Smart Home Security

Home Automation: From the Basement to the Cloud

 •  5 minutes read

Home Automation: From the Basement to the Cloud

Smart home technology is experiencing a growth spurt, and consumers are enjoying a larger selection of domestic gadgets and doodads every day. A wi-fi enabled version of almost every household appliance is now available for purchase, but where did this journey begin? And where is it headed? As a growing player in the new world of internet enabled homes, we at Scout Alarm thought we would go back to our roots and give you a quick tour of the last 50 years of smart home development. This is how home automation moved from the basement to the cloud.

A Short History Of The Smart Home

The first home automation technology was introduced as far back as 1966. The Electronic Computer for Home Operation, or ECHO IV, was made by James Sutherland at Westinghouse Electric. The computer, weighing 800 lbs. and stored in Sutherland’s basement with an equally large ventilation system, could automate several devices throughout the house. The ECHO could change all the clocks for daylight savings, move the TV’s antennas to the perfect angle to pick up different channels, and print recipes and notes that were entered on a keyboard in the kitchen.

For a few decades, there wasn’t much innovation. By the early 2000s, there were very expensive automation systems on the market which mainly controlled lighting, music, and climate. These systems had control panels stuck to a wall rather than mobile, and were often clunky and overly complex. A mid-range system cost $30,000 to purchase and install. Most importantly, these smart or connected homes lacked something very important: an internet connection.

We created Scout with these systems and their weaknesses in mind. Home automation needs to be affordable, make your life easier, and work beautifully and reliably, when you’re on-the-go.

The Internet of Things

In the past decade, home automation has experienced a fantastic rebirth with the invention, or rather discovery, of The Internet of Things. The Internet of Things was inspired by the basic idea that anything which plugs into a wall or has a battery can be connected to the internet and managed remotely. In the developed world, Wi-Fi is the new public utility. A house without wireless internet is like a house without water. With this ubiquity has come an incredible drop in the price of wireless technology. This is why The Internet of Things is more of a discovery than an invention: engineers realized that they could put wireless technology anywhere. And, in the same way that Sutherland’s ECHO IV hid in the basement, our home’s devices can harness the power of the cloud hidden in data centers around the world to manage other connected devices, report to the homeowner, analyze our usage, and automate.

The Internet of Things applies to everything from environmental monitoring, industrial sensors, infrastructure development, military, and more. But you’ve probably run into it when out shopping for home electronics. From refrigerators to washing machines, coffee machines to televisions, and alarms to security cameras, the Internet of Things for your home grows larger each day. It’s been marketed as automated homes, smart homes, intelligent homes, conscious homes and connected homes. There are only subtle, if any, differences between these terms. In general, a smart home in 2016 is one with one or more internet-connected devices which can be used for automation and remote management.

The Times Are a Changin’

Recent acquisitions by Google hint at the great future of home automation. In 2011, they purchased Motorola Mobility, which came with all sorts of useful patents for home automation like internet-enabled wall plugs and compact Wi-Fi receivers. Next they purchased Nest, the wildly successful energy saving thermostat, and CO and fire-detector which learns your schedule and can be controlled from a phone or computer. And most recently, they purchased Dropcam (now called Nest Cam), a company making USB powered security cameras which can be viewed from phones or computers.

Another internet behemoth, Amazon, recently released a device called the Dash Button which can be tapped to automatically re-order your favorite household items like washing detergent or paper towels. Amazon has also released an Echo of their own. It’s an affordable, small speaker which can receive voice commands and complete a range of tasks from controlling wi-fi enabled devices in your home, to placing orders on Amazon, playing music, telling you about the weather, dictating restaurant and movie reviews, and more.

The signs are clear, the automated, smart, connected home has arrived, and will grow more popular and comprehensive with every passing year.

What’s Next?

What is lacking from all these home automation systems is an essential centralized management. With this type of fragmentation, home automation hasn’t been adopted as quickly as it could be. Today I can manage my lights from my LIFX app, my groceries with my Dash button, my temperature from my Nest app, my alarm from my Scout app, my music from my Sonos app, but there is no dedicated dashboard which seamlessly ties them together. This is why companies like IFTTT have risen to popularity. They promise to be your own personal ECHO IV, allowing you to customize your home so that when your carbon monoxide alarm goes off your lights will flash, the fire department will be called, your mother will be emailed, your phone will be texted, your music will blast, your windows will be opened, and if you have one, your Scout Alarm will sound. Up next, we need a central hub that will allow us to seamlessly integrate and control all our smart home products and services in one, efficient interface.