The Blog of Ian Mercer.

The home as a user interface

Cover Image for The home as a user interface

Recently I've spent a lot of time thinking about the future of home automation.  There's a lot of chatter about the internet of things, most of which relates to having lots of sensors reporting data back to servers so you can see what's happening at home.  That's all very well, but personally I think that sensors in the home can also act like a gigantic input device.  In effect the sensors you have in your home become a giant keyboard, and as you 'type' by simply moving around, opening doors and such like you are providing input to a home automation system that will then act and respond.  The interface of the future isn't fancy touch-screen keypads in every room, it's an invisible network of sensors that know you walked upstairs, opened a door, are standing near the fridge etc.

For example, in our house, you don't look at a screen to find out who called while you were out, instead the mere act of coming home, opening the garage door and then moving into the kitchen triggers an announcement over the speakers telling you that you missed a call while you were out.  You didn't need to press anything, you didn't need to look at anything, the house simply responds like a human butler would do and speaks to you at an appropriate time.  The algorithm is actually rather more complex than I implied as it doesn't blurt it out right away as you stagger through the back door with arm fulls of groceries, instead it waits until you've moved around in the kitchen for a while and then it makes the announcement.

Another example is the link between open doors and air conditioning. If you leave a door open to the outside, after five minutes it will warn you and then after a few more it will turn the A/C off.

Yet another example if the warning it issues in the evening if you left the garage doors open.  A simpler system might just repeat an annoying warning over the speakers every half hour after 8PM. My system waits until you are up and moving about before telling you so you get the alert when you are ready to act on it and it never disturbs you while you are sat still watching TV.

The house is the user interface.

Related Stories

Cover Image for Home Automation

Home Automation

I've been working on home automation for over 15 years and I'm close to achieving my goal which is a house that understands where everyone is at all times, can predict where you are going next and can control lighting, heating and other systems without you having to do or say anything. That's a true "smart home".

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home Automation Sensors

Home Automation Sensors

An overview of the many sensors I've experimented with for home automation including my favorite under-floor strain gauge, through all the usual PIR, beam and contact sensors to some more esoteric devices like an 8x8 thermal camera.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Event blocks

Event blocks

Home automation systems need to respond to events in the real world. Sometimes it's an analog value, sometimes it's binary, rarely is it clean and not susceptible to problems. Let's discuss some of the ways to convert these inputs into actions.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Logistic function - convert values to probabilities

Logistic function - convert values to probabilities

Another super useful function for handling sensor data and converting to probabilities is the logistic function 1/(1+e^-x). Using this you can easily map values onto a 0.0-1.0 probability range.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for ATAN curve for probabilities

ATAN curve for probabilities

In a home automation system we often want to convert a measurement into a probability. The ATAN curve is one of my favorite curves for this as it's easy to map overything onto a 0.0-1.0 range.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Probabilistic Home Automation

Probabilistic Home Automation

A probabilistic approach to home automation models the probability that each room is occupied and how many people are in that room.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Multiple hypothesis tracking

Multiple hypothesis tracking

A statistical approach to understanding which rooms are occupied in a smart house

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for A state machine for lighting control

A state machine for lighting control

An if-this-then-that style rules machine is insufficient for lighting control. This state machine accomplishes 90% of the correct behavior for a light that is controlled automatically and manually in a home automation system.

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home Automation States

Home Automation States

Understanding the many different 'states' a house can have is critical to creating great home automation

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Graphing gigabytes of home automation data with tableau

Graphing gigabytes of home automation data with tableau

Some interesting charts from the gigabytes of data my home automation system produces

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for iBeacons for Home Automation

iBeacons for Home Automation

My investigations into using iBeacons for home automation

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for iBeacon meetup in Seattle - January 2015

iBeacon meetup in Seattle - January 2015

My notes on the iBeacon meetup in Seattle held in January 2015

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home Automation Systems as a Graph

Home Automation Systems as a Graph

Using nodes and links to represent a home and all the devices in it

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for N-Gram Analysis of Sensor Events in Home Automation

N-Gram Analysis of Sensor Events in Home Automation

Using n-gram analysis to spot patterns in sensor activations

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Xamarin Forms Application For Home Automation

Xamarin Forms Application For Home Automation

Building a Xamarin Forms application to control my home automation system

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for The Internet of Hubs (and things)

The Internet of Hubs (and things)

Maybe it should be called the Internet of Hubs instead

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Showing home status with just a single RGB LED

Showing home status with just a single RGB LED

Multicolored LEDs can convey a lot of information in a small space

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for A wireless sensor network using Moteino boards

A wireless sensor network using Moteino boards

The diminutive Arduino boards include a powerful transmitter/receiver

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

A RESTful API for sensor data

POSTing data to a home automation system from Arduino devices

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for The Internet of Boilers

The Internet of Boilers

An experiment to measure every aspect of an HVAC / boiler system

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

VariableWithHistory - making persistence invisible, making history visible

A novel approach to adding history to variables in a programming language

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for A Quantified House - My Talk to the Seattle Quantified Self Meetup

A Quantified House - My Talk to the Seattle Quantified Self Meetup

My talk to the Seattle Quantified Self meetup

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

Integrating an Android phone into my home automation system

Some new features for my home automation using an Android phone

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for The Internet of Dogs

The Internet of Dogs

Connecting our dog into the home automation

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for GreenGoose Review

GreenGoose Review

A review of the now defunct GreenGoose sensor system

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home power meters revisited

Home power meters revisited

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home Automation Calendar Integration

Home Automation Calendar Integration

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

Smart home energy savings - update for 2010

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for A smart power strip

A smart power strip

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for What does a Smart House do at Halloween?

What does a Smart House do at Halloween?

My favorite home automation features for Halloween

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Home Automation Top Features

Home Automation Top Features

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for Weather Forecasting for Home Automation

Weather Forecasting for Home Automation

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for How can I tell if my house is smart?

How can I tell if my house is smart?

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

Home Automation Block Diagram

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

World's Smartest House Demonstration

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer

Future proof your home with a new conduit system?

Running conduit can be expensive but maybe you don't need one to every room

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for New Home Automation Server

New Home Automation Server

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for World's Smartest House

World's Smartest House

Over 15 years of experimentation with home automation

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer
Cover Image for World's Smartest House Videos

World's Smartest House Videos

A collection of videos about my smart home efforts

Ian Mercer
Ian Mercer