Have you ever fantasised about having a house completely and totally managed from the comfort of your desk chair? Or are you just too lazy to bother flipping switches, but inexplicably willing to devote hours and hours to figuring out a computer program that does it for you? Today’s smart home tech makes all of this very easy, but complicated devices from decades past could help you achieve similar results.
Image: Screengrab via YouTube
Lazy Game Reviews paired a 1980s-era Pico Electronics X-10 Powerhouse, which uses a 120 kilohertz signal burst to communicate with other modules via a building’s power lines, with an IBM PC that acts as a control unit. The X10 control protocol was first designed in 1975, and allowed users to control various devices in their homes, like lamps and appliances, through a remote switch-based system. Over time, X10 was built out to support a variety of more advanced control interfaces like PCs, allowing for more in-depth manipulation of connected devices.
The 1980s-era system LGR tested still works via both the manual interface and the digital scheduling system, though with some problems unanticipated at the time like an inability to dim LED lightbulbs. It’s also terribly unwieldy via the standards of today, with an interface only an engineer could love.
Significantly stranger is the 1990s-era HAL 2000, the second device tested by LGR. It uses a primitive voice control interface to supposedly allow control of everything from lighting and appliances to HVAC and security systems, including via the X10 protocol. HAL 200 even boasts an interface for “conditional logic based on sensor events, time of day or modes,” as well as more elaborate settings to group devices together.
The weirdest part is HAL 2000's voice input, which seems to work pretty well for the era — despite some hiccups like interpreting random nonsense phrases as instructions to open the rolodex, schedule devices to turn off or on, or display the TV guide. So, like, just don’t run your mouth in front of it. Alas, this also means it would probably be inadvisable to attach this to a microphone capable of picking up ambient voices, unless you want random appliances to start exploding or your thermostat to shoot to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Watch the video below, and try to imagine hooking up your entire home to either of these systems without losing your mind in a sea of manual switches, archaic interfaces, variables, conditions, and power transformers. It’s a little like Factorio, except if you screw up some settings you could turn on an electric oven and burn your house down. I kind of love it.