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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


It's The Little Things: Searching for the Home Automation “Killer App” Mike Parks

image source: istockphoto.com

Our pursuit of modern home automation can be readily observed if one looks at the archives from the various World Fairs dating as far back as the 1930s. While tantalizing possibilities have captured our imaginations, in practice the mass adoption of home automation technologies has yet to really take-off. Costs and lack of a common, interconnected protocol are often attributed as the root cause for the failure of home automation to launch. Perhaps though, home automation just hasn’t found it’s “killer app” yet. What might be needed is one must-have product that, while it stands alone in its first iteration, will drive people to adopt then demand more devices that interact with each other. Here, we’ll look at three products that might just serve as such a catalyst. Even if they don’t unleash automation nirvana, they are each pretty cool in their own right:

 

GeniCan: A Smarter Trashcan

Of all the things in your home, the humble trash can probably doesn’t scream out to you as something that is in desperate need of electronic intelligence. The folks at GeniCan are hoping to prove you wrong. The GeniCan device goes inside your trashcan; as you place trash inside, you scan the UPC code using the GeniCan and it automatically builds a shopping list that you can access from your smartphone.

 

Source: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/genican-your-garbage-can-just-got-smart#/story

 

OpenSprinkler: Open Source Lawn Care

An open source product might be just what is needed to gather mass adoption of interconnected automation products. It is the same hope that caused Tesla to open source it’s electric vehicle patents in hopes that a rising tide will lift all ships of the automotive industry. This kind of thinking just might benefit the home automation industry as well. One of the more robust open initiatives geared at home automation is OpenSprinkler which has the backing of former Wired editor, Chris Anderson. OpenSprinkler provides both a fully assembled product and a kit that makers can use to build a custom lawn irrigation system.

 

Ninja Sphere: One Spheramid to Rule Them All

When I set out to write this, I made a rule to not talk about home automation hubs and to instead focus on more products that people would interact with directly. Then I found Ninja Blocks and their latest product called the Ninja Sphere which walks the line between being just a control hub and something that you would directly interact with. Think of Ninja Sphere as the ship’s computer from Star Trek. It interacts with a host of products such as Philips Hue lightbulbs, Belkin WeMo remote controlled outlets, and even Spotify -- the Internet music streaming service. It’s open source and provides the tools needed to let developers add additional functionality, even Arduino projects. Perhaps the killer feature is that Ninja Sphere can precisely locate items in the house through trilateration. So not only can you get a notification on your Pebble smartwatch when your smartphone is getting a call, it can also tell you what room your phone is in. Finding car keys that have been tagged with Bluetooth Low Energy tags is also a possibility.

 

Regardless how one feels about these three particular products, the fact remains that home automation is once again an in-vogue topic for the tech sector as it looks to grow in a post-Great Recession economy. Still, the home automation industry has been around for decades and its promises have gone largely unfulfilled. As engineers we are fascinated with studying the pros and cons of various automation protocols and home automation hubs because of the tech involved. But the reality is that none of it matters to consumers. Products and services matter. Things that make life simpler in unobtrusive, easy-to-use, and inexpensive ways. If and when home automation ever takes off it will be because of a product that catches our collective imagination, not because the tight protocol stack it’s running. What are your thoughts? What “killer” product or service do you think would help serve as a catalyst for mainstreaming home automation technology?

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Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.


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