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Beginners guide to Smart Home Automation

“Hey Siri, Good night”! That’s all I have to say to call it a night.


My home lights are turned off except for the night lamp, front door is locked; my air conditioner dips in temperature and I am all set for a good night.


It is not just convenient, these features save energy and money on utility bills. It may seem a little overwhelming to a few but that is only because it is a relatively new technology. Believe me, it is a lot simpler than it seems. Smart home technology is simpler now than ever before. The market has enough DIY (Do it yourself) devices for you to get started.


What Is Home Automation?


Simply put, Home Automation is the automatic control of electronic & electrical appliances in your home. The electrical system is connected with your IP system and that enables you to control electrical & electronic devices on connected devices anywhere in the world.


Home Automation allows you to control electrical appliances using voice commands and smartphones

Your home devices can be controlled via an app or voice assistants. Not just control, you can monitor usage, create schedules so that they turn on or off automatically at a time of the day. For example, you can schedule your lights to turn off automatically at the time you normally go to sleep. With security cameras, you can always check up on your home and smart door locks enable you to let the right people in, even when you are away from home, without having to leave the key under that mat.


With geofences, you can turn on the AC and pre-cool your home before you return from work. IoT (Internet of Things) based Home Automation makes life more convenient, safe secure and also saves money on energy bills.


But what is the Internet of Things?


The Internet of Things or IoT refers to any device that is connected to the Internet beyond smartphones and computers, those devices that are not normally connected from lights to kitchen appliances, sensors, etc.


When a device is connected to the internet then many possibilities open up, as they can share & receive information. Take for instance the cell phone; before smartphones, all you could do was call, send texts with them. Now you can read, write, take pictures, navigate in a new city, and make flight bookings all with one single device.


IoT devices can be broadly classified into three categories;


1. Things that collect and then send data,

2. Things that receive data and then act on it

3. Things that do both.


Connecting things in your home to the internet will enable access to devices from anywhere in the world. IoT devices are also called Smart devices because these things are now able to act on information from users or other devices.


Smart Home or Home automation is what you build using IoT devices to make your life simpler and a tad bit easier.


How Does Home Automation Work?


A network of devices is connected to the internet and other devices through different communication protocols (Wi-Fi, BLE, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and others) and enable home automation to work.


Home automation consists of three main elements; controllers, actuators, and sensors. The app interfaces and voice assistants make your controller interfaces and used to send or receive information from devices at home. When you turn on an appliance with your mobile device, the signal is relayed to an actuator which acts on it and switches on the electrical appliance.


Many IoT devices are embedded with sensors that monitor changes in motion, ambient temperature, light, and humidity. Users can create actions on other connected actuator devices based on the sensor output. For instance, you can turn on light bulbs based on the ambient light as you walk into a room.


With home automation, you can control, monitor, and automate your home.


Control: You can control devices remotely using voice assistants and app interfaces. Like opening the window shades, panning a security camera to a different angle.


Monitoring: You can check on the devices and your home using security cameras. You can watch live footage outside your front door when a doorbell is pressed.


Automation: You can set up schedules, geofences, and sensor-based triggers. With Automation your home takes care of itself. Your lights turn off automatically when no one is in the room or it is time for your bed. The siren goes off when someone tries to break into your home.


Home Automation System Components


Home automation systems generally require a connected application and a device but some systems also require a hub additionally. In a hub-based system, the hub is the command center for the entire house. It connects with individual sensors, actuators, and controller interfaces.


Now that we have cloud communication with high speeds, it is no longer required to have a hub-based system. You are good with Wi-Fi enabled devices that directly connect with your internet routers.


Smart assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri is an integral part of home automation

Mobile Application: The mobile application allows users to control, monitor, and manage their devices in real-time, whether it’s turning off the lights or opening the front door. The app is also used to add, remove, customize devices, and create schedules, group loads as scenes for easy access.


Voice Assistants: With artificial intelligence-enabled voice assistants, controlling your home is a breeze. You can turn on lights, open window shades using simple voice commands. You can also ask assistants to show the video feed of your outdoor and indoor cameras and activate security systems when you are away from home. Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are the major assistants today for smart home control. Say simple voice commands like "Turn off Lights" or "It's Bedtime" & watch your home respond.


Alexa: Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant that’s built into Echo range of smart speakers and displays. It is also available on mobile devices. Alexa is integrated with the highest number of smart devices. In addition to playing your favourite music, reading news, it also can switch on and off your lights and appliances.


Google Assistant: Google Assistant comes with any Google Home Hub, Nest Hub, or Nest Mini speaker. Just say “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” to activate the voice assistant. Although Google Assistant has fewer “skills” or “actions” than Alexa, it has been proven to be the most accurate voice assistant in terms of understanding and answering queries correctly. Much like Alexa, Google has devices built-in with the Assistant and devices that can be controlled by it. The major factor behind the popularity of Google Home is that it is the default assistant of Android devices that comprises the majority of the smartphone market. With Google Assistant being the default voice assistant in all android devices and people’s familiarity with the app gives it an edge over Alexa.


Siri: Siri is Apple’s voice assistant that’s integrated into all Apple devices. There aren’t a lot of connected devices that work with Siri. The list of devices that work with HomeKit isn’t as comprehensive as Alexa or Google Assistant but quality products are being added all the time. HomeKit itself is a framework of Apple which all the devices need to comply with to get access to it and make them work with all Apple products.


Communication Protocols


The way that IoT devices communicate with other devices and the Internet is their communication protocol.


Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is by far the most common communication protocol. Most of your devices like phones, laptops are already connected to the internet via Wi-Fi. It is used for long-distance, high data rate applications. It provides a wide range of coverage.


Z-Wave: Z-Wave is a wireless technology that won’t interfere with your Wi-Fi; rather it operates on a low power mesh network using low-energy energy waves. It operates at different frequencies in different geographies, so a device that operates in the US will not work in India.


Zigbee: It is primarily designed to create personal area networks for home automation. It is low -power, low data rate, and close-proximity protocol. It works on 2.4 GHz ISM radio band.


Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a mesh technology that lets control and monitor IoT devices and automates systems. Most people are familiar with it as it is built in almost all smartphones in the market. Bluetooth makes secure connections to nearby devices. Its most common application is wireless connectivity to speakers, headsets. It is also used with car stereo systems, keyboards, and gaming consoles, and it’s less common in smart home security.


Pros and Cons of Home Automation

What’s not to love about smart home automation? While it has many positives, it comes with a few negatives, some that will correct shortly and others might take a little longer.


All home automation devices are nowadays wireless using Wi-Fi connectivity

Pros


Comfort: You are all set to call it a day and go to sleep and then you realize you’ve left the bathroom light on? With smart home automation, you can turn it off with a simple voice command from the comfort of your bed without having to raise a finger.


Convenience: You will be able to automate your everyday tasks and go about your day on auto-pilot. Create schedules to turn off and on your lights to sync with sunrise and sunset. Your door locks itself and security systems activate once you are out of the home. Imagine being able to wake to a pleasant morning with sun rays entering your room, your bath getting prepared, and coffee getting brewed without having to push a button.


Remote access: You can control, monitor your home from anywhere in the world. Want to check up on your pets, open the app and turn on the pet camera or have to let in your friend in open the door from your office without having to leave the key under the mat.


Energy efficiency: I don’t know about you but I have left the water heater on, several times rushing to work. How much energy would have been wasted? With home automation, you can set your thermostats and water heaters to turn off automatically when they are unused.


Safety: With cameras, video doorbells, and sensors for windows and doors you can detect people and only let in the right people. If someone tries to break in you through the windows, you will be alerted immediately.


Cons