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Home Control Assistant Newsletter for July 25 2021

Have you looked over the version 17 release notes? Lots of changes that you can incorporate into your designs right away. Easy upgrade.

Looking for answers to the most common questions about HCA? Check out our
Frequently Asked Questions page.

BIG  NOTE: The next weekly message on August 1 - will be the most important message of this series. You do not want to miss it.
Automation Today
Last week I wrote about where HCA came from and today I want to talk a bit about what HCA has achieved over the years and where this whole “automation” project is going.

For years I have struggled to provide a “name” for the product. Does one “program” their home or “Automate” their home? Is HCA all about processing schedules and events or is it something else?

I finally settled on the phrase “integrating toolbox”. The intent of “toolbox” was to make clear that it isn’t a complete system just out of the box. Anything you want to do takes time and development on the user’s part to, at a minimum, create the objects that represent the controllable units in the home. The biggest win, in my opinion, is the ”integrating” part of the phrase.  HCA isn’t concerned with the protocol of the device. The programmer ON element controls UPB, Insteon, Hue, ZWave, Zigbee, LIFX, and even X10. In your solution you want something ON and HCA makes it ON. A few years back this was unique. Each manufacturer application did stuff with their own products and that was all.

Now the world is swiftly moving away from control decisions directly made in the home in this way. Each of the major automation control points - Amazon and Google – are continuing to improve in many ways their ability to work like HCA. Alexa and Google Assistant, plus many manufacturer apps, are implementing scheduling and “routines” – see the new Phillips Hue application.

One point often misunderstood about voice control is how that is implemented. Unlike many voice control operations you do with Amazon, you don’t “Tell HCA to turn on lamp” all you say is “Turn on lamp”. This happens because the voice assistant knows all the devices that can be controlled and figures out which one you are talking about, and then passes the control command in an internal format to who can do that control. So, like HCA, you say “Alexa, turn ON Lamp” and that could be a Hue light, or a SmartThings controlled zwave switch. They are becoming the “integrating” tool. And not a toolbox like HCA. They provide much in the way of prebuilt facilities that in HCA you must build yourself.

Also, the world is quickly moving away from what HCA is – a desktop application. More and more control decisions are made using a web-based system with web-based tools for setup. When I’m setting up Alexa I can do it from a browser on my desktop machine or from an app on my mobile. Have you seen a Chrome Book lately and all the tools that Google provides? While I’m in love with my Surface Pro 7 running Word (on which I type this), the Google Workspace tools are great and provide the same experience wherever they are accessed.

I marvel at what Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can do and all the form factors they exist in. This morning I asked Alexa for the weather forecast in Palm Springs California (don’t ask why) and she gave me the correct and current info.  Imagine doing that a few years back! If Alexa had existed in Roman times it would have been the “House Oracle”. In the Middle Ages you would have been killed for “consorting with a demon”. I have an Echo Show in my office and in addition to voice control of my devices, it pops up messages and alerts to show package arrival, weather, and shows me images to answer questions I ask. Amazing stuff! 

As “fusion power” is always “20 years away”, so too has automation always been “real soon everyone will have it”. I heard that 20 years ago. At one time it was going to be the security panel installers who brought it into the home. But that, like many other predictions, never was successful. I do think that over time Amazon and Google Assistant will come to dominate this market. Working with fast internet and all their vast computing resources, plus Wi-Fi devices – especially Wi-Fi controllable lights – they are really making a difference since they are really plug-and-play and at an excellent price point. I expect that their level of programmability will increase through some form of add-in so that development types can create automation modules that get added to end-user systems.

Almost every day brings a request for support of some new device type. Just a few years back on the office “supply shelf” was one of everything in terms of UPB, X10, and Insteon. Now I get requests all the time not just for hardware I don’t have but for hardware I have never heard about. The world is growing amazingly fast now.

Can all these new systems do what HCA can do today? No, but I expect that they will evolve to do most of what HCA does plus a whole lot more that HCA can never do. All this will happen sooner rather than later in my opinion. 

 
Backup!

When was the last time you made a backup of your HCA design? Not a month goes by without at least one tale of woe from a HCA user. Please use the "Design Backup Assistant" on the Tools ribbon category. The work you save will be your own.


 
Want to take the next step in automation? Want to get started with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and control HCA by voice commands? Even if you are a long-time user of HCA, the Getting Started guides have all the info you need on client-server, mobile applications, DDNS, and voice assistants.

All of the
Getting Started Guides are available on the support website.
 
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