Standards wars in home automation: don’t spend big $ yet

TL;DR It will take 5+ years for standards to get sorted out in home automation. Until they are, devices from different companies will not be compatible. Anything that you buy and install now will be inconvenient (you will need multiple interfaces) and become obsolete in a few years.

Now that there are many genuinely useful and modestly priced home automation devices (and I don’t mean smart refrigerators), we are ready to enter the rising portion of “the S curve” where penetration increases. Most of the devices can be retrofit, which will make uptake much easier.

But right now, most vendors have their own protocols. Common protocols are needed at 3 layers:  the user interface, such as a mobile phone/computer app (or web site), physical communication such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Wi-Fi, and data protocols (API’s, essentially). Most vendors appear to be moving toward a hub and spokes arrangement, where the hub handles communication to the user and outside the home, so there will also be competition for whose hub customers buy. Finally, I would add security as its own “layer,” since it is so important and currently completely neglected.

What are the products? Here’s a good list from PC magazine. It includes very diverse categories with different communication needs:

  • Thermostats and other Heating, Ventilating, Air Conditioning (HVAC)
  • Lights
  • Entertainment systems: music, TV, DVR, etc
  • Door locks (not something I would personally consider!!)
  • Outdoor cameras
  • Nanny cams
  • Alarm systems
  • Cooking (a stretch, IMO)
  • Cleaning (Roomba etc.)
  • Irrigation systems – these should use weather forecasts
  • And voice control/home hub, of which Amazon Alexa seems far in the lead.

Looking at this list, office buildings automated many of these 20+ years ago – Honeywell is one of the big vendors. But the leaders today are all consumer-oriented companies.

So for now, we are facing what in the industrial world was called “islands of automation.” If you buy something today, 1) expect to want to replace it within 10 years, 2) be sure it makes sense by itself, not as part of a system, and 3) be sure that a hardware failure or security violation won’t physically harm you. On security, for example, early Nest thermostats tended to fail in cold houses – I wonder how many pipes froze?  And wireless cameras have been a joke – watching strangers’ baby bedrooms has been and still is easy.

============ Some relevant articles =======

There are a wide variety of technology platforms, or protocols, on which a smart home can be built. Each one is, essentially, its own language. Each language speaks to the various connected devices and instructs them to perform a function. Choosing a smart home protocol can be tricky business. Obviously, you want one that will […]

Source: Home Automation Protocols: A Round-Up – Electronic House

=========== An article for SH designers, from Cadence ======


I welcome comments from people who have gone down this road. As you can tell, I’m not planning to be an early adopter, except for very limited free-standing applications.

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