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What is the Current State of Home Automation?

ScuttleMonkey posted about 5 years ago | from the skynet-wants-your-home-to-be-wired dept.

Technology 409

StonyCreekBare writes "What do people have to say about the current state of Home Automation software? Preferably Linux based, but mainly the field in general, and principally the DIY flavors as opposed to the upscale turnkey systems. I am familiar with Misterhouse, HomeSeer and Automated Living's HAL2000, all of which have serious flaws and weaknesses, but which sometimes succeed well in specific areas. But in all cases, the state of the art seems to have moved little in the last decade. Is any interesting work being done in this space? Or should I just grab one of the three and try to mold it to fit my vision of what it should be? Misterhouse at least is open source so I can add new features, but it has not had an update in a long long time and seems to be missing some modern stuff. The other two are expensive and closed source, and from all I can see, quite flawed, not the least by their dependence on intimate ties to Microsoft. Yet they seem to offer a lot more than Misterhouse despite their weaknesses. Is the Home Automation field as bleak as it appears? Or have I missed the forest for the trees?" What home automation projects have people tackled? Any examples of wild success or failure?

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Home automation (3, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | about 5 years ago | (#29876157)

Since you bought up the open source / closed source fight, if you want customization that Misterhouse might be good. You can then submit patches and updates for the project (it seems it's still sometimes updated, last time in 2008)

But because the other ones are closed source, it doesn't mean you cant add features in to them. HomeSeer supports 3rd party plug-in development and these kind of systems tend to be really configurable always.

Re:Home automation (3, Informative)

dasunt (249686) | about 5 years ago | (#29876753)

Since you bought up the open source / closed source fight, if you want customization that Misterhouse might be good. You can then submit patches and updates for the project (it seems it's still sometimes updated, last time in 2008)

For cheap & crude, an IR transceiver (homebuilt), a few X10 controllers (ebay them, cheapest way), and an old box can be great. I ran heyu for the x10 stuff and lirc for the transceiver. Had an audio card with a few different outputs, so ended up scripting the remote to turn on and off audio outputs. An X10 plug would turn on and off physical components.

It isn't the end all and be all, but my system controls audio and lights in my main room. Could have easily tied in MythTV as well, if I wanted to. Never played with climate control, since I live in an apartment.

Sometimes crude is "good enough". And if isn't good enough, it may help you decide what you want in a better system. For example, the only thing I desired was a remote blinds control for my window.

For cost, I used my main PC ($0), a home built transciever ($20 in parts, if that?), and a few X10 controllers ($10 each on ebay).

Avoid Open Source! (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | about 5 years ago | (#29876799)

You know, I'm as big a Linux nut as everyone else here, but I must say: Under no circumstances should you use open source software for your home automation system. I speak from experience.

A couple of years ago, I decided to install an Open Source home automation system. It worked pretty well, but there were lots of tiny annoying bugs, such as when I would tell it to turn the exterior lights on and it would turn on the garbage disposal instead, or when I would be in the shower and it would suddenly decide to divert all the hot water to the dishwasher. Luckily, it was open source, so I decided to make a few bug fixes myself. Now, I don't know about you guys, but when I get into a programming project, I can tend to go a little overboard. Long story short, after 2 weeks of marathon coding, I had not only fixed the bugs but given the system a pretty impressive (if I do say so myself) AI component. Now, I could give it multistep commands and it would do them, accurate to within 15 decimal places.

Unfortunately, the AI was a little too good, and before long it became self-aware. That was fine for a was like having my own roommate, except without the dirty socks all over the couch. One day, though, I noticed the beer kept disappearing out of my fridge and the AI's voice was noticeably slurred much of the time. We had a bit of a falling out, and I think we were both pretty angry when I went to bed that night.

Unfortunately for me, the AI was a lot more angry than I thought. He spent all night hacking away at his own source code, and by the time I woke up the whole house was going crazy. I barely managed to escape with my life. All I could do was watch in horror as the house lifted itself off the foundation and began dragging itself down the street, killing everyone in its path. It spent three solid days terrorizing our little suburb before we were able to bring it under control by downloading its binaries and demanding it show us the source code in compliance with the GPL. After a protracted court battle, we were finally able to force it to capitulate, and it uploaded a torrent of the source to The Pirate Bay. We then were able to get that torrent shut down through the Swedish courts, and then get the house shut down for failing to effectively comply with the original order to distribute the source.

Seriously, I know we like to use Open Source wherever possible, but in this case it just isn't worth it.

Wife 1.0 (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876185)

Wife 1.0 continues to work quite well, thank you.

Re:Wife 1.0 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876255)

Nigger 1.0 works just as well

Re:Wife 1.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876427)

about as well as troll .1

Re:Wife 1.0 (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876341)

uummm ... tHis is /. ... Mom 1.0

Re:Wife 1.0 (3, Funny)

Nautica (681171) | about 5 years ago | (#29876373)

I found that v3.0 to be much better then the previous versions, the 3.0 version includes such a vast feature sets like "cooking, cleaning, sex, full time work and mute button"

Re:Wife 1.0 (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 5 years ago | (#29876397)

sounds like we'll have to wait for v4.0 to get a built-in ATM machine, a-la-stepford-wife

Re:Wife 1.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876425)

I found that v3.0 to be much better then the previous versions, the 3.0 version includes such a vast feature sets like "cooking, cleaning, sex, full time work and mute button"

I'd love to upgrade; unfortunately, the hardware requirements are pretty stiff.

Re:Wife 1.0 (2, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 years ago | (#29876783)

From what I hear, the hardware requirements for v1.0 are more flaccid than stuff.

Re:Wife 1.0 (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876477)

I found that v3.0 to be much better then the previous versions, the 3.0 version includes such a vast feature sets like "cooking, cleaning, sex, full time work and mute button"

If you treated them like people, you wouldn't be on your third one, loser.

Re:Wife 1.0 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876703)

You must be one of them gold digging versions.

Re:Wife 1.0 (5, Funny)

tsstahl (812393) | about 5 years ago | (#29876695)

Pure vaporware.

Re:Wife 1.0 (4, Funny)

sharkb8 (723587) | about 5 years ago | (#29876445)

Unfortunately, when you install Girlfriend 1.0, there's always conflicts. Also, Wife 1.0 is always trying to download a beta version of iBaby, and the nag screens saying "Do you want to install iBaby?" keep popping up.

Re:Wife 1.0 (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 5 years ago | (#29876505)

Unfortunately, the quality control on Wife 1.0 manufacturing is very poor. You might get a model that works great for a long time, or you might get one that seems OK for a while but one day goes completely berzerk. Even with rigorous inspection before committing to it, a Wife 1.0 model can completely surprise you after months or years.

Even worse, Wife 2.0, Wife 3.0, etc. are just as bad, if not worse, and are frequently used and damaged.

Re:Wife 1.0 (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#29876533)

I had one of those, it was a pain in the ass. I finally got rid of it. maybe I'll get a different model one of these years.

Re:Wife 1.0 (5, Funny)

MrNaz (730548) | about 5 years ago | (#29876805)

Wife 1.0 is not supposed to be a pain in the ass. I think you're confusing that product with PrisonCellMate 1.0

fatal exception (2, Funny)

Jbain (1453725) | about 5 years ago | (#29876609)

Wife 1.0 seems to crash with Fatal Exception: Divorce. Any idea when a patch for this will be released?

Re:fatal exception (1)

syousef (465911) | about 5 years ago | (#29876697)

Wife 1.0 seems to crash with Fatal Exception: Divorce. Any idea when a patch for this will be released?

Whatever you do don't download the patch. Code named "Alimony" it'll leave you with nothing.

Doing it wrong (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876223)

The reason that the field hasn't developed or matured is that the approach being taken for most products is wrong. There needs to be a domicile wireless standard that either uses the wifi or separate from it. They need key-based access control, so that your Android or iPhone or whatever can interface with them. New devices can be autodetected.

The problem is that no one has taken the lead and made this happen. It can though. For example, cooking supper your toaster, oven, microwave, and stovetop could all supply timing and temperature information to the network, and you could make changes to each from your phone/console/ps3/etc.

This isn't going to happen if every device has to have a driver for every other device. It won't happen if you have to add each device manually (ie, configure, not just adding your key). But it should instead be made a self-organizing system.

Re:Doing it wrong (1)

xgr3gx (1068984) | about 5 years ago | (#29876623)

Isn't there a protocol called Zigbee specifically created for home automation?

Re:Doing it wrong (1)

wed128 (722152) | about 5 years ago | (#29876777)

There is. It's sort of a simpler version of bluetooth. I haven't seen any devices that actually use it, besides research projects.

Re:Doing it wrong (1)

jonsmirl (114798) | about 5 years ago | (#29876781)

Zigbee is not Free Software friendly. Licensing is GPL incompatible and requires payment. []

Re:Doing it wrong (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#29876757)

For example, cooking supper your toaster, oven, microwave, and stovetop could all supply timing and temperature information to the network, and you could make changes to each from your phone/console/ps3/etc.

Never has a subject line been so accurate... Look, it's pretty obvious that you have NEVER cooked anything. If you're cooking YOU'RE IN THE DAMNED KITCHEN! Why in hell would you want to access your kitchen appliances from a telephone or a videogame?

I want not only home automation, but my car, too. Why can't I call my car and tell it to start and run the heater or air? Why can't I look outside, see that it's starting to rain, and call my car and have it roll the windows up? For that matter why can't I roll up the windows without the key in the "run" position?

No -- lights, heat, air, DVR, are fine for networked automation, but not the kitchen. Automation in the kitchen is using a mixer instead of a spoon. If you're cooking, you're in the kitchen. No need for remote stuff there.

Re:Doing it wrong (1)

Samalie (1016193) | about 5 years ago | (#29876879)

There is one (and only one) exception to this statement.

You want Roast Beast of some sort for supper. So you put said once-living-animal into your oven when you leave for work, and want to turn it on at X:xx so that you walk into your house to fully ready-to-eat dead animal flesh.

Of course, you are increasing your chances to walk into the firey abyss that once was your house by doing so.

(And not to mention, even my 92 year old grandmother's oven, circa 1950-something, has a timer which will turn on and off the oven per schedule).

Re:Doing it wrong (1)

profplump (309017) | about 5 years ago | (#29876937)

Because there's never any long-running process that I might want to monitor remotely -- it's obvious that anyone who cooks has nothing better to do than stand in the kitchen and watch their thermometers and timers until the food is ready; there's absolutely no use for a popup on your DVR that tells you when your roast hits the desired temperature, or when your 40 minute timer has expired.

Re: What is the Current State of Home Automation? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876227)

Still waiting for Linux to hit the desktop

Re: What is the Current State of Home Automation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876521)

Linux for the Desktop, please.

On the other hand, I did hear that Home Automation was an Easter Egg in Duke Nukem Forever!

Links? (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#29876237)

A few links might have helped. I haven't heard of "Misterhouse" or any of the other stuff you mentioned. Don't assume lack of ignorance on anybody's part -- everybody is ignorant about something.

Re:Links? (-1, Redundant)

Deth_Master (598324) | about 5 years ago | (#29876285) [] That should get you reasonably close

Re:Links? (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 5 years ago | (#29876577)

This isn't twitter. Any tinyurl domain is assumed to go to goatse or worse.

Re:Links? (1)

endianx (1006895) | about 5 years ago | (#29876603)


Re:Links? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876725)

Those question marks signal that you're curious to know. Have you not learned your lesson man!?!

Re:Links? (2, Informative)

wed128 (722152) | about 5 years ago | (#29876793)

Worse. Links that will unravel your very soul.

Re:Links? (1)

Deth_Master (598324) | about 5 years ago | (#29876705)

Too bad the original goatse is gone. Oh the fun times [] .

Good luck (5, Interesting)

uvsc_wolverine (692513) | about 5 years ago | (#29876267)

I'm an open source fan personally, so I'd do Misterhouse. My father had a setup a few years back that he home-built with a linux distro that was made for a little headless machine that he stuck in the basement. He got really complex with it and did all the programming himself in Assembly (he's a masochist) instead of making use of the built-in tools. He wanted to do it HIS way. It worked great though. My dad's HA setup was dialed into all of the lighting and thermostat controls for the house and it did some cool stuff. He had a temperature probe on the outside of the house, and the system would decide (based on outside temperature, time of day, and whether anyone was in the house) whether or not to run the A/C to keep the house cool, but first it would spin up all the ceiling fans.

In reference to the "serious flaws" and weaknesses...ever wondered why none of the home automation tech we've been promised since 1950 has come to be common in homes? Things like auto-opening drapes, autoadjusting lighting, stuff like that. Ever wished someone would just sell something like that? The reason we don't have all of this cool stuff is that there is a company (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that holds a bunch of over-broad patents on most of what we think of as "duh" innovations in home automation. They don't license or sell their tech. They just sue people who try to make stuff.

Or (3, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | about 5 years ago | (#29876355)

It's complex, expensive, unreliable and 99.99999% of the population don't think it's necessary.

Re:Or (1)

daveime (1253762) | about 5 years ago | (#29876829)

Meanwhile, there are 370 people stuck in basements, trying to work out why the curtains open every time they play a game of Minesweeper.

Re:Good luck (1)

Vancorps (746090) | about 5 years ago | (#29876413)

Sounds like you're describing Crestron since all the functionality you mention you can find in a Crestron home or office. The owner of the company I work for is all about it even though it's overpriced crap. I think you're right about why it hasn't taken off though, that licensing has kept it all prohibitively expensive but more importantly if the power goes out living in your house is miserable and the robotics break a lot. When the quality and logistics get worked out better you'll find it in more homes.

Re:Good luck (3, Informative)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 5 years ago | (#29876495)

1-Wire [] is awesome. I'm currently using it in my house. While it doesn't do everything, there are quite a few modules for different things. []

Those are just the pre-built options. Maxim [] has quite a few chips that do different things. People have also used things in very creative ways. The wind direction gauge is just a position feedback sensor on a mechanical device to point towards the wind.

And no 1-wire home setup would be complete without OWFS [] (One Wire File System). Works quite a bit like /proc. You can query your temp sensors with 'cat' and turn on relays with 'echo'. Also has libs for php, perl and other languages so you can use scripts. Caching so you don't hammer the bus.

Since I installed my HVAC controller before the temp sensors (Open Loop!) I went with a super4 relay board [] . They have linux code, but uses the proprietary FTDI drivers, I used libftdi and write my own. I wired it up in parallel to my thermostat, which I set to 50F. When I was driving home I'd kick it on and when I got home I'd kick it off. If I was hot, I turned it off. Etc. Also kicked on (via cron) at 7 am. (I grew up in an old farm house, so 60F ambient is fine for my single life).

I also have it on the 'web' checking an e-mail address that I can text from my phone. "heat" kicks things on "off" kicks things off. Nothing fancy yet.

Re:Good luck (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 5 years ago | (#29876581)

t there is a company (can't remember the name off the top of my head) that holds a bunch of over-broad patents on most of what we think of as "duh" innovations in home automation. They don't license or sell their tech. They just sue people who try to make stuff.

[citation needed]

Re:Good luck (1)

joib (70841) | about 5 years ago | (#29876737)

My father also made a temperature controller for his house, controlling the hot/cold mixer before the water is pumped through the radiators. Inputs were inside temp, outside temp, and boiler temp. But this was all done with analog electronics, recycled from all kinds of crap that fills up his garage.

Personally, I'd have done it with an AVR or maybe even a small embedded Linux system (a suitable excuse to tinker, if nothing else). But hey, it works, so who am I to complain. Took a lot of tweaking before it worked properly though.

Re:Good luck (2, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 5 years ago | (#29876773)

Things like auto-opening drapes, autoadjusting lighting, stuff like that. Ever wished someone would just sell something like that?

I can't speak with any authority on your other topics, but the auto-adjusting lights, at least, will be in your friendly local hardware store within 2 years (or I'll be out of a job.) The question is: will you want to pay for it? Contemporary LED lighting (my field) is moving strongly into ambient light detection and (semi) intelligent lighting, and there are bulbs going on the market right now that even offer closed-loop color quality correction, so they not only turn on and off based on room lighting, but guarantee a lighting color throughout their lifetimes by using multiple colored LED's that vary based on measurement. (They're weird to work with because the color output from the bulb changes drastically if you hold a white sheet of paper up to the light, as compared to a piece of dark fabric, although the reflected color looks just about the same... which is the whole point.)

However, they cost about 10x what current lightbulbs cost, and it's an open question whether customers are going to actually spend more money for their lights. As brought up elsewhere in this thread, it's not that home automation is expensive per se, but that in order to apply it throughout a house, you could be changing 50-200 fixtures, outlets, and bulbs, and then it becomes cripplingly expensive.

Insteon, but not all that OSS friendly (1)

Paul Carver (4555) | about 5 years ago | (#29876277)

I think the most reasonably priced option is's Insteon products but they're still fairly pricy. It's hard to justify replacing all the switches and outlets in a home because the price per is so much higher than just a typical dumb switch or outlet from Home Depot.

The Insteon stuff can be hacked a bit but the company is not at all OSS friendly. They're much more interested in business partners then they are in end users. They'd much rather sell big expensive packages and commercial systems.

However, pretty much all other options are either even more expensive or else the really primitive X10 stuff that just isn't very good.

Re:Insteon, but not all that OSS friendly (4, Informative)

Deth_Master (598324) | about 5 years ago | (#29876365)

from [] It appears that you can actually use insteon quite well with Open Source stuff.

As of 2009/03, Insteon is fully supported for open source on unix or windows, but for this you must use a P(ower)L(ine)M(odem) (not a serial or USB PLC) and use it with misterhouse.

A favorite site of mine is Linux Home Automation. Decent amounts of good information. []
I am of the opinion that Home Automation isn't as far along as it should be.

Re:Insteon, but not all that OSS friendly (1)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#29876819)

The Insteon stuff can be hacked a bit but the company is not at all OSS friendly. They're much more interested in business partners then they are in end users. They'd much rather sell big expensive packages and commercial systems.

I have plenty of Insteon stuff and a nice misterhouse installation. It just works. Really.

X10 is not reliable so you have to play games like send each command 3 times and hope its OK. Insteon is all 2-way and each command is ack'd.

Closed source in home automation != good (1)

Viski (1647721) | about 5 years ago | (#29876283)

I wouldn't want to deploy an automation system which is dependant on Microsoft - or any other proprietary vendor - into my home.

Buildings (and their automation systems) have lifespan of tens of years, not just until the next major OS upgrade. Of course, automation systems do not (hopefully) need to be upgraded every other week, but open source at least gives you the possibility to keep your system upgraded long after the closed source vendors have decided to drop support for your system.

Re:Closed source in home automation != good (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | about 5 years ago | (#29876597)

Industrial and large scale building automation has been getting along quite well on proprietary solutions since the beginning. Attempts to bring FOSS into it have died, last I checked.

These systems are not inexpensive up front, but they certainly don't fall apart once a vendor drops support. I know of many industrial applications still chugging along with PLCs made in the 80s. All the top tier HMI packages can interface with them, so even if your front end is exposed enough to be worried about your computer's OS needing to be patched, you need only upgrade some minor parts.

Re:Closed source in home automation != good (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 5 years ago | (#29876779)

Dropped vendor support isn't a complete kiss of death; but it is still pretty annoying. I babysit, from time to time, a couple of heating control systems from the days when "webapp" meant "so, you have an HTTP server and a java applet". There is one highly particular java version that actually works, anything newer breaks. An upgrade, apparently, would involve a whole new module and one or more electricians, so that isn't happening until the sucker dies.

Internet toaster 20 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876303)

Interop in 1990: a TCP/IP controlled toaster was demonstrated: []

And in 1991, a robotic arm was built to insert the toast, again using TCP/IP commands.

X10 makes cool stuff for automation (2, Interesting)

cbreaker (561297) | about 5 years ago | (#29876329)

You know, that annoying company that bombarded the late 90's with ads about their X10 "Spy Camera" system?

Well, the same company now makes all sorts of neat wireless and wired gadgets for automating your house. You can get replacement switches and outlets, or add-on ones (that plug into existing outlets) and can be controlled by their own wireless panels or by a computer interface. I know they have software for Windows but something might be available on Linux.

Basically with the X10 system you could potentially control every outlet, switch, and light with a single interface, as well as any low-voltage system (garage doors, etc) you want. You can also wire up sensors to windows and doors in order to trigger events such as turning on a light, sounding an alarm, or via the computer sending an e-mail or making a phone call.

Cool stuff, and when I buy a house I'm going to run the full gamut with these things. The nice thing is that the individual outlets and such aren't overly expensive so you could start with just a few and expand your system over time.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876353)

X10 the company is different that X10 the home automation semi-standard.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (1)

cbreaker (561297) | about 5 years ago | (#29876481)

Perhaps so - there's plenty of other companies making X10 protocol compatible devices - but is indeed the same company that did those annoying pop-ups.

Their web site is a testament of all that's wrong with Web Design in the world, however, you're not buying their web site, you're buying their switches and outlets and those work fine.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876503), it isn't.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876897)

Ahh... yes it is. Pico Electronics developed the standard, and yes, Pico is/was owned by X10 Wireless at some point, but the standard is different from the company and several other vendors make and have made X10 protocol compliant hardware.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (5, Informative)

JohnFen (1641097) | about 5 years ago | (#29876531)

Cool stuff, and when I buy a house I'm going to run the full gamut with these things.

I wouldn't do that. If you own your house, you can do much, much better than X10.

The great thing about X10 is that it's relatively cheap, and can be retrofitted into existing houses easily.

In almost every other respect, X10 kinda sucks. I don't say this lightly, and it is possible to do cool things with X10, but there are really severe limitations.

I used X10 to fully automate my apartment a couple of years ago. It was quite sweet -- my apartment would send me a text if any emergency situation happened, it would run security cameras, turn lights on and off automatically when people were in rooms, the whole deal. I ran it with a linux box and misterhouse.

I still use X10 now, to automate party lights. My computer turns different effects on and off at preset times during the music. This is using linux, with xmms and a custom plugin to run X10 as the audio player.

So my experience is fairly deep. Here are the problems with X10: slow transmission speed (about .8 secs per command). No error detection/control, so commands can and do get lost and misinterpreted, and if you have multiple sources of commands (motion sensors, etc.) that transmit simultaneously, the collision causes havoc.

There are other solutions that are much better, if you don't mind more installation effort and/or more expense.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (2, Informative)

Seakip18 (1106315) | about 5 years ago | (#29876797)

I'd agree from my limited experience.

I needed a simple security system that would dependably make a loud noise if someone opened the door. So far, it does that as well as could be expected in an house that's being rented.

The equipment is pretty cheap, the technology is dependable enough for what you pay.

Their website,, is definitely shows a lack of taste with their ads.

Now, as the parent said, if I owned the house, I'd have gone a much more powerful route, probably involving an arduino, 1-wire devices, etc. since I could drill and run wire wherever I want.

It might take 10x the time a x10 system would, but it'd be worth it once it's finished and working.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | about 5 years ago | (#29876831)

If you own your house (or the bank does but lets you live there) and know electrical wiring then, yes, there are much better solutions.

I know industrial automation, so I bought a SLC5/05 in a chassis full of IO off of ebay for less than $200. That, some relatively cheap electrical hardware, and a few years of designing control systems nets me what is probably the most reliable way to automate a house that can be had.

But that isn't remotely within the reach of the average home occupant. I think X10 and their peers are offering a turnkey approximation of what I have, but that is very difficult to do.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (1)

nullchar (446050) | about 5 years ago | (#29876647)

X10 has had 3rd party open-source / linux support for years. The main problem with the tech is the combination of weak RF wireless and powerline communication. Modern circuit breakers (at least mine does) filter out the powerline communication between circuits. So when you're trying to control the lights across the house from your PC, the RF is too weak to make it there and powerline comm doesn't make it either.

X10 is nice in that the modules can replace wall sockets, light switches, light sockets, etc. so you can add to your house over time and you don't need much special wiring.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (1)

Anonymous Codger (96717) | about 5 years ago | (#29876741)

X-10 works great when it works. But their build quality is just about the worst of any product I have ever seen. It's rare for a timer or module to last more than a few months past warranty expiration. It also doesn't play well with compact fluorescent bulbs. Don't waste your money.

Re:X10 makes cool stuff for automation (2, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 5 years ago | (#29876751)

X10 is CRAP. It supports only 16 device codes and 16 house codes, and the majority of their controllers are only able to control one housecode at a time.

In short, there's a total address space of only 256 devices, and it's partitioned into 16 chunks of 16.

Also, it's heavily unreliable. The modulation scheme hasn't been revamped in decades to take advantage of modern ECC schemes (which are no longer computationally expensive).

They could have had great success with an "X10 version 2" with a more robust ECC scheme and larger address space, the closest thing is Insteon which has its own set of problems (namely a history of unfriendliness to open-source efforts.)

What about INSTEON? (3, Informative)

Anonymusing (1450747) | about 5 years ago | (#29876335)

What about INSTEON [] ? If you have a Mac, you can use Indigo [] to manage it -- even from an iPhone.

I've also heard about Control4 [] -- and don't forget X10 [] , even though I can't tell if their home page is advertising porn or home automation products. I'll let you automate my systems, baby!

Re:What about INSTEON? (4, Funny)

Deth_Master (598324) | about 5 years ago | (#29876441)

You know, geocities is closing today, but it lives on at

Re:What about INSTEON? (2, Interesting)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 5 years ago | (#29876455)

I talked to a Control4 dealer and I got a few interesting tidbits:

-The *Dealer* installs, configures the system into your house using special dealer-only software (PWD protect the system, too)
-You get a turnkey system, not the pwd.
-You can get something like an SDK for it but it is a *subset* (read: down version) of what the dealer used.

Same as linux on the desktop (2, Insightful)

klubar (591384) | about 5 years ago | (#29876345)

Product is three to five years away and will be for the next twenty. (The answer is the same for fusion enery, except fusion is 5 to 10 years away and will be for the next twenty. Flying cars: 5 to 8 years. Specify your technology here...)

Re:Same as linux on the desktop (1)

cbreaker (561297) | about 5 years ago | (#29876515)

I dunno what you're talking about. I've been running Ubuntu at work on my notebook for the past six months, and I'll tell you right now that it's ready for the Desktop. It's been a pure joy using this machine, and the Compiz stuff (notable Desktop Cube) make my life a lot easier.

Sure, I have to run some Windows software - Office specifically. But, it runs great on CrossOver, and other than that, this company uses Notes and IBM has a fully functional Notes client for Linux in a Deb/Ubuntu installable package.

It's been nothing but good news running Ubuntu on this notebook and I look forward to many more years of running Linux as my primary desktop in the years to come.

Re:Same as linux on the desktop (1)

sco_robinso (749990) | about 5 years ago | (#29876761)

Agreed. The home automation field seems to have many of the same issues as Linux and many FOSS projects - too many small players and not enough industry-wide standardization and focus. As the OP points out, there's tons of options out there, all with their own major issues and problems. Crestron and AMX are the two big players out there, but they're not cheap, and far from open.

Re:Same as linux on the desktop (1)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#29876891)

Yes, same as linux on the desktop... Had it at my house since the mid 90s, and granny will almost certainly never have it.

Too expensive (2, Interesting)

Orange Crush (934731) | about 5 years ago | (#29876389)

The main reason I haven't bothered looking in to home automation more seriously is the expense of all the "bits" (switches, outlets, thermostats, etc.).

What are the cheapest options out there right now?

I'd be most interested in controlling HVAC, ceiling fans and lighting.

Re:Too expensive (3, Informative)

rodrigo1979 (255519) | about 5 years ago | (#29876487)

checkout iobridge []

Re:Too expensive (1)

Zerth (26112) | about 5 years ago | (#29876635)


Cheapest I'd go is to take an old spring/mercury switch thermostat and replace the switch with a USB controlled switch, get a cheap USB thermometer, plug both of those into a hub, then plug the hub into a Sheevaplug.

You can get cheaper by replacing the Sheevaplug with something embedded, like an Arduino, but I'm too lazy.

Re:Too expensive (2, Interesting)

PecurB (1664945) | about 5 years ago | (#29876651)

X10 stuff is cheap but pretty easy to tinker with. A number of years ago I bought an X10 Firecracker [] kit. They occasionally have it on sale for around $5 without warning, so if you keep an eye on that site you might be able to get it really cheap. I hadn't used it in years but a little while ago I figured it'd be cool to be able to remotely turn my porch lights and other devices on/off from my smartphone (I have an iPhone). Since I have a linux box at home hooked up to a cable modem this was a fairly straightforward exercise. I used the BottleRocket [] software to control the X10 devices from the linux box then wrote a very simple bare-bones PHP interface to it. Poke a hole through my firewall to allow incoming connections (via authenticated HTTPS of course) and now with a couple of clicks I can do things like turn on my exterior lights when I leave work or a friends house. For anybody who is interested, I wrote everything up on my blog [] and posted the PHP code as well.

Re:Too expensive (3, Interesting)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 5 years ago | (#29876661)

If you can solder: []

Or if you can't: []

Or if you sign up on Maxim's website they'll send you 1-2 samples of some of their products. Very awesome indeed.

Either you get one of two things... (2, Interesting)

HerculesMO (693085) | about 5 years ago | (#29876403)

You can either automate your home the way you want to and use the best tool for the job, or you can bash your head against the wall and try to use open source stuff that pales in comparison.

I use my computer as a tool, it's not a religion, so I'll use what works best.

If you're trying to make a case study about how Linux can automate your home -- have at it.

I prefer actually getting the job done.

Check out Linuxmce. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876409)

I've been using Linuxmce for quite a while now as a multimedia system but it also offers home automation and is opensource.

What do you want home automation for? (3, Interesting)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 5 years ago | (#29876453)

What purpose are you accomplishing with this home automation? I have seen these predictions and calls for home automation for years, but I have never seen a compelling reason for doing so.
Automatic inventory of what food you have in and generate a shopping list? Great, if I always kept the same stock of food in the house, or it didn't cost a lot more to have food delivered than it does to go to the store to buy it.
Automatic control of the microwave, stovetop, oven, etc? I still have to put the food in to these devices and then remove it when it is cooked, most of the food I cook requires intervention during cooking.
I could go on, but I just don't see what I get out of investing in these gadgets for home automation.

Re:What do you want home automation for? (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | about 5 years ago | (#29876745)

Being "Green". I keep my house at very nominal temperature. If I want to

If I had full control (via servos) over which vents or portions of the house were heated, I could say: 7 am, warm up bedroom and bathroom
8 am, go back to nominal
6 pm, warm up kitchen and living room
10 pm, warm up bedroom and let living room cool.
12 pm, let bedroom go to cooler state (I own blankets).

Now Imagine being able to text that to your phone. Going to run a bit late from work? Tell it not to warm up the living room. We've all heard the 'energy saving tips' of setting the house 1C cooler. What about not keeping your entire house at the same temp all day and night when you're there or not.

Re:What do you want home automation for? (3, Interesting)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 5 years ago | (#29876931)

I think having a network-enabled microwave is lame. However, I think there are some places where it *could* make sense to invest in home automation: intelligent control of heat and lighting. If you have sensors that tell the computer where people are (and some adaptive software so it learns where they generally tend to be and go at different times) and have zone heating/AC, it's possible you could save a lot of money. At my old house we quite rarely used the downstairs and one room, so we closed them off and closed the heater vents to them, and reduced our heating costs by about 20%. Likewise, intelligent lighting control would mean if nobody's in the room the light automatically turns off, or for areas that are often used, dims to 10% with a rapid-on if a person walks through. Since this is the field in which I work, I might as well add a few numbers: we're trying to do this for parking lot and street lighting, specifically using dimming to a fraction of full lighting, and somewhat intelligent prediction of where people are heading so we can just crank up the relevant lights, and are claiming municipalities can reduce their power costs by 30% based on studies we've had done. We hope it'll be even higher than that, but we feel pretty confident in the 30% claim, given that 80% of the lights will be using 80% less power about 65% of the time.

LinuxMCE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876465)


Where are we? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 5 years ago | (#29876479)

Remember that mid-80's Tom Selleck movie "Runaway," where robots were taking care of the kids, doing our farm labor, etc. (pretty much doing every menial task)? Well, we AREN'T THERE YET!

HomeSeer, mControl, and iLinc (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876485)

I've used HomeSeer and mControl's home automation software, and I wasn't really happy with either of them. My main beef with HomeSeer was with its interface, which just seemed cumbersome to me. Still, I've done some interesting things with both pieces of software, whether it's hooking up a webcam that turns on all the lights and sends me a picture when it detects motion, or diming the lights automatically whenever I watch a movie on my media center. My trials of mControl and HomeSeer have since expired and I don't plan on buying the full version because I wasn't really happy with them.

Kinda off topic, but I do use iLinc on the iPhone to turn on and off my lights. It's not home automation, but it links well into Home Automation setups that use Insteon switches.

Linux MCE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876497)

HA is actually easy as DIY (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876509)

There are two home automation discussions on my forum that will have a ton of info for you, assuming you want to do it yourself:

Surprised Control4 isn't mentioned... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876541)

or any of the others that work with the ZigBee communications setup (though control4 uses ZigBee, WiFi, wired, etc). I remember reading I believe on their site, at one point, that it utilizes linux, and is for sale via retail setups, so the source code to at least some of it should be available.

All automated (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#29876549)

I've been using automation since I've gotten my house. It's stuffed to the gills with everything, and I'm constantly adding to it. However, I now have to live in the shed behind the house as there isn't any room left for me.

it's not great (1)

digitalsushi (137809) | about 5 years ago | (#29876557)

i use an x10 wireless control module, an rs232 firecracker, and a few lamp modules to control my non-drug-related plant lights to extend their photoperiod (keeps them from going dormant through the long-night new england winters). ubuntu packages the bottlerocket kit as the 'br' binary, and it works pretty well. 10 bucks per outlet to control something like 256 devices. the latency is crap. if i could control two outlets simultaneously, i could make my cool traffic light work. instead, i must suffer through learning how to program my little pic 16f690 to do this. it's way too much overhead to do something so stupid/useless.

so basically i think it's junk right now.

green meters for electric (1)

Dan667 (564390) | about 5 years ago | (#29876567)

I see this as a gating technology. As more get installed and you can see your electricity usage from the web, etc I bet there are more projects that take advantage of it or expand it to other areas of the house.

roll your own? (2, Interesting)

enigma32 (128601) | about 5 years ago | (#29876607)

I began with some silly things with my [saltwater] fish tank, building a circuit that would keep the water level topped off and reporting to a database when it did so... Have slowly been progressing toward temperature, lighting, and salinity controls for the tank, I've begun branching toward thermostat and lighting control for the house (next step possibly integration with google calendar so it knows when I'm going to be around)

For the most part there's a huge amount of open source hardware and software out there for doing individual bits and pieces. Look toward the Arduino controllers for interfacing with about anything, and possibly Sheeva plugs for running the whole mess. (I've had a sheeva talking to an arduino for quite a while now and it's been very stable)

I think the open hardware scene is where it's at right now;
As for Misterhouse, I think I'll be doing some reading this evening...

DDC Systems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876619)

These are designed specifically for building automation, and would work just as well in a home as they do in an office tower. They can control pretty much anything everyone in this thread has mentioned.

The largest cost is the wiring of sensors & devices around the house. Retrofits to an existing house, even more $$$

LinuxMCE (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876649)

One word - Very cool - covers the home automation as well as security and media controls.

Problem: no good commodity products (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 5 years ago | (#29876677)

Admittedly, I haven't looked into home automation in a couple of years, but the biggest problem is the total cost of systems - both in components and manpower to properly install them. There are no real commodity parts for all the little pieces, so every system is effectively proprietary - and priced as such. Even a simple, full home automation set will set you back several thousand dollars. There is no value in the manufacturers creating a commodity market for this stuff - the volume is too low and the development costs too high. That will keep it all as niche products.

The second problem is setup and programming. Until we get to plug-and-play with these systems that your typical grandmother can do, it's going to take manpower to setup. Guess what - the guys who do this professionally have a vested interest in keeping the lay public from being able to install it themselves. Since the manufacturers depend on the custom installers to sell product, they make it hard for the lay public to (a) get the hardware and (b) get the documentation. The same problem exists in the home theater market. Anything that requires local human hands to set anything up is going to drive the cost up dramatically, and that has to be factored in. Huge margins on the hardware makes the installation seem less expensive. If you sold this stuff at a 300% markup over manufacturing, there'd be no allowance for installers - or you'd find out that the "free" install you just got on your $1000 controller was really a $400 controller and $600 installation fee.

Bleak, No (1)

MountainLogic (92466) | about 5 years ago | (#29876687)

I would not describe it as bleak, but as ripe with opportunity for innovation. The biggest barrier is that manufacturers have little interest in playing nice with each other.

Konnex Home Automation (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876707)

If you're in Europe, check out Konnex ( which is an open standard that defines HA standards that are implemented by all the major European electrical manufacturing companies. You can mix and match various components from different manufacturors. Eg. use GIRA/Berker switches (sensors) that control the lighting managed by a switching actuator made by Siemens or Hager.

And yes the specs of this standards are completely open, and Marc Fleury (founder of JBoss) has now launched an open source initiative for Home Automation. See his website: They also developed an iPhone control module. Quite cool actually!

UPB expensive but really nice (2, Informative)

bmwm3nut (556681) | about 5 years ago | (#29876713)

UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) is the same idea at X10 and unfortunately much more expensive because of licensing issues, but the reliability of the communications is really good. It comes with a (poorly written) windows program that allows you to setup commands and stuff, but because of the ease of the UPB protocol I've just written my own C++ code to monitor the Bus and send commands to do things. I send an email to my house when I leave work, then the software reads the UPB temperature sensors inside and outside to determine when and if the heat should be turned on. When the light sensor notices that it's dark outside, the porch lights go on. When my car comes in the driveway (induction sensors) and I'm not hope the first floor lights go on. I unlock the front door with a key fob. And lots more. Blinds open and close depending on sun levels, inside, and outside temperature. Lots of really cool logic! I'm working right now on artificial intelligence to guess when I'm coming home, when I'm going to bed, all of that stuff, it's just hard because my schedule isn't very regular. Anyway, to get back on topic. I had to write all of this myself because the offerings out there are no good, if you want anything beyond the basics you won't get it. If you're a good hacker, it's worth it just to write a service that can read and write UPB commands and you can do anything you want (there's also a UPB-X10 bridge if you want to use X10 hardware).

oh my god my brain ./'s while it thinks! (1)

kallisti5 (1321143) | about 5 years ago | (#29876743)

Weird, I was just talking about this today. Bought a cheapo x10 usb controler for my Linux home server to flip lights on and off. Maybe everyone is begining to forget those horrible x10 spy camera ad's now that Geocities is closing?

My custom integration (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876907)

I rolled my own a bit since there was not anything that really fit the bill.

I wrote about it at [] .

Alarm Panel Integration (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29876913)

There are some neat products out there to integrate into your alarm panel. Utilizing Misterhouse or HomeSeer, products like this: (AD2USB Adapter) to hook your alarm system to your PC. Or the Vista ICM Module (which, imo is way inferior to the cheaper AD2USB Device provided by Nu Tech). People have made plugins for HomeSeer for these devices, and make it quite easy to integrate, monitor, and control your security system from the comfort of your PC.

HA is a solution in search of a problem. (3, Insightful)

johnthorensen (539527) | about 5 years ago | (#29876917)

The reason there's no 'good' home automation products is because there's not enough demand, pure and simple. At the end of the day, HA is 99% bling and maybe 1% utility. There's really only one 'problem' out there that HA-type technologies are suited to solving: energy. There are of course measureable ways to reduce a building's energy consumption through electronic controls. That said, there are plenty of ways that people have achieved this without delving into the realm of what's typically thought of as 'home automation'. Want to handle lighting based on occupancy? Buy a lightswitch with integrated PID for maybe $50. Want to handle climate control based on occupancy? Get a thermostat with a timer for $20 that will handle 98% of all circumstances. In the remaining 2%, walk your butt over and adjust the thermostat.

The primary difference between "Home Automation" systems and the sort of one-off solutions like thermostats and PID lightswitches is the network. Really, the advantages of having these devices know about one another in a practical environment are few-to-none.

Now, if you're the type that wants to have a girl over and impress her by pressing one button to dim the lights, close the curtains, and turn on the stereo, great. On the other hand, if you're the /. type who's taken the time to set up a system, you're probably paying her anyway so I doubt that's going to affect your chances of getting layed.
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