Monday, March 20, 2017

The Ocarina of Control

The inspiration for this week's post comes from a reddit post. Or repost that got better traction.  For those of you who don't follow links in articles (shame on you... so I'll embed it below), these show a video/animated gif of a guy who can control his home through the tunes he plays on an Ocarina.  And that is trĂ©s cool.

But how long will he live with it?

Our intrepid YouTuber, 'Sufficiently Advanced', no doubt did this for a few reasons:

  • As an exercise in programming
  • To see if he could
  • To jump on the 'Breath of the Wild' coat tails (which he admits in the video comments)
  • Because it is insanely cool

However, I argue that he did not do it because it is PRACTICAL.  For most of us, home automation is not about being cool (or at least not only about being cool... in the same sense that squealing the tires is cool), it's about making our homes easier to live in.  Setting aside the massive security breach around whistling at the window, this project does not make living easier.

Remote Control or Automation

Using an Ocarina to control your home requires you to 1) have an Ocarina, 2) know how to play an Ocarina, and 3) hope no one else with those first two requirements know where you live.  Even with all three of those met, it is nothing more than a fancy remote control for the home.  In fact, most 'Smart' home systems are nothing more than fancy remote controls, albeit with app-to-hub authentication and fewer wires hanging around.  It reminds me of a post I wrote for Qioto last September that focused on the mental progression of a smarthome DIYer.  Because you won't click on that either, the TL;DR is:
The ultimate goal should be for the home to know what you want without having to reach in your pocket for anything, but that not all home systems are right for that level of automation.
It is not yelling at Alexa or the Google Assistant to "Turn on the Kitchen Lights."  That is useful, but not automated.  Instead, the system should know that you are in the kitchen and that it is dark outside so it should turn on the lights for you.  Then turn them off when you leave (or maybe a minute or two after you leave).

Not Quite There

To do that requires that there be motion sensors and smart switches and a controlling hub, all of which exist, but none of which really work 100% reliably.  The motion sensor needs to be in the right place, or there needs to be many of them to cover the area.  All of the lights need to be connected to smart switches and those all need to be linked to the motion sensors and a sunrise-sunset timer via the hub to make that work.  Alternatively, this can be worked out by location mapping our phone locations within the home, but GPS doesn't work well inside and the consumer version only resolves to about five meters (and Wi-Fi location mapping is not really there yet).

All of these things will become easier.  Many of the better systems (ones where the owners can afford to hire professionals to constantly troubleshoot it) can do it already.  Even the DIY systems say they can do it, but my experience is that they can only do it in very controlled conditions.

Until the reliability of smart home systems improves, take your smartphone (or Ocarina) with you.  It's dangerous to go alone.

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