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Living in a Phone-Controlled Home

A new augmented reality power control system is entering the market, in a combined endeavour by the Franhofer institute in Germany, and Embedded Brains GmbH. Called the HexaBus home automation system, it is a heavily encrypted internet-enabled dynamic socket power supply system, designed to only switch specific sockets on (or off) when told to do so via internet or intranet authorisation via an authorised device.

The heavy encryption,which conforms to the AES-128 advanced encryption standard, is necessary to guarantee that if there is a mistake with the user authentication passwords, it does not happen at the device end. This greatly minimises the chance of someone hacking into your home or office power network remotely. Of course, if you write the password down, and stick it on the wall for all to see, then it does become unsecured again.

This is not the first such system of smart sockets, as others are already on the market. However, it is quite possibly the first to allow control connectivity from remote locations, rather than using a remote control unit right there in the room. Further, because it is internet controlled, the user does not have to be the one to activate the system, as it can be hooked into other devices to make the whole system more intelligent.

For example, it is hammering down with rain, and you have a load of washing to do. You are putting it off because the solar panels on the roof are near-useless in this weather, so the washing machine will be drawing directly from the power grid. You nip out to the shops, and while you are out, the cloud breaks, with strong sunlight streaming down over your house. It looks like it'll be sunny for a while, but you are not at home to turn the system on.

HexaBus's strength lays in that you can securely phone home to your router, and tell it to turn the washing machine on now that free electricity is available, or if you have a light sensor on the roof, it can tell your router there is now enough sunlight without waiting for your intervention. Handy if it is still raining at the shops, but not at home. Whereas, if someone else dials your home, unless they already know the unencrypted version of the password, they won't gain access to anything.

Simple systems such as lighting circuits respond instantly to this system. When the power is on they work. When it is off they don't. More complex systems such as the washing machine above, won't automatically work just because there is power, so you will have to bear that in mind and make sure your washing machine (and kettle, and dryer, and everything else you plan to use) is internet-enabled. Thankfully, that is becoming much more common these days.

To try and make such integration easier, HexaBus uses an interconnecting operating system of its own, developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication Systems ESK in Munich, and which is called Contiki. Contiki is designed to be 100% compatible with the German mySmartGrid project – which means it's fully compatible with every other home automation system out there – so that users don't have to decide which systems to get based on what works with what. Just plug and play.

As a further point, each power point is altered in function slightly. As well as providing power, it also becomes a wireless intranet node in an Ipv6 network. They can talk to one another, and to all nearby devices, extending the practical range of the network as long as there are power sockets.

There is no danger of sockets from two different, adjoining houses communicating with one another, thanks to that omni-present AES-128 advanced encryption. Each is transmitting their authorisation code to the other sockets in encrypted form, to verify they are part of the same network. Two different houses means two different network passwords, so they cannot inter-communicate. Meaning your neighbour cannot turn your TV on or off, or worse, your computer.

In addition to the wireless power outlets, the HexaBus system employs a specially designed USB stick that plugs into any compatible, off-the-shelf router. The user enters the command to switch on an appliance via a standard web browser or an iPhone/Android-compatible smartphone app. The router and stick then forward the data to the power outlet. This two-way communication function also allows the wireless power outlet to send data to the smartphone, informing the user how much power each appliance connected to each socket is consuming at any given time – even if the appliance itself is not network-compatible.

Contiki itself is open-source, so third parties are welcome, even encouraged to write apps and control software that is compatible with the system. It is all part of the push to get a swifter uptake of augmented power systems.


Smart wireless power outlets

MySmartGrid Project (German, external translator required)

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