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open source home automation

Open-Source Home Automation Alternatives

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Sep 29, 2019

Smart homes used to be considered a thing of the future. A couple of decades ago, futuristic movies predicted homes where robots would open doors, turn off lights, and water the lawn. While the "Hollywoodized" robots may have never materialized, today, there are hundreds of smart home technologies that operate in our homes. Most of them improve energy efficiency and make life easier and more comfortable for homeowners.

Smart thermostats can regulate the temperatures of our home while we are on vacation on the other side of the world. Intelligent irrigation systems can look up local weather forecasts to determine the best time to water the garden. Close to one out of every four households in the United States has some smart speakers in their home. Current revenue in the Smart Home market amounts to over $27 billion in 2019. That revenue is expected to grow to over $43 billion by 2023, as smart home technologies will be in well over half of all households by that time.

Most people who enjoy the benefits of a smart home might not understand the specific technical details of how these technologies work. As long as the lights turn on with our smart light switches or the front door unlocks when we touch a button on our phone, most of us are probably content with the ease of use that smart home tools offer. However, for the more tech-savvy homeowners who want greater control and influence over their smart home systems, open-source home automation technologies are a worthwhile investment.

Below, we explain how open-source home automation works, the importance of these de-centralized tech options, and offer an overview of some of the leading home automation options currently on the market today.

What is Open Source Technology? 

Open source technology refers to something that regular and ordinary people can modify, use, and share due to publicly accessible design. During the past couple of centuries, the idea of private property and intellectual property rights has become so ingrained in our collective imaginations. Many of us forget that common resources were an essential part of history. Examples include pasturelands, forests, and springs that our ancestors used for mutual benefit and modern-day examples of Commons such as the lobster fisheries off the coast of Maine. We have a rich history of the use of cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of society.

Open-source technologies build off of the idea of the Commons. In the context of software development, in the early years of computer technology, several people became aware of the vast amount of power that software and tech companies were accumulating. Open-source software development seeks to embrace the principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development. It also serves to counteract large tech companies such as Apple and Microsoft. 

Open-source software gives computer programmers access to the "source code." This access allows them to improve that program by adding innovative features or fixing parts that might not work correctly. One of the best examples of open source software is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. Wikipedia allows a community of people to add, edit, and amend millions of articles that make up one of the world's most comprehensive encyclopedic resources. Unlike proprietary or closed source software programs, open-source software does not grant exclusive control to anyone. It allows a community of people to collaborate to improve the way specific program functions. One study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) noted that "the use of open-source software (OSS)—readable software source code that can be copied, modified, and distributed freely—has expanded dramatically in recent years." The report went on to provide an example: the number of OSS projects hosted on SourceForge.net (the largest hosting Web site for OSS) "grew from just over 100,000 in 2006 to more than 250,000 at the beginning of 2011."

Why is Open Source Important for the Smart Home?

Open-source software is an essential element of the smart home revolution for two main reasons. Firstly, open-source technologies allow more voices and minds to be involved in improving smart home technologies. These systems can reduce our carbon footprint and improve our built environment's energy efficiency, comfort, and livability. Open-source software also allows millions of techies worldwide to co-create new and improved developments in smart home technology.

Open-source software options can act as a safeguard against security and privacy issues. All home technologies (both closed source and open source) are potential sources of privacy encroachment. Many homeowners might rightfully feel wary of who controls their smart home items that are communicating externally. According to one recent report, the Internet of Things and smart devices in the home could diminish private spaces. The report states that "the scale and proximity of sensors being introduced will make it harder to find reserve and solitude."

Homeowners might question why Amazon, one of the industry leaders in smart home speakers and devices, has also been working on a powerful new facial recognition system that, according to the ACLU, "can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights." Open-source software for smart home devices, then, will allow homeowners to understand the programs that control their homes more fully. By adopting open-source home automation options, homeowners can view and modify the source code running on these devices.

Best Open Source Home Automation Options for the Smart Home 

While the Google Home Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and the Microsoft Cortana are the most widely used and recognized smart home hubs, dozens of open-source home automation options are available today. Below, we review three of the leading open-source software options for homeowners that want the benefits of a smart home without sacrificing their privacy.

calaos home automation
Photo Credit: Calaos

Calaos

Calaos is a free software project (GPLv3) that lets you control and monitor your home with various smart home products. This home automation platform includes a server application, a touchscreen interface, native mobile applications for iOS and Android, a web application, and a preconfigured Linux operating system for smooth operation. Even for homeowners who aren't advanced computer programmers, the Calaos free software project comes with written tools that let you easily configure your home right from your computer. If you want to add more items to your smart home system, you can install the Calaos Installer here.

open hab home automation
Photo Credit: Open HAB

Open HAB

Open HAB is another open-source home automation option that supports more than 200 different technologies and systems and thousands of devices. It gives homeowners the power to create event-based triggers, scripts, actions, notifications, and voice control for their smart home technologies. You can run the server on Linux, macOS, Windows, Raspberry Pi, PINE64, Docker, Synology, and it is also accessible via mobile apps for the web, iOS, Android, and others.

domoticaz home automation
Photo Credit: Domoticz

Domoticz

Domoticz is another lightweight home automation system that is compatible with all browsers. This system allows homeowners to monitor and configure their lights, switches, sensors, and other devices. The software can also send alerts and notifications to a mobile device and be downloaded for free.

Home automation and smart home technology can improve your home's efficiency and security and add a level of convenience. If you are concerned about privacy and the large tech companies that know exactly what you are doing, open-source options are worth considering.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-05-31T12:34:31+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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