HomeNet has many goals and features that I think are fundamentally different from existing systems.
The primary goal of HomeNet is to unify all of the current and future simple communication systems into a single network.
Currently the electronic systems in the home are an afterthought, a mess of wires running through walls back to a central computer. I propose that by using modular/prefab construction, a microcontroller, a cheap single chip computer, can be integrated into every piece of building and joined together during assembly on site to create a distributed computer network that wraps around the building. This network will consolidate existing control systems like security systems and thermostat controls into a single unified system that creates a foundation for a whole new generation of integrated devices. This way, inputs like light switches and security sensors are programmed rather than hard wired to outputs like lights, shades, locks and other actuators, creating a very flexible environment.
In my early research, I looked at existing systems and everything seemed like they were just bolted on to the house to make it "smart" rather than looking at how the technology could be integrated directly into the home and physically change how we construct buildings.
One of the problems that I identified at the beginning of the project is that the high cost current "Home Automation" systems prohibit their wide spread use. If I want to be able to integrate HomeNet directly into the home, cost becomes a huge factor. It has to be affordable. HomeNet tries to minimize costs by using hardware only as advance as needed. A lot of the professional equipment is more powerful than they need to be, it doesn't take much computing power to read a simple sensor or to turn on a relay.
There have been several "Internet of Things" projects that have been focused on trying to bring TCP/IP to every device in the home. In a network with thousands of devices it is waste of resources to bring TCP/IP to everyone of them, when simpler protocol would work.
HomeNet takes a different apporach. HomeNet clusters nearby devices into nodes. For example, a node integrated into a smart power outlet could also have a smart light switch and other devices connected to it. Then only a few nodes need to be powerful enough to directly connect to the internet and can act as a gateway for other, cheaper nodes nearby.
HomeNet is based around creating open standards that anyone can pick up and use. It eliminates the barriers commonly found in other projects.
There are lots of proprietary "Smart Home Systems" on the market. While some use open protocols, I found them too ridged for large scale use. Often they required proprietary hardware or licensing that limits true competition and innovation.
HomeNet operates on the notion that the hardware platform and communication methods don't really matter, just that the nodes speak a common language, the HomeNet Packet Protocol.
There is growing movement of Open Source Hardware, like the Arduino project (http://arduino.cc) which aims to bring the power of AVR microcontrollers to the masses. HomeNet currently uses hardware based on the Arduino project for the HomeNet Nodes. Without any prior knowledge in electronics, I was able to use Arduino to create working prototypes.
Other companies like http://sparkfun.com, http://adafruit.com, http;//jeelabs.org and http://liquidware.com and others provide further support for open source hardware by making devices that are compatible with the Arduino platform.
Any sort of "Smart House" system needs to leverage the power of the community.
Initially for HomeNet to gain steam, there has to be a way for consumers to give the technology a try now, so that one day it can grow to the scale of being integrated into the home.
Currently I am focused on building a working prototype of HomeNet that the community can try out and experiment with.