Subsystems: Understand How Smart Devices Work to Explain Your Automation Needs to a Technician

Subsystems: Understand How Smart Devices Work to Explain Your Automation Needs to a Technician

Many smart devices connect to home or workplace automation these days but how do they all connect? The first step to understanding how smart devices work together is understanding how subsystems work. A subsystem shows how a control center or controller acts like the brain or nerve center with sensors and actuators to manage every facet of a smart home or office. Actuators can be handheld network remotes, touch screens and mobile devices.  

Subsystems can paint the bigger picture for someone who plans to build a fully automated home or workplace. This old infographic (see below) shows the early beginnings of subsystems and may still apply for those who like to understand home automation better.

One can begin to look at controllers and how they can work with actuators and sensors (see infographic below). Each system can be connected and controlled in secure and convenient ways. They can dim and brighten lights, adjust the thermostat settings and even provide status reports of electricity usage and control the operation of a home entertainment center.

For those looking to do things right, it all starts with having the communications protocol–an essential part of subsystems. The communication between an automation system and subsystems requires cabling or wirelessly via standards such as Z-Wave, ZigBee or Wi-Fi.

Below are some examples of how systems work within systems and how the possibilities are endless when there’s connectivity.

A lighting control system can be synchronized with other subsystems

Lighting has always been an integral part of home automation, perhaps the lowest hanging fruit to achieve automation beyond the consumer-level virtual assistant and electronic door lock devices. In which case, a good smart  lighting control system should be able to dim all types of light sources such as compact fluorescent, halogen, incandescent, and LED. Controlled with a home automation system, smart lighting can be synchronized with other subsystems — how they can be turned on and off based on the settings of a surveillance system.

A surveillance system’s app or sensors can control lights and thermostats

The best part about a subsystem is it can serve many purposes. The same surveillance sensors that monitor your house can also be used to handle certain automation routines. Sensors that are intended to trigger an alarm when they detect motion, can—during assigned times—generate a train of lights to turn on.

Some surveillance system’s apps or sensors can control lights and thermostats. This is why integrating surveillance with other subsystems or home automation systems can mean that one can view the status of system, arm and disarm sensors and even view real-time images captured by surveillance cameras.

Heating and cooling system works depending on the day — and your blinds  

Thermostats have come a long way. Today, one can adjust the temperature in different parts of a home or have room temperature controlled if the blinds are open or closed. But making the room temperature adjust automatically on its own depending on the time of the day, whether the sun is out or not, is next-level automation, along with having a system alert if something goes wrong. Getting a warning before a thermostat breaks down is a nice feature to have.

The good thing about having a smart thermostat these days is that one may not need to install a new HVAC unit. HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, which also include air conditioners.  

Audio and video system at a touch of a button

Setting a playlist of music to play music in different parts of a home can be done with a touch of a button as long as one has an A/V equipment managed by a home automation system. It’s the same thing with TVs. It’s good to add in smart lighting to create an overall home theater vibe. Home theater setups are great for subsystems to work together; adding in shades can further the smart home experience.

What other subsystems are worth automating, though? Homeowners and workplace managers may have different priorities when it comes to choosing which space in their properties needs to be automated. Homeowners may choose to have their homes automated for lifestyle and entertainment purposes, whereas workplaces may look at making their employees more efficient, or having their offices more secure.

Still, there will be some overlaps. For some, having coffee makers and electronic door locks automated may be a priority the way some think motorized gates, garage doors and motorized equipment (for drapes, TVs, home theater screens and video projectors) are just as important to maintain. The options are virtually limitless.

Subsystems also require people’s needs on their own but they need to be able to control their systems, referred to as a “user interface.” This is one of the most important parts of an automation system. Apps on mobile phones and tablets have it nailed down to near perfection.

Tablets, smartphones, and touch screen devices are convenient

The best thing about an app that can facilitate the control of multiple devices—door locks, thermostats, lights, A/V equipment, to name a few– is that they can be on people’s smartphones. Since people have them all the time, having that level of control is convenient.

Dedicated home-designed touch screens are not to be discounted, because they are also convenient. They usually come with larger user screens for a better experience. When designed properly, touch screens can simplify complex automation systems and can serve the role of “command central” in a home or office.

Touch screens can pack in a lot of functionalities — show what cameras see, pull entertainment content from a whole-house A/V system and work as an intercom station.


Having the backbone of a strong network gets you started. From having reliable Wi-Fi to multiple wireless access points as a jumpoff point, the possibilities for automating your space are endless. A whole slew of keypads, handheld remotes and app-driven mobile devices can be customized to perform to your specifications for a smart home or workplace.

But the most important thing to keep in mind is that they all come under the umbrella of subsystems — controllers, actuators and sensors, controlled by a server and served to a device that connects and integrates with network-enabled smart devices. They all help people save energy, improve efficiencies and simplify their lives.

Subsystems are good to keep in mind even if one is automating just a single room. Automating just parts of a house like the entryway, living rooms and kitchen and bedrooms or the bathroom, hallway, laundry room, basement, backyards and even offices will already go a long way, because subsystems can provide a solid foundation when the time comes an entire house or workplace needs to be fully automated. (Dennis Clemente)

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