The Smart Apartment

And a Proposed Design for the National Information and Communications Technology Centre of Excellence

For the Bauhaus Serve City Sydney Trimester III, Wednesday 12 June 2002, in Sydney


  1. Introduction
  2. City Edge
  3. Wrong With iHome
  4. Home office design
  5. Design Project
  6. Smart Apartment Technology
  7. Design for NICTA
  8. Books
  9. Home Page

3. What is Wrong With the iHome?

Discussion of Internet enabled homes, such as the Sydney Ihome, has so far been superficial, with net fridges, plasma wall screens and remote Internet control of appliances providing little practical function at a high cost:

The prototype home set up at 77 Bowman Street, Pyrmont in inner Sydney is a funky three-storey terrace which has become Australia's first entirely Internet-enabled home... Fighting for pride of place is permanent broadband Internet access, 42-inch plasma screens, an in-house audio system that pipes MP3 songs throughout the home, videoconferencing facilities and a multi-media editing suite... iHome, with an eggshell value of AU$750,000 and a quarter of a million dollars worth of technology to boot, will be auctioned by Lend Lease in April 2001.

From Life @ Australia's first Internet home By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia News 08 November 2000

Australia's much talked about Internet Home was recently sold with a AU$950,000 price tag, but the guts were ripped out of the high-tech house -- once fully decked out with whiz-bang gadgetry and broadband -due to lack of market interest...

From Aust Net home sold with low-tech specs, By Rachel Lebihan, ZDNet Australia News 09 August 2001

Automation in the home can be useful, but it doesn;t need a high bandwidth internet connection, nor is providing manual remote control over such a connection "automation". Many home functions can be made autonomous, with simple electronic or computer control, removing the need for the householder to do more than occasionally check their operation. Where remote communications are required, they need only a low speed connection (equivalent to a dial-up Internet connection). A web based user interface, designed for access by the disabled, can be used to provide control from a low bandwidth connection on a portable device, a TV set-top-box or an ordinary PC.

Technologies, such as Transact's high speed network, provide the potential for affordable useful services. However, the benefit comes not so much from the speed of the connection, but from it being continuous and available without interrupting telephone use.

It should not be assumed that one technology will provide all services in a fully integrated way. New technologies will be added and older ones fall into disuse. The truly intelligent house will need a diversity of technologies and the ability to be fitted with new ones.

What Was the iHOME?

The iHOME was project was initiated by Cisco Systems and was located at the Jackson's Landing development in Sydney. It included equipment from a number of suppliers.

The philosophy behind the iHOME was not to build a futuristic prototype. Much of the technology is available, off the shelf, right now. The key components of the technology are:

From: How Does the iHOME Work?, Cisco Systems, Inc. (undated)

However, while much of the technology is available, it is not readily affordable by the average home owner (the iHome contained $250,000 of added technology) and provides little benefit over less "smart" technology. There are benefits in installing sufficient data cabling in houses to allow relocation of telephones, computer and other devices. This can now be done at reasonably low cost using CAT5e cable (essentially an upgraded form of copper telephone cable).

A control panel for a house has some benefits, assuming all technologies are compatible, are centrally controllable and the control Internet interface makes sense for services which need to be contris secure. An Internet interface is of value for services which need to be controlled remotely. However, the iHOME has a web interface designed for a high bandwidth fast internet connection and a high resolution (1024x768) display. This system cannot be controlled using a low cost hand held device operating on existing low speed networks, or on a typical web enabled Set-top-box. It also appears the interface is not designed to be accessible to the disabled. Had an accessible web design been used, the interface could be operated using a low cost, low bandwidth interface.

What is the IHOME for?

Three examples of applications are given on the iHOME web page:

Imagine arriving at work and wondering if you remembered to turn the lights off in the kitchen.

Or a tradesperson unexpectedly calling to say they're five minutes away - when you're not.

Or wanting to turn the air conditioning on to cool the house down before you get home

From: What is the iHOME, Cisco Systems, Inc. (undated)

Considering each in turn:

Turn off lights Remotely: Lighting is a relatively small part of electricity costs for a household. The cost of a remote control lighting system is unlikely to be recovered in energy saved from turning off forgotten lights occasionally. Also a manual system which relies on the householder remembering forgotten lights does not appear intelligent. A better approach would be to invest in energy efficient lights, such as compact florescent. For areas where lights are uses intermittently, low cost movement detectors are available to switch lights on and off automatically.

Remote Supervision of Tradespersons: Unless the home is turned into something like the Panopticon, there are unlikely to be enough cameras to clearly see what a tradesperson is doing in a house. Video observation is a tedious activity and one the householder is unlikely to want to do for hours. A simpler approach is to require the tradesperson to book a time, which could be done via an on-line system. If the householder can use a home office to work from, while supervising, that would be a benefit.

Turn the air conditioning on before you get home: A well designed house should maintain a close to comfortable temperature without additional energy input. Supplementary heating or cooling can then quickly adjust the home to a comfortable temperature, without the need to waste energy on an empty house. A low cost sensor can detect when a room is occupied and turn the air conditioner on and off as required.

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