This is a discussion on Home Automation Systems. With today’s guest Brad Wigginton, we’ll go through how he has gone through several different products over the years and what he has today in two locations…along with the impediments he had to get around. We’ll touch on the security and privacy impact of these solutions and how Brad sees them impacting the workplace now and in the future.
- Brad has been a techie for over 20 years. Started early on in High School. Guidance counselor took him to television production teacher because he didn’t know anything else to do in 1989.
- He ended up falling in love with it. But he didn’t want to be in front of the camera. However, being behind the scenes wring and technical directing…that really appealed to him. He loved doing it and loved figuring out how to fix things in television production.
Yes Mr. DJ
- Every year, except one he went to the television production classes. This included summer school one year. After High School, he went to Specs Howard School of Broadcasting in Michigan. He got his broadcasting certificate there termed as an “Element 9 broadcasting degree.” It was only a certificate but, it got him exposed to more stuff. He learned the ins and outs of radio and got an FCC operator’s license. Brad had a DJ stint on the night shift on WCSX. This was a 1992-1993 internship.
- Brad ended up at Farris State University which had a television production program. He received a TV production degree 4 years later. Brad started at Ford Motor in the Ford Communication Network. There, he learned more about tech than in all his prior training. It was an internship, but he was slammed with technology. Greg Burns was his mentor there. Greg challenged and pushed Brad a lot. But, this gave him a lot of exposure to technology and it was here he learned more about the computer side communications production.
- At this point in time, video and computers started to merge. Non-linear editing systems (like Adobe Premier and later Apple’s Final Cut software) were starting to crop up. He made a move to a company called Communication Systems Group and was their demonstration artist. The graphics flying in from the side of the TV screen for news broadcasts were created by people like Brad.
- All his computer skills are learned on the job. Brad has never had any formal education on computers. “Everything I know I learned on the job with my hands inside a computer case.”
- “This is usually the best way to learn. People in IT are immersed in technology.” – Tony V
- Brad found he had an interest in this computer stuff. He wanted to embrace technology and had mentors who were also willing to embrace it and work with him to help him learn it. Brad is thankful for those people in his life who took the opportunity to work with him in his professional life and he believes in paying it forward.
- Again, mentoring and helping others is extremely important.
- Brad is the AV Geek wanna be…aspiring to be the person in High School pushing around the AV cart after he left High School. He wasn’t that person at that time in HS, but he is now.
“Everything I know, I learned on the job with my hands inside a computer case” – Brad
- Brad was not introduced to home automation through video. It was a technology he took an interest in early in.
- In 2003-2004, there was a product called X10 – it offered rudimentary home automation systems. You plugged it into your fuse box on both sides. Then plug boxes into your wall sockets for a lamp let’s say. It used RF (Radio Frequency) to control those boxes across electrical wiring in your house. You could turn lights on/off with a remote control.
- He found a home automation site call smarthome.com. When he started exploring it, he found a pile of new tech there. There was a new device called ZWave with a similar idea to X10. But, ZWave also created a mesh network in your house over RF. If it couldn’t talk over the electrical then it would communicate over RF. Still simplistic, but more advanced than X10.
- Then Zigby came out and it was like ZWave, but more tech involved. It used its own propriety WIFI network technology. At this point, companies began to realize they could use existing wireless networks in homes. Then other companies like Belkin and Netgear started using home WIFI connectivity and began releasing products for use over home WIFI.
- A product called Vera came out and Brad played with it for a bit. It had a web interface which was not resent in previous products. A control plugged into your home and connected into your home WIFI. You could then buy ZWave light boxes which could be controlled by this Vera built in web page. Then you would add devices through the web page & hit a button on the wall device. You could light schedules. This is where Brad started playing with this more in depth and could see greater possibilities with home automation.
Night and Day
- Home automation technology has come light years ahead now. Now smartphones allow doing this all over the world. Brad stepped into the world of Wink. Wink is now owned by i.am+. He got it with a deal while Brad worked at GE. You could receive a Wink hub with some WIFI light bulbs for a good price. Wink vs. Vera is a night and day difference. It’s like going from 1976 to 2000…and it’s all controlled through a smartphone app.
- You can add devices with the smartphone and control everything through the phone. Brad has a few devices connected to Wink. He has 5 lights, security cameras, and a light switch. His phone’s geo-location is pulled with Wink and it arms his security camera with motion sensors when it detects he leaves the house. If the video camera senses any motion, his outdoor lights turn on and the camera records video which is stored in the cloud. Brad’s Netgear video Arlo system records the video and the camera is completely wireless. It records what it sees, and it can be sent to his smart phone.
- Brad also subscribes to a security system called Frontpoint Security and it can be centrally monitored by the alarm company. But, Brad likes to manage it and most of the home automation himself.
The Cabin in the Woods
- Brad has a cabin up north as well. About 250 miles north of his home in southeast Michigan. He wanted to keep track of things up there and install some home automation.
- There is a company which provides point to point wireless internet access in Northern Michigan. Thing to keep in mind, most of northern Michigan is pine trees. Pine trees hold water all year round. Not only in Summer but also Winter. This causes a tremendous amount of deflection and refraction from the trees which interferes with wireless signals. His first attempt with a tripod on the roof got him maybe 200k maximum download speed.
- He started looking for a better option. An installer suggested a tower for a much better signal. These can be found on Craig’s list as 11” triangular pieces in 10ft sections. You can have someone climb the tower and assemble it. Installed it would likely be a charge of a couple hundred bucks, but it would also be a couple hundred per 10ft section as well. It would not be a cheap investment and he was hesitant.
- Later, decided he wanted to work from the cabin for a summer. He knew he needed to pay for the tower if he was going to be able to get any work done. Otherwise, he would have to drive 15 miles to town to use a coffee shop’s WIFI. So, he and his wife went ahead and decided to do it.
- The tower is 65ft tall. It just clears the tree tops. Brad paid the guy from before a couple hundred for the install and paid just over $1000 for the tower itself. It was costly, but this cabin also will be his retirement home eventually.
- The other problem was that they had no cell service up at the cabin. Maybe they had 1 bar of service at times but not nearly enough for internet service. He knew he had to have internet especially with two teenagers. So, this tower provided wireless internet and the phones could use WIFI as well.
- The tower can probably go another 10ft high for a little better service. But, his kids can stream Netflix all day long and do what they want over the connection and so can Brad. So, it works fine.
- There is a repeater about ½ mile away at another tower where Brad’s tower points. The second tower then points to a service out of Grayling Michigan. The company providing service is based in Wyoming Michigan (near Grand Rapids) and they have fiber all over the place in Northern Michigan. They service a lot of companies there providing the internet and Brad subscribes to them.
- Speed is 6MB down and 600k up. This could be improved after some upgrades in Grayling with 24MB down but, you will pay a lot for it. Brad pays $50/month for the service he has. They drop the speed to 768k down when he is not at the cabin and increase it to 6MB when he arrives.
Go, Go Gadget Cabin
- For home automation in the cabin, Brad has two security cameras inside the house. One towards the driveway and one in the front for a nice visual of the river up front. A 3rd camera is outside pointing at the backdoor and the side of garage. With this setup, he can cover most every spot of the cabin.
- Brad doesn’t heat his cabin much in winter when he isn’t there. But, he keeps the propane on and the furnace on and had a wireless thermostat installed. So, he can heat up the cabin while in route to it for an impromptu stay at the cabin. By the time he get’s there, he could have it all nice a toasty warm…which is good for his pet Guinee Pigs…who don’t like cold.
- Brad uses this setup to maintain and protect his cabin. Also has some nice neighbors who check out the house for him…and they show up on the video cameras as well.
- Again, the whole connected, automated home is great for Brad. He can control heat and cameras and he can check each location when at the other. These are a luxury but, he can’t really live without them anymore. He is so glad to be connected in this way because it is piece of mind and it gives him access he didn’t have before.
What about security and privacy?
- Personally, Brad finds the risk acceptable. It really depends on how worried you are about security of things. He isn’t seriously bothered if someone hacks his camera. One camera points outside and one points towards his Guinee Pigs. The cabin cameras point outside and at doors. So, they are more of a deterrent. The risk is there of course. He doesn’t know who has access to his lights at Wink. But, he doesn’t care if they turn his light on or off.
- Some people are worried about the devices knowing when they are home and not home. This isn’t any different than someone sitting outside your house watching it. It’s an item that comes up in some conversations.
- Facebook is a good example of security problems these days. But, how many people, post they are on vacation (which you shouldn’t do)…then everyone knows you are away anyway. Your Facebook friends friends will know you are away as well. So, Brad’s home automation project doesn’t really hold a candle to all that.
- For Brad, it’s worth the risk for the benefits. He has his security cameras and alarms in place. If you want to break in and feed his Guinea Pigs that’s fine. He’ll know that you did.
- Where is this home automation technology going next?
- There is the audio listening component. Brad has an Amazon echo to turn his lights on and off if needed. It’s also tied in with the WIFI. Same with Google and Apple’s offerings. Other than audio, auto companies can integrate the home automation technology and have in some luxury models.
- He did find a product today to auto open his garage door. If he is 25ft from home on his phone, his door opens. If he leaves but forgets to close the garage door, it closes it automatically. Other products have tried this before from Wink but, they didn’t work well. This product he found online uses a laser to determine if the door is in proximity and ties into the garage door opener which ties into WIFI.
- Where is automation heading for business environments?
- Companies do these types of room preparation deployments for conference rooms. Automation exists which closes the blinds and dims the lights. There is a lot of integration possible. Wink is a good example of this. There are tons of integration with door locks and video, and Amazon Echo’s, etc. And more being added every day.
- In the business world, Cisco Webex has an interesting product. There is a DX80 Cisco video conference phone Brad has on his desk. It looks like a computer but, is used for high definition video conferencing. There is an application using Webex you can install on your smartphone. It uses a system Cisco calls Proximity using ultrasound and connects to the conference device, your outlook calendar, and Webex conferencing. When you walk into a conference room, it checks if you are to be in a meeting in your calendar. It then puts a big green button on your screen and asks if you want to join the call. No numbers to enter or calls to make. Just the push of a button. This is where the future is heading and it’s growing leaps and bounds.
- The really a remarkable thing and it is enterprise ready. Say there are 50 different conference rooms all over the country. You don’t even need to schedule a room. Just find an empty room. So long as you have the Proximity app installed on your phone, it will use the Webex cloud, Proximity, and the Conference system to tell where you are and get you on your call quickly. It can be a big time saver for those in offices. You just need to find an empty room with the right gear in it. It saves on internal network resources as well.
- Give it a try. It’s not too crazy expensive. You don’t need a 65ft tower. You don’t need a ton of internet speed. Start out small. Try a light bulb. But, it can be kind of addicting. Brad is always looking for ways to connect things. He recently funded a Kickstarter campaign for a device that wirelessly monitors how his brew is doing while it’s fermenting…which is also to be monitored via his home automation connectivity.
- Brad’s episode is likely to be the most linked episode to date.
- If one person finds it interesting and finds value in it, it’s worth it.
IT/Geek Speak this episode:
- Non-linear editing software – Software like Adobe Premier or Apple Final Cut using a computer to edit video clips.
- Repeater – A network device which repeats your signal to another location. Essentially it helps to boost the range of your connection.