Home Automation Systems- A Quick Guide

In this article, I will do my best to explain some of the basic concepts related to smart homes and home automation. It is easy to get excited about smart homes and just as easy to get bogged down in all of the confusing details.

After all, there are just so many different products and systems to get your head around…

And what do you know? As soon as you think you understand it all, out comes another product that seems to change it all!

This post will be split up into two neat sections:

[1] Protocols (also called systems or languages.)

[2] Hubs (also called controllers or relays)

Protocols

The basis for any home automation is a shared protocol that a smart device and a smart hub have.

A protocol is a language (or a set of instructions) that enables devices and hubs to communicate with one another.

In this section, I will briefly explain about 4 protocols:

[1] Z-Wave

[2] Zigbee

[3] Belkin Wemo

[4] Apple HomeKit

Z-Wave

Brief History

Z Wave is an alliance was created in 2005.

Is a Smart Hub or Controller Necessary?

Yes, a hub such as Wink, Insteon or SmartThings is necessary.

Number of Compatible Devices

Over 450 companies make thousands of Z Wave compatible devices

It is a wireless technology for smart home automation. Z-Wave is popular for its activities of automated lighting, security, and heating.

It supports a hub that can easily become a source of communication among 232 devices. Along with the increase in the connected devices, the signal length gets farther.

Moreover, this smart home solution is compatible with more than 1,500 devices and this means that it provides multiple options for keeping the communication. It offers strong security services via assigned unique IDs.

ZigBee

Brief History

Zigbee was launched in June 2005.

Is a Smart Hub or Controller Necessary?

Yes, a hub such as Wink, Insteon or SmartThings is necessary.

Number of Compatible Devices

I cannot find an exact number of devices or companies (that make compatible devices.)

Zigbee is an open technology that uses the “mesh” system for the interconnection and communication of smart devices.

It is used as a sensing and control mechanism in homes as it lets more and more automation devices to reach to each other via signals without the presence of some high power transmitters.

Due to its open technology, ZigBee is compatible with several devices and thus seamlessly integrates the gadgets connected.

However, it has some security issues as the settings may be vulnerable to the hackers.

The fact that it needs very little power with only one set of power is the biggest pro of this system that shows off its ease of setup, use, and maintenance.

Belkin Wemo

A Brief History

WeMo was founded in 2012 by Belkin.

It is Belkin’s Home Automation Arm.

Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

No. Because each device uses Wi-Fi to connect, each device connects to your home Wi-Fi.

Number of Compatible Devices

There are five WEMO products made by Belkin:

[1] Smart Plug [2] Mini Smart Plug [3] Dimmer [4] Light Switch [5] NetCam HD

In addition there lots of products out there that are compatible with the WEMO system, including smart coffee makers.

Belkin Wemo is offering an extensive range of home automation products. No matter where you are, with Belkin Wemo home automation system you can control your whole room and adjust its lighting, brightness, temperature through your smartphone.

Belkin Wemo is offering a hands-free control over your automation system as you can simply communicate with your devices through Amazon Echo or Google Home without lifting your finger.

Apple HomeKit

A Brief History

HomeKit was mentioned when iOS 8 was released in June 2014 but the first HomeKit compatible products weren’t released until a year later.

Is a Smart Hub or Controller Necessary?

A smart hub isn’t necessary as devices can be controlled via an iPhone as long as the phone and the smart device are connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

However, if you want to access your devices when you are away from home, then you will need to buy an Apple TV.

Number of Compatible Devices

Well over 100 smart devices are compatible with Homekit.

HomeKit is the smart home controller that controls all of your compatible devices by giving you the satisfactory home automation experience.

It actually allows your smart home devices interact with each other, but the problem is not each device has all of the functions compatible with the Apple Homekit.

The integration of Siri has been around for quite a while and you can clearly operate devices with it. Siri is responsive and has been used by several home automation clients, so it has this competitive advantage over its rival packages. However, it is not as open up as others.

Smart Hubs

In the next section of this guide on home automation systems, I will explain more about smart hubs.

A smart hub or controller is a device that all other smart devices on the system must connect to in order to be part of the system.

In this section, I will describe the following hubs

[1] Samsung SmartThings

[2] Wink

[3] Insteon

[4] Apple HomePod

[5] Amazon Alexa

[6] Google Home

Samsung SmartThings

A Brief History

Samsung SmartThings was founded in August 2012 as a Kickstarter project.

It was bought by Samsung in August 2014.

Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

Yes. You will need to have a SmartThings Hub or be willing to buy one.

A SmartThings Hub can link to many different devices that use the Z- Wave Protocol  or the Zigbee Protocol.

Number of Compatible Products

Not known. Any Z- Wave or Zigbee device might connect to the system.

A Brief Description

Samsung SmartThings stays true to its tagline “add a little smartness to your home” with its amazing home automation system.

The home automation system by Samsung is flexible enough to meet a variety of your “smart” needs no matter what they are.

From controlling the simplest of smart devices to the most sophisticated security systems, this automation system boasts of all the right things that an individual requires. Some of its extensive features include:

  • Wireless connectivity with a range of smart devices
  • Security alerts on your phone when you are not at home
  • Notifications of unlocked doors and windows when you are heading to sleep
  • Adjusting brightness and lighting and controlling of appliances when you are about to enter or leave the home. 

Wink

A Brief History

Wink was founded in June 2014.

By July 2014, a range of 60 smart devices were compatible with the Wink system.

In 2016, it is estimated that Wink was connected to 1.3 million devices

Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

Yes. You will need to have a Wink Hub or be willing to buy one.

A Wink Hub can link to many different devices that use the following protocols:

[1] Z- Wave

[3] Zigbee

[4] Bluetooth

[5] Wi-Fi

amongst others

Number of Compatible Products

Not known. It works with a long list of of protocols as we have just seen.

Winks works with a huge variety of smart devices made by 37 different manufacturers.

A Brief Description

Wink promises “a simpler, smarter home” with their home automation products. The best features about Wink are their integration with the smart devices from various leading brands, easy interface, enhanced security, and affordability.

With Wink, you can control the lighting of your home, thermostat, and other appliances even when you are not at home through your wirelessly smart devices. It allows enhanced sense of security and easy way of living with the amazing home automation system it offers.

Insteon

A Brief History

Insteon was founded way back in 2005 by a company called Smartlabs

Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

Yes, it is.

Number of Compatible Devices

It is hard to put a number on it as it is compatible with so many different systems and protocols.

Home Automation System Compatibility

Insteon is compatible with the following systems

[1] Z- Wave

[3] Zigbee

[4] Bluetooth

[5] Wi-Fi

[6] HomeKit

[7] Amazon Alexa

amongst others

Insteon has emerged out to be one of the most reliable home automation systems. It allows a seamless and flawless control over the various aspects of your smart home through your smartphone. The notable features of Insteon include their easy to use devices, unbeatable rates, and wireless sensors for enhanced security of your home.

Apple HomePod

Apple Homepod is build to bring the best in Apple music. No matter in which room this device is placed, it will provide you the best sound of the music. It is smart enough to play the songs as per your preferences from the library of over 40 million songs. Apart from providing you the best music, it can also serve as a hub for your home automation system. It allows you to control the integrated devices; you can adjust the lighting, brightness, and manage your appliances etc.

Now that you are aware of the best home automation systems available, select the one that suit your preferences and enjoy the features of a home automation system.

 

Amazon Alexa

Brief History

Alexa is the voice of Amazon, she is their digital assistant.

Alexa is part of the Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot- which are Internet connected, voice activated speakers.

It is thought that Amazon was working on the Echo since 2010 but it was not launched in the US until mid 2015. 

Is a Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

No, as the Echo is the hub.

Number of Compatible Devices

There are well over one hundred smart devices that are compatible with the Amazon Echo or are “Alexa Ready”

and this number is increasing at a very fast rate.

Amazon Alexa doesn’t integrate with any other smart home protocol.

It requires nothing but your voice in order to perform activities, like those of playing music, making shopping lists, getting weather and climate reports, searching the web, and turning on/off lights.

There are no activation buttons as all you have to utter is the word of either Amazon, Alexa, Echo or Computer, and then tell what you want to happen.

It responds to your commands by doing the activity as asked. This smart home control system is supported by the Echo’s far-field microphones that let it respond to the voice commands from any place within the earshot.

Google Home

A Brief History

It was in March 2016 that rumors started to circulate that Google was developing a speaker to compete against the Amazon Echo.

It was officially announced in May 2016 and was launched in the US in November 2016.

Is a Smart Hub/ Controller Necessary?

No, as Google Home is the hub.

Number of Compatible Devices

There are not as many compatible devices as the Amazon Echo but, like the Echo, the number of compatible devices is increasing rapidly.

It is another voice controlled smart speaker system that answers your questions with a better personality.

It has a Google’s virtual assistant that is more verbose than those on the smartphones. The top portion of the device is touch-sensitive and makes it easy to pause the music or cancel any current task if you don’t want to use your voice.

It gets activated from the wake words of “Hey Google” & “OK Google”, after that, you can ask anything from it to get the instant responses.

Google Home is Wi-Fi enabled so as far as you have the internet connection, the interactions remain consistent and the responses are instant.

I hope that this guide has helped your understanding about smart homes and home automation systems.

As time goes by, I will hopefully keep adding to this guide.

But, if you see something that is missing, please let me know in the comments.

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