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How Smart is Your Home

jane jetson Imagine a day in the life of Jane Jetson—Jane's biggest chore is pushing a button on the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle machine that instantly dispenses any type of food. Decisions, decisions!

Jane and her family never experience bad weather, either. Fortunately, they reside at SkyPad Apartments, which are built on huge hydraulic lifts that raise and lower as needed to stay clear of bad weather. If that's not enough, husband George never has to worry about parking; he just folds his car into a suitcase and takes it with him. In a world where wet showers are replaced with sonic showers and household robots are part of everyday life, it's clear that automation and robotic gadgets make life a little easier.

Back in the 1960s, the futuristic lifestyle of the Jetsons was way ahead of its time. These days, new technology makes home automation a reality, although not quite in the same way as the Jetson's.

Your Smart Home

Chances are, you already benefit from home automation that is part of your everyday life—you just may not realize it. Do you remember the days when you had to change the television channel or adjust the volume right on the television set? Remotes changed all that, enabling you to make those changes by simply pointing a wireless remote device at the television and pressing a button. Life became a little easier, didn't it?

Take a look at some other items in your lifestyle that fall into that collection of things that makes our lives easier and more convenient:

  • That cable box that's sitting atop your television allows you to view a list of available movies, and download one instantly with the click of a button. You just saved yourself a trip to the movie rental store as well as wear and tear on your car.

  • Automated voice mail systems have made their way into our homes, allow-ing us to pick up voice messages from any location, and even receive mes-sage while on the phone. Goodbye busy signals, hello convenience! You can even receive voice messages in your e-mailbox and listen to them on your computer.

  • Each time you open or close the garage door with a wireless remote, you experience a useful home-automation tool that is a natural extension of life's daily activities.

  • When is the last time you had to adjust the temperature on your prepro-grammed home thermostat? They are commonly found in many homes and apartments, allowing you to design heating and cooling programs that fit your needs. It may look like a small plastic box stuck on the wall, but actu-ally uses the technology of a solid-state microcomputer to provide you with flexible temperature control.

  • And who can live without the magic of the microwave? Microwaves changed cooking habits considerably in terms of time and convenience. But they were not always part of our lives. Invented in 1946, microwaves were introduced on a wide scale to American kitchens by 1967, when their design finally fit the kitchen countertop rather then a large room. It didn't take long for the microwave to become the everyday appliance that we all know today.

Although your home is not quite operating on its own, effortless smart home tech-nology is eloquently blended in, providing the ability to save time, simplify everyday tasks, and maybe even have a little fun.

Turn Up the Automation!

Previously, you learned about a few home automation gadgets that are so common that you don't quite think of them as automation—just a normal part of living. New technology is being invented all the time, just waiting to make an appearance in your home!

Feast your mind on some of the gadgets that will definitely turn up the automation level and further change the way you live now. When it comes to smart home technology, you can incorporate as much or as little as you want—it all depends on your budget.

We all spend lots of time in the kitchen, usually cooking or cleaning up. Kitchens are designed with one height in mind—some magical number that is used industry-wide to determine the height of a sink or cabinet. Enter the new intelligent kitchen, in which cabinets and sinks adjust to your height with the touch of a button. This clever device not only compensates for the varying heights of family members, but also provides greater independence to those confined to a wheelchair.
intelligent kitchen adjustable sinks
If you're weary of carrying heavy pots of water from the sink to the stove, you'll appreciate the all-in-one sink. Combining the stovetop with the sink provides multiple levels of convenience while performing everyday cooking tasks, and keeps you safe from boiling-water spills with its built-in drainage controls.

Have you ever wondered who invented the door peephole? Even with perfect vision, it's tough to see anything clearly through a tiny hole. That's where a door that transforms from opaque to transparent comes in handy—you can easily see who's on the other side of it.

combination washer and dryer saves spaceIf you're short on space in the laundry room, you'll appreciate the combination washer and ventless tumble dryer. This clever machine takes up little space by washing and drying your laundry in the same unit. It may cost a little more, but with its high-power efficiency ratings, you'll save on power consumption, too.

If you're in the market for the ultimate high-tech appliance, take a look at some of the latest high-tech concept refrigerators. Intelligent refrigerators provide you with the capability to automatically order groceries via the Internet once supplies get low, use the touch screen on the door to check email, put your to-do list together, and even watch a little television. All this, is brought to you by a high-speed connection, sophisticated tracking database, and steep price.

There is even more automation coming your way—such as appliances that talk to each other, fog-free mirrors, self-cleaning shower doors, and even an intelligent microwave oven that downloads recipes from the Internet.

Is Home Automation Practical?

With the technology industry working diligently to make our homes smarter, I can easily envision a day far in the future when we get a Jetsons-era code red—an indi-cation that all computers, robots, and other electronics are against you. Or, having to be on the phone with tech support for hours because the Java-based kitchen device has a software virus and now dinner is ruined.

Hopefully, the next generation will keep a few old household items around to per-form everyday household tasks the old-fashioned way, just in case that code red is in effect.

Tak3 Control of Your Home

In the meantime, take an inventory to determine what smart technology is already in your home. Next, learn how you can incorporate even more smart home tech-nology into your life that is not only practical, but efficient as well.

You may have heard the term smart home system. Smart home systems allow you to control and manage your living environment from devices such as keypads, tele-phones, handheld remotes, touch panels, or voice recognition. These devices allow you to control a preprogrammed CPU that connects various subsystems in your home. You can think of these systems as a home network—many devices net-worked together to provide you with a more convenient and efficient lifestyle.

Home networks can be complicated and have special requirements such as struc-tured wiring. This provides a base for all the subsystems in your home. You have wiring for devices such as telephones, television, and audio that runs to a central-ized hub. The centralized hub also connects other services, such as computer net-works and security systems. Structured wiring allows you do such things as plugging your telephone into a jack or plugging one computer into a jack to be instantly connected to another on the network in the same home.

Automating all this activity takes a little more work. Using structured wiring as a backbone for its connectivity, an intelligent controller links all your various sub-systems together through interfaces and protocols. This, in turn, allows you to con-trol and/or monitor everything that the controller is linked to.

Controlling your environment is fun, exciting, and costly. Many new homes today are built with home control systems in mind, and have the proper wiring installed from the onset. If the walls of your home are already up, rewiring is a major project that requires careful planning and professional installation.


If you are just getting started with home automation, consider using X10 devices. X10 is a power line carrier protocol that uses the existing wiring in your home. X10 works with up to 256 coded addresses. X10 modules consist of the following:

  • Receivers: Devices are plugged into receivers and respond to signals from a transmitter with the same code.
  • Transmitters: Can send up to 256 coded, low-voltage signals over existing wiring.
  • 2-way Receiver/Transmitter: Can both transmit and receive signals.

x10 lamp moduleX10 devices are controlled from a variety of wireless remotes, wall mounted key-pads, or touch screens and tabletop keypads.

With X10, you can easily control and adjust in-home temperatures, door locks, lights, security, music, video, or anything that is electrical.

Take a look at a simple example of how X10 works. If your home includes lots of lamps and other lighting scattered throughout the house, imagine not having to walk over to each light in the house to turn it on or off. Just pick up the remote, and turn all the lights on/off or turn them on/off one at a time—you can even do this from outside. Here's how it works:

  1. Set the house code on an X10 transmitter module. The transmitter module pro-vides you with 16 house codes to choose from. For example, set the dial to "A" to enable the X10 transmitter to communicate with X10 receivers with the same house code setting.
  2. Plug the X10 transmitter module into any wall socket. The transmitter module includes a small antenna.
  3. Set the unit and house code on the face of an X10 receiver module. You can choose from 16 house codes and 16 unit codes. If you set the house code on the X10 receiver to "A", then the X10 receiver responds to the X10 transmitter with the same house code. Set the unit code to "1". The X10 receiver responds to a controller that is set to send a signal to house code "A", unit code "1".
  4. Plug a lamp into the X10 receiver and then plug the X10 receiver into any wall socket.
  5. Get the wireless remote, set the house code to "A", and then press the button that corresponds to the code you set on the X10 receiver (in this case, "1"). The light turns on/off.

X10 is a fast and inexpensive method to get started with home automation. If it runs off of electricity, chances are you can plug into an X10 module and begin tak-ing control right away.

Now that you have an idea of how much your home is already automated, and a few tips on making your home even smarter, what will you do with all your free time?