Category Archives: Building Automation

Somewhere between Arduino and Crestron

So what should a building automation system be like?

At one end, its a hobbyist/geek’s world. You build it, program it and install it. At the other, its a system installed (usually when your house/office/building is built) by a specialist company who then spend a huge amount of time setting it up, and then they return to it every time something needs reconfiguring.

glueWhat is there in the middle?

There are a large number of specialist systems utilising use of cheap micro-controllers which are designed to cover one specific task pretty much in isolation. Some of these systems even do a good job. Their designers then build their own web-enabled extensions so that you can install their app and visit their website to interact with their heating controller/aircon/solar controller/energy monitor/etc./etc.

Something is needed to glue all these different systems together or replace them. But most importantly, any system system must be able to be operated (and configured) by the user. If your partner/wife/mum can’t work it, it’s pointless.

Beyond the ‘lazy man’s light switch’

light switch
A lot of what is classed as ‘home automation’ is nothing more than ‘the lazy man’s light switch’. In other words, a remote control so you don’t need to get up off your bum to switch on a light or some other device. This type of thing has been around for years.

But is this really automation?

Well, after you bought the plug-in remote switch and the remote control, you can buy a box which will allow you to switch on the light by turning on your computer, visiting a web page and pushing a button.

Then the manufacturer releases a feature which allows you to connect your box to their ‘cloud service’ so you can turn on your light from anywhere in the world. Amazing, but still not actually automation.

But, lets go back a step. What we have here is the evolution of the building blocks which can make proper automation – smart building automation work.

Firstly, we have the devices and sensors – the things which collect the information and operate the devices. We have some sort of computer to do the decision-making – “turn the lights on when its dark” or “water my plant when its dry”.

Then we have the internet. This allows us to turn on the heating before we leave work, but actually could allow the home to know what we are up to and decide when the heating should be on.

So – what sort of system controls all these things? Does it even exist? The answer is yes – but it seems only if you fall into one of two groups of people. The super-rich, or geeks.