The idea of walking from one room to another, talking to your family over the phone, but not tied to a device in any way. The caller's voice travels with you to each room through speakers built into the wall. Presence sensors in each room detect your movement between rooms. A sensitive microphone also embedded in each room, but processed and cleaned up by a fancy computer somewhere in the house (so your voice doesn't sound "far away".)... this is the future I remember being told was in store for us. Un-tethered and automated; free.
Privacy concerns have arisen, in the past few years, with recent breaches and reports. Do I really want a company to collect personal data and sell it to someone else? All under the premise that it will help automate my world? I don't think I do... but I really, really want that automated part!
I won't get much more into the privacy conversation than to just acknowledge that it is a thing that society as a whole needs to make a decision on.
Data is a required part of automating. Computers are dumb - take it from me, I have to program them. The more data we have on the way people use a thing, the more accurate and useful a computer can be assisting with the use of that thing.
Low Hanging Fruit
The goal, for me, is to automate the silly parts of owning a home. Maintenance and purchasing are probably the low hanging fruit. Not to mention all the current products out there that handle big things well, like Nest or Nest's line of fire alarms. Still, those are pretty pricey. I'm thinking about things like HVAC filters, the fridge water filters, more dish washing soap, shoes for the kids (they don't stop growing!), coffee, coconut cream, mulch for the planters... I can keep going. All these items we order consistently and regularly.
Again, what we need here is data. How often do you run out of stuff? What life events may cause the average to change? Until companies open up the data you create with your shopping trips, only the companies themselves will be able to support this kind of experience which means they will only provide the experience if you shop at their store. Makes sense; they have to thrive, too.
So, no data then. What can we without data? Well, can we at least automate the purchasing part?! Amazon doesn't really allow this but then there are services like Zinc.io that work with business to automate purchases so it is possible. Sweet. All we need to do is to do it.
This is a long ways away from walking around my house with true hands-free and voice activated automation - it is a start.
It's a good time to be a nerd
The greatest part of the Internet-of-Things/home automation mindset is that it hit a golden age of interest and output. More and more companies are wrapping their little capitalist fingers around the idea and pumping out useful (sometimes) products. Uber-nerds, like myself, are smitten with products like Raspberry Pi, Beagleboard, and Arduino. These little "Maker" specials are wondrous tools of mass nerdiness. My point is, if I was trying to make one, home automation is BACK! :D
Here's a great example of the kind of experiences I am talking about: