eHomes : Electronic Homes, for Control & Security



J. K. Jain uses the term eHome — which he has trademarked — to mean much more than just electronic-home. It is that aspect that is of most interest to us, but we should first describe the full range of meanings. There are four specific intentions in the use of this term:

  1. Electronically operated: both for control of systems in the home and for security.
  2. Eco-friendly: energy conservation, better hygiene and reduced environmental impact.
  3. Earthquake resistance: taking into consideration the soil type and foundation of a building and the materials and design.
  4. Entertainment: the facilities available with the home.
We’ll take these in reverse order, in increasing interest to us here.

Entertainment

The eHomes projects consist of high-rise block in two locations, both near Delhi — Vaishali and Greater Noida. The entertainment aspect mainly involves communal facilities that are available to all the apartments in the blocks. These include such things as health club and swimming pool, a small “home” theatre (couple of dozen seats), communal library, billiard room, steam room and sauna — with more planned. A key feature is that a resident can check availability of these services from the electronic control system in the home and also make bookings. This is being extended to home delivery from the local mall, where one exists, and also certain local shops.

Earthquake resistance

This is a topic in which J. K. Jain has taken a particular interest over many years, and in which he is considered something of an expert. He explained that, like most developers, his group extracts ground water for mixing concrete, but unlike many, they purify the water before use. This removes chemicals that would be likely to react with the steel reinforcing in the concrete and cause deterioration over time, with the concrete separating from the steel, thereby losing strength.

The frame structure of these buildings is also strengthened by the addition of extra rings at junctions, and fly ash (a residue from burning coal) is used to produce a more rich and dense, hence stronger, form of concrete; one that also strengthens over time as it dries out and is generally more durable. Less water is needed to produce concrete using fly ash, which is also a recycled material, otherwise a waste product, and its use thereby contributes to the eco-friendliness of the buildings.

Eco-friendly

There are several aspects of these buildings that contribute to a more eco-friendly approach. The most obvious is energy conservation, and there are many ways in which this is achieved. One is the use of foam concrete blocks — partly composed of the just-mentioned fly ash. These provide generally better thermal insulation. Also providing extra insulation are uPVC windows. everybody has heard of PVC — polyvinyl chloride. uPVC is unplasticised PVC, sometimes called rigid PVC. This also has good thermal insulation properties as well as sound insulation. However, not everybody would agree that these are otherwise eco-friendly — there are chemicals involved in their manufacture that have been recognized as carcinogenic.

As much recycled material as possible is used in the manufacture of the buildings, and also in their operation. For example, water drained from the sinks is recycled and used for flushing toilets and watering the small gardens (just a few square yards each) that are attached on the balconies of each flat. Non-toxic paints are also used in the buildings to help provide more hygienic conditions.

Another key element is waste management. Every kitchen sink has a waste crusher so that biological waste can be pulverized and flushed down. All general waste is also segregated for recycling as appropriate — bio-waste, solids such as tins and paper, and glass. These are then sent to private companies for recycling.

Power is also saved by having certain lighting systems automated. For example, the lights in the corridors by the lifts are usually off, but sensors detect when somebody comes into the area and turns the lights on for as long as they remain. A similar feature is also applied inside the homes where appropriate. Naturally, there are multiple backup power generators and voltage stabilizers.

Just as I was about to leave J. K. Jain’s office, I noticed a book about trees on his desk. He then started to tell me about which trees use up the most ground water, which use little, which attract termites, and so on. He has been researching these issues in order to determine which are the most appropriate and environmentally beneficial trees to have in the grounds of the buildings. One may not agree with many of the choices made in the style of these homes, but there is no denying that considerable attention to detail has gone into the design.

Electronically operated

What should one expect from an electronically operated home, one that is wired for modern technology? Certainly the ability to have an internet connection, but what about connectivity within the home? We might well want to connect one or two PCs, the odd laptop, printer, scanner, media hub (such as recently released by Cisco), television, audio system and so on.

Some of this will be done using USB, but the first thing I looked for in the eHomes was the presence of Ethernet connectors — I expected at least one in every room, perhaps more in the key rooms such as living room. These are completely non-existent, and this strikes me as the biggest mistake that Design arch has made. How can you possibly call an apartment an eHome, without in-built connectivity between rooms? It just does not figure.

In answer to this question, J. K. Jain told me that he would expect an owner to set up a standard broadband connection using the telephone line, and then install a WiFi router to communicate with and between devices in the home. This is all very well for those devices to communicate with the internet, but not much more than that. If I am in the living room with my laptop, can I print out on my printer connected to the PC in the spare bedroom? There are some ways in which one can stream data between devices talking to the same WiFi router, but this is not straightforward or common. At the very least, it is very much easier with Ethernet. Also, WiFi degrades very badly as you move away from the router. At the time of writing we are testing such routers here in our offices, and with a couple of concrete walls between the router and a laptop, we have been measuring something around a 60 per cent drop in signal strength and similar drop in data throughput rates. Some routers attempt to self-adjust when they receive a weak signal from a device, but this is not at all a perfect fix, and the devices themselves do not necessarily do the same. There is nothing better yet than a simple direct connection.

The central focus of the electronic control of an eHome is basically a PC with a flat touch-screen placed on the wall relatively near to the front door. This control system can be accessed also by means of a remote control - similar to one that you would use with a TV, also remotely by telephone, and, most interestingly, from a browser across the internet. This means that you can have access to all the main controls of the home when you are travelling.

The system is a normal PC running Windows, and so, at least theoretically, it could be integrated with any other PC systems in the house, although I have not seen this in operation. The control system allows access to many basic features in the home. You can turn certain appliances on and off, such as water heater, television, lighting and air conditioners, lock and open the front door, and so on. When I first discussed these ideas with Design arch I was told that only a simple on/off control was possible. However, now further levels of control are becoming available, such as one might want for turning on an oven and setting it to a particular temperature. I am not sure such an oven is available, but this is a good example of the kind of control one might need.

Some presets are available for so-called “mood settings”. You can, for example, save certain lighting levels in particular rooms and set for the curtains to be opened, and save this as your morning setting, and of course have it come on at a particular time, just as your alarm goes off. Similarly, you could save different settings for “watching a movie”, and so on.

The control extends out to the general building, in that the whole site is managed by an Intelligent Building Management System. This is the basic control system which takes care of power, fire and water management. A key factor in the overall management is of course, security. For the overall system, one interesting feature is the ability to check during the night if the guards are awake! But it is the security of the individual homes that is most interesting.

The first security feature that you notice is the front door control. The lock itself can be controlled in three ways — by a magnetic card that you hold in front of a reader, by the main control system in the house — which you could, if you really wanted to, access from a mobile phone as you approach the door — and by a good old-fashioned key. The key is the most likely way one would secure the apartment when it is empty, as the electronic control only engages a latch bolt, whereas the key engages first the latch bolt and then three deadbolts.

It seems that the electronic control would be best used when the home is occupied. When somebody comes to the door and rings the bell, you see them from the camera at the front door and can speak to them and then release the door catch. Usefully, their image is captured. This also happens when the home is unoccupied, and when you return home you have a complete set of images of all the people who have come near the front door, even if they have not rung the bell.

As the system can be accessed remotely, you can call it up across the internet, and access, for example, the images captured at the front door since you left. This may not seem immediately useful, but security devices are for unexpected circumstances. Similarly, you can have cameras installed inside the home, and these can also be accessed remotely. You can call up your system, turn on the lights and inspect the rooms. When might you do this? Just to give yourself peace of mind, perhaps; to check that the kids have not wrecked the place with a party, and also when some alarm has gone off.

There are sensors in the home that detect motion inside and if a window has been broken. These intrusion alarms can trigger SMSs or emails, and you can then call into the home and see what has been going on. Similarly, there is a gas leak detector that will also send a message so that you can then call up the home, turn off the gas supply, and then turn on the cameras to check if there has been a fire and if necessary use fire extinguishers. The detector should capture the presence of gas before enough accumulates that turning anything on or off might cause ignition!

In the second eHome that I visited, I noticed no internal cameras. Surprisingly, these are now optional extras, as many customers have complained that they are an intrusion of privacy, even though they are under the complete control of the occupants.

Conclusions

We looked at these eHome projects from Design arch as an example of the direction in which electronic control and security are moving. The individual products used are not the key features here — there are many suppliers that can equip a home with controllable cameras, switches for internal systems such as heaters and curtains, and so on. The main control system featured in the eHomes is by Homesdigital (www.zeos.co.uk), a company that is based mainly in the UK and India.

Increasingly, the prices for all of these products are falling and there is no doubt that demand is rising. So, you could assemble most of what has been described here and have it installed in your own home. However, to see it all in one place, then the first projects in India of which we are aware are these ones from Design arch. No doubt many others will follow in the near future.

In my view the most impressive aspect of the eHomes projects is certainly the security. This has been well thought out and seems comprehensive. I asked about the reliability of the systems, and was told that where possible, multiple means of control are in place. The most obvious was the front door lock. Not only do you have both electronic and key access, but there are two electronic systems, and they are separate. So, the magnetic card works in parallel to, and not through, the central control system, and if the latter should have failed — it is a PC running Windows, after all — the card should still work, and vice-versa.

The type of setup here would be suitable for people wanting a modern electronic home, but not with particularly demanding commuting needs or expectations. More demanding home owners would no doubt expect Ethernet to come as standard — the most surprising thing missing from these particular projects.




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1 comments:

  1. Excellent post! surveillance gadgets are the most sold tech gadgets of these days. e homes are a great option for those who spent most of their time away from home.

    ReplyDelete

 

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