Every Dog Has Their Day                                                                             March 8th, 2006

We’ve been reading about “the home of the future” for years now, but that elusive vision seems to be like watching the dog chase its tail in perpetual anticipation……a lot of barking and activity, but never quite attaining what it hopes for.  While The Jetsons’ house has seemingly been out of reach, the dream of the technology enhanced home is rapidly coming our way due to emerging trends in technology such as Wireless networks and Voice over IP. Along with the introduction of products, has come a shift in the public’s familiarity and education regarding new technology. 


The industry term trying to encompass this vast array of technologies  in the futuristic home has been “home automation”.  Just what is home automation?  Historically, this has meant using technology to bring the various systems of your home (lighting, heating/air conditioning (HVAC), home theater, sprinkler systems, and security) together into one centralized location allowing, the home owner, to manage and use the various systems in a more simple, time efficient and cost effective manner.  This can be accomplished by having repetitive tasks completed automatically, like running your sprinklers on specific days. Completing a group of tasks at one time, such as controlling multiple lights with one button. Over the years many consumers have automated all or parts of their homes.  


Look around your own home.  You may see things like a programmable thermostat, landscape lights that come on at sunset, or even an old Clapper for turning that hard to get to light On and Off.  These are all forms of Home Automation in their own right.  To achieve the complete dream we must be able to control all of our homes’ systems from one place with the ease of the  touch of a button. 


The technology to accomplish home automation has been available to a certain extent for more then a generation now, but its realization has eluded the mass market for a variety of reasons.  First, the technology has been too expensive for mass market users, as it has often cost in the mid-five figures or higher to completely automate homes.  Thus, only the affluent have been able to afford it.  Secondly, the technology has been too arcane or complex for the average consumer.  Thirdly, building a network in an existing home can be difficult and costly. Finally, home automation hasn’t penetrated a broader market because of the requirement to replace a consumer’s existing equipment with proprietary hardware. This often locks the Home owner into one vendor for products.  This can be especially scary in a market with so many new players. 


Therefore, the broader consumer market hasn’t adopted home automation for the three primary reasons of: expense, technological complexity, and the inability of existing automation systems to allow the homeowner’s existing technology to work together. 


So where is home automation going and will it ever penetrate a broader market beyond the affluent or high-tech “do-it-your-selfers”?  It’s worthy of mention that while home automation technology has been around for a generation, the emergence of the Internet in the 1990s stole the limelight in the technology markets.  Now, thanks in part to the Internet and the market’s trend toward digitization, the average consumer is much more technologically prepared and fluent, with digital media, Internet broadband, etc, than it was 10 years ago.  This trend and the emergence of new technologies have led to renewed interest in home automation.  In fact, CE Pro noted in its January 2006 issue that Lighting and Automation are one of the magazine’s Five Trends to Watch for 2006.  Even executives from Microsoft, the world’s largest software company, are on record espousing their view that “the digital home is critically important.”


A number of existing and emerging industry leaders are working diligently to deliver new solutions to the marketplace.  Companies like Harmony Solutions, LLC, a software company out of Austin, Texas, feels the market is primed for full adoption of home automation.


Harmony Home Solutions founder David Hanford noted, “We saw a home automation market that was too expensive and too complex for the regular homeowner.  In fact, most of the public isn’t even completely aware of the technologies available.  People always fear the unknown, and with technology it is twice as bad. We can’t teach the entire marketplace about every new technology, but we can keep the learning curve down for adding one to your home. We have created Maestro as an affordable, modular solution that is extremely easy for the non-technical of us to use.” 


Harmony’s “Maestro” system is a user interface that gives consumers the ability to view, communicate with, and control all of the various systems in the home (lighting, HVAC, sprinklers, etc.).  Even though Maestro was built for touch screen devices, it can be accessed from most any computer available today, either at home, or over the internet.  Harmony’s Maestro is supported by Homeseer’s software as the solid backbone.  The system is standards based, meaning consumers are not locked into one manufacturer for product.  This model allows the home owner to shop for the mix of price and reliability they need at any given time.


Has the time arrived for home automation? Costs of automation systems are falling, driven in part by an industry that is trying to expand its presence.  As lower prices make systems more affordable to a broader market of consumers; emerging companies like Harmony Solutions, LLC. are stepping up to make the systems more accessible and easy to use. 


Whether the moniker of choice is, “home automation”, “the home of the future”, or “smart home”; these concepts have long been a dream promoted by technology firms and futurists, alike.  The combination of a well spring of new, more user friendly and affordable technologies and a society rapidly becoming more technologically conversant is working to help these dreams come into fruition for more and more consumers.  Like all technology trends, from the transition from horse and buggy to cars, or from LP records to CD to MP3, the development and adoption of new technology often moves in fits and starts.  However, based on the trends being noted by industry observers and powerful technology companies alike, we may well be seeing the vision of a technologically advanced home meet reality in the immediate future.  So, this dog might catch its tail, after all!







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