Over the past few day’s I’ve been talking a Home Automation projects. I’ve given you four good first projects. I’ve talked about getting your network in order. Make sure you consider not only the traffic you have now but what may come. I’ve talked about creating zones for your actual network including multiple Wi-Fi zones and considering using the power lines of your house to mover Ethernet information.
All of this in the end to create a scene. That is what home automation is about. Creating the ability to automate a series of tasks to make your life easier. Some of them don’t or won’t require human intervention to work. Have a sun room? Don’t use it during the early morning because it is too bright? Automated shades are the answer. Set them up so that they lower when the sun is pouring in and raise later in the day when the sun is past and doesn’t glare.
You can also have lighting scenes. Coming home after dark? Wouldn’t it be nice when you garage door opens that it lights all the lights on your path to getting inside? Flight attendants always say in the case of an emergency lights in the floor will light up to show you the way to the exit. In the case of coming home late, in the dark, all the lights you need will be on, automatically.
You can automate door codes so that when codes are entered into your door different things happen. If it is the cleaning crew perhaps all the lights in the house are turned on for 2 hours. Then automatically all lights still on are turned off. Or perhaps you have scenes for family members and so on.
All of this the power of automation. But the door is only opening. The next is the integration of your car into this overall automation system. Listening to the new CD by Neil Young? No problem, you can listen to that in the car because the automation system will transfer it. It becomes even more than that. On a work call in the car? Get to the garage/ What if the system was able to transfer that call to your home speaker system. You could relax in quiet in a comfortable chair and finish that work day call at home.
All of this is possible with a central managed system. That’s why I’ve talked about the important not only of your network but that your new solution is a Hybrid Cloud. You will over automation and services in your home, away from your home and to your guests. Eventually we will see connections between home automation systems and social media. The lines of demarcation will blur. Friends from social media will be warmly greeted at the door by the house. You will know when someone you don’t know is at the door. All integrated and offered to users of your home.
Hybrid Cloud and Home Automation. The future is now.
We’ve talked about configuring and managing your home network. Considering that in the end what you are effectively building is a hybrid cloud solution.
You have segmented your network into productive segments. Multiple Wi-Fi routers so that you have one for IoT devices and one for the rest of the devices on your network.
If the router you are given by the internet provider allows you to create QOS rules, you can further segment your network by reducing the available bandwidth for the IoT devices.
You’ve considered and selected your first home automation project. You’ve evaluated the hubs that are on the market now and you’ve decided on one that supports your first automation project and your next one as well. The goal is not to end up with more automation gateways than IoT devices so consider the second decision for a long time.
As you see in this overall diagram you have now with your first project done implemented a personal Hybrid Cloud.
The beauty is you can now connect to your home from anywhere. Add a personal presence device and you can be at home at any time.
It also means that anyone else can be in and around your home. You’ve now opened your home to anyone that can get past your security. It’s time to up your security game!
The first thing is don’t freak out. Yes there are black hats out there that hack into systems. But for the most part they aren’t likely to connect to and control your home just because it’s a Tuesday afternoon.
Still, the issue isn’t the deep web and the real hackers. The issue is exploits that are found and made available so that people interested in turning a fast buck and disable your security system, enter your house and steal all your things. Making sure you have a strong password is critical. Something that you know but isn’t easily found out about you. We joked for many years when we would do security audits that all you had to do to crack most passwords was look around the space the person sat in. Normally you could find their password just by looking at the nearest picture or by picking up their keyboard and reading it on the post it note.
Good password policies create pass phrases. IWANTT@LEARNTOFL&. Again something that you know and will remember but someone else will have a hard time cracking.
More to come….
Home Automation isn’t just about your house. In fact it is as much automating the world around you as it is anything. That is why the initial step I’ve advocated is to make sure you network is stable. The wave is coming and it is a Tsunami. Analysts project 30 billion IoT devices in the world by 2020. That is but five year from now and will represent more than IoT devices per person in the world.
So it’s about automating your life. Making it easier for you to move through your day and accomplish your goals. When I was a kid I used to shovel snow off our driveway with a snow shovel. When I became an adult one of the first things I bought was a snow blower. Why? Because it takes less time to clear my driveway.
Life automation is about embracing the potential of the technology you can build on and leverage. It is about making your cellular device something you cannot put down. Because it connects you to everything. It is important to remember that the goal of home automation is ultimately to integrate your home into your digital life.
The average home automation project will generate about 25 connections or IoT devices. The home automation project fits clearly into my Stayable IoT category. Stayable in that the devices don’t move but they connect to your portable device.
Now as our little helpful buddy here points out there are a number of other devices that are going to creep into and make your home more Automated. Personal presence devices represent and exploding market. What once was the purview of 2500 dollar devices is now becoming much more affordable. Jibo, a personal presence device and Canary a home security device will allow you to log in remotely and see what is going on in your home. These devices require bandwidth on your network as well.
One of the considerations for home networking is the advancements recently in the concepts of Ethernet over power lines. In this model you connect a device (translator) to your power grid in your house. That device preforms a transmission of Ethernet signals over home power wiring. This allows you to the multiple network segments mentioned in yesterday’s blog. Where you segregate your network into segments based on devices and need.
Video surveillance can consume a lot of bandwidth. It can also be frustrating when you are remote and it takes 1-2 minutes to load the screen. Ethernet over Power lines (sometimes called POE) allows you to create a separate or standalone connection framework for video feeds. That way you are not limited to the devices connecting over Wi-Fi. You simply plug the device into the wall and it is connected to your network. You will need to buy a bridge that connects to the wall plug near your internet connection and it will consume one of your internet connections Ethernet ports.
I have used several of these products in particular in setting up my home video feed. I have an external feed and an internal feed. I am using the excellent device Canary. The Canary had iOS and Android software that allows you to view moments captured by the Canary Camera. It is motion sensitive so if you have dogs there will be many triggers but it is very effective. I can connect to a live feed or the Canary system actually saves motion based moments in the cloud. So even if someone breaks into your house and then breaks the camera, you still have the cloud based video to give to the police.
I segmented my network with an Ethernet over power connection and that is what I run the Canaries on. Even on a cell phone with LTE the video responds very quickly. It also allows you to manage the number of feeds you have in your house. Http://www.canary.com if you are interested.
Once you have stabilized your home network (and remember EVERY TIME YOU CHANGE YOUR INTERNET ROUTER, be careful) you can move back to the broader smart home hub. A search of Indiegogo and Kickstarter reveals a whole lot of devices that operate in the space
Note: The number one rule when building a system is make sure any one part can easily be replaced. In many cases the type of router and the configuration of that router may impact your home automation system. For example in some cases you have to modify the outbound router rules for video feeds. So when you change your router be very careful. Backup your router to a computer (its normally an option when you connect to your home router via the web page of the router). Make sure you update the router configuration every time you change something on the actual router. Then if you have to replace the router, you can either upload the old config or quickly install the new router with the old settings.
Again we go back to the first blog in this series pick the initial project you want to do. Door locks are a good project to start with. I prefer the Yale locks myself but there are many other brands and types. They operate in a number of modes. The first is the ability of the lock to have one time passwords or to have multiple passwords. Multiple passwords allows you to manage who is in your house and when they are in your house. This allows you to let the cleaning service into the house or a trusted repair person.
The locks are a combination of traditional Yale locks, Yale has been in business since before I was born with new age touch pads. They are reasonably easy to setup and connect to the automation system you are using.
Now from an enterprise project perspective which is ultimately really important for doing home automation projects, you stop once you get the door locks up and running. The stability of your system depends on moving slowly and making sure each of the installed components is working and stable before going to the next one.
Rushing a project like this will in the end hurt you. A dear friend of mine used to always say “plan the work and work the plan” I don’t think he invented that saying, he just used it a lot. So your plan is stabilize and improve your home network. Evaluate the options for door locks and select the one that works for you. Now picking a hub is a lot easier. If the hub you are looking at doesn’t support the door locks you have installed, then don’t get it.
The greatest stumbling blocks are often in the actual planning process. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made because I didn’t initially think through an overall plan. Had I simply created a goal sheet and a plan I would have been a lot further a lot quicker.
Step 1: get your network ready and then back it up.
Step 2: take the easy project and install door locks.
Step 3: select your hub, making sure it works with your router.
Home automation series continued. I got a great email yesterday from a long time reader. Interesting that I’ve never actually met this person we’ve only communicated via email since he started reading my blog 9 years ago.
He asked “I am trying to complete the first step in your process and I am really confused by the many range and Wi-Fi extenders out there. As in that is almost as confusing as actually automating parts of my home.”
There are a number of products in the Wi-Fi improvement space. 10-12 companies that offer solutions with various levels and types. They fit into two types in the end. One type connects to your Ethernet and basically is able to rebroadcast the same Wi-Fi address as your cable modem, fiber optic, DSL, ISDN or satellite connection to the internet. With these you are bound however to have the physical Ethernet for the most effective use. The other primarily available option is buy boosters. These basically connect to your Wi-Fi and then boost the existing signal. Its less effective over time and if you saturate a boosted network it will not function effectively. There is a third option that is probably the most expensive overall. That would be a complete network segregation. The reality is you are bound to the bandwidth available within the spectrum you are using. IE if you buy multiple Wi-Fi routers and have multiple SSID’s within your house you are still bound by the total capacity of your router and the available bandwidth within your house. But you can do this last option. Have more than one wireless network in your home. I normally have at least two but with the last upgrade I did I now actually have 3. I have my standard network from my Fiber Optic provider, the same network but pushed to the 5 ghz band and a 3rd network that has both a bridge for home automation protocols as well as offering a separate Wi-Fi network.
With three networks I can actually segment off IoT devices. I have a home automation hub that further segments off traffic as well. This gives me the ability to have a managed home network. Yes it very similar to what many enterprise and government agencies do in that they have a production network and a guest network. The segmentation of traffic coming together in a single point increases the ability of the network to be resilient. It does however potentially put a greater strain on your router. If you don’t have the upload speed there is a level of risk here.
Of course the first step even though it is complex still requires some time and testing. Even if you segment your network into two, three or more you still need to validate your signal strength. That is the time consuming part but luckily it is also the only one that doesn’t have to cost money. Well it can cost money but there are a number of free speed testing sites you can use. Yes there are ads but they don’t charge you for the service.
Once the corners of your house can connect you now can actually start to automate.
Containing the Home Automation series. The series so far as rebooted a couple of times so I thought I would reboot it a third time and try to set things right.
First goal is understand your home network. That includes the Wi-Fi, Ethernet and your overall connection to the internet. The value of a home automation project is the time savings and the ability to do things remotely that you cannot do today. So project one is make sure you have a functioning home network. I added this topic to my podcast today. Since truly you are building a Hybrid cloud solution you have to be careful about security as well. Sharing data is great but you are sharing it with the world if you connect your home to the internet.
Once you have a solid network and you’ve figured out if you in fact have good upload speed for your IoT plans the next thing is to evaluate not just what you have now, but what you want to add.
For example if your house has many computers, tv’s and game consoles and they are always operating independently you need to run some speed tests on your network. Just make sure you have enough download capacity that you won’t have issues later.
Nothing is worse than having a dead garage door remote battery and sitting in the driveway trying to open the door with the home automation system but you can’t connect because your home network is saturated and the kids won’t answer the phone. So you have to get out of the car and open the door with the outside remote.
There is also the reality that different rooms have different activities. Connecting all the activities to a central hub is great. We have one room where you have to turn three thing son to watch tv. We have a system that automates that process. Well we did for a while. We have to rework that system now because I made some changes to the technology in that room.
Still the concept is time savings. Making it easier on everyone to use and enjoy the aspects of your home. So picking the hub you go with will become critical. There are as I have said before any number of hubs. You have to look at what protocols your hub supports. Does the company support both local (when you are home) and remote? Do they connect with the devices you find to be critical for your project?
Just to bring this back to base for closure. Make sure you network supports what you want to do. Clean up your Wi-Fi and have signal in the rooms you want to automate. Consider the hub selection next with a sidebar conversation on the short term and long term automation goals. You can select a hub that easy to implement now, but will be a bear to work with over time. Think about the fact that you are creating a Hybrid Cloud solution do you have the right security?
Finally, consider a professional company to setup your system. Now you are ready to start picking the potential automation to launch!
The series on Home Automation has now lasted as long as a number of my blog series have lasted. It falls in terms of posts in the shorter end of the various blog series I have posted. My family history project blogs are now well past 370.
Yesterday I was talking to a friend that had embarked on his third home automation project. He told me that the corner of his basement where all his stuff was looked like a spaghetti factory had exploded. All over the floor he said. I wondered for a second what a spaghetti factory exploding would look like. I guess I went the flour everywhere route. He meant however something like the spaghetti in the first image today.
Avoiding a wiring mess is critical in your home automation project. Why? Because if you ever have to troubleshoot your system, the messier the wiring the longer it is going to take. Hours and hours longer if you have a big mess in your automation system. There is an old network term call OSPF open the shortest path first. When you start trying to troubleshoot issues in a mess like above, its hard to remember that the OSPF exists.
In the enterprise or government network space you can have a topology like the one on the left (and probably has 20 closets and data centers filled like the first graphic with wires everywhere). You can however take the commercially available network and create a OSPF infrastructure very quickly. As you see in the diagram you can have sites connected to many other sites. Then if one link goes down you are able to remain connected.
You can do something similar in your home network as you build out your automation projects. As I discussed a couple of days ago the first network project at home is get your Wi-Fi straight. Now you have to consider load. IoT devices, and they are exploding will create a variable load on your network. People using the network for computing and entertainment will create a steady load but its variable in that it won’t be on all day every day. So as you embark on the various automation projects you have to seriously consider how you segment your network.
So the thing about the IoT revolution that no one really talks about is the fact that it is really a personal implementation of the hybrid cloud model. Your various automation and IoT devices all connect to an external service provider so that you can connect to them when you are not in your home. That’s a hybrid cloud. But you won’t have an enterprise security team watching what is happening with your stuff. This is the choose wisely portion of the blog. You will do well to consider the traffic in your home. Then also consider the traffic up to the cloud and down from the cloud into your home. Then consider the number of connections in your home and the number of available points of connection. If you think of your home as a private cloud, which certainly you will be in automating your home moving towards a part of the definition of private cloud then you have to consider the following rules that enterprises have been using for years.
· What is the best available connection for the service we are adding? Do we have that connection available in the location we need to run the service? That means if the IoT or Automation device needs a wired connection we need to put that device in a place where we have that.
· If the device (IoT) or Automation Hub supports remote connectivity what kind of cloud security protocols is the vendor running. Your entire house is at the mercy of a hacker if the security of your automation hub is hacked. Think that isn’t possible – search hackers control car on the Internet and see the results.
To get ready for your home automation project you just spent time and money fixing your home network. You can now sit in any corner of your house and get a solid Wi-Fi signal. You can watch Netflix in any part of your house. With the new extenders two people can watch Netflix at the same time (and different movies/shows)! Your network is now rock solid. It’s time to embark on that first home automation project. Except you still have that protocol problem.
Yeah it’s still there. So many protocols, so many bridges and not a single one of them willing to acknowledge it works with the others. There are a number of productions out there but there are many more IoT devices and you need to be careful. X-10, Smarthings, Wink, Control4, Staples Connect and the NEST system (Nest because they bought Revolv, they will no longer sell the product but I suspect they are integrating it into something new). Today I use the Control4 system but that is after years of playing with the X-10 system. I wanted a closed box system that had a company developing connections behind it.
Starting simple, get a hub for the short run that will control your first project. Also, once you head down a path, assume your next project and make sure you don’t have to buy a second hub. I recommend starting out with the cheaper hubs to see if you are in fact committed to home automation. I’ve seen many people start these projects and in the end stop. If your home automation system is buggy and doesn’t work or requires you to do extra work to use it, you will eventually stop using it.
So start out as I said in my first blog of this series, simple. The devices are coming. Controlling, connecting and communicating with them is the critical part. If you have made it past fixing your home network then bridges come next. That means where you place that smart hub is important. It needs to be able to connect to both your wired and wireless network. Even if you don’t have a wired network in your home, you at least have wires from the Internet device you are using. So you to have a way to have your hub connected to the wired and wireless network.
By the way one factor in picking your hub is the device you intend to use it with. IE if you intend to install panels permanently connected in your home then it impacts what you use. If you intend to use your cellular device or tablet than it also impacts what you choose.
The further confusing factor is the explosion of home IoT devices that are not automaton devices. This would include weather stations, both sides of the personal presence equation, home theater equipment and a myriad of other devices. Just connecting all of those with your cellular device can add 10 applications to your home screen. You can consider separating your security video from the rest of your automation project as you can operate those separately easily (I recommend the amazing Canary home security system for that). That buys you one less thing to connect later.
Yesterday I left off my home automation series with the various protocols to consider. There are a number of things you have to evaluate as you walk down the path of automation. The links are to articles that cover in great depth the what and why of the specific protocols.
· Smart Wi-Fi
When I started in IT many years ago wireless communication was in its infancy. It was effectively packet radio (Mobius) and had a very small range. The advent of Wi-Fi changed the IT infrastructure radically. It also changed the home reality. First off I won’t bore you with the reality of transmission. Just remember the following simple rules:
· Walls stop signals
· Concrete blocks signals more than standard structural walls
· No matter what the signal only goes so far – even if the first two items aren’t blocking it
Back in the day we called it clear line of site. Not as required today but still something to think about. Before you start automating your home check the signal strength. The best way to do that is to take a laptop or tablet and go to parts of your house. Lay the device down and run one of the many Internet speed tests. Do this in every part of your house. You will find that there are parts of your house that are 5 by 5 or full strength Wi-Fi. Other areas will have decreased signal.
You may choose with your automation project to include panels where you can access the features of the automation system anywhere in the house as well as from your computer or tablet. The devices used for input consume Wi-Fi and frankly if you don’t have a strong signal they won’t stay connected.
So before you start automation plan a network upgrade in your home. Not wiring every room with cat6 cable, but making sure you have solid Wi-Fi signals in the various rooms of the house. Game consoles, televisions, computers, tablets, cell phones and IoT devices mostly connect via one of the protocols listed above. Predominately Wi-Fi as it is more ubiquitous than the others in homes.
The next thing to consider is which project you are going to start with. Knowing that you are going to need a bridge if you choose anything other than Wi-Fi. A bridge is a device you connect to your Wi-Fi that supports and translates other protocols. You could have a bridge that can translate most of the protocols on my list above. I have an Almond device in my house currently that does catch and convert most of the signals and protocols above. My smart hub or home automation system uses Zigbe as its primary protocol for device communication, but Wi-Fi for its primary presentation protocol (the control panels in the house and on various mobile devices). To have the strength required from the network we are using two apple airports in the house. They are connected to the wired network so as to be able to relay and increase the reliability of the Wi-Fi signal in the house.
The very first project to undertake is a Wireless network evaluation. How good is your Wi-Fi signal in the recesses and corners of your house? If you intend eventually to use the space and know you will have IoT devices, check your signal. If you drink coffee on your deck – make sure you have Wi-Fi there!
“The din of beeping overcomes me. I am lost in a fog of noise. Help my home automation project has gone off the tracks.”
“I took on too much. The project became overwhelming. I mean all I was doing was trying to connect a few things together and now I have this. It’s worse than the Christmas lights in the attic.”
First off there is a lot of confusion in the home automation space. As I’ve talked about from the beginning of this series the most important thing is to make consistent good decisions. There is a way of simplifying everything. It is to take the systems view of what you are doing. For a home project or for that matter any other project you break the project down into the three distinct components. The inputs, the processes that run and the outputs.
For home automation that is pretty straight forward. The area you get tripped up is as I mentioned at the end of my last blog (here) the various protocols you have available. The reality is however that you end up with a system design view such as the one on the left. A systems view of what you are doing should be very simple. Again touching on the three things you are doing.
Let’s break that down.
1. Inputs – the inputs represent all of the connected devices you are considering part of your home automation project.
2. The processes are the protocols and expected information taken from the device and delivered to the action hub.
3. The outputs are the resulting expected automated actions.
Lights, status of light (on or off) process (turn light on or off) output (light turns on or off) the system view (simple) is always the best.
So why do projects get complex? First off as I talked about in my first blog and second blog in this series. The “what” of automation alone can be overwhelming? I started in the home automation world with X-10 many years ago. The complexity of device communication can be the first issue. As I talked about in the previous blogs make sure whatever you decide as your action hub that it can talk to the devices you are deploying. This brings us to the many home automation protocols available on the market. List of the protocols is below – and I’ve included a few links to blogs that I feel like really have a good explanation of the protocols.
· Smart Wi-Fi
Now the other side of the automation puzzle is the number of routers that offer various components and gateways for these protocols. Choosing the right router and protocol will be the focus of an upcoming blog.