventor and Distinguished Engineer, Stanford-Clark is also known for his home-made automated systems, on which he has given many talks.

“The main attraction [of automated home technology] for me is the home monitoring side,” Stanford-Clark said of his passion for the sector.

“Mainly [of] energy, but also heating, occupancy, doors and windows being opened and closed, etc.”

“The infrastructure required for such monitoring doubles for both monitoring and control, so then the automation aspects enable a quality of life improvement such as being able to switch groups of lights on and off together, finer-grained control of things like heated towel rails, optimising immersion heaters for planned occupancy of the house on different days of the week and control of heating systems on a room-by-room basis to optimise for occupancy."

Stanford-Clark has himself automated a variety of appliances and services, from mousetraps to his local ferry port’s timetable – and he claims that anybody can now get involved.

“The availability of cheap, off-the-shelf hardware like the Raspberry Pi computer means that everyone can now afford a home automation hub,” he explained.

But despite the increasing ease of implementing automated systems into a home, Stanford-Clark states that vendors entering the market need to learn to work together, for everyone’s benefit.

“We’re in an early phase of this market. Many devices only talk to their manufacturer’s infrastructure and don’t inter-operate with anything else,” he said.

“The other thing is that the energy saving effect and payback period has to be clear when you buy it. Most people aren’t going to buy a £500 device that saves £5 of energy a year. Unless it has lots of flashing coloured LEDs on it, of course.”

“This will change, as open standards are adopted. The scenario isn’t too far away where the washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher agree amongst themselves which gets to run first, after consulting the energy company via the central hub to get a good deal on the electricity they need.”

“At that point, some degree of home automation will become standard and just taken for granted.”

“We’re already seeing [it happen] in home energy monitoring – ten years ago, I bought custom components and built my own energy monitor. Now you can get one free from your energy company and they retail at around £25.”

“I think energy monitoring is the ‘trojan horse’ which gets the initial equipment into the home. Then you can add other monitoring and control applications using internet connectivity over your broadband connection to access data which adds value to the automation (for example, what other people like you tend to do, or information from your mobile phone about when you’re about 10 minutes away from arriving home).”

“If done properly, [automated technology] creates an in-home ecosystem of monitoring and control applications which can help home owners be aware of and reduce their energy use, but also to make them aware of other home automation products and services, new white goods, etc., which all integrate together to improve the quality of life and reduce energy use.”

“At the moment we’re in a phase of divergence. Many flowers are blooming, and it all looks a bit chaotic – is there really a mass market for an internet-connected toothbrush?”

“But those flowers need to have their day in the sun in order for the general population to understand what the Internet of Things is, and the way it applies to their homes.”

“Everyone is different, different things make each of us tick, but eventually things will settle down and groups of products will ‘gel’ – and lots of people will buy them.”

Read more about the growing developments in home automation technology here.

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