The Elusive Chase for the Automated Home

By Mike Krell - June 23, 2014

Back in December, Patrick Moorhead wrote a piece on Revolv and his experiences with integrating it into his Home Automation (HA) system, a key piece of the ubiquitous Home Internet of Things (HIoT). Pat gave the Revolv Smart Home Hub and App a run-through by actually using it in his home and concluded that Revolv’s solution is the industry’s best and only system that connects best-in-breed home automation solutions. Using Nest, Sonos, Insteon, and Z-wave, Pat actually achieved “app integration” for his home. One go-to place to control it all.

I’ve been playing with various degrees of HA for 15 years. My view is we are no closer to a central point of control than we were 15 years ago. With the proliferation of apps, standards and proprietary technologies we’ve effectively made it more complicated to centralize and control our own systems.

In the early years of Home Automation it was easy; there were only a few (if that many) choices. You purchased your X10 controllers, got a PC, and then you could connect everything and anything. If you were an X10 geek, you probably remember setting your home alarm at night, and magically your garage door lowered, your outside lights set, the AC levels in the house were adjusted and so on.

I do recognize we’ve come a long way since X10 in the ‘70s technologically. But, with progress has also come enough new standards and market fragmentation to set us back years. The simplest things can be done so many different ways and with so many different technologies, that making choices and putting a system together has gotten a lot more difficult. Today, I’m speaking from experience. I’m currently at the tail end of building a new house. Like many a modern person, I want a state-of-the-art, integrated home automation system ready for me to use when I move in. I also don’t have an unlimited budget to spend. What I have found is, it’s not so easy to put together a mid-priced system integrating all my needs. Take a look at my “want” list:
  1. DIRECTV (this is my non-internet based video source, it could have been Comcast or Time Warner cable)
  2. High Speed Internet with wireless throughout
  3. Integrated web audio, and access to my Google Play library that houses all my music
  4. Access to typical online streaming video like Amazon Prime and Netflix
  5. Distribution of audio and video throughout the house, controllable in each room separately
  6. Alarm system
  7. Nest thermostats
  8. Locks controllable from the web (we have a rental unit upstairs)
  9. Integrated outdoor lighting (added at the last minute)
  10. And… I want EVERYTHING INTEGRATED and so simple that my wife can pick up a remote and run it all
Now that I have actually written that down, you can see how it may not be so simple. Actually, for the non-experienced HA person, it’s downright impossible. So let’s take a quick look at Revolv and how it would play into this scenario. The hub has a number of radios to control Z-Wave, WiFi, Insteon right now, with Zigbee and proprietary 900MHz, 415MHz and 933MHz to come. Revolv actually can do quite a lot to solve my problems including managing my Nest and locks. However, it doesn’t quite go far enough for the system I am trying to construct. I still need to control my video, sprinkler and alarm, and the technology it supports doesn’t match or integrate with some of my other choices. As a reminder, I am also getting my system set up now and I’m on Android, so the Revlov is of no use to me at this moment. To summarize, if I could use Revolv, for a reasonably priced $299 I could take care of some of the automation I’m planning, and cut down my app overload. But for me it’s insufficient. So let’s get to the punch line. If you are reasonably tech savvy, have a limited budget and have some simple automation tasks to do, go at it. Have fun and enjoy what you can do today to automate your home. Products like the Revolv are great if it fits what you have (or are going to have) in your home in the near term, especially if you are adding to an existing infrastructure. At an affordable price point, it allows you to experiment and accomplish what you want without breaking the bank. However, if you are doing a complex or thorough HA system and have a healthy, but not unlimited budget to spend, what’s out there today only deals with a small fraction of the puzzle. If you want to integrate more complex systems, there just aren’t mid-priced combinations of solutions and off-the- shelf software products that can do the entire integration. Also beware, the proliferation of standards in the HA market has not stopped, and what you install today will not be the end of your quest for the single central controllable home. There are both existing and coming technologies that have not been implemented in these integrated products yet and they offer significant advantages over what you are seeing today. AllJoyn™, the CEA Device Operability Working Group and Bluetooth™ just to name a few. I believe, as do others, that the power and economics of some of these technologies will make them key players in the long term HA market. I’ll discuss these technologies more in future blogs. For now, enjoy what we have today, and just know we have a long way to go until tomorrow.
+ posts