Tag Archives: home automation

Coronavirus and cavemen

It seems only a few years ago that, when I walked around my house, the lights wouldn’t turn on automatically! For younger readers, I should explain that in the past you actually had to go to a particular place on the wall and press a switch if you wanted to be able to see things!

Can you imagine the inconvenience if, say, you had your hands full at the time? And when you left the room, if you wanted to save power, you’d have to do the same thing again, and then repeat it as you went into the next room. So people had to install switches in all the places they thought they might go in and out of rooms. They had to come up with complex wiring schemes because you might want to turn lights on at the bottom of a staircase and turn them off at the top, when the upstairs and downstairs lights were normally on different electrical circuits!

It’s hard to believe, in this era of easy home automation, that there are some people still living this caveman-like existence, but it’s true, just as there are those who, when they want to listen to the news, turn a physical dial instead of just talking to their smart speaker! Those whose house doesn’t know when they’re in movie-watching mode, so they have to turn the TV on and off with a remote control.

This is, of course, terribly inconvenient for those people who still embrace the ‘retro’ approach to life, but now it has an extra drawback: every one of those switches, buttons, knobs is a hot-spot for potential virus transmission. How are those people meant to protect their family from infection if, carrying in groceries or deliveries from the outside world, they have to press a light switch that everybody else in the family is going to touch later that day? And if, without thinking, they draw the curtains by hand, how many hands will touch the same spot later?

And that’s just home automation. When the lockdown is lifted, just imagine those poor people who have to go back to work in non-automated workplaces! The potential for contagion is terrifying.

But yes, my young friends, that’s what the world really used to be like for most people! Amazing, but true.

Immersive TV and the IOT

One of the things those clever chaps at the BBC R&D are considering is the transmission of extra metadata alongside the programmes, whether on broadcast channels or over the net. This gave me an idea…

We watch TV in a room where I can, from my perch on the sofa, reach the dimmer switch on the wall. This is handy because I don’t think it’s ideal to watch TV in complete darkness, but I do often find that we start with the lighting at a certain level, and then, when we get to the gloomy, sinister scenes, I turn down the ceiling lights to make the low-contrast images more visible and reduce any reflections.

But as we move into an automated-home-internet-of-things type of world, where my dimmer may be accessible via zigbee, Z-wave or similar, perhaps the TV should be able to control the lighting? Screenplays generally specify whether a scene is ‘interior, daytime’ or ‘exterior, night’, for example, so including that in the transmission should be straightforward, and could possibly be automated. Maybe I as a viewer would feel more involved in the action if my lighting conditions matched those of the scene?

The next stage, of course, would be having the central heating automatically turn off when watching a documentary about Shackleton. Perhaps that’s a step too far…

For a more serious immersive experience, I liked the idea the Beeb guys came up with a couple o years ago for ‘surround video‘.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser