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A Protocol For Home Automation 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the yes-please-now-please dept.
jfruh writes "Marshall Rose, one of the creators of the SNMP protocol, has a beef with current home automation gadgets: it's very, very difficult to get them to talk to each other, and you often end up needing a pile of remote controls to operate them. To fix these problems, he's proposed the Thing System, which will serve as an intermediary on your home automation network. The Thing System aims to help integrate gadgets already on the market, which may help it take off."
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A Protocol For Home Automation

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:09PM (#45301647)

    http://xkcd.com/927/

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only question in my mind when I read the summary, was whether or not this would be 1st post.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:10PM (#45301661)

    #927 [xkcd.com]

  • Bacnet over IP or Modbus TCP take your pick.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Either of those would work quite well for automation considering it is what they are designed for. I would pick bacnet because of the auto discovery that modbus lacks.

      The real problem is cost per item plus line run (wireless can cut that labor/cost but adds others). Lets say you want to control 50 things. Each one needs a controller at the endpoint. Even at 5-10 dollars a control point it adds up pretty quickly.

      Then each of the automation systems out there are somewhat compatible but not really. Then y

      • by 486Hawk (70185)

        This is true. The major problem for any home automation setup will be the endpoint user interface. Most of the solutions I have played with are very expensive for home use.
        What I have been thinking about for home use are some cheap modbus thermostats from china along with a decent rs485 adapter. Given the nice python modules (modbusTK) out there it would be very easy to put something together python and some sort of web interface.
        If you are going BACnet over rs485 good luck finding a cheap solution that can

      • You make a good point about current standards assuming each controlled device is an intelligent endpoint. In stage lighting, where you may control over a hundred lights, it's typical to have a few intelligent end devices and several relay or dimmer packs that control many "dumb" lights. Typically, one smart pack control power to eight lights. Most lights are dumb and cheap - just bulbs in sockets. Only a few lights, the moving, color changing spot lights, have any electronics in the end device.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Simple discovery should be all you actually need. After that, the rest is just mapping tables between the device's GUID and what it does. You don't typically add devices a hundred at a time. You add them one at a time. When you plug it in, it goes online. Your laptop or iPad or Raspberry Pi or whatever says, "Hey, I see a new electronic switch. What's attached?" And you say, "Bedside table lamp." And now you know what it does.

        But even if you're adding hundreds of them at once (e.g. adding wall swit

    • by LoRdTAW (99712)

      Modbus is a very low level protocol in which you are manipulating registers or contacts/coils in a PLC. Essentially a register is a 16 bit location in memory (variable) and a contact or coil is a single bit which can read/write physical inputs or outputs or virtual coils or contacts (essentially relays). Modbus is very old and dates back to Modicon who developed it as a simple network protocol for ladder logic programmed PLC's in the late 70's. It is still used today because ladder is still heavily used and

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Just for the /.-ers that don't know much about this stuff, LON-anything is patent-encumbered. BACnet is far less so, since it was designed by ASHRAE [ashrae.org] instead of a corporation. BACnet was designed to be a standard from the get-go, while LON-whatever was developed by Eschelon [echelon.com] and met whatever needs they had to sell their gear. That said, it may be one of those US vs. The World things, as Europe picked up LON as their de facto standard, and ASHRAE is the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-condi

  • by Midnight Thunder (17205) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:15PM (#45301731) Homepage Journal

    There are already a few home automation hubs (if I understand what he is suggesting correctly), such as Pytomation [pytomation.com].

    The main challenge is as far as I can see there is yet a single protocol to bind them all, and even then it would be yet another protocol [xkcd.com]. For this reason, there have been attempts to create protocol exchanges (not sure the right term), that act as central system that can speak to different sensors and control systems using the specific protocols.

    Its not clear what he is offering that existing solutions fail at? It doesn't help that the site doesn't sum things up in one paragraph and instead requires us to parse the whole presentation before understanding what he really is proposing.

    • by pitchpipe (708843)

      The main challenge is as far as I can see there is yet a single protocol to bind them all, and even then it would be yet another protocol.

      That's the great thing about standards: there are so many to choose from.

      Side note: I worked for an engineer that compared the ISA tagging standard to the bible. e.g. it's clear what religion you get out of the bible, isn't it?

    • by lgw (121541)

      Well, the key as I see it is that "home automation" is something only the geekiest of geeks would ever be involved with, but most people in America are currently frustrated with needing a pile of remotes.

      Find a great solution to the "pile of remotes" problem (clearly programmable remotes weren't the answer, or at least not as currently implemented) and you can use that to drive a single unified future by market dominance.

      Personally, I think the right answer will allow you to easily use any of the popular vi

  • by Vesvvi (1501135) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:18PM (#45301783)

    Please don't re-invent the wheel unless you need to. By that, I mean to say that automation and interconnection of "gadgets" is a well-established field in industry and tech. For example, vehicle ECU and sensor systems, factory automation, and data acquisition systems are all now decades old, and we should have a really solid idea of how to do these things properly.

    Of course these existing systems aren't the same as what we're talking about here, with modules that span different physical link layers, protocols, etc. I just hope that we can take the best lessons from existing "gadget integration" attempts to make forward progress more successful and not just something doomed to rapid obsolescence.

    For some fun and background, have a look at the old HPIB/GPIB physical/protocol standard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEEE-488), which was used in many different pieces of scientific equipment. When that somewhat died out it was replaced by CAN (http://www.team-cag.com/support/theory/chroma/hplc_bas_at/system/cableConnections.html). Agilent uses that for their HPLCs (maybe test equipment, too?), and Waters uses the same physical link, but with a different protocol? Other vendors still work with contact-closure, and USB is becoming more popular, but that pushes so much onto the host computer and really enforces lock-in.

    I will personally be watching this closely from the perspective of someone who operates a lot of data-acquisition equipment. Could this be the foundation for better interop between different vendors at the more commercial/research level, in addition to the consumer? I hope so.

    • Most all of these you mention presume trust relationships, which is the singular problem with all of them-- to start. Auto vendors put bluetooth and various buses into cars, and someone hacks them so that the brakes can be slammed on in a BMW.

      Marshall Rose's own SNMP was and if incorrectly configured, be a landmine. It's my fervent wish that whatever he does, he thinks about the problem of authentication and non-repudiation and audit of stuff he arranges to communicate.

      Otherwise, I don't want the blender te

    • by fermion (181285)
      Part of this is simple market forces. If everything operates with everything, where is the market lock in.

      To put more perspective on what the parent is saying, 25 years ago I was able to write reletively simple code to control a lab full of equipment. The most difficult part of the process was that the standard PC did not natively support a large number of ports, and some equipment only had rs-232 not rs-422. Otherwise it was pretty much a case of sending text command to a controller and receives text ba

      • Why do you need to turn off the lights or turn on the TV when no one is home? Why do you want you door locks to be as venerable as you car, or have your home key cost $300 to replace.

        Because I want the house to look lived-in when I'm gone. Because I want a bright warm (or cool) house waiting for me when I get home. Because why should I have to turn the holiday lights on and off manually when a timer/daylight sensor could do it cheaply>

        I've resisted automating my door locks, but two of the cheapest alternatives to a key are the Bluetooth in my phone (already paid for) or an RFID chip in my wallet (about 10 cents, give or take). Those are items I'm almost certainly carrying whenever I

  • I Fully Support This (Score:3, Informative)

    by Atticka (175794) <attickaNO@SPAMsandboxcafe.com> on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:19PM (#45301785)

    I've been attempting to connect, network and control as much of my house as possible with little success. Too many companies are trying (and failing) to offer up an integrated solution, none have the ability to truly integrated across the board.

    Key systems that need this:
    HVAC - Nest is doing great things for automation and remote control, limited reach however
    Lighting - a bunch of half baked solutions out there, each with their own app and control interface
    Security - sound, video, motion detection, garage door control, etc...
    Appliances - remote control certain appliances, pre-heat your stove, notification when the dryer is done, etc...
    Power Monitoring - Semi decent solution out there, however needs better apps and integration
    Audio\Video - Remote control

    If all of these systems used a common protocol we can focus on developing great apps and home automation, as long as manufacturer dick around with their own setup we'll never move forward.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I've been attempting to connect, network and control as much of my house as possible with little success. Too many companies are trying (and failing) to offer up an integrated solution, none have the ability to truly integrated across the board.

      Key systems that need this:
      HVAC - Nest is doing great things for automation and remote control, limited reach however
      Lighting - a bunch of half baked solutions out there, each with their own app and control interface
      Security - sound, video, motion detection, garage door control, etc...
      Appliances - remote control certain appliances, pre-heat your stove, notification when the dryer is done, etc...
      Power Monitoring - Semi decent solution out there, however needs better apps and integration
      Audio\Video - Remote control

      If all of these systems used a common protocol we can focus on developing great apps and home automation, as long as manufacturer dick around with their own setup we'll never move forward.

      Blame demand. There are too few geeks who have the time and patience to automate anything in the home to this level. Most people are sloth-lazy, and view the light switch on the wall as good enough to continue to ignore lights being left on anyway.

      Feel free to blame the feeding frenzy around the patent system too. All these damn manufacturers think they MUST secure their own patented proprietary gimmick in order to sell their product, which of course is horseshit.

      • by Anrego (830717) * on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:42PM (#45302041)

        I was really interested in home automation at one point. Had an x10 setup using an ocelot controller (x10 is a horrible, horrible system by the way and I wouldn't recommend it to an enemy).

        The novelty factor wore off eventually (and my frustration with x10 grew) and I gave up on it. Beyond automated lighting (which while cool, isn't really all that useful.. a light switch really is "good enough"), temperature (already handled quite well by smart thermostats), and appliances which handle their own automation (coffee pot), what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

        And with that limited set of actual useful use cases, how much benefit is there in centralizing it, or adding voice control.

        I suspect all this is why despite having the tech to do it for quite some time, home automation hasn't really taken off.

        • by LoRdTAW (99712)

          Funny thing is I have a friend trying to get x10 working with little success. The problem is in US homes, there are two separate busses in the panel box for circuit breakers, one for each hot leg. The problem is if you plug a transmitter into one outlet on bus A, any circuits on bus B can't communicate with the transmitter. So you have to buy a bridge which he did, it plugs into the dryer outlet which is 240V and wired across the two hot legs. Still wont work. He asked me if an amplifier he found would work

          • by Anrego (830717) *

            The big thing with x10, more so now, is it can't handle all the various transformers and other so called "signal sinks". A very common standard at the time I was into this stuff was to send all commands 3 times.

            Even if you do manage to get x10 traffic moving reliably around your house (I at least got this far), the next problem you face is interference. The x10 protocol is very primitive, and it is quite common for a chunk of noise on the line (provided by any number of devices) to produce a valid command.

          • Does he know about this guy?

            http://jvde.us/ [jvde.us]

          • I put a bridge in the circuit breaker box to solve that problem. It worked great. A dryer bridge seems like a bad idea since any signal going through the bridge has to go through the dryer line twice.
        • by Atticka (175794)

          I think there are lot of useful cases, but I don't think voice control would be useful however (nobody wants to have a conversation with their microwave).

          Lighting automation would be useful in a number of ways; on\off\vacation schedule, see a list of all active lights with power consumption (and then turn them off remotely), auto on\off depending on your location, etc...

          Appliance automation; coffee pots have timers but why not control the settings from your remote device? Preheat the oven remotely, schedule

        • by sjbe (173966)

          what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

          Use cases that are actually pretty useful:

          * Remote confirmation of door status (open/shut) including garage doors or appliance status (stove off)
          * Revocable key code access and other security controls
          * Controlling multiple lights or other devices without having to run new wires
          * Controlling hard to reach windows/fans
          * Opening/closing multiple windows, shades or fans with a single control
          * Putting lighting controls in new places without requiring new wiring
          * Timer controls for lighting
          * Better adjustments fo

        • ABSOLUTELY. I struggled with x10, then bought into the argument that it's a one-way protocol and there's no way to verify that a command sent was recieved or to query a device state. So I dumped x10 and went to SmartHome. But after a power fail or brownout, they took way too much fiddling to get them re-linked with each other. So I dumped SmartHome and now use fixed wireless devices that don't have to "remember" anything. Not quite as flexible, but they are way more reliable, and without that you've go
        • by istartedi (132515)

          But, but, but... it looked good on Star Trek, so it must be good in real life. Now if you'll excuse me, the contractor is arriving to replace all my swinging doors with sliders. Yeah, they're going to have to remove a lot of studs but fortunately none of them are structural. $17,000 estimated; but it's the door of the future so it's worth it.

        • Beyond automated lighting (which while cool, isn't really all that useful.. a light switch really is "good enough"), temperature (already handled quite well by smart thermostats), and appliances which handle their own automation (coffee pot), what else is there that provides any real benefit beyond geek appeal.

          The main thing I would want to do is hook my windows (and my window treatments) to the thermostat. The AC or heat should be disabled when any windows are open, and the blinds should open to direct lig

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          And with that limited set of actual useful use cases, how much benefit is there in centralizing it, or adding voice control.

          A agree about the centralization, but as to voice control, I see you never had children. "Shut off that light, dammit! I have to PAY for electricity, should I take it out of your allowance?"

      • by mypalmike (454265)

        > There are too few geeks who have the time and patience to automate anything in the home to this level. Most people are sloth-lazy...

        We're too lazy to spend the energy to enable even more laziness.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:23PM (#45301843) Homepage

    "Marshall Rose, one of the creators of the SNMP protocol, has a beef with current home automation gadgets: it's very, very difficult to get them to talk to each other, and you often end up needing a pile of remote controls to operate them."

    I have 1 remote to control every gadget in the house including sonos. It's called Crestron, but AMX can do it as well (The toy stuff called Control 4 can not)
    He really needs to learn more about integration because there have been solutions out there for decades.

    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      Crestron and AMX are NOT open standards. That's the problem, you have companies creating proprietary standards to create lockin. If Crestron was willing to open their control standard to an open standard it may very well succeed even though it's horribly dated (Crestron still uses mostly RS232 for communication though they have a few protocols that use communication standards that aren't 70 years old).

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Yes they are, try looking at them before opening your mouth.You know absolutely nothing about any of the technology, why dont you go and actually look at them first.

  • won't work (Score:5, Funny)

    by callmetheraven (711291) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:23PM (#45301847)
    Everything in the fridge is melted because I couldn't find the right MIB.
    • by grub (11606)
      HAHAHAHA!!! Oh I wish I had mod points for you.
      • by Xtifr (1323)

        I wish he weren't already modded to five, because I *do* have mod points, and have rarely seen something so deserving of one. :)

  • by Above (100351) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:25PM (#45301873)

    This is someone who was ok with ASN.1, OID's, and "walking" tables that had no business in being walked, over an unreliable UDP protocol that initially had effectively zero security.

    Someone stop him from developing a home automation protocol before his being "first" relegates that industry to 30 years of pain and suffering.

    • I came here to post "yeah, because SNMP is the example of an easy way to make things talk to each other", but you were faster. I'd mod you up but you're already at +5.
    • by g4sy (694060)
      What you said is all that ever needs to be said. He had better start talking about what he's going to different this time and all the negative lessons and feedback he received on SNMP or he can be sure to receive no interest from me. If there is a clear message of "we won't do (things,that,donot,work) because of the feedback on SNMP," then it might be interesting to watch.
  • It's Intentional (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jaime2 (824950) on Friday November 01, 2013 @01:33PM (#45301955)

    Home automation gadgets are incompatible because the vendors want it that way. Selling you a $50 light bulb is the "gateway drug" to selling you a $20 a month service to manage it from your smart phone. If the protocol is proprietary, there is no competition. A/V components have been this way for so long that the world has just accepted that IR is the only way to talk to them.

    It will change when a system gets so much market share that the component vendors see more value in staying a component vendor than they see in establishing themselves as a system vendor. At that point the problem is that the system vendor will want to protect their market by locking up their protocol.

  • Sweet, ANOTHER "standard".

    Did we really need it?

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      It doesn't matter as manufacturers ignore it. HDMI has a standard called CEC that they are supposed to follow. Well none do. 90% of all video equipment do not adhere to the CEC standard making it impossible to have full control of a SONY bluray player from a Panasonic TV even though they are supposed to.

      The only way to do it is a central processor with lots of IO that does translations and control with scripting. That or get Congress to pass a law that all Consumer electronics must follow a specific pr

      • by Belial6 (794905)
        I don't know what you are talking about. I use CEC every day. Most manufacturers call there CEC something different, but they should all work the same. Or, maybe I just hit on the perfect combo of RaspBMC and Vizio TV.
        • by Lumpy (12016)

          you DO?? Well then use CEC to send every single function that XBMC supports.... Oh wait.... you cant.....

  • by Luke_22 (1296823) on Friday November 01, 2013 @02:06PM (#45302295)

    I had a quick look at the website, and can't find any low-level detail, just a lot of pictures...

    That said, he seems to use HTTPS/SSH and certificate-based access.
    It is useless to sign the certificates, since we are in a lan, not on the internet, and I doubt your house devices will have a full dns name...

    I'm more interested in the packet structure and to the data format, as it always gives more insight on the protocol that big, colored images...
    Its said to use websockets, but I doubt that will be the case in SSH-based access.
    There seems to be the option to use UDP multicast for the sensors..

    The HTTP traffic is exchanged via websockets and json... This is nice, since the programmers can use all the http server/client and json libraries they want, and it usually is fairly simple.... BUT we are talking about home automation, arduino boards and in general "things" with very little computational power/memory etc...
    I really don't understand why we want all on HTTP, the efficiency is very low and now you require an HTTP server and client to communicate with something just to flip a switch...

    Maybe if SNMP was done the right way, without OIDs and security from the start we would not need this, but I digress...

    I don't like the fact that there seem to be a lot of new definitions... apprentices, stewards, and ... "things"... couldn't dumb it down more even if he tried -.-''

    But the nice thing is that it seems to be able to include 3rd-party modules and protocols fairly easily... Which IMHO is not a small thing and can in fact help this protocol a lot.
    And whatever he does, he can't do as badly as DPWS. If he manages to make it general enough we might even put an end to the horror that is DPWS and WS-* standards....

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I agree, this is total fail.
      When a sensor can run this system from a lithium coin cell for a decade, wake me up.

  • Clobbering time?

  • Here are some existing over-the-power-line transmission systems usable for home control:

    • X10 Pro [thehomeaut...nstore.com] signals over the power line since 1978, and still works, despite having annoyed millions with their ads in the 1990s.
    • LonWorks [echelon.com] - originally intended for home automation, but was too expensive in its early days. So it became a standard for commercial building automation. So robust electrically that it's used on subway trains to control auxiliary equipment (signs, lights, HVAC, etc.)
    • HomePlug [homeplug.org] - also known as
    • by Anrego (830717) *

      As someone who invested a ridiculous amount of time trying to get x10 running, I would strongly argue against it being usable ;p

      It's been around for a while, and sucked even when it was new. It can't cope with all the transformers and other "signal sinks" found plugged in all over the place in any home build in the last few decades. You end up with a whole hodgepodge of bridges and filters and custom run "neutral" wires.

      When you do manage to get signals moving around your house, you then hit up against the

      • X10, when it works, works well. I exclude that horrible webserver appliance that was supposed to let me control X10 and SmartHome and made X10 look fast AND reliable by comparison. Total waste of money.

        How well X10 works depends on the age and quality of your wiring and whether the control and target devices have a relatively clear shot at each other.

        I get pretty good operation in a relatively new home. But I used to live almost directly across from a 5KW AM radio transmitter. The stereo could "play" itself

  • The history of Home Automation is littered with the bodies of business that have come in and then left when they realized it's a very difficult place to make money, unless you just carve out the high-end systems used by rich people. If you are building a McMansion type home there are always options available. If you are a middle class home owner looking for a good way to retrofit, no one wants to talk to you. So you end up going down the path of tried-and-true technologies like X10 that have spotty vendor s

  • by datapharmer (1099455) on Friday November 01, 2013 @02:56PM (#45302973) Homepage
    Isn't this what zigbee and 802.15.4 was designed for?
  • by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Friday November 01, 2013 @03:04PM (#45303075)
    The problem is, x10 has caused people to expect to get "smart" devices for peanuts. Problem is, the reason x10 is so cheap is it's minimally designed. But as a consequence, it's also highly unreliable. SmartHome tried to improve on that, raised the price a bit, but didn't sufficiently solve the reliability problems. Any new series of gadgets will have to be dirt cheap, and given gadget manufacturing costs in China these days, it's doable but takes an upfront investment, is risky and one must survive on thin margins. Not exactly the most attractive opportunity. If he wants to give it a go, more power to him, but if configuration is anywhere near as complicated as SMTP, in fact, if configuration can't be done with a smartphone app in about 2 minutes, it's doomed.
  • When I see actual things with the ability to talk to each other, the universal option always seems to be CANbus (or a variant, like NMEA 2000). Chung-Wei Lin and Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli of UC Berkeley have this proposal [berkeley.edu] for implementing CANbus with security. If I'm going to automate something in my home, I'd rather use CANbus so I can just buy the stuff that does the tasks.
    • CAN is nice in well designed systems but it wouldn't work well in retrofits to existing homes since no one wants to run dedicated wiring in an age where wireless communication is ubiquitous. It would be like expecting people to install 10Base2 and understand the need for terminations and avoiding star topologies. Not going to happen.

      A powerline based solution has potential but trying to tunnel CAN over the powerline would be doomed to failure since the non-destructive arbitration system depends on a well de

      • It's my understanding that NMEA 2000 devices communicate over their power connection, but they are generally in fairly close proximity to one another. When I think of building myself a house, I think of putting the wiring in channel conduit set into grooves routed into the interior surface of ICF/AAC walls, so "You'd have to run a wire and nobody's going to do that" wasn't in my mind.
  • 3.7GB for the Raspberry Pi disk image? They should try to get it down below 128MB so they can make a distribution based on OpenWRT.

    • by mspohr (589790)

      That's the size of just about all Raspberry Pi disk images... they contain a full Linux and application stack. The Thing System seems to be based on node.js which is included in their image.
      Raspberry Pi's can be bought for $25 and you can hook up keyboards, monitors, etc. for configuration and management.
      4GB SD memory cards are cheap ($7) (or you can splurge and get an 8GB card for $8).
      OpenWRT is fine for managing routers but this application calls for something more.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is a guy that keeps reinventing the wheel. The problem is that his new wheel is really no better than what was there before. Take SNMP for example: grouping static and dynamic objects together in the same MIB is idiotic. So you poll for all of this data and you get the same static context information every single time you ask for the dynamic data. What a waste of bandwidth!

    This so-called Internet of Things concept predates the Internet. It is called SCADA. It is a very subtle and difficult subject. The

  • by ghee22 (781277)
    Yet another home automation integrator? I'm looking into setting this up: openhab.org

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