Since my first visits to my gandmother's house, I have been intreagued by home automation. The reason I mention my grandmother's is because her house had control panels for all the lights in the house in several locations around the house (ala low-voltage relay controlled lighting systems). My grandfather built it in the late 40's, probably one of the first having that feature. While growing up, one of the fun things to do at her house was play on the control panels, turning random lights on and off in the house.
Then I got interested in computers. Being able to control things through my computer began to interest me, and I read many pages on the newly formed "World Wide Web" about this very activity. I never got around to doing much more than just reading about it, as I was more taken up in the whole College thing. Swimming took most of my time, studying most of the rest. My first computer was a lowly 386sx/33 with all of 8MB ram, in a world where the Pentiums had just broken 100Mhz. To gain speed and make use of the campus network, I wiped windoze from my 60MB MFM drive and installed Slackware Linux with XWindows. This worked wonderfully with 6Mb of space left for my files, up until I tried to add a math co-processor and successfully let the smoke out. I had to fall back to an older 16Mhz machine that used Dips for ram. I had read a bunch about using the various states of the parallel port to control relays and trigger other stuff, but never got a chance to try it out.
After 4 years living on campus at GaTech, I finally moved into a house next to campus. Being an old (1940-50's) mill house, it had been added to and remoddled, changing the floorplan significantly to accomidate the bathroom and new bedroom (originally just 4 rooms, bathroom outside). This change in the floorplan resulted in the light switch for my room being located in the middle of a wall, nowhere near either door. Having this inconvinience of tripping over whatever mess I had piled on the floor at the time, I was excited on a trip to the Home Depot where I came across a few X10 components on the discount rack. My first true home automation purchase, mainly to have a switch near the door (and at my bed) to simply turn the lights off. I came home that day with an X10 light switch to replace the standard one with, a Timer/Alarmclock, and an appliance module. That night I was turning my room light on and off and dimming it from my bed.
Later that week while looking up this x10 stuff I had just bought on the web, I found the X10 giveaway promotion, where for about $7 I got the firecracker computer controller, a wireless remote and reciever unit and an extra appliance module. Now with the capability to control things wirelessly I started to really get into it. My collection of X10 started to grow, with a homedirector kit I bought online to add another computer controller, and this one could monitor the lines for x10 signals. I also got a camera kit in an attempt to setup a security system. With some quick CGI scripting, a VGA card that had video input, and a little patience, I got stuff working. I could watch several areas of my house, turn lamps on and off, and control my aquarium lights from my cellphone, and any computer on the internet.
So that is how I got started, where I will go is something else. I am in the process of getting my own house, which I will undoubtedly be re-wire and otherwise setup for more automation. To help in this indeavor, a few months ago I entered a contest hosted by SmartHome.com, an online retailer dealing in automation products. The contest was simple: "describe something you would like to see automated". I first thought about being able to have control of a hottub, have it turn on and get up to temperature while you drive home, so you dont have to wait on it once you get there. My friend had just acquired one himself, and waiting on it to heatup took forever. Looking around, I found that this had basically been done already. Then I thought about bathtubs.
I ride bikes alot. Mostly mountain bikes, but I ride my roadbike during the week. After a ride I like to relax and wind down with a nice bubble bath (yeh, sounds girly, but they do make me feel better). That got me thinking about an automated tub. Like the hottub idea, it would let you start the tub from the automation system. It would let you set the tub to draw you a bath, set the temp of the water, add bubbles/salts, possibly even start the jets (if its a jet tub) from anywhere you can access your home automation system. Seemed simple enough, and there are even showers out there already that let you set the temp via a touch pad, just nothing tied into an automation system. I typed up the idea that night and sent it in for the contest figuring if it didnt win at least I tried.
Well, the other day I got a few phone calls from California. Seems my idea won the contest. Yippy. Now I have a little extra $$ to spend on outfitting my new house. I get the honor of my entry being featured on the website and in their next print catalogue as well.
"Today's robots are very primitive, capable of understanding only a few simple instructions such as 'go left', 'go right', and 'build car'." --John Sladek