Archive for the ‘Voice-Activated Controls’ Category

Smart homes today

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Broadband internet and digital TV are seen as the first steps towards smart, networked homes, as they have the potential to be gateways into homes for a wide range of smart applications. Their take up has been rapid; by March 2006, 43 per cent of UK homes had broadband internet connections compared to two years earlier when only 15 per cent did.6 The take up of digital television is driven by government policy to switch all TV to digital by 2012 and 77.2 per cent of British homes had digital TV in some form as reported at the end of 2006.

The technology industry sees smart homes as the next big thing and many companies have smart or digital home programmes. But analysts argue that consumers’ key concerns are still simple problems, like getting all the computers in a house to link to the same printer.

Other than the most technology literate or the very wealthy, consumers do not yet seem to be demanding the advantages of networked homes. Smart homes are therefore more likely to evolve as people purchase different features that link up to each other over time, rather than through an instant technological upgrade.

Even so, many companies and groups are already looking ahead to fully smart homes. The Automated Home initiative (TAHI) aims to “promote, provide the environment for and launch large scale deployments of ‘smart houses’ and the services…for them so that people can see and experience the benefits the connected home can bring and demand them for themselves.” Their working groups look at different aspects of smart homes and want to avoid features developing in isolation, as the ability of smart features to communicate and work together through a home network will be essential to their desirability. TAHI has been feeding in to the European level development of a smart homes specification, as well as developing a mark of interoperability.

A number of BEAMA members already produce smart home technology and the association has a smart homes working group. It sets out what a smart home is, what it can offer and the technologies available on a comprehensive website that promotes their members and provides developers and homeowners with information. Such initiatives will be increasingly important to the development of smart homes, as features start to become commonplace.

Smart homes around the world
The smart homes market in most developed countries is similar to that of the UK, with some key exceptions. South Korea is a clear leader in this area and looking at their achievements illustrates the real potential of smart homes.

Smart homes in South Korea

Following a financial crisis in the 1990s South Korea invested heavily in developing innovative technology. They have introduced the world to the internet fridge, oven and washing machine and are a laboratory for developing the home of the future.

This will help to solve their domestic challenge of dealing with a greying population, as well as providing them with massive export opportunities.

In 2007 the Ministry of Information and Communication will have invested approximately £247 million in supporting the development of original information technology (IT). Part of this will support home networking, which has already received loans to develop 44,000 networked homes. The ultimate aim is to network 10 million homes, with plans to introduce a home network building certification system.

South Korea’s investment in networking is such that they are increasingly looking beyond the smart home to the smart city. The networked home strategy is now part of a larger project to network entire cities, called U-city, which is being promoted by around £11.5 million worth of subsidies to local government bodies and the construction and housing sectors. Dongtan New Town, Korea’s first U-city, is being tested and rolled out from March 2007 and all 1,010 residential units are now networked.

Home networks in South Korea are provided by LG Electronics’ HomNet product or Samsung’s HomeVita. Lotte Castle apartment complex in Seoul is an example of fully networked homes. They have wireless broadband and a HomNet environment that is controlled via TV, a remote control or a keyboard. Cameras relay real time images from other areas of the home and the outdoor playground, DVDs can be copied onto the home’s hard drive, gas and electricity use is tracked, a health monitor checks blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate and there are on-screen controls for the washing machine, the microwave, the air conditioner and the oven.

The entire home can be controlled remotely by mobile phone and residents will be notified of any problems, such as the gas being left on, and can get real time images of their home over the phone.

Other networked homes have voice activated controls, refrigerators that can update residents on their contents and mirrors that display their daily appointments, as well as toilets that send health updates to their doctor.

The focus of smart homes in South Korea is to make life easier, rather than environmental benefits. But as the environmental performance of homes becomes increasingly important in Europe, a key export market, these aspects are likely to be developed and highlighted. The UK’s pursuit of smart homes will be nowhere near as single minded but it does demonstrate what is possible and provide scope for applying South Korean innovations to our environmental ambitions.

Smart homes in the UK
Smart homes in the UK can be found at extreme ends of the housing spectrum.

Wealthy homeowners looking for the latest technology to manage their homes have been installing smart networks and smart applications are also being put into social and sheltered housing because of their healthcare and energy efficiency benefits.

Retrofitting existing homes to make them smarter and to lower their environmental impact, is also now possible.

The mass housing market is between the extremes of high-end mansions and social housing. The average homebuyer is not demanding smart features and developers have no interest in a home’s performance once it is sold, so they have no driver to install energy saving smart features. The market for smart homes, building contractors generally considered that they would remain a rarity except in high-end properties and sceptical about the potential of smart retrofitting, believing it will remain a niche area.

In contrast to this pessimism, smart home contractors and manufacturers are very positive, regarding “the forward march of the intelligent home as almost inevitable.

Voice-Activated Controls

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Voice command software allows homeowners to play music, manage lighting, security and climate control systems.

From the USA come one of the Voice-Activated Control solutions.

Some homeowners love showcasing their big-screen TV, speakers and audio/video gear. But when they really want to wow guests, they start talking to HAL.

It’s not HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but software provider Home Automated Living and its apropos acronym.

This HAL won’t question the homeowners’ requests, either. When they want to hear a selection from the 4,000 or more songs in their digital music collection, all they have to do is speak into a computer microphone or house telephone, and say something like “Open music, open Led Zeppelin, play ‘Black Dog.’”

“The only trick is that the computer microphone is really sensitive to background noise and can get confused, so normally they pick up the house phone.”

The HAL software is integrated with automation controls from HAI (Home Automation Inc.) and its connectivity partners, so the homeowners can also command the Leviton lighting system, GE security sensors and HAI thermostats via voice. HAL also announces incoming phone caller ID names.

There’s no need to worry about missing any calls during movies or vacuuming, either. Caller ID is also displayed on the TV when it’s in use; and the MD Manufacturing AirForce central vac automatically powers off when the phone rings. When visitors come to the door, their arrival is announced as well.

Sample Equipment List

Video

  • JVC 70-inch HD-ILA TV
  • Philips 23-inch LCD TV
  • Sharp 15-inch LCD TV
  • Peerless Rotating TV Mount

Speakers and Electronics

  • Polk Audio Speakers (5)
  • Definitive Technology Supercube Subwoofer
  • Sony DVP CX995 400-disc Megachangers (2)
  • NAD T163 Preamplifier
  • NAD 925THX Amplifier
  • DirecTV HD Receiver
  • DVDO VP30 Processor
  • Logitech Harmony 880 Universal Remote

Other Equipment

  • HAI Omni IIe Automation System
  • HAI Thermostats
  • Leviton DHC, Vizia RF Dimmers
  • Simply Brilliant UPB Dimmers
  • Home Automated Living Voice Software
  • Dell Desktop PCs (2)
  • Linksys Gigabit and Wireless Network
  • MD Manufacturing AirForce