Simple Home Automation

      Thinking of making your home easier to live in, making it smart and intelligent.

Affordable home automation, making living more convenient in Singapore.


Edited by Lim Siong Boon, last dated 31-Dec-2012.

email:    contact->email_siongboon  

website: http://www.siongboon.com


Topic Discussion Overview

  1. Introduction
  2. Structured Wiring
  3. Smart Features
  4. Green and Efficient
  5. Useful Home Gadgets

 



Structured Wiring

Home automation is getting more and more popular nowadays. Automation simplifies our daily task in our home, making our life easy.

Home automation may seems to be a science fiction or high tech stuffs that most people will not be able to afford. In actual fact, it has already penetrate into almost all our homes.

Nearly all household in Singapore has some form of home automation. Washing clothing used to be a chore in the past. The invention of a washing machine automate the washing chores. Rice cooker, microwave and vacuum cleaner appliances which has become a part of our daily life, shortening our time to do household chores. Women in the past stay at home to do house work, while the men work outside for an income. Automation has helped to transform the women in today's society, allowing them to walk out of their house, joining the working force. The doubling of the work force has significant contribution to an economy. These invention that automate our home frees our time and change our society in many many ways.

Home automation has comes a long way and is still finding its way into our home. Our current era is very much involved with information technology. Most of the household have internet connectivity and it has becomes one of our latest household utility besides our electricity, water, and telephone bills.

The current home automation trend focus on information connectivity of the home. The industry believes that consumer wants a digital connection to control whatever a consumer have at home. Providing the consumer with the power of control. These comes in the form of remote lighting control, motorised curtain/blind control, air-con/fan control or automated opening of door.

Green environment and energy saving is another popular trend that pushed home/office automation. The industry comes up with product integrated with sensors that will automatic switches off lights when no one is around, or maintaining a constant lighting intensity throughout the day. Energy efficient automated solution is also a popular theme.

 

 

STARhome is a smart home program initiated by A-STAR. I used to work with STARhome, a smart home filled with many many latest technologies, many of which are not yet available in the market.

We had technologies like face and voice recognition which can authenticate its owner and automatically open the door for you. Automated news/sports video indexing, which segment out the clip that you are interested to watch. Voice/gesture command or mobile phone to control the lighting and appliances. Robot that listen to your command and serve you a cup of freshly brew coffee. Tracking your location in the home, streaming your favorite music where ever you go. Keeping track of your groceries inventory, so that you will never run out of your favorite food. A real time language translation device which helps translate any speech to Mandarin for my grandmother at home who is unable to understand an English speaking sales-person. A bed/chair/toilet bowl that keeps track of sleeping pattern and health condition. Video/Audio surveillance system which is able to detect elderly/children fall, or any other activities at home, notifying the home owner events that they are interested in. Self sustaining and maintainence aquarium (fish tank). A platform where smart devices communicate with one another within a home. There are many more smart little gadgets.

We have collected our experience working and living in a smart home and managed to build another one, STARhome@fusionopolis.

These technologies may seems science friction, but are already possible. They are however still not within the reached of common user like you and me. Having the opportunity to work in STARhome has provided me some insight to what a smart home means to me. A smart home that is affordable, simple and easy to use. Just like how a washing machine came into our home.


 

Most home automation that I have seen and worked with in the market are quite impressive and contains a lot of functions. However they do not meet the smart home definition that I have in mind. Affordable, simple and easy to use. Many smart devices that are available in the market are suppose to make our life easy, but very often, I find it is even more difficult to setup and use. Even a television set that has been evolving for decades, seems more and more complex to use. The number of buttons are growing on the remote control, the functions are getting difficult to set.

Compare to an old television, the television now has more functions, but requires more steps to get a simple task done. Very often, I will have to help my parent and elderly to setup or even use the new television. The elderly may have aged, but they can still manage simple old appliances which are easiler to use.

Innovation like a thermo flask has once overwhelm me. There is a time when I spent quite a long time trying to figure out how to get the hot water out of the flask for my cup of 3-in-1 coffee. There was so many buttons on the flask and they have really confused me, making me looking like an idot. Making an electronic engineer who is working with the latest technologies, looking like an idot. The old mechanical thermo flask has only two button at most. One big push button on the top of the flask to pump out the hot water, and another one to lock the pump (for safety in case children play with the flask and get themselves scalded).

Most of the high tech stuffs reallys piss me off, because they are not designed for wonderful user experience; it is design for the seek of looking high tech. The experience has rised my awareness for a better user experience.

I would like to delicate this page to talk about the stuffs that I would like see in a automated home. Pros and cons of the existing concept of smart home gadgets available on the market. Also important things to take note when building your dream home in Singapore. Many interior designers and contractors are still green in the area of home automation, so it is important to know what you want to look for in your home. It is you who are living in your home after all.

   

 

www.pic-control.com, Singapore Network Ethernet WiFi RS232 RS485 USB I/O Controller

 

Structured Wiring

Smart home automation is becoming part of our home utilities, and it is important to design the infrastructure of your home to cater for the coming technologies trend. Provision wiring to meet future demands can save you cost.

The reason for provisioning the infrastructure is to avoid re-laying the cables. It is unlikely to have any further changes to the wiring, the access to the cable trunking should still be accessible. You can hide the cables but try not to seal it. Maintenance is necessary at times.

Structured wiring or cabling is a set of standard to lay the cable infrastructure, to ensure that interference is minimum. There are a few types of cable services that we can have in our home.

- AC Power 110-230Vac
- Digital data (Network, broadband)
- Analog signal (TV RF antenna, telephone line, Audio/Video)

The digital data and analog signal cable should be laid a distance of about 60mm away from the AC power line. This is to prevent noise from the AC power to be coupled over to the cables carrying digital and analog signal, especially when they run in parallel. It is also good to have the signal cables shielded to minimise the interference.

Sometimes when you switch on and off our electrical appliances or lights, you may notice that your television or radio can get disturb. For new television set, your may notice that the picture gets halt for a split seconds. The spark generated from the switch get coupled into the line. There will be no spark when the AC is at its zero crossing when it switched, but the probability is low being about to switch near the zero crossing period. A soft switch or electronic switch can minimised such spark, generating less noise.

When the AC power line and signal cables has to laid parallel to each other, it is good to keep them at least a distance of 60mm apart. Cables section that are not in parallel have less interference effect compare to those in parallel.

http://www.ehow.com/how_7934045_install-structural-wiring.html


Label of the cables is a good practice which minimise any inconvenient in future. Contractors do not bother to label the cables, because they are able to remember and managed them. As more and more cables are laid over the years, it can get more and more messy. Future contractor will have a hard time tracing the cables. It is always good to label the cables especially for structured wiring because there will be more variety of wiring which are more complex than before.

In Singapore, structured wiring can often be found in office and factory buildings, but is not adopted for home use. It is still a relatively new things for the home industry.

The typical wiring infrastructure that are adopted in our Singapore home are mainly:
- 230Vac cables (40-60A for HDB flats)
- TV RF/antenna cable
- Telephone cable

Fiber optic cable is available but not a popular choice. This is maybe due to the cost compare to other options.

In older homes, TV and telephone cable services are laid only to the living room;only the power cable is available at each room. Today with cheaper electronics products, consumers have the luxury to have more than one appliances in the same house. Each home is expected to have more than one telephone and television. It is now a common trend to see the TV and telephone cable laid to every room.

As technology evolve, the trend is starting to change. According to the statistic of Singapore 2012, there is a declining trend of household subscribing to the telephone line. This may be due to the popularity of personal mobile phone; at about 1.5 mobile phone per person. There are also new digital phone services which uses broadband to deliver voice call instead of analog phone line; the service is cheaper compare to the telephone line.

 


RJ11 (6pins) socket for telephone line (old type)


RJ11 (6pins) socket for telephone line (UK wall panel)

 


Recommended UK wall panel RJ45 (8pins) socket which is suitable for network (RJ45 jack) and telephone line (RJ11 jack) use, RJ45 jack

Telephone line is is declining. Every individual has at least a mobile phone. Telephone line (land line) that already installed are declining slowly. Most young family prefer not to install a new telephone line, as they are contactable through their mobile phone number.

Statistics on Telecom Services for 2012 (Jul - Dec)

See page 'v' of Report on the Household Expenditure Survey 2007/08

 

Telephone line may seem to be outdated, but I will still recommend the installation of infrastructure to support it. The recommendation is to install network cables instead of telephone cables. Network cable is able to host a number services like Ethernet, telephony, audio and video. This makes it a very flexible infrastructure to have.

Telephone lines do still have its unique advantages, compare to other new alternatives. Telephone line is linked directly from the phone exchange centre. The analog telephone do not requires additional power in order to work because the power comes from the telephone exchange centre. This means that in times of electricity failure, your analog phone will still works. Using a IP phones requires broadband internet and needs to be powered up from your wall power socket outlet. Using a mobile phone requires battery power. The number of mobile connection is also limited with a wireless cellular network. Power or internet connection failure will means that you will not be able to make call..

Not every household will want to install telephone line, but most will need network access in this information technology era. A recommended advise will be to laid network cables instead of the telephone lines. Network cables have 4 wire pairs which can be used for network as well as telephone purpose. Whether or not you will be using a telephone line, it is good to lay network line.

The network cables can support both the network and telephone services. RJ45 (8pins) socket is used for network cables, while RJ11 (6pins) socket is used for telephone lines. It is recommend to use a RJ45 socket, which RJ11 jack can also plug in.

The network cable has a number of grades indicating how the cable is shielded as follows,
CAT5 - no shielding
CAT5e - shielding over the cable (recommended)
CAT6 - shielding over each of the 4 twisted pair
CAT7 - shielding over the twisted pair as well the the cable

Technical information about the cable can be found here.

Laying CAT5e for the home will be more than good enough, for its performance and price. CAT7 will definately be too much. Installation using CAT6 or CAT7 cables can be quite difficult for a home, as the wire is usually thick which is difficult to install. CAT5 provide no shielding which performance can be degraded when it is laid near any noisy wires or devices.

The cables should be laid from each point to a central location where your network equipment (router) is likely to be placed. In a typical Singapore home, it will be either at the electrical box, or besides the TV console in the living room. It is recommended to lay 2 sets of cables for each location. The spare cables be use for telephone line or spare network lines, audio/video signal future use. You will never know when you will need it. It is better to provision extra cable which is cheap, compare to a wireless solution which is expensive and poor in quality.

 


DLINK DIR-655 WiFi router

A popular alternative to using network cables is wireless. Wireless network is convenient and easy to install, especially for existing home where it is difficult to lay new cables. Many consumers prefer to rely on wireless technology for their network services. Wireless tends to use more power and have limitation in the coverage they can support. The wireless signal can cover a distance of 30-50m under open space. The signal will find it hard to penetrate Singapore HDB flat, reducing the distance to about 10-15m. Many of my neighbors are also using WiFi in their home. At the time I am writing now, my WiFi dongle is able to detect 36 WiFi station. WiFi has a limited bandwidth over the air medium. With this limited channels across the air sharing with sharing with the desktop and laptop, the communication can be slow and drop connection can often occurred. There is also a higher possibility of being hack, compared to wired network. As far as possible, physical cable is still my preferred choice.

There are reports which indicate that wireless can cause health hazard. For consumers who are sensitive to radio frequency exposures, they may find it more comfortable with wired network. The same theory applies to the cellular phones. Many research have been produced with respect to these danger.

Health: A Cancer Muckraker Takes on Cell Phones

For me, I do still use it, but will try as much as possible to avoid it.

 


Aztech power line communication modem


TP-LINK PLC modem

Power line communication is also a popular choice. The network communication is done with the house existing power line. The communication is done within the home power line. Similar to WiFi, it is useful if it is troublesome to lay new wiring.

Wired ethernet network is still the best.

 

RF

RG6 F81 (F type connector)

RF splitter (1 in, 2 out)

Multi RF spliter(1 in, 4 out)

F type cable

try not to split more than 2 split.

centralised multiple split is preferred, in case any thing happen in future, it is simpler to reticfied.

don't have to over tighten the connector to the socket.

Video/Audio analog signal or HDMI cables

RCA max distance, HDMI ma distance

 

Smart Features  
   

 


www.pic-control.com, Singapore Network Ethernet WiFi RS232 RS485 USB I/O Controller



Green and Efficient  
   

 

Useful Home Gadgets

Devices that make your home look smart.

 
available from saveone

Remote on/off applicances using any IR handheld remote controller.

Application: Using your TV remote control to switch all other entertainment system to save on the standby power consumption.

Using your TV remote control to switch on your wall plugged electrical fan or lamp.

available from saveone Night lamp, which automatically glows in the dark.
available from saveone

Digital timer to on and off appliances.

Able to select individual day/time in a week to on/off appliance.

Switch on network router or entertainment system during the day and switch them off at night. Switch on boiler or cooker at a particular time of the day, so that you can enjoy on time when you can back from work.

available from saveone

Wireless Power Monitoring.

Monitoring your home energy usage wirelessly.

 

www.pic-control.com, Singapore Network Ethernet WiFi RS232 RS485 USB I/O Controller





Keyword: Smart home, home automation, intelligent home, DIY smart home, affordable, efficient. Simple and easy to use Singapore home.