Home Automation - A Bit of History

Many years ago (~25), I was then a student at an engineering school (02139), the Mechanical Engineering Dept started looking into Mechatronics, and the Civil Engineering Dept started a ‘Smart Home’ Project/Curriculum. The idea back then was as simple as LCD window panes that would go clear/opaque based on time of day and outside brightness (Today we have smart/motorized window blinds). Many of the ideas we take for granted today have not even been invented yet. Fast forward to ~15 years later, then we see the Arduino/RaspberryPi and the like, then Cloud Computing and AWS, and shortly after, everything IOT.

I do not see HA as a single discipline that has necessarily evolved over the years. I see it more as the ‘culmination’ of many technologies that have ‘somehow’ come together (Web, cheap cameras and sensors, programmable electronics, …).

Besides the above ‘short/compact/incomplete’ story, care to share what, in your view/experience/opinion, has contributed to where HA is today?

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For me this is open source and its communities, more than special technologies.

This doesn’t mean bigger projects like openHAB or HomeAssistant necessarily.
Every user repo on GitHub, every blogpost, every question/idea in this (or another) forum,
can bring others (including me) to think about a problem and maybe try to solve it in a different way than one would have solved it on his own.

The people contributing in any way, help moving HA forward. :slight_smile:


Democratization of technology: Before the Arduino/Raspberry Pi’s/et. al. came to market you had to be either naturally talented with electronics or have an EE degree to do much of anything when it came to interfacing software with the “real world.” After Arduino and Raspberry Pi and such, for less than the cost of that electronics text book you would have needed to do anything useful, you can have the raw materials needed to sense and/or interact with the real world with minimal knowledge.

Availability of knowledge: Using those easy to use electronics still takes some knowledge. But there is enough written out on the Internet just a quick search away that one can get started building something from zero to maker in almost no time at all. It’s more like building Ikea furniture or lego kits than engineering now. This and the above greatly lowered the barriers to entry for casual makers which in turn is creating more raw talent to advance the state of the art.

The Shenzhen revolution: We live in a world where someone like me (CS related degrees) can design and have custom PCBs created for just a few bucks. Companies can have some of the most advanced electronics manufactured for pennies. This has brought the cost of manufacturing down to almost nothing which is driving down the costs of electronics to the point where it can cost < $1 to put a microcontroler into a project.

Standardization: Sadly we have a long way to go here, but I see promising signs. Lots of relays and lights and similar devices are based on ESP8266s. IP cameras are growingly being based on ESP32s. This sort of standardization (building on the Arduino revolution) means there is less custom work going on to bring a product to market driving down costs and supporting greater diversity in products. Sadly, at the protocol level we have a long way to go.

Ubiquity of smart phones: Without everyone carrying smart phones and giving those people the ability to control their stuff through their phone it’s hard to get people interested. The barrier to achieve something useful is too high. But with smart phones, you can give someone the ability to control a single light from anywhere in the world. From there many will want to grow. Without that easy early win, only the truly dedicated will even try.

Voice Assistants: I think the rise of Alexa and GA have injected a bit of nitro into home automation advances. It’s if virtuous cycle. The more people have voice assistants, the more companies build stuff that work with them, the more people buy voice assistants. Unfortunately, that also means that home automation is going to glowingly move towards these few walled gardens, perhaps leaving us out of the party. It’s not all gumdrops and roses.


Thank you gentlemen, always good to have such perspectives. You’re absolutely right though … the key ingredients that led to openHAB arethe ‘Democratization of Electronics’ and the large ‘Contributing Community’. Cheers.