Home automation can range from a simple remote control light switch/dimmer to all-singing, all-dancing systems that control everything in your home
This stuff used to be reserved for extremely geeky scientist-type people, but it is now becoming much more common, and is being improved upon all the time.
Home automation as a very basic level, starts with the relatively cheap X10 control system.
X10 devices are relatively cheap, and although they are not 100% reliable, do work very well.
The X10 system works by sending communication signals over the existing mains wiring within your home.
i.e. You can control a device in any other room in your house, as the control signals are over your existing
house electrical wiring system
There are several more advanced systems, which use better communication, where messages sent are actually acknowledged, compared to X10,
where the signal is sent, but there is no confirmation that the signal was actually received. - This is why it is not 100% reliable.
For the more advanced systems, you can have a PC which reacts to signals from switches, from motion sensors, dependant on
time of day, etc etc and will send out these x10 signals to control devices in your home, ranging from lights,
central heating systems (or HVAC for our American friends ;) ), even IR control of TV's, Satellite systems, video/dvd/hdd recorders, etc etc.
Combine these control features with the right software and you can add speech recongition & speech output from the controlling PC
Speech output is the easy part, speech recognition is still a bit fiddly, and subject to all the ambient noise from within your home
like the TV, radio, music, kitchen appliances, etc
OK, so you can't yet say "Computer, make me my breakfast", but you can do simpler things, like "turn up the heating", "turn off outside lights",
or even simpler, have the PC speak to you in response to other inputs. e.g. if a motion sensor is triggered in your driveway, you can have the
PC announce "Driveway Motion", or if you want it less cryptic, "Master, I have detetced motion in the driveway, and have turned on the outside lights."
Bascially, the uses of home automation are limited by 2 things.
1. Your Imagination
2. Your finances
Mabye not in that order !
There are some very clever people out there, developing software and releasing it all for free under the General Public Licence.
Misterhouse A very complete perl based system for easy Home control & automation
xPL Project Extremely SimPle ProtocoL
xAP xAP provides the glue to interconnect different applications and devices within the home.
mi4.bizHome Automation section at www.mi4.biz
Universal Remote Controls
Fed up with having 4 or 5 remotes beside you to control your TV, DVD, SKY, AMP, etc etc ?
You've probably heard of the one-for-all remotes, but any I;ve actaully seen have been a bit childish looking.
(Disclamier : I'm sure there are fancier ones available, but haven't seen any in-the-flesh)
Then there are the likes of the Philips Pronto, or Marantz versions with touch screens, programmable sequences of actions (macros), etc.
How about this then, the Nevo SL from Universal Electronics.
Click Here for mynevo.com info
Not cheap, but very very impressive
By the time you get it programmed the way you want it, you won't have any time left to watch TV anyway !