Home Automation is the Future
Or so I'm told.
Internet-of-Things biz Insteon appears to have shut down its servers without notifying its customers, who are now wondering what they will do with various "smart" home accessories that are looking rather dumb. Insteon, a subsidiary of Irvine-California-based Smartlabs, is a maker of smart home devices, including the Insteon …
Who indeed? Obviously not the alleged former executives, who have never heard of the name "Insteon", were never in that area, "sorry you must have me confused with my identical twin cousin from Guatemala", no hablo ingles, and for whom any mention of Insteon on their social media profile is obviously a dastardly
Russian Iranian North Korean hacking plot?
Against who, exactly? Unless those incorporating the company screwed up as badly as did those running it, none of the corporate officers (if you can find them) will have any liability. Users will be left holding a big bag of nothing.
And that is one of many reasons why I stay as far as possible away from IoT.
Yup my lights still work with that funny thing on the wall.
That almost empty bottle of milk in the fridge is still there.
The laundry still required unloading after it finished its cycle which required me to press two buttons.
And my locks still working by turning a small metal device in a hole made especially for it.
... my lights still work with that funny thing on the wall.
Just like a normal switch then, just much more expensive.
Been saying the same thing from the very start but been mocked for living in the past.
This is not the future, it is not the evolution of anything save for the pockets of the chaps who sold you all this crap.
Just look at how all your smart suff suddenly turned into dumb stuff.
If anything, de-evolution.
I use tech where it is needed and where it works well. I have yet to see a compelling argument for any 'IOT' rubbish. I have been told several times that I am a luddite for not using my phone to pay for things and for other 'transgressions' against progress which are mostly pointless and a way of dumbing down people even more than they already are.
There is a potential in some devices to assist people with a disability in one form or another but only if it actually works. Why anyone thinks it is a good idea to hook up most of your house gadgets, lights, bells, thermostats etc to the general internet via unsecure connections is beyond me.
Crooks don't pick locks. Takes too long (and a small amount of brainpower, which most crooks lack ... that's why they are crooks). Instead, crooks heave a brick through the window next to the door, reach in and open the door from the inside. Faster. The noise isn't an issue when you;re in and out in under 90 seconds.
Or they just kick the door in. Thievery is mostly dumb-heavy work.
Let's face it, real versions of the likes of Raffles and The Saint are few and far behind.
Depends. A birck makes noise and limits the time they can rummage around your house, whereas learning to work with a pickgun is a matter of an hour, and that would be a *really* slow learner.
It's one of the reasons I now use locks with pins in more than one plane - they're swines to pick until you really have the time. I also shield against cylinder pull, of course, but that's kinda normal by now.
Sorry, locks used to entertain me. It's what happens when I get bored :).
I recently replaced my washer with one that didn't have bells and whistles needing backed-up-in-the-supply-chain chips. You still have to load/unload the wash yourself. While you're there, you can adjust the settings NOT from a smartphone. Presumably while adding the detergent manually.
In terms of locks, I was staying at a rural hotel that uses touch-cards for the room locks. There was a power outage that lasted several hours. I could not leave my room because I would not be able to get back in, according to the office, when they brought me a flashlight.
People are usually pleasantly surprised when I re-introduced them to the concept of non-computer controlled washer and dryers. Here in the United States, look up Speed Queen.
Speed Queen are the folks who make bullet-proof laundromat coin-op equipment ... but they also make home machines, sans the money slot. Hand made in the US, and the price reflects it, but they last forever in a household environment. And no fucking computer to go TITSUP on you after getting blasted by static from the dryer. Most of the machines here at the ranch have been abused and battered for well over a decade with no sign of slowing down. Recommended.
 Total Inability To Select the "Unmentionables" Program
... they last forever in a household environment.
In another life (~1967) I lived in the US. Parents purchased a washer at Sears which I learnt to use, take apart and fix when (rare occasion) something needed attention.
It was built like a tank: simple, straightforward, quality craftmanship and easy to service.
We moved country twice, with the washer/dryer in tow. It always worked, never a problem and did so prefectly well for over 15 years. till it fell into the hands of a local repairman.
This is a perfect instance of someone who hasn't actually tried having a "connected" house, pretty much doing the same thing as people who complained that the automobile was pointless because their horse-and-cart did the same job.
I originally installed connected light switches because I wanted table lights and sconces on one side of the room to be controlled (on/dim/off) from a single position by the door. In the old days, I would have run separate power wires around the room, probably with atypical sockets (the old-school three-pin round plugs were the "go to" back in the day). It would have worked, and it would have been a royal PITA to do it.
However, more-or-less by accident I discovered that the brand that made the dimmer switches I was using _also_ have connected versions. So I bought the plug-in wall dimmer for my new lights, put the remote dimmer control alongside the main light dimmer, and... got everything I wanted without pulling a single new wire.
But it's a slippery slope.... I then realized I could put a remote in the car, and control the porch light as I drive home. And then I noticed that I could turn the downstairs main room lights off from upstairs... and the girlfriend decided she wanted lights that could be both daylight color temp and warm white, and she didn't have to have two sets of fixtures...
Yes, of course, as this article illustrates, there are issues of longevity to consider. Where possible, I've kept the controller local, so I'm not too dependent on cloud systems that don't have a direct funding stream associated with them. But that's the case with so many things: printers for which you can't get toner, vehicles with obsolete map systems, my wonderful Logitech Harmony remotes... at some stage, I know I'll have to change devices, but I have to change light bulbs too (although a lot less frequently!).
The one thing I'm completely avoiding are connected locks. I like those which have a short-range (BlueTooth, usually) mechanism for adding access codes with limitations (e.g. the pet sitter can come by during the day, but not after dark, etc). But the idea that a remote site can unlock my front door.... nah!
Is there scope for an Iota insurance policy? "If your IoT provider goes TITSUP* you're covered for the cost of installing the cheapest near equivalent
Terms and conditions apply. We will be the sole judges of what is equivalent and that will have nothing to do with the size of the backhander we get from our preferred suppliers, oh no sir. And you'll discover your excess will be about fourpence less than the total cost of the claim.
* Totally Impractical for Substution Using Products
The trouble is that too many people are "sold" on the concept of all the things that IoT devices can do...but when the "back end servers" are shut down or the parent goes bust, then peole are left mostly with landfill products.
And if the OS is proprietary, then you are down the river / up the swannee (whichever boat you prefer !).
I had the same issue with Sonos - having equipped my home (expensively) with 4 different ZP units, plus 3 CR100 Controllers, only to find that Sonos upgraded the firmware, which then wouldn't "fit" into the available memory of each device, the new firmware didn't support the CR100's, and now, due to their use of TuneIn in their otherwise proprietary firmware, I cannot receive any non-UK internet radio stations (thanks to the recent Sony+Warner Bros High Court judgement against TuneIn) and Sonos have not offered a workaround for their older kit running on older firmware.
So, I would now only buy expensive kit, if it does NOT rely on a firms back-end "servers" and/or the OS is open source and can be tweaked by users with access to the code.
(I recall some Linksys WRT routers from ages ago, where the OS was "open" and plenty of tweaked firmware "updates" were available. The same was true with some early versions of Android, where one could "burn" a new OS into the mobile...but that seems to have stopped now).
> expensive kit, if it does NOT rely on a firms back-end "servers"
The same applies to "smart" TVs.
About 5 years ago we bought an £1100 Samsung. It vcame complete with loads of apps: Youtube, other streaming services, etc.
Within a year software "upgrades" had withdrawn most of these and the only ones that remained were the crappy ones that nobody ever wanted. Now all that TV does is act as a over-the-air receiver and display. About as "smart" as a 1960s telly!
... WRT routers from ages ago, where the OS was "open" ...
A great many routers can be flashed with OpenWRT and others like Tomato firmware.
I recently scooped up an almost brand new WD MyBook NAS for the price of a couple of beers.
The recent hack affecting thousands of owners who found their data was not there anymore have made WD and their My Book hardware quite unpopular, to say the least.
Took it apart, flashed OpenWRT on it and had it back in business a copuple of hours later.
The trouble is that too many people are "sold" on the concept of all the things that IoT devices can do...but when the "back end servers" are shut down or the parent goes bust, then peole are left mostly with landfill products.
I like my Hive, and the thermostat can work with the boiler without the hub or an internet connection, so if British Gas pulls the plug that bit of it will be OK. The smart plugs won't, but that's life.
Yep. I have a Hive. It sort of came with the British Gas boiler installation. It's useful to control the heating from my phone. And I only just discovered that it even has other internetty things. Nice to have a record of my fuel use, too, but I won't be too bothered if that part ceases to work. Because the Hive will still control the heating. And to be honest BG Centrica is probably as safe a bet as you'll get. If only because of the regulatory and political searchlights on them.
Strange. My heat has been working just fine since before I can remember ... and I have my fuel records going back that far, too. No hive needed.
I don't need to control my HVAC with my phone, I just set it and forget it. For years on end.
Perhaps I'm doing something wrong?
Indeed. As often as one or twice a year I arrive home after a couple of weeks away and return home to a cold house, as I've turned the heating to 'defrost' level before I left. Why, sometimes I have had to wait almost a couple of hours while things warm up.
First world problems... *for me*, as I have said previously (and been shouted down for), home automation solves a problem that doesn't exist.
The remote control part of the Hive isn't terribly important to me, because I don't have to tweak it very much. For me the system is just a thermostat with pleasingly granular settings and seven (I think, last time I counted) time switches all of which I can set in one place.
If these aren't benefits for you then of course don't get automated. I do not own a dishwasher and have no intention of buying one. For me it solves a problem that doesn't exist.
What you describe is called a "7 Day Thermostat". Available from most big-box stores for around 20 bucks, assuming you want a name-brand unit (such as Honeywell or Emerson). The chinesium versions are under 10 bucks. From past experience, I'd recommend the Honeywell.
Throw in another ten bucks and you can add a "vacation" option, where you can tell it to go to sleep until a date you specify, then wake up at the time you specify, at which point it goes back into it's normal 7-day cycle ... and you arrive home to a warm house after the exhausting, far more expensive and annoying than expected 10 day "vacation" in Marmaris.
None of this requires access to an external computer. It never has, and it never will.
IoT crap dies when someone decides it's no longer profitable to service. Meanwhile, my buy-it-once manually operated home controls have been operating flawlessly for 7 years, needing only an occasional, expected battery replacement.
Now then, let's look at huge businesses depending upon cloud computing to operate. One day, the cloud computing providers will decide to close and when they do, all of their customers are out of business. When, oh when, will people realize that whatever-as-a-service only works as long as the service provider feels they make enough off you to support you. And when they don't, one Friday afternoon they shut down the servers, throw them into the skip, and retire to a Carribean island with no extradition treaties. By the time you figure out what happened, your data is gone, your business is gone and you don't even know what nation your data was actually housed in (and it probably wasn't the one you were told.)
And this, kids, is exactly why anything that doesn't operate through open and freely published interoperability standards should never be bought, however cheap it is.
The company should have at least had the decency to document how the gear works and publish that when it flipped the switch so someone else could come up with solutions, even if only as open source. Now users are screwed, yet again.
You’re quite right. It would be a major benefit to the whole planet, not just end users, if the right to repair legislations included the requirement for the source code of obsolete devices to be made available as open source. I can see that causing a massive panic for companies with “secret sauce” functionality but if the secret sauce is that good people would still be buying it and there would be no need to end of live the product.
The company should have at least had the decency ...
Decency? 8^D !!!
History has shown that there is no such thing in the realm of companies and corporations.
“The public be damned.” * - William Henry Vanderbilt (1821–85), October 8, 1882
* Which is exactly how (among other things) he managed to make a take-home income of nearly a million dollars a month at a time when a thousand dollars a year was a decent wage.
should never be bought, however cheap it is.
Like any other form of gambling* the boundary is how much you can afford to lose ( emotionally as well as financially). If your IoT kit becomes a fancy door stop in a year or so's time and you can just shrug and get on with life, then go for it ( though the environmental impact is another kettle of ball games).
If you are going to suffer, don't do it.
*I seldom waste money on gambling. And then only tiny sums. because it hurts me to throw money at bookmakers and other such parasites. A quid on the Grand National every couple of years and a tenner at a casino once in a decade. That I can cope with.
Purely local, NO offsite stuff needed. It does not have full support for a couple of later devices, but all the usual ones work. Windows mainly though I believe it can run on MAC and Linux. I run mine on a (mostly) dedicated Minix system, just sits and does multiple events as ordered.
I requested they release it as open source a few years ago as its simple and just works. All you need is any PLM or a believe HUB (haven't tried that recently). Unfortunately that did not happen.
I think Insteon were late to the server service and got greedy, thinking of the monthly subscriptions. I don't think folks where the Internet is not 100% wanted anything offsite.
Houselinc is still downloadable.
> customers, who are now wondering what they will do with various "smart" home accessories that are looking rather dumb.
* "dummy" security devices (were they ever really anything else?)
* conceptual art: on the topic of once your data leaves your domain you no longer control it
* turn it into NFTs and find yourself a sucker
* learn from the experience - repeat "never again" several times a day
* replace all those "smart" appliances (were they ever any more than a lazy way to turn on a light / appliance) with a long stick. It doesn't even need batteries.
My home automation system works perfectly, even if my Internet connection is down.
The first criteria for any IoT device that I include in my Home Assistant setup is that it does not connect to anything
outside my network. Assuming that any vendor of IoT things which require a connection to the mothership will still
be around next month is simply preparing to shoot yourself in the foot.
Unfortunately for those who are just starting to get into home automation, it is becoming harder and harder to find
devices which can be flashed with open source firmware. It seems that the majority of vendors can't resist the temptation
to monetise their user's data or to lock things down in preparation for a future subscription service.
As far as I am aware the Z-Wave and Zigbee kit works with local controllers that don't need an internet connection to work.
My 9 year old Vera Z-Wave controller no longer connects to their web servers and still works perfectly using the web interface built in to it.
> As far as I am aware the Z-Wave and Zigbee kit works with local controllers that don't need an internet connection to work.
In principle (not sure how often it happens in practice) Z-Wave meshes can be set up where devices only talk to each other (a button directly communicates with and toggles a switch, for example) can be set up, with no need for a central controller at all.
Usually Z-Wave and Zigbee meshes will have a central hub which manages rules and ties everything together. Whether this hub farms all the rule storage and processing out to the cloud, handles everything internally and requires no cloud connectivity at all, or is somewhere in between, varies according to the system.
I was recently looking for a cheap, well built, simple blood pressure monitor. Most of them on the market today seem to require an internet connection or "smart phone" in order to work. Why? All I need is a simple sys/dia/pulse output.
Fortunately, I found a source for the tiny pressure transducer in my decade old (older?) unit. Simple soldering job, and it works again. Hopefully in another ten years this whole "must be internet (or phone) connected to work" fad will have blown itself out. Or I'll just replace the transducer again ... they shipped me four units for the price of one, so I taped the spares inside the case.
As I've just bought the house I've been renting for quite some time I've finally got around to automating it.
No external services, just a Raspberry PI 4B with a Phoscon RaspBee II which connects to the GPIO pins & running zigbee2mqtt & some custom home written software.
Tried OpenHAB & Home Assistant & I either had issues with the UI not working or it was overkill for what I wanted it to do.
So right now it's all Zigbee based lights, light switches even the smoke detectors link up to it - with no external services in use*. If a switch fails it's probably a battery replacement but they are all standard batteries.
* I tell a lie, it is submitting stats to Graphana so I can monitor stuff but that's also my own server so my own fault if it goes down.
I wrestled with HA and OpenHab but settled on Domoticz. It seems to have just enough smarts without reaching for a forum or manual immediately. It will operate very nicely with your Zigbee kit and it has a LUA scripting setup for event management and a mobile app.
I'm currently building an in the woods LoRa set up and the big problem with IoT is that no corp sales johnny seems to know what iIoT is for, so you get massive overpricing and full on buzzword bingo (cloud, mesh, smart city etc etc) where a manhole sensor costs about $40.
On the other side of the divide you get men in sheds wanking over their ability to remotely control an LED from a laptop via the internet like they were in TBBT.
The upshot of all this is that you can put together sone pretty impressive shit for almost no charge but you have to know a lot of stuff.
The big issue with city based IoT is that it's old fashioned tech no matter how you dress it up, so flogging a product is always going to be niche and will probably be out of date in 12 months
Just my 2 cents.
According to a notice now posted on the website, the firm was struggling, COVID supply chain problems did them in, and a last-minute sale (started November 2021) that was to have concluded in March failed. The assets are now being "optimized" by a financial services firm.
I have INSTEON switches in my house, but they are interfaced directly with each other and with my Universal Devices automation system, so no cloud failure has impacted me.
I hope that they devices can continue to be marketed and sold, because their combination of power line and RF communications works in environments where one or the other isn't quite enough.
Editing out LinkedIn mentions of their relationship does seem a bit strange, but perhaps they didn't know how to kindly say "we managed the firm into the ground?"
I use mine primarily for my engine block heaters in the winter.
That way I can manually start warming the block up an hour or so before I go out and abuse my car battery trying to turn the engine over in a bath of something equivalent to consistency of refrigerated corn syrup.
The INSTEON website has been updated with the following message:
"Dear Insteon Community,
In 2017, after many successful years, Smartlabs, Inc found itself in financial difficulties and the path forward was unclear. That year, Smartlabs took in additional capital and brought in new management to turn the situation around. These efforts resulted in new investment into the fortification of the technology and development of new products. The future was looking bright.
In 2019, the onset of the global pandemic brought unforeseen disruption to the market, but the company continued to move forward. However, the subsequent (and enduring) disruption to the supply chain caused by the pandemic proved incredibly difficult and the company engaged in a sales process in November, 2021. The goal was to find a parent for the company and continue to invest in new products and the technology. The process resulted in several interested parties and a sale was expected to be realized in the March timeframe. Unfortunately, that sale did not materialize. Consequently, the company was assigned to a financial services firm in March to optimize the assets of the company.
The pioneering work in smart lighting and world-class products have created an extraordinary following and community. Clearly, all Smartlabs’ employees who have worked so hard to produce such world-class products and technology hope that a buyer can be found for the company.
Although incredibly difficult, we hope that the Insteon community understands the tireless efforts by all the employees to serve our customers, and deeply apologize to the community."
I think the home automation industry needs to re-think how they are designing their devices. It's all very well sending stuff to the cloud, but what happens when the device loses connectivity? Maybe the servers are off line (maybe as a result of bankruptcy)? Maybe the user has a long term internet connection problem. Any IoT stuff needs to be able to operate locally. You may lose some remote access or archiving facilities, but too many devices just go dumb.
For instance, things like your lighting, thermostats etc should have the option to be controlled via bluetooth or local Wifi via your phone. CCTV systems should provide a small server (even if it's just essentially a Wifi NAS) that the cameras are configured to store stuff on. The video should be accessible via Wifi. . Any video doorbells should also be able to upload video to this drive.
There is no reason why, with a little careful thought from the manufacturers of these systems that this cannot be done, and made pretty much plug and play. If the devices access the cloud at all, it should purely be to enable remote access, and should be optional.
There is one exception to this. Smart Locks. For various reasons (mainly security) I don't agree with Smart locks, but if you have to have them, there should be NO reason for them to connect to the cloud EVER. Swipe card door locks in offices do have network access but they need it. A company might have thousands of employees with swipe cards, the lock needs to be able to check the card being swiped is valid and can access what the lock is protecting. You won't have thousands of people who need to be able to unlock your house. You'll have a few, so no need to check with a remote server.
The final one is smart kitchen appliances. These should never access the cloud. EVER. In fact, bearing in mind every kitchen appliance has to be physically interacted with anyway (even if it's just to load or unload the appliance), they do not need any kind of "smart" technology. A control panel is enough.
The problem with that is two fold:
1: It costs money to make the stuff work on-prem entirely. that makes the product more expensive to a largely uncaring public who only looks at the cost as a primary decision making variable.
2: The company then loses any chance to flip a switch and make it a recurring revenue generating product controlled by the company, and it also loses any data that it can collect and sell to marketing companies for additional recurring revenue.
Anything that costs a significant sum of money, or would have a significant impact on people's lives, needs to be on standardised software. So that if things go South for one supplier the public can go to another*. Companies don't like this. The want us in a walled garden, so that we can't dodge between different suppliers with different prices. Beancounters love monopolies- as long as it's their monopoly.
*Even something as simple as encryption software. There are plenty of products out there that sound pretty good. But they all have their own way of handling the encrypted files. i.e. one can't open the files created by another, even if it uses the same sorts of algorithms.. So I stick with the usual ones, because if anything goes wrong I know that there will at least be lots of copies of the software around.