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Apple's home automation tech taps iPhone, Mac hardware for intelligent user tracking

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
In an interesting and somewhat exhaustive patent awarded to Apple on Tuesday, the company outlines technology that can adaptively track a user's location and use the data to intelligently control secondary devices at another locale, such as home appliances.

Home Automation
Source: USPTO


Many believe home automation is the next tech frontier; a marriage of hardware and software that can make an incredible impact on our daily lives. Already, companies like Nest and Philips are automating tasks with their respective Nest Learning Thermostat and Hue light bulb products.

While some firms offer all-encompassing home management solutions that can control everything from turning on lights, to remotely closing a garage door, these systems usually require some type of user interaction. Apple is looking to take user input out of the equation, to be replaced by an intelligent system that uses a person's location and habits to automatically control at-home appliances.

As published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,577,392 for a "System and method of determining location of wireless communication devices/persons for controlling/adjusting operation of devices based on the location" describes a system that uses data gathered by static and mobile devices, along with wireless communications tech, to determine a user's current and guessed future location. Based on these observations, certain preset functions in the home can be activated or deactivated remotely and automatically.

Apple's invention is rooted in location data. A user's position can be obtained from any number of outlets, including a computer login, an iPhone transmitting GPS coordinates and cell tower triangulation, among others. These so-called "first devices" are integral to the automation process as they act as triggers for the control of "second devices," like televisions, lights and more.

In some embodiments, the first devices are tasked with feeding location data to relay servers when a predetermined condition is met. For example, an iPhone can provide GPS information every five minutes, or when it connects to a new cell tower. In other cases, the system can randomly query devices to save battery life.

Home Automation


Alternatively, devices in a fixed position can be used to relay information on a user's activities. Examples include ID badge swipes, credit card use and logging into a social networking site from a desktop computer.

Further, a user's location can be categorized much like Apple's current geo-fencing technology. For example, a user can define a "work" and a "home" zone, with the system able to activate tracking when they leave or arrive within a predetermined fence.

By aggregating and processing this constant flow of location data, relay servers can estimate a user's current and future position to within a certain degree of accuracy. This is important for the operation of certain at-home devices, like a garage door or an alarm system. Precise location data can also be used to trigger events. For example, if a user is on their home street, the system can turn on exterior house lights as they approach.

After processing, the relay servers push a signal out to second devices, instructing them to commence an operation or change operational states. Second devices can be any number of products. Examples given include washing machines, ovens, lights, power strips, lights, climate control systems and more.

Second devices can also be monitored to determine whether they are already on or off, as well as other modes of operation, before the system sends a control signal.

While first devices can communicate wirelessly, second devices may be attached to the relay system via USB or some other physical means. It should be noted that some type of communications protocol is required, whether it be Wi-Fi, Ethernet or cellular, to connect with relay servers.

More than one user can be associated with a given home automation system, which means relay servers would have to parse data and check rulesets for both.

Home Automation


Finally, Apple's invention works not only in long-distance applications, such as work-to-home, but from within the house itself. In this way, lights can be turned off when a user leaves for a certain amount of time, or heaters can be turned on or off depending on activity levels.

Although Apple's current hardware lineup can handle the invention's requirements, a number of hurdles stand in the way of its deployment, not the least of which being infrastructure costs to the consumer.

Apple's location-based home automation patent was first filed for in 2012 and credits Raghunandan K. Pai and Timothy S. Hurley as its inventors.
post #2 of 13
This stuff will integrate very nicely with wearable devices.
We are living in interesting times folks.
Looking forward to some very cool stuff from Apple.
They focus on enhancing people's lives in the long term, instead just making a quick buck.
post #3 of 13
science!
post #4 of 13

Ever since Nest announced their Protect alarm, I've been really excited about home automation. The thermostat was cool, but I don't have central air so it's not really worth it for me; as such, I largely ignored it. On the other hand, the Protect is immediately useful to anyone and everyone, so I started reading and I'm really impressed.

 

I can only hope that Apple's automation systems will play nice with Nest's products.

post #5 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by brutus009 View Post
 

Ever since Nest announced their Protect alarm, I've been really excited about home automation. The thermostat was cool, but I don't have central air so it's not really worth it for me; as such, I largely ignored it. On the other hand, the Protect is immediately useful to anyone and everyone, so I started reading and I'm really impressed.

 

I can only hope that Apple's automation systems will play nice with Nest's products.

I like it, too.

 

Here's a quick 1min. Nest video. It's pretty cool.

 

https://nest.com/#meet-the-nest-learning-thermostat

post #6 of 13
Shut up and take my money!... And my light switches..and car keys..and you know, whatever else 😝
"Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." - Margaret Thatcher
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"Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't." - Margaret Thatcher
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post #7 of 13

I have said this before, home automation to the extend that people are thinking is very complicated and complex, due to the fact that every home in the world is not design in the same or similar manor, they use different wiring set up and such and comfort controls widely range. Then add in the people who build homes do not necessarily build them in all in the same way. 

 

Now add in the complexity of having more than one person in your home at any given time. Imagine turning things on and off while others are in your home, and see what happen when you walk in the door. Yes you can automate a home, but home automation has not yet solved the social aspect of that control. I have various things on my house automated, I can tell you if you being turning off lights when someone else is using that light it not a good thing. The same with comfort controls, yes NEST is a learning thermostat but I have not seen them demonstrate how it learns when you have multiply people in your home doing different things at different times and they rather that heat or air conditioning turn on or off when another people leaves the house since they are the ones with the controls.

 

I have a program on my ipad that allows me to control thing in my house, so this is not new and has been around a long while. My threader room is completely automated and I can tell you when it screws up and it does from time to time it take a engineer to figures things out. also your family hate when all they want to is watch a movie the the system is not doing what it suppose to, they grab the standard remotes and forget about the automation.

 

It a nice things to do, but it not easy or in expensive and it take someone who know what they are doing.


Edited by Maestro64 - 11/5/13 at 6:17am
post #8 of 13
The idea here is not really new.. in fact little ol' me and some friends had the same vision in November 2008 (still have our working folder here for the "Einstein (1 stone or block to rule them all) Project".

Regardless of our connections here in Germany with Deutsch Telekom, Siemens, Viessmann & Wolf (heating), window shade manufacturers, and even Philips for lighting and electronics, we ran up against the same wall. Every single one of those companies wanted to create their own locked in system and weren't interested in creating anything "open" or programmable for use with diverse manufacturers for open Home Automation. We were proposing a system similar to Android (horror I know!) built on Javascript and Bonjour networking. Something similar to "Bug Labs" at the time.



It's parallel to the problems Apple and everyone else has had developing a universal box or controller for home entertainment systems, which include connecting diverse manufacturers sound systems, TVs, and receivers/cable boxes AND controlling them from one easy interface.

Universal is the goal, but who can make it work?

Actually we were planning on eventually looking into patenting the approach and had an NDA to be signed before we would present anything beyond concept. Every single company we talked to initially said they were already working on something similar, so we buried the project and decided to wait and see what they came up with.

Funny how that first diagram in the post looks just like ours, save the car part. Which brings me to the observation, that today if we would have diagrammed and even had a quasi working model plus patented it, if we went against Apple or anyone else we would be considered a patent troll. No... we did not have the money to buy everything and test it ourselves and "force it to work". It's this kind of invention and innovation that IMHO is what a patent could be used for to protect yourself against a company going against an NDA. Too bad it's not seen this way any longer and you're automatically pre-judged to be a "greedy A*****". Couldn't be further from the truth in our case.
Knowing what you are talking about would help you understand why you are so wrong. By "Realistic" - AI Forum Member
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Knowing what you are talking about would help you understand why you are so wrong. By "Realistic" - AI Forum Member
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post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by ThePixelDoc View Post

The idea here is not really new.. in fact little ol' me and some friends had the same vision in November 2008 (still have our working folder here for the "Einstein (1 stone or block to rule them all) Project".
...
Which brings me to the observation, that today if we would have diagrammed and even had a quasi working model plus patented it, if we went against Apple or anyone else we would be considered a patent troll. No... we did not have the money to buy everything and test it ourselves and "force it to work". It's this kind of invention and innovation that IMHO is what a patent could be used for to protect yourself against a company going against an NDA. Too bad it's not seen this way any longer and you're automatically pre-judged to be a "greedy A*****". Couldn't be further from the truth in our case.


Nice story, thanks for writing it up. I totally agree that people oversimplify the software patent/troll issue. Yes, they are misused, but patents can often be literally the ONLY way a small, innovator can carve out space for a new product.

Back to this thread's topic,

All this home automation (and other automation) stuff is cool and futuristic, blah blah blah. But there are big problems, some of which Maestro64 talks about, but there are more.

The whole "take my keys, please!" mindset is stupid. These systems are never going to be infallible, so you're always going to need to carry your keys as a backup. At that point, why bother? It's just a whiz-bang way to show off and impress someone (or yourself). Once.

If you think these things are secure, just wait. Anything that gets widespread adoption will become a target for hackers and criminals. Monitoring is bad enough, but controlling devices is dangerous.

But most importantly, I would never even dream of installing something that monitored or controlled anything in my home if it connects and shares any of the data with a third party, i.e. the manufacturer's "cloud" service or anything else. People who are foolish enough to do that will eventually pay the price of having their daily movement and habits tracked and analyzed in an even worse way than is happening now, plus they become even bigger targets for hackers and criminals. This is data that can be bought and sold (there are no laws against it), used to trivially track when you are not home, etc.

If you want to have automation capabilities in your home, go for it, but be sure that they are constrained to the physical region in and around your home, i.e. you local network/subnet, bluetooth, etc. Then have fun.
No Matte == No Sale :-(
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No Matte == No Sale :-(
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post #10 of 13

There is a company that has figured out home automation very well... clarecontrols

post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by DFiggins View Post

There is a company that has figured out home automation very well...



Nice try with the first-post spam-vertisement.

And no thanks, no how, to the product. No sane, security-conscious person will manage their home automation through the cloud. With home automation, if anything at all needs to travel across public wires it needs to be encrypted, and travel directly from the consumer's controlling device (like iPhone) to their home device; never, ever communicating with third party (manufacturer or otherwise) servers.
No Matte == No Sale :-(
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No Matte == No Sale :-(
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post #12 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by brutus009 View Post
 

Ever since Nest announced their Protect alarm, I've been really excited about home automation. The thermostat was cool, but I don't have central air so it's not really worth it for me; as such, I largely ignored it. On the other hand, the Protect is immediately useful to anyone and everyone, so I started reading and I'm really impressed.

 

I can only hope that Apple's automation systems will play nice with Nest's products.

 

This looks like a fantastic product, at a really good price... Unfortunately it will not be available in Australia, I don't think companies realise how much Australians like technology.

post #13 of 13
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