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Modern Home Automation Technologies and how they work

Updated on January 22, 2018
Naveed Ahmed 624 profile image

Technology makes us stand in the present. We should abreast ourselves with tech developments at-least directly related to our lives.

Having a Smart Home means

The "Internet of Things" (IoT) now allows having a smart home. It means monitoring and controlling of devices at home can be done from a far distance using mobile phones and other networked devices. Not only does it help keep homes safe, but also makes it easier to save energy.

Modern home automation systems allow for detection of burglary and break-ins, water leakages, smoke, and carbon monoxide build up, increase/reduction of humidity and unfavorable lighting conditions. They then allow for manipulation, controlling and/or optimization of devices under these conditions.

In home automation, almost every gadget, from computer, TVs, surveillance cameras, smartphone, pet feeders, clock, garage, doors and usual appliances can be linked to a mobile device.

Home Automation
Home Automation

Various companies offer different types of communication protocols that make it possible to automate homes. From wired to wireless devices, clients have many options to choose from to achieve smart homes.

Modern home automation such as “SmartThings Know and Control Your Home Kit” allow for control of devices and monitoring through multiple communication protocols. The following are a number of modern automation protocols and how they work:

1. X10 Home Automation:

Previously offered as a power line-based network, it is now available in the wireless mode. X10 offers a plethora of home automation products, from switches, controllers, interfaces, modules and wall receptacles to In-Wall KeyPads. Using the mobile X10 controller (remotes such as the Slimline Switch (SS13A)), devices can be switched on/off or dimmed through the x10 Wireless Signal (TM751) transmitted through existing power lines. The x10 devices are hooked to the x10 Appliance Module, which is hooked to the Transceiver Module through the wiring. The wired x10 works with devices such as the MiniTimer Starter Kit to send the signal.

2. ZigBee Home Automation:

This is the wireless 802 standard introduced by IEEE. Its real name is IEEE 802.15.4 and works through personal-area networking (PAN). Many devices can be controlled through this network. Each device in the meshed network emits packet signals until the intended target is reached. The network is tolerant to interference by radio frequencies. Mesh networking is different from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. Each device can send or receive signals without need to have a master device. The message is rebroadcast or "echoed" by each of the meshed devices until it reaches the intended destination. It is a win for smart lighting home automation projects and can manage automation over a wide area.

3. Z-Wave

Sigma Designs makes chips for devices from other vendors in order to achieve home automation. Z-wave switches operate over radio frequency and are tolerant from interference by Wi-Fi. The network is formed of three layers, namely the radio layer, network layer and application layer, which work together to achieve the automation. The technology can contain up to 232 devices and is scalable - meaning it is possible to add more devices into the network at any time. Radio layer uses frequency, encoding, hardware access (among other strategies) to exchange signal between physical radio hardware and the network. The Network Layer uses among other methods addressing, network organization, routing to see to it that two devices (nodes) exchange data or data exchange between them is controlled. Application Layer enables interpretation of messages by various applications to control the devices through switching on/off, increasing/decreasing temperature, and heating a device. The message sent can be received and devices do acknowledge that it has been received.

The company offers a wide range of products, from door locks, motion detectors (among other security devices), home theater systems, lights, thermostats to spa controls. Some devices work on batteries while others are AC outlets. They enable control and monitoring of appliances for energy efficiency. An example of the automation systems is Wireless Lighting Control – GE Z-Wave.

4. Insteon

This protocol utilizes wired and wireless networks. In this network, networked devices communicate continually and if one fails, the others take over. Run by SmartLabs, Insteon is even compatible to X10. Insteon uses Android phones, Windows Phones and iPhones. It can be employed in securing and monitoring a modern home. It can effectively monitor and control security cameras, leak sensors, thermostats, doors/windows, bulbs and motion sensing devices. It also supports remote sensors, two-stage heating and cooling systems and duct dampers. The system starts with a Dual-Band Insteon device, which sends messages via power lines and wireless networks, repeating the message over these networks (this increases reliability). The message is then relayed to the device that is to be controlled.

Through the 2.4GHz band, the technology is used to remotely control many home (microwaves, TVs, etc) appliances. It employs the peer-to-peer network where no routers or device administrators are necessary. Mesh Network allows any device to repeat message over the network and works on a Dual-Band mode - meaning over wired and wireless network. Use of Dual Band also eases out interference from concrete, masonry or steel studs and other signal blockades. An example of home automation system using this technology is Smarthome INSTEON Wireless Motion Sensor.

5. Wi-Fi

It is the market name for the IEEE standard 802.11 protocol. Majority already know this protocol as it is commonly used in sharing network over laptops, game consoles and other devices. Not only is it super fast, but it is also the most common home automation solution today. In fact, most vendors can hardly avoid this protocol today. The first generation WiFi was the 802.11b but there are more recent including the 802.11g variant, which is a high-speed level 1. The protocol assumes a speed of 3 Gigahertz same as microwave oven. It has different channels that can overlap and be used at the same time.

It is available in two types: DCF (Distributed Coordination Function) and PCF (Point Coordination Function). Wireless protocols allow for connection of independent devices with one another where the two are self-organizing (known as the Independent Basic Service Set (BSS)), or use of wired infrastructure where the Access Point (AP) takes the traffic out of independent devices into a distributed network (known as the Infrastructure BSS). In the latter case, the independent devices talk to AP only and the message is sent depending on "who will hear it" (using communication protocols). The other way is communication among devices through an Access Point and a distribution network, where no protocols are defined for the network (known as Extended Service Set (ESS)). The message in the air is defined by source, destination and BSSID (access point address, essentially) as the addresses, and AP picks messages that has its address. The AP also sends a message into the air with defined source and destination address for the device found.

Some home automation systems such as the RainMachine Smart WIFI Irrigation Controller allow monitoring of weather conditions and planning for home garden irrigation. Others will even take video evidence of burglary, lock or open doors as needful. SmartThings Know and Control Your Home Kit can let you know when a person has entered the house in addition to allowing controlling of various devices at home.

6. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE):

The technology is marketed as Bluetooth Smart. It serves as a wireless personal area network and uses the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT protocol). Bluetooth Smart enables connection of devices such as heart-rate monitors, toothbrushes and shoes in addition to computers, TVs and other devices at home. These can be operated via tablets and smartphones. It works on the same frequency as Classic Bluetooth but on different channels. Interference is minimized through use of frequency hopping. It seeks to achieve low energy in home automation. Devices at home (termed as clients) will initiate a command, request and accept responses from other devices. The server that also renders responses receives these requests. The server exchanges data with clients on values such as temperatures and voltage.

It can integrate with other protocols through gateways such as Wi-Fi-BLE, Z-Wave-BLE, Enocean-BLE and ZigBee-BLE to achieve home automation.

Bluetooth Smart
Bluetooth Smart

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