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July 2013

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Advertising in the Third Dimension

Home Automation Market Offers New Opportunities, Huge Risks

by Glen Emerson Morris
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Recently Mercedes Benz announced a new software package that will allow their cars to communicate with other cars to trade information on things like road obstructions, delays, and accidents. The concept is to create a communications grid that allows cars to interact with other traffic, and traffic signals, to reduce highway delays. Mercedes Benz is also giving their cars the ability to be aware of, and avoid, motorcyclists and bicyclists, even if the driver can't see them. In one way it's revolutionary, in another way it's just a logical extension of giving cars radar and video cameras to keep them from backing over things. Either way, it's a strong selling point. Traffic congestion costs Europe north of $15 billion a year, and traffic accidents cost several billion dollars more.

Mercedes Benz is just the latest company to announce plans to integrate their products with “the Internet of things.” Within a few years many products will be online constantly, sharing and updating information with other products you own, and others own, looking for the most efficient cost effective way to do things for you.

At this point it looks like Europe is about a year ahead of the US in the home automation market. The Velleman company has marketed what they call the Velbus home automation system. It allows the integrated automation of home lights, heating and cooling systems, blinds and about any other home product that runs on electricity. The system is not cheap. The Velbus starter package goes for 999 Euros. However, the payback through energy savings have to potential to completely justify the expense.

Developing the home automation market is going to take a lot of out of the box thinking. A great deal of value propositions, aka compelling reasons to buy, will come from integrating two or more different kinds of products from different different companies. Most companies aren't used to integrating their own products through the Internet, let alone having to integrate their products with those of some other company. However, it's going to take a lot of thinking on the subject to make it work.

Some of the home automation products are just common sense, especially ones concerned with safety. Thousands of children are scalded in baths each year in the US. In New York State, over 500 children ages one to four years are hospitalized every year. In a very near future, every new home, and many older ones, will have plumbing that will make scalding accidents impossible.

In its simplest form, intelligent plumbing would just limit how hot the water would get. Families with kids could set a maximum temperature that would be locked. Only the parents would be able to override the temperature limits. This “single feature system” would prevent thousands of serious accidents yearly, but it's only the beginning.

It would be possible to make the plumbing system much more intelligent. For instance, by adding an Arduino microcontroller and a few extra components to the shower could be made to store and execute different temperature and water pressure settings for different people. The system could be programmed to recognized people by voice, weight or facial profile so it would require no manual adjusting of plumbing hardware. You walk into the bathroom, say “Shower please,” and the water turns on by itself. As soon as the water temperature reaches the preferred temperature for you, the shower says, “Shower ready.”

Simply in terms of convenience, this kind of product is going to be popular because it solves the annoying problem of varying water temperature in the shower. Since the temperature of bath water depends on the relative water pressure of both the hot and cold feeds, doing something that uses water in another part of the house, like doing dishes or laundry, can result in temperature variations of the bath water significantly, and very quickly. Intelligent plumbing systems will always provide showers at a constant and predictable temperature, and they'll even be able to maintain temperatures of full baths. Future generations will never know any other way to bathe.

Even more improvements are likely. The shower of the future will offer preprogrammed lather, soak and rinse cycles, much like car washes do today. The shower system could even be engineered to function as a soap, shampoo and conditioner dispenser. Which brings up the issue of cross company product innovation.

The home automation market will offer incredible opportunity, but it will also present new and unprecedented levels of risk. Just consider a simple intelligent shower temperature system. Parents will be trusting the health and lives of their children with this product. And by relying on this they will probably be less careful than before. A significant product failure resulting in a death or severe injury could result in a huge legal costs, even if the company were to be proved blameless.

Adequate testing of home automation products will be essential, and it will require some serious thinking since it will take a completely new way to test home automation products. There are many automated testing systems on the market, QTP, Selenium, Rational products, but none are designed to test events happening in the real world. These tools can tell if the code executed on the computer, but they can't tell the temperature of the water, or how fast it's flowing. Without real world feedback, there's no way to verify most home automation products.

Fortunately, a viable solution is available through the Arduino microcontroller and the dozens of different remote sensors available for it. Arduinos can be integrated into a larger test framework to provide comprehensive validation of real world events.

The challenge now is not how to adequately test home automation systems, the challenge is to determine what adequate testing will really cost. We determined from the development of our own 3D event test harness that the hardware costs are not going to be significant. Our system cost less than $200. You can get Arduinos for as little as $30 in quantity, and remote sensors can go for a few bucks each. The main expense will be for programmers.

However expensive real world QA programmers will be, not hiring them will cost even more. We're about to hand over control of our showers, of our cars, our homes, and God knows what else, to computer programs and the cost of failure could be far more than we can afford.

Glen Emerson Morris was a senior QA Consultant for SAP working on a new product to help automate compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley law, an attempt to make large corporations at least somewhat accountable to stockholders and the law.
He has worked as a technology consultant for Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius.

Copyright 1994 - 2011 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved ' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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