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A Protocol For Home Automation

Soulskill posted about 9 months ago | from the yes-please-now-please dept.

Network 116

jfruh writes "Marshall Rose, one of the creators of the SNMP protocol, has a beef with current home automation gadgets: it's very, very difficult to get them to talk to each other, and you often end up needing a pile of remote controls to operate them. To fix these problems, he's proposed the Thing System, which will serve as an intermediary on your home automation network. The Thing System aims to help integrate gadgets already on the market, which may help it take off."

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116 comments

snmp... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301617)

Lets just hope it's less secure than SNMP...

Re:snmp... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 9 months ago | (#45302093)

He invented the protocol not the poor implementations.

Not my style to quote xkcd, but... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301647)

http://xkcd.com/927/

Re:Not my style to quote xkcd, but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302233)

The only question in my mind when I read the summary, was whether or not this would be 1st post.

Re:Not my style to quote xkcd, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45305819)

I didn't even click the link and still know it's the one about standards. And you will go +5 Funny, because this is /.

obligatory xkcd (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301661)

#927 [xkcd.com]

Pick an existing building automation standard. (1, Informative)

486Hawk (70185) | about 9 months ago | (#45301705)

Bacnet over IP or Modbus TCP take your pick.

Re:Pick an existing building automation standard. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302129)

Either of those would work quite well for automation considering it is what they are designed for. I would pick bacnet because of the auto discovery that modbus lacks.

The real problem is cost per item plus line run (wireless can cut that labor/cost but adds others). Lets say you want to control 50 things. Each one needs a controller at the endpoint. Even at 5-10 dollars a control point it adds up pretty quickly.

Then each of the automation systems out there are somewhat compatible but not really. Then you need another 100-500 for a master controller. Then someone to set the whole thing up.

There is also setup. For many it is a pain to setup. If you use a protocol like modbus you basically have to tell the system something exists. Instead of 'hey this exists'.

Even if you have auto discovery. The 'what does it do' bit is a pain. As there are several good ideas on how to do that but none that are cheap enough for people to say 'yeah I want that' vs 'I can turn the switch on/off myself'.

I work in a similar field which has many of the same issues. The real thing is not the protocol on the bottom stack. That is a fairly well solved issue. The issue is the control software and cost.

It seems to be something everyone 'wants' but is not totally sure what it (home automation) even means. Until we can clearly define what it means we will get tons of one off solutions. Also since what it means is nebulous it has produced a solid thud on people who may even think hey I want that.

Then of the off the shelf solutions out there many want to charge you by the month to use it. Meaning you dont really own it. For people who buy houses they want to assume they 'own' the wires. Making the thing a interesting selling point on the house. However as a buyer I would be like 'wait this is another bill I have to pay just to turn the lights on and off?' meh...

This is currently squarely in the DIY court or people who have enough cash to buy a capable system.

Re:Pick an existing building automation standard. (1)

486Hawk (70185) | about 9 months ago | (#45303589)

This is true. The major problem for any home automation setup will be the endpoint user interface. Most of the solutions I have played with are very expensive for home use.
What I have been thinking about for home use are some cheap modbus thermostats from china along with a decent rs485 adapter. Given the nice python modules (modbusTK) out there it would be very easy to put something together python and some sort of web interface.
If you are going BACnet over rs485 good luck finding a cheap solution that can speak the protocol.

1 endpoint, 8 devices with relay / dimmer pack (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 9 months ago | (#45306571)

You make a good point about current standards assuming each controlled device is an intelligent endpoint. In stage lighting, where you may control over a hundred lights, it's typical to have a few intelligent end devices and several relay or dimmer packs that control many "dumb" lights. Typically, one smart pack control power to eight lights. Most lights are dumb and cheap - just bulbs in sockets. Only a few lights, the moving, color changing spot lights, have any electronics in the end device.

Re:Pick an existing building automation standard. (2)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about 9 months ago | (#45302239)

Modbus is a very low level protocol in which you are manipulating registers or contacts/coils in a PLC. Essentially a register is a 16 bit location in memory (variable) and a contact or coil is a single bit which can read/write physical inputs or outputs or virtual coils or contacts (essentially relays). Modbus is very old and dates back to Modicon who developed it as a simple network protocol for ladder logic programmed PLC's in the late 70's. It is still used today because ladder is still heavily used and it is simple enough to cover most of the needs for industrial automation.

Bacnet is a similar protocol in terms of functionality but can not be passed over modbus because of the primitive simplicity of the modbus protocol. So you either do Bacnet over rs232, IP or another physical link/protocol like RS485/422, LonTalk, Ethernet (raw packets) or possibly over CAN as well.

Re:Pick an existing building automation standard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302619)

Bacnet looks like a jumble of very low-level objects (things with values, but nothing very specific or structured). There's no automation in it, but you can build automation with it.

Another home automation hub? (4, Informative)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | about 9 months ago | (#45301731)

There are already a few home automation hubs (if I understand what he is suggesting correctly), such as Pytomation [pytomation.com] .

The main challenge is as far as I can see there is yet a single protocol to bind them all, and even then it would be yet another protocol [xkcd.com] . For this reason, there have been attempts to create protocol exchanges (not sure the right term), that act as central system that can speak to different sensors and control systems using the specific protocols.

Its not clear what he is offering that existing solutions fail at? It doesn't help that the site doesn't sum things up in one paragraph and instead requires us to parse the whole presentation before understanding what he really is proposing.

Re:Another home automation hub? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301885)

Don't worry - someone will come up with a device to allow all these incompatible hubs to talk to each other - I propose the name 'WTF System'. It will solve all home automation problems!

Re:Another home automation hub? (1)

pitchpipe (708843) | about 9 months ago | (#45302927)

The main challenge is as far as I can see there is yet a single protocol to bind them all, and even then it would be yet another protocol.

That's the great thing about standards: there are so many to choose from.

Side note: I worked for an engineer that compared the ISA tagging standard to the bible. e.g. it's clear what religion you get out of the bible, isn't it?

Re:Another home automation hub? (1)

lgw (121541) | about 9 months ago | (#45303005)

Well, the key as I see it is that "home automation" is something only the geekiest of geeks would ever be involved with, but most people in America are currently frustrated with needing a pile of remotes.

Find a great solution to the "pile of remotes" problem (clearly programmable remotes weren't the answer, or at least not as currently implemented) and you can use that to drive a single unified future by market dominance.

Personally, I think the right answer will allow you to easily use any of the popular video game console controllers as a universal remote - as well as more normal controls of course.

Please don't re-invent the wheel. (4, Insightful)

Vesvvi (1501135) | about 9 months ago | (#45301783)

Please don't re-invent the wheel unless you need to. By that, I mean to say that automation and interconnection of "gadgets" is a well-established field in industry and tech. For example, vehicle ECU and sensor systems, factory automation, and data acquisition systems are all now decades old, and we should have a really solid idea of how to do these things properly.

Of course these existing systems aren't the same as what we're talking about here, with modules that span different physical link layers, protocols, etc. I just hope that we can take the best lessons from existing "gadget integration" attempts to make forward progress more successful and not just something doomed to rapid obsolescence.

For some fun and background, have a look at the old HPIB/GPIB physical/protocol standard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE-488), which was used in many different pieces of scientific equipment. When that somewhat died out it was replaced by CAN (http://www.team-cag.com/support/theory/chroma/hplc_bas_at/system/cableConnections.html). Agilent uses that for their HPLCs (maybe test equipment, too?), and Waters uses the same physical link, but with a different protocol? Other vendors still work with contact-closure, and USB is becoming more popular, but that pushes so much onto the host computer and really enforces lock-in.

I will personally be watching this closely from the perspective of someone who operates a lot of data-acquisition equipment. Could this be the foundation for better interop between different vendors at the more commercial/research level, in addition to the consumer? I hope so.

Re:Please don't re-invent the wheel. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302765)

For some fun and background, have a look at the old HPIB/GPIB physical/protocol standard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE-488), which was used in many different pieces of scientific equipment. When that somewhat died out it was replaced by CAN (http://www.team-cag.com/support/theory/chroma/hplc_bas_at/system/cableConnections.html).

GPIB never died out. It's on pretty much every piece of test equipment by default. It's mandatory for anything that's actually used as part of a factory test. CAN is primarily used in automobiles.

Re:Please don't re-invent the wheel. (1)

postbigbang (761081) | about 9 months ago | (#45302953)

Most all of these you mention presume trust relationships, which is the singular problem with all of them-- to start. Auto vendors put bluetooth and various buses into cars, and someone hacks them so that the brakes can be slammed on in a BMW.

Marshall Rose's own SNMP was and if incorrectly configured, be a landmine. It's my fervent wish that whatever he does, he thinks about the problem of authentication and non-repudiation and audit of stuff he arranges to communicate.

Otherwise, I don't want the blender telling the pool to drain.

Re:Please don't re-invent the wheel. (1)

fermion (181285) | about 9 months ago | (#45303815)

Part of this is simple market forces. If everything operates with everything, where is the market lock in.

To put more perspective on what the parent is saying, 25 years ago I was able to write reletively simple code to control a lab full of equipment. The most difficult part of the process was that the standard PC did not natively support a large number of ports, and some equipment only had rs-232 not rs-422. Otherwise it was pretty much a case of sending text command to a controller and receives text back. If a machine was not automated to begin with, a simple DAC solved the problem.

The technical aspects to home automation has been solved for 20 years. The only thing lacking is packaging and marketing. Really, what has been lacking is a so-called killer app. Why do you need to turn off the lights or turn on the TV when no one is home? Why do you want you door locks to be as venerable as you car, or have your home key cost $300 to replace.

Re:Please don't re-invent the wheel. (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 9 months ago | (#45305109)

Why do you need to turn off the lights or turn on the TV when no one is home? Why do you want you door locks to be as venerable as you car, or have your home key cost $300 to replace.

Because I want the house to look lived-in when I'm gone. Because I want a bright warm (or cool) house waiting for me when I get home. Because why should I have to turn the holiday lights on and off manually when a timer/daylight sensor could do it cheaply>

I've resisted automating my door locks, but two of the cheapest alternatives to a key are the Bluetooth in my phone (already paid for) or an RFID chip in my wallet (about 10 cents, give or take). Those are items I'm almost certainly carrying whenever I go out and I've already got problems if I lose either one, so I tend to keep track of them.

Re:Please don't re-invent the wheel. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45307883)

Bluetooth MAC addresses are broadcast in the open, hacking a pair and toying with the lock mechanism doesn't sound too difficult. RFID tag to open a lock is the worst thing you could do because RFID has no negotiation to speak of. It would be just as secure as using your thumb print someone could lift off your door handle.

I Fully Support This (3, Informative)

Atticka (175794) | about 9 months ago | (#45301785)

I've been attempting to connect, network and control as much of my house as possible with little success. Too many companies are trying (and failing) to offer up an integrated solution, none have the ability to truly integrated across the board.

Key systems that need this:
HVAC - Nest is doing great things for automation and remote control, limited reach however
Lighting - a bunch of half baked solutions out there, each with their own app and control interface
Security - sound, video, motion detection, garage door control, etc...
Appliances - remote control certain appliances, pre-heat your stove, notification when the dryer is done, etc...
Power Monitoring - Semi decent solution out there, however needs better apps and integration
Audio\Video - Remote control

If all of these systems used a common protocol we can focus on developing great apps and home automation, as long as manufacturer dick around with their own setup we'll never move forward.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301921)

I've been attempting to connect, network and control as much of my house as possible with little success. Too many companies are trying (and failing) to offer up an integrated solution, none have the ability to truly integrated across the board.

Key systems that need this:
HVAC - Nest is doing great things for automation and remote control, limited reach however
Lighting - a bunch of half baked solutions out there, each with their own app and control interface
Security - sound, video, motion detection, garage door control, etc...
Appliances - remote control certain appliances, pre-heat your stove, notification when the dryer is done, etc...
Power Monitoring - Semi decent solution out there, however needs better apps and integration
Audio\Video - Remote control

If all of these systems used a common protocol we can focus on developing great apps and home automation, as long as manufacturer dick around with their own setup we'll never move forward.

Blame demand. There are too few geeks who have the time and patience to automate anything in the home to this level. Most people are sloth-lazy, and view the light switch on the wall as good enough to continue to ignore lights being left on anyway.

Feel free to blame the feeding frenzy around the patent system too. All these damn manufacturers think they MUST secure their own patented proprietary gimmick in order to sell their product, which of course is horseshit.

Re:I Fully Support This (4, Insightful)

Anrego (830717) | about 9 months ago | (#45302041)

I was really interested in home automation at one point. Had an x10 setup using an ocelot controller (x10 is a horrible, horrible system by the way and I wouldn't recommend it to an enemy).

The novelty factor wore off eventually (and my frustration with x10 grew) and I gave up on it. Beyond automated lighting (which while cool, isn't really all that useful.. a light switch really is "good enough"), temperature (already handled quite well by smart thermostats), and appliances which handle their own automation (coffee pot), what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

And with that limited set of actual useful use cases, how much benefit is there in centralizing it, or adding voice control.

I suspect all this is why despite having the tech to do it for quite some time, home automation hasn't really taken off.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about 9 months ago | (#45302397)

Funny thing is I have a friend trying to get x10 working with little success. The problem is in US homes, there are two separate busses in the panel box for circuit breakers, one for each hot leg. The problem is if you plug a transmitter into one outlet on bus A, any circuits on bus B can't communicate with the transmitter. So you have to buy a bridge which he did, it plugs into the dryer outlet which is 240V and wired across the two hot legs. Still wont work. He asked me if an amplifier he found would work and I told him to dump x10, its an uphill battle that is difficult to win.

Kompressor said it best: We must destroy X10

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

Anrego (830717) | about 9 months ago | (#45302893)

The big thing with x10, more so now, is it can't handle all the various transformers and other so called "signal sinks". A very common standard at the time I was into this stuff was to send all commands 3 times.

Even if you do manage to get x10 traffic moving reliably around your house (I at least got this far), the next problem you face is interference. The x10 protocol is very primitive, and it is quite common for a chunk of noise on the line (provided by any number of devices) to produce a valid command. I had a UPS that when plugged in, would turn my bedroom light on once every few hours. Luckily though, they've got filters for that!

After awhile you come to your senses and realize just how much effort (and money) you've invested in bridges, filters, cleaning up wiring, running special "neutral" lines, etc.. and you throw all the stuff in a box and move on with your life!

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

RichardtheSmith (157470) | about 9 months ago | (#45303053)

Does he know about this guy?

http://jvde.us/ [jvde.us]

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

Jeff Flanagan (2981883) | about 9 months ago | (#45303361)

I put a bridge in the circuit breaker box to solve that problem. It worked great. A dryer bridge seems like a bad idea since any signal going through the bridge has to go through the dryer line twice.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

Atticka (175794) | about 9 months ago | (#45302735)

I think there are lot of useful cases, but I don't think voice control would be useful however (nobody wants to have a conversation with their microwave).

Lighting automation would be useful in a number of ways; on\off\vacation schedule, see a list of all active lights with power consumption (and then turn them off remotely), auto on\off depending on your location, etc...

Appliance automation; coffee pots have timers but why not control the settings from your remote device? Preheat the oven remotely, schedule your slow cooker based on your schedule, notifications when timers are done (microwave, oven, washer, dryer, etc...)

Power Monitoring; get a detailed report on power consumption per appliance, room, season and setup automation depending on peak hour usage rates.

Audio\Video: Crestron has some great automation, Logitech has excellent remotes, imagine if you could control the lights when settling in to watch a movie.

Security; get live feeds from your house, pickup audio, two way communication, remotely control locks (real security concern here however), random light control when on vacation.

All of these things can be done but are not integrated. If all these devices worked together we could think of some really creative ways to automate, making a phone or tablet the central control device for the home would be genius!

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 9 months ago | (#45302783)

what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

Use cases that are actually pretty useful:

* Remote confirmation of door status (open/shut) including garage doors or appliance status (stove off)
* Revocable key code access and other security controls
* Controlling multiple lights or other devices without having to run new wires
* Controlling hard to reach windows/fans
* Opening/closing multiple windows, shades or fans with a single control
* Putting lighting controls in new places without requiring new wiring
* Timer controls for lighting
* Better adjustments for seasonality (daylight length, etc)
* Interaction with power companies regarding price optimization

That's just off the top of my head. I agree that the options presently are relatively poor but the potential is there.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

Kazoo the Clown (644526) | about 9 months ago | (#45302919)

ABSOLUTELY. I struggled with x10, then bought into the argument that it's a one-way protocol and there's no way to verify that a command sent was recieved or to query a device state. So I dumped x10 and went to SmartHome. But after a power fail or brownout, they took way too much fiddling to get them re-linked with each other. So I dumped SmartHome and now use fixed wireless devices that don't have to "remember" anything. Not quite as flexible, but they are way more reliable, and without that you've got nuthin'. I don't believe it's impossible to design reliable devices, but lazy engineers seem to have been getting away with not doing it.

Re:I Fully Support This (2)

istartedi (132515) | about 9 months ago | (#45304301)

But, but, but... it looked good on Star Trek, so it must be good in real life. Now if you'll excuse me, the contractor is arriving to replace all my swinging doors with sliders. Yeah, they're going to have to remove a lot of studs but fortunately none of them are structural. $17,000 estimated; but it's the door of the future so it's worth it.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 months ago | (#45304919)

Beyond automated lighting (which while cool, isn't really all that useful.. a light switch really is "good enough"), temperature (already handled quite well by smart thermostats), and appliances which handle their own automation (coffee pot), what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

The main thing I would want to do is hook my windows (and my window treatments) to the thermostat. The AC or heat should be disabled when any windows are open, and the blinds should open to direct light into the house when it's cold inside, but reflect it away when it's hot (and close completely at night for privacy).

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 9 months ago | (#45305703)

And with that limited set of actual useful use cases, how much benefit is there in centralizing it, or adding voice control.

A agree about the centralization, but as to voice control, I see you never had children. "Shut off that light, dammit! I have to PAY for electricity, should I take it out of your allowance?"

Re:I Fully Support This (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45306001)

Yeah - we all THOUGHT we wanted Star Trek and Dick Tracy, turns out it it's more convenient to flip a switch or turn a dial than it is to install, implement, configure and learn to use a home automation system - and I miss the days when my phone was connected TO THE WALL instead of ME.

Re:I Fully Support This (1)

mypalmike (454265) | about 9 months ago | (#45307623)

> There are too few geeks who have the time and patience to automate anything in the home to this level. Most people are sloth-lazy...

We're too lazy to spend the energy to enable even more laziness.

The great thing about standards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301819)

yeah you get it...

He needs to learn more.... (3, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45301843)

"Marshall Rose, one of the creators of the SNMP protocol, has a beef with current home automation gadgets: it's very, very difficult to get them to talk to each other, and you often end up needing a pile of remote controls to operate them."

I have 1 remote to control every gadget in the house including sonos. It's called Crestron, but AMX can do it as well (The toy stuff called Control 4 can not)
He really needs to learn more about integration because there have been solutions out there for decades.

Re:He needs to learn more.... (1)

rahvin112 (446269) | about 9 months ago | (#45302541)

Crestron and AMX are NOT open standards. That's the problem, you have companies creating proprietary standards to create lockin. If Crestron was willing to open their control standard to an open standard it may very well succeed even though it's horribly dated (Crestron still uses mostly RS232 for communication though they have a few protocols that use communication standards that aren't 70 years old).

Re:He needs to learn more.... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45302833)

Yes they are, try looking at them before opening your mouth.You know absolutely nothing about any of the technology, why dont you go and actually look at them first.

Re:He needs to learn more.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45304229)

Feel free to enlighten us, but searching for "Crestron protocol" doesn't yield anything obviously useful, and the same for AMX yields some low level lightning control protocol?

This is pretty specialized stuff, you could at least give us the actual protocol names.

Re:He needs to learn more.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45305069)

There is no Crestron protocol. You look up the data (usually a string of ASCII text) that your device needs to receive to do a certain function (via RS-232, TCP/IP, IR flasher, Cresnet, RF, etc...) then program the Crestron processor to send that data when you press the appropriate button on the touch panel. It's really pretty simple.

Re:He needs to learn more.... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45305423)

www.crestron.com

Start reading, call me when you are done.

Re:He needs to learn more.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45307913)

It's called Crestron, but AMX can do it as well (The toy stuff called Control 4 can not)

You should take a deeper look at Control4- they can control everything AMX or Crestron can, and more.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell announces at CEDIA Expo 2013 an open API and developer program for its learning thermostats. Control4 is first and only home automation partner announced:
http://www.cepro.com/article/nest_opens_api_for_thermostat_control4_is_first_home_automation_partner/

Nest selected the partner with the most promise in the marketplace. Crestron is too tied to old and dated standards and hardware. They may have more marketshare for now, but not for long....

won't work (5, Funny)

callmetheraven (711291) | about 9 months ago | (#45301847)

Everything in the fridge is melted because I couldn't find the right MIB.

Re:won't work (1)

grub (11606) | about 9 months ago | (#45301883)

HAHAHAHA!!! Oh I wish I had mod points for you.

Re:won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302097)

Hell yes. Mod this guy up.

Re:won't work (1)

Xtifr (1323) | about 9 months ago | (#45303067)

I wish he weren't already modded to five, because I *do* have mod points, and have rarely seen something so deserving of one. :)

Re:won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45305121)

This is not funny without an explanation of the acronym. Anyone?

I get nothing on Google, it's obviously not Men in Black, Mebibyte, or Management Information Base, and the Wikipedia MIB disambiguation page [wikipedia.org] does not help either.

Re: won't work (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45306691)

TFS refers to SNMP, an existing protocol developed by Marshall Rose. Item 3 under "Computing" on the Wikipedia page refers to "Simple Network Management Protocol". You can probably manage from there. If you don't get it, you're not the target audience.

SNMP is a model for how not to do things. (5, Informative)

Above (100351) | about 9 months ago | (#45301873)

This is someone who was ok with ASN.1, OID's, and "walking" tables that had no business in being walked, over an unreliable UDP protocol that initially had effectively zero security.

Someone stop him from developing a home automation protocol before his being "first" relegates that industry to 30 years of pain and suffering.

Re:SNMP is a model for how not to do things. (1)

indeterminator (1829904) | about 9 months ago | (#45304755)

I came here to post "yeah, because SNMP is the example of an easy way to make things talk to each other", but you were faster. I'd mod you up but you're already at +5.

I love standards! Let's make a new one! (-1, Redundant)

imag0 (605684) | about 9 months ago | (#45301879)

Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45301945)

I'm only mildly familiar with SNMP, but, would it not actually be a decent mechanism for this kinda thing.

I mean what you really want is a generic bus that lets you see a list of what everything can do (and their parameters), and remotely invoke said things with a set of parameters. Some kind of authentication would also be nifty.

The problem really seems to come down to physical connection. Most of the older systems I've used (particularly the pile of garbage known as x10) attempted to use power lines, which was terrible for a great many reasons (though I hear insteon and newer variants are much better with cutting edge features such as "handshaking").

Wireless would seem ideal, but then you need to power the individual components. Fine if you do this while building, but sucks if you want to replace existing inline wall switches and such. Wonder if anyone has an inline solution with a battery that recharges by leaching power while the controlled device is on. That would seem ideal.

Ultimately I got out of the whole home automation thing anyway. Back when I was a kid, it was _the future_, and I kinda rode that gee-wiz factor for a while.. but the truth is, once you automate lighting, temperature, and the coffee pot.. you've pretty much done all the practical consumer use cases for home automation. These areas are served quite well by specific technologies already, and having them centrally managed doesn't really give much added benefit.

It's Intentional (3, Interesting)

Jaime2 (824950) | about 9 months ago | (#45301955)

Home automation gadgets are incompatible because the vendors want it that way. Selling you a $50 light bulb is the "gateway drug" to selling you a $20 a month service to manage it from your smart phone. If the protocol is proprietary, there is no competition. A/V components have been this way for so long that the world has just accepted that IR is the only way to talk to them.

It will change when a system gets so much market share that the component vendors see more value in staying a component vendor than they see in establishing themselves as a system vendor. At that point the problem is that the system vendor will want to protect their market by locking up their protocol.

Re:It's Intentional (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302209)

Which is exactly why I don't buy them. They'd be opening up a huge market if they decided to cooperate. Many people like me don't want these devices because they have to be manages using proprietary interfaces and pipe data through 3rd parties. That's ridiculous for a device meant for the home.

Re:It's Intentional (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 9 months ago | (#45302567)

Unfortunately, they're all hoping to be the Apple of home automation and get a defacto monopoly. What's worse is that someone may pull it off, perhaps even Apple. People don't seem to understand that the reason the internet is so effective is that it's based on free, open protocols. Home automation needs to be approached the same way.

Re:It's Intentional (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | about 9 months ago | (#45305053)

People don't seem to understand that the reason the internet is so effective is that it's based on free, open protocols. Home automation needs to be approached the same way.

The trouble is, all these people are looking at the success of things like Facebook, Skype and Twitter (which should all be open and decentralized, but aren't).

Hooray! (1)

djdanlib (732853) | about 9 months ago | (#45302039)

Sweet, ANOTHER "standard".

Did we really need it?

Re:Hooray! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45302231)

It doesn't matter as manufacturers ignore it. HDMI has a standard called CEC that they are supposed to follow. Well none do. 90% of all video equipment do not adhere to the CEC standard making it impossible to have full control of a SONY bluray player from a Panasonic TV even though they are supposed to.

The only way to do it is a central processor with lots of IO that does translations and control with scripting. That or get Congress to pass a law that all Consumer electronics must follow a specific protocol and command set or they can not be sold inside the USA.

And that will never happen.

Re:Hooray! (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 9 months ago | (#45303283)

I don't know what you are talking about. I use CEC every day. Most manufacturers call there CEC something different, but they should all work the same. Or, maybe I just hit on the perfect combo of RaspBMC and Vizio TV.

Re:Hooray! (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45305413)

you DO?? Well then use CEC to send every single function that XBMC supports.... Oh wait.... you cant.....

Re:Hooray! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303659)

Or vendor like Apple deliberately bastardizes the protocol and everyone else follows along with their idiocy.

SNMP is a turd (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302061)

n/t

Gave up on home automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302075)

I tried home automation systems a couple of times now, but they always end up with problems. The stuff will work 90% of the time. Given that my wife is not a tech type person this became frustrating - fast.

I've decided it's just easier to get up and shut off the light with the switch (works everytime), instead of trying to figure out and explain why it didn't turn itself off.

But hey more power to him!
   

Re:Gave up on home automation (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about 9 months ago | (#45302247)

You did it the poor mans way. Buy the real gear and it works just fine.

Re:Gave up on home automation (1)

jedidiah (1196) | about 9 months ago | (#45302375)

> You did it the poor mans way. Buy the real gear and it works just fine.

You would be better off just taking that money, putting it in a metal bowl and burning it. That's what you're doing with the "real gear": trying do demonstrate how much contempt you have for the money you've spent time and effort to earn (or borrow).

A solution has to be worth the problem it's solving or it's pointless.

Re:Gave up on home automation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302821)

Kind of like listening to rambling incoherent people?
Did you lose your "end is near" sign and don't you have a corner to stand on?

Obligatory XKCD (-1, Redundant)

rvaniwaa (136502) | about 9 months ago | (#45302101)

Ob. XKCD? (-1, Redundant)

dmatos (232892) | about 9 months ago | (#45302187)

http://xkcd.com/927/ [xkcd.com]

And now I'm typing to kill some time between hitting "reply" and posting. La la la.

Re:Ob. XKCD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302305)

Or you could have looked at the four other posts before you that had the exact same link.

Did he learn from SNMP? (3, Interesting)

Luke_22 (1296823) | about 9 months ago | (#45302295)

I had a quick look at the website, and can't find any low-level detail, just a lot of pictures...

That said, he seems to use HTTPS/SSH and certificate-based access.
It is useless to sign the certificates, since we are in a lan, not on the internet, and I doubt your house devices will have a full dns name...

I'm more interested in the packet structure and to the data format, as it always gives more insight on the protocol that big, colored images...
Its said to use websockets, but I doubt that will be the case in SSH-based access.
There seems to be the option to use UDP multicast for the sensors..

The HTTP traffic is exchanged via websockets and json... This is nice, since the programmers can use all the http server/client and json libraries they want, and it usually is fairly simple.... BUT we are talking about home automation, arduino boards and in general "things" with very little computational power/memory etc...
I really don't understand why we want all on HTTP, the efficiency is very low and now you require an HTTP server and client to communicate with something just to flip a switch...

Maybe if SNMP was done the right way, without OIDs and security from the start we would not need this, but I digress...

I don't like the fact that there seem to be a lot of new definitions... apprentices, stewards, and ... "things"... couldn't dumb it down more even if he tried -.-''

But the nice thing is that it seems to be able to include 3rd-party modules and protocols fairly easily... Which IMHO is not a small thing and can in fact help this protocol a lot.
And whatever he does, he can't do as badly as DPWS. If he manages to make it general enough we might even put an end to the horror that is DPWS and WS-* standards....

Re:Did he learn from SNMP? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302605)

I agree, this is total fail.
When a sensor can run this system from a lithium coin cell for a decade, wake me up.

Re:Did he learn from SNMP? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302771)

Hydra Control Freak has implemented a websockets interface for their home automation controller, implemented on top of tomcat7. That works seemlessly with X10, te rfxtrx433 multi-protocol controller (European only) and Phidgets (For wired devices). Works really nicely. I use it to dynamically load security camera views in response to triggers. Their website is down at the moment.

Thing System? (1)

chthon (580889) | about 9 months ago | (#45302299)

Clobbering time?

Already available (1)

Animats (122034) | about 9 months ago | (#45302347)

Here are some existing over-the-power-line transmission systems usable for home control:

  • X10 Pro [thehomeaut...nstore.com] signals over the power line since 1978, and still works, despite having annoyed millions with their ads in the 1990s.
  • LonWorks [echelon.com] - originally intended for home automation, but was too expensive in its early days. So it became a standard for commercial building automation. So robust electrically that it's used on subway trains to control auxiliary equipment (signs, lights, HVAC, etc.)
  • HomePlug [homeplug.org] - also known as IEEE 1901. Mostly used to pipe Ethernet packets around house-sized buildings. More bandwidth than needed for lighting and such, but there are HomePlug thermostats.

We don't need another one. Especially since the original article's link to the protocol definition [thethingsystem.com] is a dead link. And because making home automation run a web server with "node.js" is terrible from a security perspective. And because it's WiFi based, which means it won't go through some walls it needs to go through, and will go through some walls it shouldn't. With the power line systems you can put a low-pass filter after your meter and keep out external signals.

Re:Already available (1)

Anrego (830717) | about 9 months ago | (#45304247)

As someone who invested a ridiculous amount of time trying to get x10 running, I would strongly argue against it being usable ;p

It's been around for a while, and sucked even when it was new. It can't cope with all the transformers and other "signal sinks" found plugged in all over the place in any home build in the last few decades. You end up with a whole hodgepodge of bridges and filters and custom run "neutral" wires.

When you do manage to get signals moving around your house, you then hit up against the second big problem. The x10 protocol is insanely primitive, and random noise will often also be a valid command. Nothing like the UPS plugged in upstairs turning your bedroom lights on every few hours..

I invested a fair bit of time and money into this (had an ocelot controller and I estimate about 20 billion dollars in filters and different varieties of inline switches and appliance modules that all sucked in their own unique way) before throwing it all in a box and moving forward with my life.

I still drag out my x10 gear around Christmas time, but that's about it.

Re:Already available (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 9 months ago | (#45305285)

X10, when it works, works well. I exclude that horrible webserver appliance that was supposed to let me control X10 and SmartHome and made X10 look fast AND reliable by comparison. Total waste of money.

How well X10 works depends on the age and quality of your wiring and whether the control and target devices have a relatively clear shot at each other.

I get pretty good operation in a relatively new home. But I used to live almost directly across from a 5KW AM radio transmitter. The stereo could "play" itself with the power unplugged. I don't even want to think of how X10 would have worked there!

Yeah yeah yeah... (0)

RichardtheSmith (157470) | about 9 months ago | (#45302623)

The history of Home Automation is littered with the bodies of business that have come in and then left when they realized it's a very difficult place to make money, unless you just carve out the high-end systems used by rich people. If you are building a McMansion type home there are always options available. If you are a middle class home owner looking for a good way to retrofit, no one wants to talk to you. So you end up going down the path of tried-and-true technologies like X10 that have spotty vendor support but a strong hobbyist community.

I'm not saying X10 is perfect, but it does let me control my sprinklers from a crontab file. Any system that can't do that is beneath my contempt. :)

Take a look over here, this is what the industry looks like...

http://www.cepro.com/ [cepro.com]

echosystem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302741)

Another such system gaining popularity in india is http://www.echosystem.in , integrates lighting media, thermostats. Apart from usual mobile access it also exposes all my appliances over web api. find out more at

Obligatory xkcd (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302961)

one word (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45302969)

PROFINET

ethernet based process network.

why mess around with all these little wires when you can just use PROFIBUS or PROFINET. automate your house with Siemens PLCs!

already done? (3)

datapharmer (1099455) | about 9 months ago | (#45302973)

Isn't this what zigbee and 802.15.4 was designed for?

Too slim margins. (2)

Kazoo the Clown (644526) | about 9 months ago | (#45303075)

The problem is, x10 has caused people to expect to get "smart" devices for peanuts. Problem is, the reason x10 is so cheap is it's minimally designed. But as a consequence, it's also highly unreliable. SmartHome tried to improve on that, raised the price a bit, but didn't sufficiently solve the reliability problems. Any new series of gadgets will have to be dirt cheap, and given gadget manufacturing costs in China these days, it's doable but takes an upfront investment, is risky and one must survive on thin margins. Not exactly the most attractive opportunity. If he wants to give it a go, more power to him, but if configuration is anywhere near as complicated as SMTP, in fact, if configuration can't be done with a smartphone app in about 2 minutes, it's doomed.

CANbus (1)

John.Banister (1291556) | about 9 months ago | (#45303277)

When I see actual things with the ability to talk to each other, the universal option always seems to be CANbus (or a variant, like NMEA 2000). Chung-Wei Lin and Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli of UC Berkeley have this proposal [berkeley.edu] for implementing CANbus with security. If I'm going to automate something in my home, I'd rather use CANbus so I can just buy the stuff that does the tasks.

Re:CANbus (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | about 9 months ago | (#45305433)

CAN is nice in well designed systems but it wouldn't work well in retrofits to existing homes since no one wants to run dedicated wiring in an age where wireless communication is ubiquitous. It would be like expecting people to install 10Base2 and understand the need for terminations and avoiding star topologies. Not going to happen.

A powerline based solution has potential but trying to tunnel CAN over the powerline would be doomed to failure since the non-destructive arbitration system depends on a well designed bus with length restrictions to limit propagation delays. Wireless CAN implementations are really only meant to bridge existing CAN busses and have the same security problems and range/interference issues as any other wireless solution.

The de facto standard is yet to come... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303573)

Apple TV has the potential to unify CEDIA and, eventually, home automation protocols.

And what exactly is wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303757)

...with the universally known and supported, highly customizable, protocol known as...
Simple Network Management Protocol (aka SNMP) ?

Thanks, but this exists already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303771)

It's called Crestron (or, regrettably, AMX). There's no one correct protocol for all devices. Certain *types* of devices should use the same communication standard (IR or RS232 for simple AV devices, IP for server/PC/tablet, Zigbee for lighting, BACnet for HVAC, etc.), but what's truly needed is a device that can communicate to all of these protocols. Fortunately, we have a few systems out there that do that. Working for Crestron for many years, I can tell you with certainty that One Protocol to Rule Them All will never exist.

If Mr Rose wanted to create a simpler, easier-to-program device, then I encourage him to do so because Crestron programming, while nothing like C/Java/Python, is not exactly user-friendly. I also wish him the best of luck in not becoming victim to the XKCD #927 meme.

Re: Thanks, but this exists already (1)

sonixtwo (878390) | about 9 months ago | (#45305195)

A company called Loytec makes a controller called a Linx which integrates bacnet, zigbee, rs232, and a number of other protocols. Also has an ip server built in. It spits all the data points out through a data abstraction layer. Granted this is suited for commercial controls, but it seems to be what you are describing.

Re:Thanks, but this exists already (1)

djrobxx (1095215) | about 9 months ago | (#45306947)

Or for the more standards/budget friendly: MiCasaVerde Vera turns various ZWave/X10/RS232/IR devices into standard UPnP endpoints.

It's a massive beast (1)

Ichijo (607641) | about 9 months ago | (#45303845)

3.7GB for the Raspberry Pi disk image? They should try to get it down below 128MB so they can make a distribution based on OpenWRT.

Re:It's a massive beast (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 9 months ago | (#45306021)

That's the size of just about all Raspberry Pi disk images... they contain a full Linux and application stack. The Thing System seems to be based on node.js which is included in their image.
Raspberry Pi's can be bought for $25 and you can hook up keyboards, monitors, etc. for configuration and management.
4GB SD memory cards are cheap ($7) (or you can splurge and get an 8GB card for $8).
OpenWRT is fine for managing routers but this application calls for something more.

OSGi (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303935)

Already solved by osgi. That's what it's for.

KNX/EIB + ethernet (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45303983)

KNX / EIB exists since the seventies. Finishing up the house with stuff from Gira this year.
Tools for linux are OK (eibd)
Thermostats, dimmers, switches, movement- presence- and lightdetection are all on the knx-bus; video, audio, weather and machine-learning functions are on pc-ethernet. It's flexible, expandable but the knx-art is best done in a new house with cabling planning for it.

theres already one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45306347)

What we need is a glue to bind all the disperate protocols together into one framework.
I'm trying this out at the moment, despite it being in java and me hating java being a unix greybeard, its got some exciting posibilities due to its modular design.

www.freedomotic.com

As we speak its controlling some lights, gluing in some sensors (light, rain, pir) and my underfloor heating system and the wood furnace.
Having worked a lot with snmp I certainly dont want the designer of snmp1 to be dictating how a framework should work...

Re:theres already one (1)

djrobxx (1095215) | about 9 months ago | (#45306859)

The MiCasaVerde Vera "glues" protocols together by presenting everything as a UPnP device. It doesn't matter whether it's X10, Zwave, Zigbee, or some proprietary IP protocol with an appropriate LUA driver, a basic on/off switch presents a device with BinaryLight/SwitchPower interface.

This seems to work well in practice, although I haven't seen anything take advantage of this. Every third party UI I've seen uses MCV's remote access APIs.

Boulder Startup's got this one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#45306957)

There's a company called Revolv in Boulder, CO that aims to eliminate the wide variety of different home automation standards/protocols by creating a custom hardware solution that has all necessary antennas on it. It's not a unified protocol persay, but it does solve the problem of multiple apps/standards quite nicely.

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