Home automation and smart home, two definitions that in the last years we heard more and more about. With this article I will try to illustrate the differences between the two, the trends in this market and the possible solutions.

What is home automation?

The term Home Automation (in italian Domotica) comes from the union of the latin term Domus (home) and the greek term Ticos (that indicates the application disciplines). Home automation studies the technologies which improve the quality of life inside our homes through automation and integration between technology systems such as: lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, shadowing, security system, monitoring system, alarm, energy management, measuring, household appliances, audio/video and much more. The idea at the core of a domotic house is to automate these systems and make them interact with each other with the result of simplifying the user's life.

Home automation systems connect buildings devices together (typically via bus). But home automation becomes smart and smart home when it is "hooked up" to an intelligence that allows it to do "things" when "events" happen.

Talking about smart homes, the statistics indicate a clear growth of the industry in Italy and worldwide. In Italy, even if 2020 has been a difficult year, the sector has had a 35% increase in the past two years. This means a smart home market of more than half a billion Euro. We said we were hearing these words more and more often and indeed * more than 80% of young people under 34, but also a good 60% up to 74 years old say they have heard of smart homes in Italy.

There are many different ways to have this result. In the next articles we will see more in depth specifics solutions, today I will give you an overview on the 3 product categories that, added to your plant, can transform a home into a smart one.

Bus systems

They are the Bticino MyHome, Vimar by-me, KNX systems. All these plants are based on a bus (a couple of cables which connects all the devices) which transports signals and not power, the power is managed by relays. A home automation system does not have many functions more than a traditional one. It turns on lights, controls window-coverings, manages temperatures. It does this without a predefined connection between command and actuator. Here’s an example: if today a switch turns on a specific light, tomorrow the same switch can be configured to control another light. What I just said, is a home automation plant, but not a smart one. If we connect to the bus a device which is capable of creating scenes and adding third party services (like we said before: make “things happen” triggered by an “event”) we have a smart home and this home will be as smart as the device we used. Personally, I installed in my apartment a MyHome home automation system and I made it smart with Easykon for MyHome by Freedompro. This device connected my plant to the internet and it has made my system compatible with Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit and IFTTT.

After market (or plug and play) systems

Here there are really a lot of solutions, from connected switches that use wi-fi to send commands to light bulbs, to smart thermostatic heads. The huge difference with the plants that we talked about before is that, this kind of solutions to connect the different devices uses radio waves using connections like Wi-Fi, ZigBee or proprietary wireless protocols. The big advantage is that you don’t need masonry work to install them and these solutions allow you to update traditional apartments quickly. The downside is the affidability and the integration between the different pieces. Often you need many Apps to manage the various pieces of the system.

Open and handmade systems

The smart home automation niche. There are many devices that you can attach to the traditional switches, to the window-covering motors and that talk to each other and with a “hub” through wi-fi (rarely through HUB). The HUB for these systems, usually is hand made on a Raspberry base with specific softwares that need to be customized with new code. This solution is surely cheap but it is just for a limited number of “nerds” who have in depth hardware and software knowledge. The upsides are the customization and the cost-effectiveness of this solution. The downsides are stability, affidability of the system and the need to be experts to make eventual changes.

My experience

Personally, I have used a MyHome SCS by BTicino system since 13 years and I have to say that it works great in the aspects of functionality and affidability. In the last few years, however, the plant has remained a little behind from new technologies and it has not been updated, staying the same as I purchased it 13 years ago. It was frustrating to have a home automation system without the possibility to use Google Home, Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and IFTTT protocols. Also because, many of my friends did it with plug and play solutions.
But the advantage of having a home automation system created by an important brand as a base is that often, there are other companies, like Freedompro, who study specific solutions to make plants old like mine smart. And this is exactly what happened. I installed Easykon for MyHome one year ago and I have to say that I am very satisfied with both its functionalities and the affidability through time.

* According to data from the IoT observatory of the Politecnico di Milano.