Home automation has been a feature of science fiction writing for many years, but has only become practical since the early 20th Century following the widespread introduction of electricity into the home, and the rapid advancement of information technology.Early remote control devices began to emerge in the late 1800s. For example, Nikola Teslapatented an idea for the remote control of vessels and vehicles in 1898.

The emergence of electrical home appliances began between 1915 and 1920; the decline in domestic servants meant that households needed cheap, mechanical replacements. Domestic electricity supply, however, was still in its infancy — meaning this luxury was afforded only the more affluent households.

Ideas similar to modern home automation systems originated during the World's Fairs of the 1930s.Fairs in Chicago (1934) and New York (1939 and 1964–65) depicted electrified and automated homes. In 1966 Jim Sutherland, an engineer working for Westinghouse Electric, developed a home automation system called "ECHO IV"; this was a private project and never commercialized.The first "wired homes" were built by American hobbyists during the 1960s, but were limited by the technology of the times. The term "smart house" was first coined by the American Association of Housebuilders in 1984.

With the invention of the microcontroller, the cost of electronic control fell rapidly. Remote and intelligent control technologies were adopted by the building services industry and appliance manufacturers.

By the end of the 1990s, "domotics" was commonly used to describe any system in which informatics and telematics were combined to support activities in the home. The phrase is a neologism formed from domus (Latin, meaning house) and informatics, and refers to the application of computer and robot technologies to domestic appliances. The concept "Domotique" was initially introduced in France in the 1980s and was during the 1990s introduced in Spain and Italy as "Domótica", and refers to home automation.

Despite interest in home automation, by the end of the 1990s there was not a widespread uptake, with such systems still considered the domain of hobbyists or the rich. The lack of a single, simplified, protocol and high cost of entry has put off consumers.

Constructed in 1998, the INTEGER Millennium House is a demonstration house built partially to showcase a variety of intelligent home automation technologies, including abuilding management system that could optimize the performance of the heating system, an automatic garden irrigation system that could sense soil humidity conditions and water accordingly, an intelligent security system, lighting that could be set to one of four predefined moods, and microchip-embedded programmable door keys. The house also featured advanced communication technologies such as a telephone service distributed via a local building exchange, digital satellite and terrestrial television available in every room, WebTV, and a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system.

While there is still much room for growth, according to ABI Research, 1.5 million home automation systems were installed in the US in 2012, and a sharp uptake could see shipments topping over 8 million in 2017.

System elements

Home automation systems include the following types of devices.

  • Sensors to measure or detect things like temperature, humidity, daylight or motion.
  • Controllers such as a PC or a dedicated home automation controller.
  • Actuators such as motorized valves, light switches and motors.
  • Buses for communication that can be wired or wireless.
  • Interfaces for human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interaction.

One or more human-machine and/or machine-to-machine interface devices are required, so that the residents of the home can interact with the system for monitoring and control; this may be a specialized terminal or, increasingly, may be an application running on a smart phone or tablet computer. Devices may communicate over dedicated wiring, or over a wired network, or wirelessly using one or more protocols. Building automation networks developed for institutional or commercial buildings may be adapted to control in individual residences. A centralized controller can be used, or multiple intelligent devices can be distributed around the home.


There have been many attempts to standardize the forms of hardware, electronic and communication interfaces needed to construct a home automation system. Some standards use additional communication and control wiring, some embed signals in the existing power circuit of the house, some use radio frequency (RF) signals, some can be installed wirelessly and some use a combination of several methods. Control wiring is hardest to retrofit into an existing house. Some appliances include a USB port that is used for control and connection to a domotics network. Protocol bridges translate information from one standard to another, for example, from X10 to European Installation Bus (EIB now KNX).