What an autonomous house is and isn't
Autonomy is, in short, the difference between having a do-it-yourself house and a house that does it for you. Its more than a cruise control or autopilot for the basics; it's a simulacrum of life, with sensors as nerve endings, controllers as a cortex and a variety of effectors to make real things happen.
Our definition of an autonomous house:
A sensor-rich environment with enough intelligence in its controllers to recognize and often anticipate the needs of both the occupants and the structure, with controllable effectors able to accomplish actions to meet those needs without requiring human interaction.
In other words, it’s a house that can thing for itself, an ultra-automated environment that can make many needed changes happen without creating chores for its occupants. Often, it can also add convenience
The starting point for that is paying attention to every little chore that's ever been required of you in every residence you've ever occupied. The more trivial and mundane the chore, if it occurs repeatedly, it rivets a bit of our focus.
Then there's every mistake you've ever made: leaving the garage door open overnight, for example, or leaving it shut with an engine running... going to bed without locking the doors... leaving a stove or heater on or a candle burning in an empty room... floodlighting the yard all night... you get it. We've all done these things and worse.
Next comes every preachy lecture you never wanted to hear: you're wasting water... turn off the lights when you leave the room... you forgot to let the dog out or the cat in... you set the thermostat wrong... you forgot to water the lawn - or you forgot to stop the lawn from getting watered while it rained.
And then there's every wish you've ever made about things a house should be able to do for itself: keep every room comfortable except the rooms you're not using... turn the lights on or off or dim them without making you go to the switch... turn the fireplace on when that's the best way to warm up a room... get the vent hood to turn itself on and off... same for the bathroom exhaust fan... get the right garage door to open or close when it should without you pushing buttons... a list that grows every time you think about it.
What - and what - and what it isn't
On hearing the term autonomous house, many people think in terms of the increasingly popular “home automation” category in consumer electronics; in reality, that term is an umbrella for many sub-categories, most of which are at least a little bit off the mark for what we're doing. Happily, the most intelligent companies in the category all recognize autonomy as where things have to go; they do, you should know, think we're nuts for trying to accomplish that now. To best clarify, here is some of what we regard as not part of what we want to accomplish:
Note: Some people use the term “autonomous house” to refer to a house that's off the grid. This house is not off the grid. We use the term in the same sense as self-driving cars; this is in many ways a self-driving house. Maybe ultra-automated is a batter term.
Some principles for guiding implementation
Because we've been hands-on with hundreds of “home automation” products, including their ancestors for the past half century, we set some rules for ourselves:
NO BATTERY BABYSITTING. Batteries don't run forever and when they fail, so do the devices they power. In an environment with hundreds of such devices, it's unreasonable to expect end users to keep track of all those batteries, and just as unreasonable to assume that when things stop working quite as they should that they'll have enough of a geek gene to trace the failures down to a specific product, know where to find that product and be ready with whatever kind of replacement battery it may need. Every device will have a connection to a plugged-in power source, and those power sources will be protected by both a battery backup and a backup generator on the house.
NO WALL MEASLES. Those little white blobs that start occupying every outlet and sticking to so many walls, windows, doors and other home surfaces always end up visually polluting the clean lines of a home; historically, they're a dependable source of spousal disapproval resulting in the exorcism and removal of whatever system is hosting them. We can hide or masquerade most of the electronics in our design and keep them all visually unobtrusive.
NOTHING TALKS TO THE CLOUD. We may tap external resources for relevant information - like weather - but our policy is to make the Cloud a read-only device - a one-way window that lets us see out but stops others from seeing in. Our hardware firewall forbids internet access to the two internal networks for automation (one for the surveillance cameras and one for everything else).
NO INDOOR CAMERAS. There is nothing to be gained through indoor security or surveillance cameras and a great deal to be lost. We plan to aggressively place cameras outdoors and since that provides perimeter coverage, there's no need to compromise privacy with indoor eyes.
REDUNDANCY ROCKS. We hope to have at least two ways to monitor each of the attributes that we want sensors to report, and to include controller intelligence that makes use of both while also keeping tabs on sensors that may start proving untrustworthy.
We'll get more specific as we detail the plans and products going into our project.
© Copyright 2016 Newstips, Lord Martin Winston and J2J Corporation; all rights reserved
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