Home automation may seem like something out of an episode of “The Jetsons,” but we may be closer to that reality than you think. Like all great technological advances of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, science fiction is more and more becoming science fact, and the home is in many ways at the center of this process. From microchips to the Internet and X10, the current state of home automation has been formed by a variety of milestone advances in technology. Moving forward, these exciting new possibilities are defining how we envision the automated homes of the future.

Home Automation in Years Past

The centralization and mechanization of residential activities has its roots in the first electrically-wired residential buildings at the end of the 19th century. The ability to illuminate the room from a single switch drastically changed the way we lived by making it easy and relatively safe to light large areas for extended periods at night.

The next great advance came with the introduction of the home television in the 1950s and the later introduction of the infrared remote control. Both inventions were useful for point-to-control communication between devices but lacked a two-way exchange of information. X10 was released in the 1970’s as a standard protocol for wiring houses for home automation. The system relied on the power grid to turn certain devices on or off. The technology still exists today and can be installed with little cost.

The next generation came in the form of the Internet, which created a worldwide network of computers in the 1990s. Soon after, wireless Internet in the form of Wi​-Fi became a common fixture in American homes. These networks introduced the possibility of a new way of connecting domestic devices.

State of the Art

Currently, the ubiquity of Wi-Fi networks offer a usable framework for home automation, though they are often regarded as much too big and powerful for that kind of job. It is more efficient to create a smaller network that is limited to the home and the devices that are necessary. Z-wave was developed to do just that. A combination of short-range technologies created by Zen-Sys in 2005, this wireless technology creates a mesh network at the user’s home and sends signals at the 900 MHz spectrum. The Z-Wave technology is capable of connecting a variety of devices to control appliances, door locks and even flood monitors.

The Sci-Fi Future of the Internet of Things

As we move into the next generation,  more and more devices will begin to connect to one another. The dream is a future in which data is communicated between devices and humans without relying on manual input of individual bytes. Computers that can automatically mine data and then use that data to change aspects of the home environment is the future. For example, a smart thermostat that is able to automatically gauge the temperature of a room and then adjust the central heating and cooling units as necessary or a washing machine that automatically detects its contents and programs itself to be finished washing at a specified time. These are all goals that engineers are working toward and depend not only on advances in data-mining technologies but also in big data computing. As technologies continue to advance, you can expect the house of tomorrow to be even more automated than that of today.

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Cover photo courtesty of Flickr Creative Commons