Home Automation – Where to start

For me it all started in June 2013 when a regular meeting at work threw up a random question, “What do you know about ZigBee? What about Home automation?” At the time, I had to admit not much. I’d read up on it of course, (which geek hasn’t) and I’d had Linux servers running my NAS and Email for years – but the hassle of installing X10 devices into UK wiring (more of this later), not to mention the cost had always stopped me going down this route.

As luck would have it, a couple of weeks later I was at Barcamp Berkshire One of the presentations was about using X10 and Linux to take what I traditionally thought as home automation (switching lights on when you walk into a room), adding data feeds (Google Calendars and TV Guides) and making a truly smart home; I was intrigued and started to jot down the three things that annoy me the most about how I live:

  1. I’m always leaving the garage light on. Like most people in my area, my garage is a combination utility room, storage locker, workshop, and general dumping ground for all the things I know I’ll need soon, but just need to tuck out of the way for a while. As a result I’m always nipping in and out, usually when I’ve got my hands full and often when I’m in a hurry. So the light gets left on; or I stumble over things because I came into the garage with my hands too full to turn the light on in the first place.
  2. I’m spending too much on Gas and Electricity! As other UK residence will know, barely a month goes by without a news report on how much the cost of energy will go up in the next few years (or how much profit the energy companies are making), or how much damage we’re causing to the environment. So I want to do as much as I can to make the house as economical as possible. To do this I want to know exactly how much I’m wasting.
  3. In the morning I always seem to miss the traffic report before leaving for work. There are three ways I could drive to work, with the shortest generally talking me 30-40 minutes. However when there are problems, I end up getting stuck in a long traffic jam, with no chance to turn off or around. What I really need is something that senses that I’m leaving the house (at a time normal for work), checks the three routes that I can drive, and tells me which one to take.

Not the easiest of use-cases I’ve ever seen, but definitely real world problems.

So where to start. As it happens I started with the wrong question….

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