Automated Home 15th Anniversary Special #8 – Dr Karam Karam, Idratek

Automated Home 15th Anniversary Special

2011 sees Automated Home reach the ripe old age of 15.  To celebrate our quindecennium (yes, really) we’ve asked some friends of the site to look back and give us their home automation highlights from the past decade-and-a-half.  For an even greater challenge we then asked them to look ahead to what advances the next 15 years will bring to digital domesticity.  In the eighth of our special series, Dr Karam Karam looks back on the lofty goal of turning a house into a ‘living organism’ whilst hoping intelligence plays more of a role in future systems.

Dr Karam Karam, IdratekDr Karam Karam, Director – Congratulations to Automated Home! 15 years of tireless reporting, support and enlightenment for died in the wool enthusiasts and the ever increasing mass of bewildered newcomers.

Home Automation milestones in the last 15 years?  Well I feel its been more evolution than revolution. I think in terms of component technologies there has been a fair amount of progress but in my opinion not matched by changes in paradigm.  Today we have much more exciting user interfaces and the idea of a dial up connection is probably as alien as B&W TV. We now also have a number of HA viable communication protocols both wired and wireless, and we have a variety of application software interfacing to these. However it seems to remain the case that we are just dabbling with the true potential of the technology. And sometimes doing things because we can rather than because it is what is more widely desired.

15 years ago is about the same time that our own IDRANet technology was in its embryonic stage.  At that time our vision was that mass adoption of home automation would in hindsight be as inevitable as that of the Internet. But for this to happen the technology had to demonstrate compelling benefits, be pervasive yet low cost and, perhaps counter intuitively to most enthusiasts, be largely invisible to the average user. From a technical point of view we felt the house should become a bit like a living organism; with a large number of sensory and control organs, sometimes communicating directly amongst each other and sometimes co-ordinated to a wider and perhaps more abstract level but all working to provide useful services in a largely unattended way. A networked structure seemed the obvious basis for the physical side, something that could achieve the required module density and communication agility without having to have a room full of spaghetti wiring and racks of sweaty electronics. None of the technologies we were familiar with at that time ticked all the boxes that we had in mind, and so it was that IDRANet was born.

But IDRANet is ultimately just a means to a more lofty end. Several other well known HA technologies exist today, some perhaps not suited to our original vision but nevertheless pioneering the HA path. Take for example X10 – not the most sophisticated of HA structures but variants of which are still going strong after 30 years, never mind 15. HA solutions and uptake have increased but these still remain mostly in the preserve of technology enthusiasts. Mention ‘Home Automation’ to the average person today and more likely than not they will still think it is a techno toy for some wealthy person, probably embodied in the form of some snazzy A/V equipment with lighting and blinds controlled via an equally snazzy handset. To some extent they wouldn’t be too far wrong since that does still represents a significant part of the market and one which has tended to attract the publicity.


Nonetheless times are a changing. Increasing focus on energy conservation and high energy prices add more sway to the ‘compellingness’ aspect. Some of the less sexy potentials of HA are become more interesting – ‘this is not just a techno toy but it can also help you reduce your energy bills and make you greener..’ Wider prevalence of permanent internet connectivity and the mobile phone explosion have paved the way for another HA favourite – remote access – primarily it seems to fiddle with the heating remotely or check that you haven’t been burgled. The relentless march of the smart grid will no doubt have an impact on some aspects of HA technology, but I think it will be another component rather than a revolutionary catalyst. An increasingly aging population facing reducing government support structures will likely find unobtrusive HA vitally important rather than just some fad. In the meantime any number of ad hoc products have sprouted up to serve parts of these markets often under the banner of  ‘Smart Home’, but whilst some are fun and some genuinely useful, HA they are mostly not.

And in this rather long winded way I try to return to my original point – which is that although the individual technologies have marched on quite smartly, their usage is still largely in the realms of a kind of ad hoc mashing up of components rather than the widely integrated and context aware automation of our original vision. Also, because HA is still understandably driven by technology enthusiasts, the paradigm tends to be how many different ways can you control the gadgetry. Newcomers to the field already face a bewildering array of technologies. It is difficult enough to understand the why’s and wherefores of these before even starting to think about the benefits of different paradigms, so I think it will still be some time before the subtleties filter through.

What can we look forward to in the next 15 years? Well since we ourselves are involved in it I would obviously hope to see strides in the challenging area of HA intelligence. But I’ve no doubt that there will continue to be rapid developments in component technologies and more than one or two as yet undreamt of ideas. Apps on ‘smart’ TVs coupled with gesture recognition will likely be the next popular user interface, but to be honest I’d also hope to see sufficient improvements in open space speech recognition to make this a reliable form of interaction. Non invasive technologies that will be able to accurately identify and track individuals at a practical cost would also be a very useful addition. I could go on but I won’t – in case I’m proved wrong. Suffice it to say that I look forward to the day when not only does my house take care of itself and adapt to my changing habits but that I can even ask it some arbitrary question and receive an intelligent answer derived from the mass of information out on the web. Will this scenario be viable in the next 15 years? Well I’m optimistic .. on the other hand perhaps I’d better return to my older than 15 years Star Trek video.

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1 Comment on "Automated Home 15th Anniversary Special #8 – Dr Karam Karam, Idratek"

  1. er, guess that should have been dYed in the wool … the other sounds like a cosy transit to the other side

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