Designing a Multi Layered Home Automation System

As I have been looking online for information related to a particular Home Automation, I stumbled upon this PDF which detailed a multi layered Home Automation / Smart Home system. I am unable to contact this guy nor do I have anyway of providing him the edit. Of course I am going to be requesting you you guys to help me if you find out some

Motivation

The progress technology has made over past years is amazing. Computerization completely changed the work of billions of people in less than 20 years. But it did not affect their living as much. Why are we still so far away from the vision of ordinary households being as smart as the current technology and imagination allows? I believe it is the lack of good software and solutions optimized for home use. Many of the current smart home installations have roots in the industry and some people believe that what can successfully control a whole factory should control a household with ease. The requirements are actually completely different. In industry, we usually need extremely high performance with high speed and stability. On the other hand, the simplicity of user interface and cost are amongst the main drivers for smart homes. The market of a billion households is undoubtedly big enough to get a specialized solution, tailored to its specific needs. Still most of the current specialized smart home software is either not intuitive for the end user or too limiting to advanced functions. In order to launch mass installations and reach the economics of scale, we should consider different approach than has been used for individual installations in luxurious villas. The system must be cheap, reliable and easy to run and maintain by the user himself. Not before then will home automation become a standard, rather than a luxury or half functional do-it-yourself experiment implemented by techies.

From users to layers

A traditional control system consists of two layers: a rather sophisticated bottom layer with control algorithms and a simple top layer visualization with end-user interface. Whilst suitable for industry, it does not fit the users of home automation as can be seen on a simple example. Let’s suppose an ordinary user bought a new wireless switch for the bedroom and wants to configure it so that it would turn off other lights in the apartment, set temperature ideal for sleeping and slowly dim the bedroom light within next 15 minutes. The top layer visualization is too simple to accommodate such a request, so the user would have to go into the bottom layer, which is often too complicated and not safe to modify by someone without good knowledge of scripting and all dependencies of the control system. So an average user cannot, but opt out to call an expensive integrator to set it up. This works in a few individual installations, but what if a million users decide to add a switch?

Simplifying the bottom layer for end user brings many compromises and limitations in functionality in many current specialized home automation installations. On the other hand, a complex top layer SCADA scares off inexperienced users. As a solution, I suggest to add one more layer to the control system, so that bottom layer stays a complex control system for critical algorithms that only an expert can modify (such as HVAC), middle layer allows common maintenance to advanced end-user and the top layer serves as a very easy to use interface for computer-unskilled users such as children and elderly people.

Middle Layer

The proposed middle layer is an application running parallel to the bottom layer, which can be accessed remotely from any computer. It is designed for the growing number of advanced users, who are able to use a computer on the level of creating a PowerPoint presentation, but have no knowledge of control systems. Middle layer is connected to selected data points from the bottom layer and those can be assigned contextual information and used in a simplified logic to create rules. This logic implements basic lighting and switch logic in a visual way, which is more intuitive than common textual IF..THEN programming. Concerning HVAC, we use the middle layer solely for setting the target temperature according to button press or time schedules, but all the algorithms connected with achieving this goal are kept in the bottom layer. For example, a grandma living alone could call her grandson that she feels cold in the kitchen when she wakes up at 5 am and has to increase the temperature manually every time. He connects to her middle layer application remotely from a PC at his dorm to see that the optimized heating was set to safe energy by decreasing the heating between 11 pm and 6 am. With a couple clicks he can increase the early morning temperature for her. Grandma actually likes her smart home, because she has no complicated controls or computer screens there and everything works even easier than before the smart installation. Grandchildren can easily help her to do any change, but they cannot make any big damage to the system, because they cannot access the bottom-layer function they don’t understand. Furthermore, middle layer is technology-independent, so that it can integrate multiple bottom layer systems under unified interface (for example simple X10 / Insteon network with HVAC control).

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