Gears meshingWhat a cybernetic house is and isn't

Cybernetics refers to intelligence, adaptability and some ability to learn. In our context, the result 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 actuators to make real things happen.

Some basics

Real-world control systemsThe building blocks of an automation system include sensors that can determine when and why it will activate, a controller to determine how it will respond and actuators to make those responses happen in the real world.A more cybernetic architectureOur approach redefines that control system as a node that, along with about a hundred other nodes, each and all connect to a relational database server; the nodes report every change in what they sense or what they do and any node can instantly explore the entire system's current status as well as its past readings. We connect them all over wired Ethernet and the database is a lot like a spine.

Elements of automationEach node is still a complete control system and able to accomplish many things on its own, only now there's more. Nodes can talk to each other (using a protocol called MQTT). And when we cluster them all around one database...

Cybernetic clusteringEach node gains the ability of sharing in the database's central awareness of everything going on everywhere in the house. Beyond just improving decisions at the nodes, this opens up new avenues for learning and adaptability. We can add nodes devoted to monitoring or exploring the experience of the whole system, as reflected in the database. We can add a node that varies values we use universally across the automation and see what values work best, letting the system learn and, in so doing, optimize itself. We gain levels of intelligence that you won't find today in home automation products. It's way smarter than any smart house.

Our definition of an autonomous cybernetic 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 actuators able to accomplish actions to meet those needs without requiring human interaction.

In other words, it's a house that can think for itself, a cybernetic environment that can make many needed  changes happen without creating chores for its occupants. Often, it can also add safety and 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.

Wasting waterNext 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.

SensorsWhat - and what - and what it isn't

On hearing the term cybernetic 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:

  1. The connected house: Not us. We don't see a house as a “fun” peripheral for a smart phone. We never want to access any of its control or monitor systems from outside its walls so we keep all of its connections inside its hardware firewall.  Anything we can see or control through an app or a browser is something an ill-intended hacker on the other side of the planet can see or control, so to prevent his neighborhood cohorts from finding safe times to visit, we keep away from the Internet of Hackable Things (credit goes to veteran journalist David English for that term).
  2. The remote-controlled house: Again, not us. Its not needed. Even if you never connect to the Cloud (remember, that just means a server at somebody else's address) you aren't ahead of the game by walking up to a panel to change things that you could already change with traditional controls, and there's no compelling reason to be forever shackled to a smart phone or tablet.  Besides, as you learned from your TV remote, anybody in the house can get hold of it and leave things where you don't want them to be.
  3. The subscription house: A house that monitors itself doesn't need to engage a remote monitoring service. A control system that's contained within a house doesn't need to subscribe to control software running on somebody else's server. If and when there's a time when builders can create autonomous houses for home-buyers, we presume that those buyers would rather see the costs of that in the mortgage than in a raft of up-front equipment and installation costs followed by an unpredictable number of monthly charges for keeping that stuff running. If you feel otherwise, that's fine; the marketplace may well offer alternatives.

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:

We'll get more specific as we detail the plans and products going into our project.




Newstips Swoosh TM 210

Editorial Project House

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Lot 14, Riding Ridge Court
Builder Don Cerra


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