With Amazon’s general release of the Echo home automation
controller, it may be time to take a
second look at the home automation
market. I first took the plunge into
commercial home automation several
years ago with X10-compatible
hardware ( www.x10.com).
For the price of a bare-bones
Echo ($180, www.Amazon.com), you
can get a half dozen wireless timers
and remotes for controlling lights,
appliances, and your home security
system. X10-compatible home
automation devices are commodities
— inexpensive, ubiquitous, and they
work. Unfortunately, they’re also a bit
At the other end of the home
automation market are the cloud-compatible smart thermostats and
cameras, typified by the Nest
learning thermostat and Nest cam,
respectively ( www.nest.com). Both
can be controlled through your
smartphone from anywhere in the
world. Plus, the learning thermostat is
compatible with a variety of devices
— from smart locks and sprinkler
systems to ceiling fans.
If you want to make the Nest
cam fully functional, you’ll have to
pay a $10 monthly fee to Nest Aware
— not something I’m prepared to do.
One of the advantages of the
Amazon Echo is that it’s compatible
with Belkin WeMo and Philips Hue
devices. WeMo is compatible with
standard Wi-Fi routers and iOS
devices, such as the iPad. Hue —
which is primarily for lighting — also
works with a standard Wi-Fi router,
and both iOS and Android tablets
I’ve used the Philips Hue lighting
system with my iPhone for about a
year. It’s expensive, however, at
about $200 for a Wi-Fi/Hue bridge
and three 60W equivalent LED bulbs.
Which brings me to cost. The
basic “star trek” package — which
allows you to say the equivalent of
“Computer, lights on” from anywhere
in your living room — is about $400
— $180 for the Echo and $200 for a
basic Philips Hue lighting system.
Add a few Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi
switches for your existing lights or
appliances, and you’re easily
approaching $500. Still, this sort of
off-the-shelf functionality that actually
works was science fiction just a few
As Google, Apple, and now
Amazon compete for the front end
of the home automation market,
there are likely to be more and more
affordable peripherals and tools.
More importantly — from an
electronics enthusiast’s perspective —
is the availability of inexpensive
peripherals that can be easily torn
down and repurposed for other uses.
Think of replacing an RGB LED with
three opto-isolators to control three
servos, for example.
I think we just might have the
“star trek” computer system of the
1960s. Now, someone needs to start
working on the transporter, so we
can say “Beam me up, Echo.” NV
Are We There Yet?
October 2015 5
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