I've been a huge fan of home automation for a long time already. It started to get shape in my early childhood years in the 90-ties already. Back then it was still limited to messing with all kind of electrical wiring to create switchboards from where I conviniently could control all kinds of devices in my parent's house.
Once I moved to the student campus at Twente University and started living with a group of 6 other people in one house, more fancy technology started to come into the home automation story. I built a system to completely manage the financial situation and stock supplies in our house. It had real time insight in the amount of beers still in the fridge and a convinient terminal on top of the fridge to register using stock from the fridge. Usage was automatically calculated and processed with someone's house financial balance.
At one day, one of my house mates said after having a night out in the city the day before: "It would be awesome if on the way home from the city I could already switch on the deepfryer so it would be ready to be used once I arrive home!". That to me was a trigger to make that reality. Through the online sales platform called iBood, I got my hands on a SIS-PM Silver Shield programmable electric outlet. This allowed to hook up four electrical devices which then could be switched on or off using a through USB connected computer. Challenge was that the delivered software was pretty minimal and wouldn't allow for external applications to switch the socket states. So the first step was to write my own USB driver which could communicate with the device so I could use it from my own to be build software. That turned out to be a little less hard as it sounded like at the first place and soon I was happily switching things on and off from my Windows Console application. Next was to integrate this switching behavior into the website I already built for the house management. This was back in 2007 when having internet on your mobile phone was still a bit extraordinary and possibilities were still very limited. So once this was in place, still there wasn't that cool idea of being able to switch it on while being on your way home. To accomplish that, I took a Windows Mobile (Qtek 9100) and wrote a little piece of software on it using the Windows Mobile API. This would run an application on the phone which through Wifi would be connected to a SOAP webservice on my website. Once a text message (SMS) would come in, it would send the text in this message to my SOAP webservice.
Now that was in place, I created a means of sending commands to my website which on its turn was already capable of switching the deepfryer on and off through the Silver Shield. Since every phone at that time was capable of sending text messages, this would work out perfect to send a message "deepfryer on" to my Windows Mobile in order to have the deepfryer switched on.
And this is how it got started. Later on the lights were connected to it as well, as well as the phone system and new interfaces were added to control everything also through MSN Messenger (still remember that one?). So there would be a bot online at MSN Messenger which you could talk to and send a request to switch lights on or off. Quite fancy, especially at that time.
Once I left the lovely student house back in September 2008 and started to live in my own house, this was the perfect playground for me to start building more stuff. No longer I had to convince my fellow students that it would be superly handy to have lights controlled through text messages from their phones or through MSN Messenger at the cost of not having a simple button on the wall anymore. No longer had I to defend my piece of nifty technology once my server went down and all of a sudden things stopped working in the house showing the dependency on technology. My girlfriend who I bought my house with was luckily willingly enough to cope with this, all did it take some effort to convince her of the handyness of this all.
A great source of inspiration was definitely the website bwired.nl. This guy went totally crazy with automating stuff in his house and shared every little statistic with the whole world. And even better, he liked to write about how he had done it. I decided to start from scratch and write a simple Windows Service in C# to control the whole thing. I assigned the unoriginal name "Power Manager" to it and started coding.
Fast forwaring to the present...
I never went as far as bwired.nl did, but today I have automated quite a bit of stuff in my house. Most of the lights and window blinds can be remotely controlled, temperatures of each room are being measured and Twitter is hooked up to provide feedback on i.e. when the washing machine or dryer is done. In the subsections of this website, I'll go into detail a bit further on the components I've used to build this stuff.