Smart Enough To Know I’m Dumb

The latest addition to our house is a robotic vacuum cleaner. It is interesting to see how it explores the house building a map and observe how it works its way around obstacles like chair legs.

On a more practical front, it seemed like a good idea to integrate it into our little home automation system. Pretty easy to install the Home Assistant component that allows remote control of the vacuum.

And pretty easy to come up with the changes in alarm and automation logic to run it.

  • On the alarm side, change the logic on the sensors to ignore motion alarms when the vacuum is running.
  • On the automation side, keep track of the last time the vacuum was run and decide if a cleaning cycle is appropriate when we leave the house.

With that the floors should stay clean even with our erratic schedule. We won’t be bothered with the vacuum running while we are home. And during the actual vacuum cleaning operation I won’t be bombarded by intruder false alarms.

Automation Not Remote Control

My feeling is that most of what is labeled automation is actually remote control. You need remote control capability in various devices to do automation, but remote control should not be the end in itself.

A good automation system shouldn’t need a control panel, touch screen or voice control: It should “just work”. Things that you’d like done should just happen.

The ideal home automation setup should be a bit like the household staff of a wealthy family in the 19th century or before: Observant and thoughtful enough to notice the needs and desires of the family members and to anticipate them.

The above automation fits that scheme: Cleaning just happens when it is convenient for us without our asking for it.

The Difficulty

But what about rolling out the automation that I just programmed for our house to all houses? If I weren’t a retired software engineer or a computer savvy hacker, how would that have worked out?

It seems infeasible for a manufacturer to come up with a system that covers the needs and desires of every household, discovering all the remote controlled devices in a house and coming up with automation sequences that work for the family that lives there. Every family has their differences both in their normal schedule and in their desires. How should an automation system decide what to do with out hard to scale individual house by house programming effort? Especially if the people living in the house don’t have a clue about what is possible so they don’t know what ask for.

I suppose that means some sort of AI will be needed for a really good home automation system but so far all the “AI” systems I’ve seen are more likely to be remote control via a voice interface. But I am not smart enough to figure out how to make such an ideal system. I wonder how long it will be before some bright young person, or more likely team of young bright people, figures out how to really do this job correctly.