The present assignment on Smart homes tries to address every important aspect of new generation automated homes. The assignment initially focuses on what are these smart homes, and then the work progresses to put in brief detail the benefits of smart homes. Common technologies that are involved in the devices and systems that support smart homes are explained. Detailed explanation of prominent, significant tasks and targets which the smart homes are supposed to achieve are discussed. Finally a brief note on the future prospects of the concept and the currently available important smart home solutions in the market is given.
Advancements in the information and Communication Technology (ICT) front have enabled among many things, special research and development in the concept of safe and comfort living at homes. The concept of smart homes relates to fully automated homes where the residents can control every aspect and item of home even staying long away from it. This concept of safe living is gaining prominence because of many causes, some being, secured independent living of the elderly at homes, need for making homes burglar proof, turning homes energy efficient, remote operability of electronic equipments at home and safe up-keeping of infants and children alone at home.
For the purpose of working on this assignment, I referred to many online sources like articles, presentations, websites, encyclopaedias etc.
What are smart homes?
Smart homes are future proof homes. Smart homes are intelligent homes which are run by fully automated devices and technologies. These homes which make use of various highly advanced technologies increase the quality of living immensely.
An industry definition of Smart home is, “a smart home is a home where the systems (security, lighting, sensors, heating and air-conditioning, audio-video etc.) are interconnected to allow the automatic or remote control of the home to save energy, improve comfort, safety and or convenience for the homeowner. A smart home enhances the value of a home” (SMARTHOME, 2010a).
Especially, families whose members need special round the clock care and assistance, where people stay away from home for long for career purposes, when some members of family are on intensive and sensitive medication, when elders of the family live in isolation at home all alone and for many more such security and service purposes, people are increasingly resorting to making their domestic environments fully automated. Though the level of automation varies based on needs and money spending capacity, every home where significant part of domestic space is controlled and run by customised technology gadgets can be referred to as a Smart home.
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When ones chances staying at home all the time are limited, and want to make some necessary things happen in their absence, to make sure that the security of the home is guarded uncompromisingly, to ensure that the available resources are put to optimum use, to make things happen in their normal course even in ones absence, to take maximum care of elderly people and disabled family members, one can deploy suitable and selected active technologies in the forms of remotely accessible electronic gadgets, robots etc to ensure that all such needs are best served.
Depending on the need spectrum and the monetary strength, these days, increasing number of families are showing interest in making their domestic environments automated, served and guarded by latest electronic systems and pre-programmed & and self maintainable equipments. With automated homes owners can have peace of mind, even in their prolonged, compulsive absence from their homes and can make happen every thing that their normal presence would definitely do, ranging from watering the garden to giving a definite quantity of pesticide spray to infected plants.
Benefits of smart homes:
Important advantages or benefits of smart homes are safety, comfort and convenience. The joy of being able to control home lighting systems, room temperatures, water storage, surveillance systems, garden sprinkler and much more such handy options is very unique. Smart homes let the owners to have many automated opportunities of independent living.
Various home automation equipment and gadgets facilitate easy and remote management of electronic devices at home like, managing illumination levels of lighting systems depending on the day light levels, can help see what is happening in ones absence with the help of closed circuit cameras, can schedule the television viewing times of children, can operate equipment in kitchen like – coffee maker, microwave ovens, dish washers and the like, can view favourite movies from any TV in any room, can maintain cleanliness of domestic environments with remote operable or programmed robots and many more such functions that ease living and bring in safe comfort (Discovery Communications Inc., n.d.).
In smart homes all the electronic devices can be put under user programmed, single point control. Primary purpose of most of such equipment is to provide safe domestic environment. They make homes intrusion proof and can send warning messages to the owners in case of any unforeseen emergency and can even send similar signals to police or fire fighter services. With special equipment like thermostats users can remotely operate and control functioning of heating and cooling systems like air conditioners to save energy when they are not used. Important benefit of smart home is reliable care of elders at home. When we stay away from home leaving back our beloved elders, with the help of programmed robots and remote controlled cameras we can ensure that they take their medicines in time and monitor their health and activity status (eHow, Inc., 2010).
Further, these days almost every one is having internet at their living places. By placing all the computers in the home well connected in a wireless network and configuring to a WiFi system, we can move around the home with our laptops while staying perfectly connected to internet.
Thus Smart homes house well connected and networked devices that operate in full preset rhythm and in perfect coordination to serve every special need of owners. Thus the present generation homes are turning to be intelligent homes.
The whole concept of Smart homes depends on the advanced technologies and the modern smart equipment that are employed in the home. There are wide spectrum of such technological services and automated devices especially designed and developed for this purpose. To better study their functionality, according to (Dewsbury, Taylor & Edge, 2001), all the services provided by various high end devices and technologies that help build a smart home can be categorised as:
Assistive technologies are that category of scientific systems and electronic devices, which enable the users to execute such tasks at home which otherwise they would not be able to do because of their absence from home. These are the devices which can be made to function in a specific way and can be controlled remotely also.
Adaptive technologies are the ones which can be custom programmed to suit user specific functional requirements. Thus they are the devices that come with modifiable functionality. Inclusive devices are also called as “Design for all” systems that come with capability do multiple tasks depending on the user needs and demands. Finally, medical devices are a wide range of equipments that come with huge functional spectrum of services of medical assistance. They range from medical diagnostic devices, sterilisation units, health monitoring systems, medication dosage checkers and emergency service equipment.
Important requirement of present families is that, as all the other members go to their work place, the elderly people are left at home all alone. The younger ones though go out; they want to serve every need of their beloved parents and grand parents at home. For this the smart home technologies offer a lot of options for their safety and security. They range from many emergency assistance systems, security equipment, burglar alarms, pre-programmed timers to remind them to take medicines in time, walking assistant robots, emergency calling facility to contact doctors, police or fire fighters, closed circuit TV cameras, remote operable micro wave ovens, automated room heating or cooling systems to maintain temperature that makes them feel comfort etc. Primary purpose of these equipments and technologies is to ensure safety and convenience when they are alone at home (Smart House Services for Elderly and Disabled People, 2008). Some examples are, smart shirts – which instantaneously and at regular intervals measure body temperature, cardiac functioning etc. Some other devices monitor blood sugar levels. The new generation elderly care equipment are designed to have in them artificial intelligence features.
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A recent invention by a scientific research group invented a robot pet cat – ‘Near Me’. The speciality of this is that it perfectly resembles a living pet and it is programmed to behave in a very warm & amicable way and also beeps at regular intervals for medicine intake. New in this is that with its chubby, sweet movements it gives the users a feel of lively togetherness. This soothing feeling spreads good psychological and emotional support which can reduce their lonely feeling.
Infant and Child care:
When all the elders in the home are job holders and have to leave their loved little ones at home, the present smart home technologies and devices which are available can assure the parents safety at home. With coordinated functioning of closed circuit TV cameras, remotely operable toys, security covers and safety alarms, controlled TV viewing, parental controls on internet browsing etc are the presently obtainable child care solutions for smart homes. Further, some companies are developing play robots, which can amuse children while keeping close watch on their activities and needs.
When families raise multiple pets, the owner’s absence is a problem. To answer this smart homes these days are housing technologies and devices that help fulfil all pet needs. Some solutions focus on timely arrangement of food and fresh water stored in highly hygienic conditions. Some pest repellent devices help make up a fly and mosquito free domestic environs. Other devices for arranging timely food and drinking water are pet auto feeders, self maintaining water bowls and heated hoses for water supply in harsh winters (SMARTHOME, 2010b).
Smart homes need to be energy efficient. Most of the energy saving smart home gadgets makes use of solar power to feed lamps. There can be wide number of varieties of such devices that serve different purposes in smart home and their source of energy is solar heat. Some examples of such products are pool water purifiers, wireless room sensors, intruder motion sensors, solar powered flood lights, solar timers, light sensors, electrified fencing etc. Based on the power saving needs and level of affordability users can choose appropriate ones. Some solar powered devices help watering gardens and control sprinkler functioning based on video feeds from closed circuit TV cameras installed at different parts inside and outside of home surroundings.
Access Control mechanisms:
These are the primary requirements of any smart home. Security maintenance is a big challenge. The presently available solutions are offering solutions to nearly every safety need of house holds. The prime target of all these devices and smart technologies is to make home burglar and intruder proof. These systems need to make homes security breach proof. For this the available solutions range from, motion or occupancy sensors, wirelessly operable alarm systems, alert message generators during emergencies, door lock control and status sensors, window pane trackers, temperature, smoke and fire monitoring and sensing systems, washing machine water valve maintenance kit, Carbon Monoxide, Methane, LPG leakage sensors, automatic alert generation systems, garage shutter alerts, humidity alerts etc. Further, cash safes in the homes need to be guarded with very high strength. For this robber proof safes are available in numerous varieties depending on money. Further, the main gate and door status recorders, CCTV cameras arranged at different places would help monitor security status of home while staying far away form home also. Coordinated functioning of these surveillance systems help best maintain and guard security of home.
Another important area where the home automation levels are best reflected is the kitchen. The supportive tools of smart home in kitchen include remote controlled micro wave ovens, coffee makers, wirelessly controllable dish washers, dangerous gas leakage sensors, automatic LPG cylinder operability, wirelessly controlling the power supply to kitchen etc. Some devices automatically switch off power supply to kitchen once cooking is over and motion sensors detect no movements there (Spacely Marketing Group, 2010). This helps minimise electric and gas hazards of kitchen.
Technical devices like light dimmers, lighting appliance controller equipments help misguide thieves and intruders. These devices control the functioning of lights in the home to give an impression to the outside gazer that owners are present in the home. This helps keeping them away. Some shadow sensors arranged of window panes generate alarms and alert messages, if any suspected shadow falls on window glass panes. Further electric fences give protection from thieves and burglars. New entrants in this area of security appliances are robotic surveillance services, where pre programmed, and guard robots of different forms continue surveillance in all parts of the home and its surroundings. They are equipped with high resolution cameras and emergency response capabilities. Some times users may wish to use perimeters also.
The list of smart home technologies presently available cannot be put in any single list. The most prominent and important services and common device functionalities are discussed here. But depending on the safety & security needs and other special requirements users can choose from a wide spectrum of smart home solutions.
Important service and technology provider of this generation smart homes is briefly discussed here. Smart Home – Home Automation Superstore has a very big smart home services and devices list. Their product range includes, intercoms and phones, remote controlled devices, solar & energy savers, shadow sensors, lighting dimmers & related appliance control, door locking systems, thermostats & temperature maintenance systems, timers & alarm generators, pet maintenance equipment and many more like these (SMARTHOME, 2010c).
Future of the concept:
Future of the smart home concept is very bright. The future home security systems, that are under different development and research stages are focussing on adding artificial intelligence to the performance and functioning of these electronic and technical gadgets. The growing threats to home privacy and secured living, people are increasingly resorting to smart home solutions. With more advanced research in this regard the future security systems may be far more modern and strongly reliable. A normally accepted thing is that the future smart home systems largely rely on humanoid robots that are artificially intelligent and guarantee a highly secured and convenient living at home.
The concept of smart homes is widely becoming popular with general public with moderate spending capacity. The market is also replete with wide variety of options to build and maintain smart homes. The presently available products and technical services are providing user friendly interfaces at the same time strong security for all aspects of home living. Given the current situation and the projected future of this dynamic concept, one can be sure that in near future theft and burglar proof homes and cities are on the anvil.
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