001 – What the hell is Wise Home?

In this episode I am presenting you my smart home philosophy. You will also learn what the podcast is all about and how I came up with the name “Wise Home”.

Really interesting will be the part about cutting edge research and possible solutions.

The last quarter will be all about the content in the next episodes.

[00:00] – Smart Home, a disappointment?
[06:53] – Reasons
[12:03] – Solutions
[21:04] – Topics of the podcast
[26:15] – Next episodes

001 – What the hell is Wise Home transcript powered by Sonix—the best audio to text transcription service

001 – What the hell is Wise Home was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your audio to text in 2019.

Hello and welcome to the Wise Home podcast. I’m your host, Christopher Wansing, and I’m very excited to start off this new podcast. You are listening to the English version, so please bear with me as I’m not a native speaker. The episode title already reveals it. What the hell is Wise Home anyway? That’s a question today and I would like to answer it for you because I’m sure you’re all wondering why I chose this name for the podcast. Also, I’d like to give you a bit of an outlook and explain what this podcast is all about. Let’s jump right to the subject and talk about what the hell do I call a Wise Home and what’s the difference to the Smart Home? And why didn’t I just call my podcast Smart Home podcast?

The reason is quite simple, namely that the term Smart Home has been totally burned in recent years. The manufacturers lost a lot of trust from the users because they didn’t care at all about security and privacy. And that is why people now have a completely negative connotation of the term Smart Home in their minds. For example, Google and Amazon have thousands of employees listening to the messages people tell their voice assistance every day. Of course, they only want to improve their recognition with that, but at the end of the day, it’s still a privacy intrusion to the user. And of course, all the data is transferred to the cloud and not stored and processed locally. In addition, this process is made completely intransparent. The user has no idea which data is stored and what is transferred. No surprise that users are as insecure as they could be.

But all of that is really only one part of the reason. The other part is that what we call Smart Home today isn’t really a Smart Home at all. There is a huge gap between what we think of as a Smart Home and what it really is. Let’s look at what advertising says a Smart Home is. They tell you it’s predicting your actions. It’s forward thinking. It’s a relief. There are cost savings. For example, in energy or water consumption. It’s safer. And these are all things that are conveyed to you in advertising and that you actually and rightfully desire from a Smart Home. And now let’s look at the reality.

First of all, relief. Today Smart Home systems are so complex that no one can really speak of a relief. Actually the user must be able to program himself or almost be a software developer to be able to set up such a system. And what’s more, it’s totally maintenance intensive, has failures and with some systems is dependent on the Internet, which then again is a security problem and of course, a reliability problem if the connection fails. Many people also have concerns about E-Smog and that the radio components could be harmful to your body. Whether or not that is true, it’s still something people have on their minds. Back to programming, it’s not really a relief when I first have to lay down a lot of rules and tell the house what it’s supposed to do. And life changes. So I have to constantly follow up on the rules instead of creating them only once. At what time shall the blinds rise? And when should the lights come on and so on and so forth? I have to adjust them all the time. This means that I am somehow constantly changing the rules and programming around, and in the end I’m working a lot more than I’m saving. This means that at the moment it’s actually only something for people who are really willing to invest a lot of time and are enjoying Smart Home for its own sake. Is it a relief? Not really. Let’s talk about the subject of prediction and thinking ahead. The current state of the art is more a static automation home than a Smart Home. Think of an automation rule that rises the blinds on 7 o’clock on Mondays and 9 o’clock on Tuesdays. If now, something changes like I’m on holiday or get a day off at work. The blinds are rising anyway. And if that’s the way your house is working, it has not really earned the term smart.

The next thing on our list that we are gonna crush are the huge energy savings that advertising promises you. The numbers are often in the range of about 30 percent and in reality just can’t be kept. Even worse, if you count it against the power consumption of all the components, you may even get a negative number. And then, of course, there are the huge security issues which we just mentioned. Many systems are accessible via the internet and can be hacked. And yes, you might get a warning if a burglar comes in or the fire alarm goes off. But you are also getting a huge pile of additional security concerns. At the end of the day it’s safe to say that many so-called top notch systems just aren’t secure. All of this simply means one thing: Users are starting the Smart Home journey with a great expectation, which is simply not fulfilled in the end. And this is the exact reason why Wise Home is for me what Smart Home should be.

Now, instead of talking a lot about security and energy consumption, which are simple engineering problems which can be solved, I would rather talk about the intelligent home. And I think the very first step to do this is to look at the present situation and to figure out why it’s not different than, let’s say five years ago. One could possibly write a whole book on this, but I am trying to nail it down to one or two basic problems. In my opinion it all starts with the sensors, because that’s the basis on which today’s Smart Home makes its decisions. But the sensors are still simply inadequate. At least for the high expectations we have of a Smart Home today. It’s supposed to be magical. It should predict what I’ll do next and switch on the light accordingly, turn on the heating or reliably detect when I enter the room or when I leave it again. And all of this should really work 100 percent of the time, right? And how are we trying to do this now? We try to achieve this with a bunch of cheap sensors that are almost blind. Let’s look at a motion detector, for example. It only tells us that a movement has taken place in a certain area. It’s not telling us how big the object was or in what direction it was moving. It’s actually just telling us movement. And often even with a bad time resolution. And you are supposed to draw some conclusions from that now. Whether someone went into the room or went out or whatever, and that’s just not possible. I’m always happy to give the anecdote: It’s a bit like we are blind, deaf and have no feeling anywhere and you only know movement. And then you are supposed to make a decision whether or not to turn on the lights. A human being would be overwhelmed. A Smart Home is certainly.

And that’s exactly why we need new types of sensors. If we continue to have these high expectations in a Smart Home. I always think light is a good example to explain this quite well. Nowadays, light is usually switched on with motion detectors or a simple light switch, of course. But if you really want to know whether a person has entered or left the room, then you need something like a light barrier that is interrupted when a person enters or leaves. But this is exactly where we already have the first problem. The light barrier is only interrupted. Which means I only know one person went in or out. I don’t know which of both is the case. So I don’t know, should I turn on the light or should I turn it off? And what’s more, this is only a punctual measurement. That is, I don’t know either, maybe only the cat walked through or the dog or something else. Maybe I only moved my arm and suddenly the light comes on in the living room, which I don’t want at all then. And of course I insult my Smart Home that it is stupid and not smart at all, as it promises. And that is precisely the reason that we need a new generation of sensors.

For example, there are other sensors that can also detect the direction in which something has passed through the door. But you are also not solving the problem, whether it was only the dog, or your hand, or really a person. You can at least say went something in or out and can switch the light on or off accordingly. But those sensors also have problems. For example, when two people enter the room directly behind each other, it perhaps counts only one person and then that one person goes out again and he turns off the light and the other person is still in the room. That is because he didn’t know there were two people inside and thought there was only one. Of course, you can’t really rely on something like that.

However, the big question is what is this new generation of sensors that we need to turn a Smart Home into a Wise Home? The most reliable candidate, in my opinion, is the so-called general purpose sensing. What does that mean exactly? Something like a voice assistant, for example, is already today a general purpose sensing system. It’s just a simple sensor, in this case a microphone, which is however evaluated with a lot of intelligence behind it and can therefore carry out very complex interactions and very complex recognitions. Such a microphone can be imagined as a human ear. And when I think about what I could hear myself as a human, only with my ears, that is quite a lot. Of course I can understand language, which means you can talk to me and I will understand. But I can also recognize, for example, oh, someone is vacuuming my apartment or someone is taking a shower, or is someone working in the kitchen or walking across a hall. And I can perhaps even recognize in which direction this one is running across the hallways. And all of that just with my ears. This is exactly what general purpose sensing is promising a simple sensor that replaces a whole bunch.

Another example would be your eyes. Imagine a camera with a lot of intelligence behind it. It would be able to recognize even more about the current situation in which the residents find themselves and what is actually happening there. It would be able to evaluate what the people in the camera image are doing. Are they reading, are they talking, just about everything you can imagine. This means that your house gets a whole new understanding of the current situation. And this would then make it possible to really meet the high demands placed on the Smart Home today.

Of course, this results in a huge data protection problem and I don’t know if this will really be solved in the foreseeable future. Fact is, however, that even today many people already have voice assistants in their homes. This means they seem to have no problem with their voice data being uploaded to the cloud and in return could definitely be considered as a user group of such extended sensors. Nevertheless, the problem remains that this is not really the right approach to take. In my opinion, a new generation of sensors should not upload data to the cloud. It should process everything locally on the camera or microphone, draw the appropriate conclusions and recognize everything it has to and then delete the data completely. And I think then it’s really possible that a shift in mindset will take place. That people will rethink and say, yes, if I really know and have the promise that this is not a camera in the classical sense, that is meant to record pictures or transmit them somewhere, but that these are really just eyes and ears of my home, then I can possibly live with it. Additionally, I think users should be given much more freedom to decide which data these systems really collect. For example, if I have a bad feeling about my home observing me walking from room to room, then I would be able to turn that functionality off. In return, I wouldn’t be getting the automatic light functionality, but I wouldn’t be recorded either. This means that you should have more freedom to decide which feature to use and which not to. Of course all of that on an informed basis, that the system tells you which things it needs to record or analyze to make that possible.

The whole subject of general purpose sensing is extremely exciting, and for anyone who would like to dig deeper, I can only recommend to look up the human computer interaction lab at Carnegie Mellon University. They are doing really groundbreaking research and are developing many, many more general purpose sensors. One example is a so-called Vibrometer, which is using a laser to measure vibrations on surfaces and by doing so can detect activities in, for example, the kitchen. It aims at different surfaces around the room and measures the vibrations on each for a few moments. By applying artificial intelligence to these signals, they can detect various activities like cutting vegetables, a running faucet, stove, microwave, blender or really anything else. It is really only a single sensor that is measuring a whole bunch of stuff.

Another thing they have developed is a wall that works completely as a huge sensor array and can detect any electrical device within the room. And by that it cannot only say which device is present, but also determine a pretty exact location. And why stop there? Actually, the whole wall is a gigantic touchscreen which you can use for any purpose you can imagine. By looking at how they build this wall, it seems even more astonishing what they have accomplished. The whole wall is only made of conductive paint, which you can top coat with a standard latex paint to improve durability and to hide the electrodes. I think the stuff these guys develop is totally amazing and it shows the direction where things are headed. A wise man once said any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And I think he couldn’t be more right.

But before we get carried away by good Sci Fi quotes, let’s get back to reality and with that to the question: What is Wise Home and how is it different from Smart Home? The first difference is that we need new sensors that can do more. But where does Smart Home stop at all? The term Smart Home suggests that it’s all about your own four walls. But that is definitely not my idea of a Smart Home. To me, it’s driving home from work, and when I arrive my apartment is already warmed up. Of course, this only works if my car and my Smart Home are interconnected and talking to each other. And then there is a huge topic of health which doesn’t stop at the front door. In my opinion, fitness tracker and all kinds of health sensors, including, for example, emergency devices for elderly people should be considered a large part of the Smart Home and be of course connected to it. The topics care and ambient assisted living are both Smart Home topics and shouldn’t stop at the front door. I don’t want to dig deeper into the subject at this point, but I think it’s clear that for me, Smart Home is much more than your own four walls.

Now that we have heard a lot of points that belong to a Wise Home for me, I hope my philosophy in choosing the name of this podcast became clear. But I also promised to go over some of the details we will be covering in this podcast. I hope that already became clear from what I said so far, but now I want to dig a bit deeper and make it really obvious for you. The first huge topic for me is definitely health. That seems to surprise because we just talked about Smart Home all the time, but you might have noticed already that the two topics are closely interconnected for me. The reason I am so interested in it may be due to the fact that a lot of people from my private environment work in the health sector. But another huge influence is my work for the research project Dorfgemeinschaft 2.0, which deals a lot with ambient assisted living and growing old at home. In the podcast, however, you will experience the topic mainly by fitness trackers, of which I really have very many. I also compare them with each other and do my own data analysis. For example, I have a bunch of sleep trackers that record each night. So I can tell you a lot about the strongsuits and weaknesses and how they compare to each other. However, for me, the subject of fitness trackers goes far beyond the classic wrist bands that are so familiar. Many people don’t even know that fitness trackers and medical wearables are a smooth transition these days. This means that there are already many devices that provide very accurate data. These include, for example, continuous glucose meters, stress level meters or sensors that measure the amount of UV radiation that reaches the skin. Just like in the Smart Home area, I also have a lot to complain about fitness trackers. For example, the medical usability of modern fitness tracker data is far from being as it should be. Otherwise thousands of people wouldn’t have recently strapped their fitness trackers around toilet paper rolls and bananas and posted photos online of how they still showed cardiac activity. And even the evaluation of these thousands of data points is far from being as intelligent as it could be.

But back to the topics I want to cover in this podcast. In addition to the health sector, represented mainly by fitness trackers, I’m also concerned with sensors. You may recognized it earlier. I love sensors! And somehow the development of my own sensors is a necessity. That is because many of the sensors that I need are simply not yet on the market. At least not in a way that a Smart Home can access the data. In doing so, I have to deal with electronics pretty often, but also things like 3D printing have become second nature to my work. And because sensors are ultimately nothing else than measuring instruments. I also love measuring instruments! Therefore, I will also cover different kinds of measurements. That means, for example, room acoustic measurement with a microphone, thermal camera measurement of the heat spectrum and evaluation of different light sources as they are used, for example, in the Philips Hue Smart Home lamps or modern desktop monitors. You might already figured it. We are going to cover some pretty deep stuff, but at the end of the day that’s a good thing, right?

Other topics I will be talking about include home entertainment, for example. This actually means the entire audio and video range from beamers and loudspeakers to AV receivers and all kinds of input devices. And then, of course, if the demand is there, I will be talking about podcasting and hosting a blog. That is, by the way, Christopher minus Wansing Punkt DE. If you drop by and subscribe to the newsletter, you will be getting notifications about new content in the blog and podcast. I also have a very convenient and unique way of receiving those notifications. You can either choose to go with the traditional email newsletter or you can choose to click the little bell icon on the bottom and you will be getting modern push notifications directly to your device. Once on my website, you will also see that I am a bit in love with product photography. That’s good for you, because it means that I have every product that I’m talking about here on my website. Not for buying, but because I love to have everything in one place and because I love 360 degree imagery.

Finally, I would like to give you a little preview of the next episode titles I have on my mind. And that would be, for example, one episode about automatic blind drives from the company Siro Antriebe from Germany. This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that IKEA is now about to launch it’s Smart Home roller blinds Kadrilj and Fyrtur. The Siro drive is a competitor to it and also powered by rechargeable batteries. There is also a solar module to charge these blinds and I found the whole thing very interesting. The only disadvantage though is that they have their own gateway, which is not directly controlable via an open API. However, I made the effort to hack this gateway and make it freely accessible. Now it can be integrated into any Smart Home system.

Then I’m still working on the Flir Lepton 3.5. That is the thermal camera I was talking about. I would really love to show you the world through the eyes of this beauty. You will be surprised how many interesting discoveries we can make.

Directly in connection to that. I am currently also very busy with the Open MV camera. This is a special camera on which you can execute image processing algorithms directly. So exactly what I was talking about earlier. All the data belongs to you and not to Google or somebody else. In the episode, we are going to talk about some concrete development examples and also about advantages, disadvantages and alternatives.

Then of course I will do various product reviews. Currently, I have the Wake v2 on my mind. That is a smart alarm clock that can be set to wake only one person, even if there are two in bed. It does that by using focused light and sound that can only be heard or seen by the person of interest.

I will also make an episode about the Philips Hue lamps. This means we will mainly focus on measurements about the light quality.

Then I will definitely make some episodes about how existing old fashioned devices can be integrated into the Smart Home. I will demonstrate this with the example of, tada a soap dispenser. This means that really anything can be integrated.

But I am also a software developer and as such I’m drinking coffee. And because of that I am also dedicating an episode to a smart coffee machine. I am cheating a little bit here because the coffee machine has been smart before, but we are giving it a smart and damn nice upgrade.

And because that is not enough DIY magic, I am giving you another project where we are making a smart scenting system. Yeah, now you can finally save some time and leave those ugly socks on.

OK, that one was just a joke. Let us get back to some more serious stuff. It is really important to me to trigger a discussion about the different topics. That means that we will have more episodes like this where we are talking basics and about the different philosophies one can have. Whose foundations are the right? Which controlling principal is good and which is bad? Just what is up in the Smart Home market? Which trends are there? What is the new stuff? What is the good stuff? What is the bad stuff? I just want to get in the dialogue and trigger a discussion. The positive side effect, however, is that you get to know the new stuff in Smart Home. And I don’t have to use Clickbait. We can have a positive and interesting discussion instead. And I think that’s always better than what I call flat news.

At the end of the day, I want to rethink what podcasting and Smart Home really means. I’m just gonna do it and call it: “Think different!” However, we all know how good intentions can end. But for the moment, let’s just be positive and start our journey…

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