Case Study 11 - Most Automated Home on the Planet?

Case Study 11 — Most Automated Home on the Planet?

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With around 260 IDRATEK modules, equating to well over 1000 connected devices, this must surely rank as one of the most automated homes on the planet. Is this some multi-millionaire’s mansion? No, in fact it is a modest sized self-build property situated in Lancashire, England. Nothing modest about its owners ambitions though!

When Chris and Clare Hunter embarked on their self-build adventure some years ago, they were keen to create a physical living space they could mould to be their own and Home Automation (HA) was a key technology to include — not just an add-on, but very much part of the whole, an important enabler

We asked Chris to provide us with a bit of background :

Not buying ready-made, meant we could arrange things to suit us better … the site was village infill & quite small, making it a challenge to achieve something we were happy with … we had to think everything through carefully, and we often found ourselves challenging & departing from the norm, both with the house, and with the HA

In terms of physical layout, the property is situated on a slope, facing east, and is laid-out on three floors with the stairs in the middle — from the front, at ground level, there’s the garage with basement beyond (hosting a small swimming machine). Up the stairs there’s an open-plan kitchen-diner to the left & guest accommodation with media area to the right, both opening onto the garden and, up again to the top floor, there’s an open-plan bedroom area to the left & a lounge-cum-study area to the right. Running up through the centre, either side of the stairs, are a pair of service duct chimneys, going up from the plant room & letting into every floor, both big-enough to accommodate ventilation ductwork.

And something about what they wanted to achieve :

We wanted accommodation that functions well for us. providing convenience & comfort … open-plan, well insulated, good acoustics a priority … largish-family and/or friends staying on-occasion, so sociable, too … economy, small environmental impact, no fear of using state of the art approaches …

On Home Automation ambitions :

With the HA, we went all the way — full automation & no conventional fall-back — if cars can completely rely on it, for engine / people-comfort / support services, why not a house, too ? They are hugely better for it, so the house should be, too …

And on what led them to choose IDRATEK :

HA options — we looked particularly at EIB / KNX, C-Bus, Niko, Dupline, EnOcean, IDRATEK, and later Velbus … all had advantages, different mixes of cost, capability, topology, intelligence, data-logging, reliability, support, flexibility, appearance, DIY, WAF … we chose Idratek for all these, but mostly for its intelligence, its affordable & do-able approach, and its good prospects for future development

For us, this was important — a glorified remote-control and/or super-smart programmer / thermostat was not what we wanted, the HA had to go further, much further, and be non-intrusive, and provide context-sensitivity, and be easy to tune, adapt & grow — in the light of experience, and as new things come along …

Well of course we were pleased to be chosen for their project, but never did we imagine what it would become. A quick look at the system’s database at the time of writing provides an insight into the awesome statistics and a glimpse of the features created in this install:

Over eighty lighting circuits, some directly dimmable, some switch dimmable, some just plain on/off. Sensing & control elements (and logic, of course) for the underfloor heating and hot-water services, which include thermal stores, solar heating, SwimEx pool heating, and all their operational functions. Over eighty motion sensors used for occupancy tracking & security (imagine the battery replacement rota if these were wireless). Around ninety temperature sensors — some for measuring air temperatures, others for management of various heat services, such as the pool water, solar heating system, thermal stores, bath water, tap water, etc.  Around fifty humidity sensors and fifty light-level sensors, fifteen door & window sensors. Over a hundred & fifty digital inputs for things like float sensors, lid sensors, proximity sensors, appliance status. Around one hundred & thirty push buttons or button clusters (total individual button count well over three hundred). As for the number of output devices, we gave up trying to count – lighting already mentioned, washers, driers, air-curtain, pool pumps, pool paddle, water-outlet solenoids, heating system pumps, valves and other elements, microwaves, steam oven, warming drawer, extractor fans, LED status displays, and of course let’s not forget the overhead model railway!

Six panel-type modules add intercoms, synthesised speech & sound prompt services, as well as infra-red transceivers. Two external video intercom units, twenty-five pulse-output power meters, seven flow meters, four Android tablets integrated into the Cortex notice boards feature… Ok so you’ve probably got the general picture by now …

Integrating and controlling all of this are over 2600 Cortex objects — each a representation of a physical device in software, or abstract objects such as a logic gates, macros, menus, heating controllers, and so on. Bear in mind too that each such individual object has its own, sometimes pretty complex, behaviour paradigm, a bunch of settings and multiple software inter-connections to other objects (over 8800 connections). Can you imagine trying to set this all up and trying to get it all working nicely together using some kind of web based conditional logic? Now perhaps you understand why our software is called CORTEX !.

Amazingly Chris and Clare initially managed to run their, even at that stage, gargantuan system on a miniITX platform! However as the project matured and with increasing demands from new features and ever more complex logic, responsiveness was beginning to suffer. So the platform was upgraded to a more powerful GigaByte one. Aside from rejuvenating responsiveness, this brain transplant allowed expansion to include more sophisticated video handling from CCTV and processing of other more data intensive activities Probably in good time too, as Clare had also volunteered to help with the village B4RN activity, which brought hyperfast-broadband FTTH (Fibre To The House), in turn opening the door to more extensive use of external connectivity via the Cortex internet based features – e.g. e-mail, VOIP and SMS functions, mobile browser server (remote system access), acquisition and dissemination of weather forecasts, and other Web API based wizardry.

It is beyond the scope of this already long introduction to encompass fully what this system is doing beyond what has been alluded to above. Instead we will leave that for a more detailed document which Chris has kindly provided us with here: Chris & Clare’s Amazing HA Project (pdf)