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Automation

We’re only here for a finite time.  That time is precious.  We spend far too much wasted time checking up on things to see if there’s anything new.  That’s why we automate things, to save time and effort.

We all have automated devices, even if we don’t look at them that way.  Washing machines, dishwashers, apps on mobile phones.  We don’t want to waste time checking our phone all day, so we use notifications.  We don’t want to wash our clothes or dishes ourselves, so we use washing machines and dishwashers to do the work for us.  The question is, where do we draw the line?  With houses, offices, servers, PC’s, smartphones, vacuum cleaners and even cars being automated the line keeps moving.

For me, my line is drawn far away from most people’s.  I take things a step further, I like automation.

I use automation tools on my phone, computer, tablet, watch etc.  I like the fact that my computer knows how long the dishwasher takes and turns it off at the right time, sends a message to my phone which in turn forwards that message to my watch to let me know when to open the dishwasher door, just so the crockery dries itself.  I like the lights turning themselves on when it gets dark.  I have NFC stickers throughout my house which enable the phone to perform various tasks.  I like that my calls and texts are automatically backed up to my Google account for me, so I can keep track of who I called, who called me, and when.  I love smart notifications, apps you can configure to link obscure items to your phone or tablet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m getting overloaded with messages all day long.  This is simply about having the right information at the right time. This then enables me to disregard or act upon what I receive.

So, how can you set things up?  First of all decide on what you want automated and why.  My own inspiration was the Orange Automated Home which featured in their magazine, boasting levels of technology which at the time was admirable.  Since then a number of high tech, fully automated homes have been featured as newer technology is developed.   Since reading the article I wanted to own my very own automated home. Building Management Systems are now used to automate offices across the globe.  The thing is, once you start automating things you get the experience and imagination to automate so much more.  You end up looking for ways to help you.  

I currently use Homeseer to run the house, an automated alarm system to keep it secure.  The PC’s have EventGhost with the AutoRemote plugin for two way notification and control.  This allows me to be notified on my phone/tablet when the computer does something I want to be told about without having to sit at the computer.  [This is particularly useful if you have kids with their own (albeit really old) computer.]  Our smartphones use NFC, Tasker, Secure Settings, AutoRemote and Pushover to perform multiple functions with little or no input. [Useful if your bairns use your old phone].  Finally my watch links to the phone so that the most important information is brought to my attention without the need to keep taking out the phone.  Because of the way all these things link together I only have to look at my watch to know the PC or the house has done something on my behalf.  Web sites, files and even clipboard contents can be pushed from the phone to the PC (and vice versa).  I know if my son has my old phone turned on or not, whether he’s playing games or reading ebooks on the Kindle app, and we can lock / unlock / track / take photos / reboot the phone remotely.

One web site that really helps is IFTTT (If This Then That).  It works on logic principles, if (for example you get an email) then do (insert action here) for me automatically.  I use IFTTT when awaiting deliveries (amongst other things) to keep me up to date by using smart notifications on my phone by linking the tracking number to Pushover.  I don’t have to keep checking the tracking web site on the off chance that something had happened, I’m not wasting time. There are all sorts of ways IFTTT can help you.  If it’s going to rain that day you can have the weather report sent to your phone before you wake up.  You get the idea.

If you’d like to know more about automation, please feel free to comment below or get in touch.

Links:
Home automation hardware
Smartphone automation – Android
NFC tags

 

NFC

What is NFC?
NFC stands for Near Field Communication.  It’s a variant of RFID (the same technology that’s used for door access in offices and in Oyster cards).  It’s how contactless payment works.

 

That doesn’t help me, what is it?
It’s a means of transmitting information.  Because of how it works, the information transmitted is small, usually up to 4KB.  A microchip and a coil of wire is placed inside a ‘tag’.  A reader (or reader/writer) reads the information on the tag and performs actions based on the information received.  For example, Samsung have fitted NFC readers in the back of mobile phones.  The phone is placed near enough to the tag to read it.  If the tag contains a web address, the phone will automatically go to that web site.  If it contains WiFi settings, those settings are entered in to the phone and it will connect to the router without having to put in the WiFi code.

An example of an NFC Tag

This NFC Tag will allow you access to my WiFi.

 

How does it work?
Data is beamed via an electromagnetic (EM) field.
We all know that electricity will power an electric motor.  You put voltage in, you get movement out.  But, if you put movement in to a motor you’ll get voltage out.
By swapping the motor for a coil of metal (copper in this instance), you put voltage in, you get an EM field out.  Flip that around and if you put an EM field in you get voltage out.
The NFC reader puts voltage in through the copper coil to generate en EM field.  If you place it near a tag it turns the EM field in to a tiny voltage, powers up the microchip in the tag then transmits it using its copper coil as an aerial back to the reader.  The reader picks up the tag’s information and acts on it.  The tag doesn’t necessarily need a battery because it only needs to power up when there’s a reader there and it gets its power from the reader.

 

What can it do for me?
Pretty much anything you want it to.  Tags can be programmed by your phone/tablet (you’ll need NFC to do it of course) to turn on/off WiFi, sync, GPS, 3G, adjust the volume, run Tasker profiles etc.  If you have a contactless card from your bank, or have certain apps installed (Google Wallet, Orange Quick Tap) you can pay for goods or services by tapping your card or phone/tablet instead of using Chip & Pin*.
I have an NFC tag on my keyring, the tag contains an address, it will navigate you there, load Google Street View so you know what the area looks like and text me that the keys have been found.  I have another tag on my wrist, it contains my name, NHS number and Medical Records Number so if a hospital scans it, they know who I am and what medication I’m taking.  A tag by my bedside will turn off WiFi, auto sync, GPS, Bluetooth, change the volume, and dim the screen.  When I tap it again it turns up the volume, brightens the screen, turns on WiFi etc.

 

Which apps can I use?
There are a few apps on the market.  I tend to use NFC Task Launcher (now called Trigger) as it ties in nicely with Tasker, thus extending what the tag can do. I’d recommend getting a few tags and having a play.

 

Where can I get tags from?
Take a look online.  I got mine from rapidnfc.com – a reliable supplier with excellent customer service.

 

I still don’t understand how it works
Magic.  It works by magic. 😉

 

*Rumours say NFC will become so popular that it will replace, either in part or in full, Chip & PIN in around five years.