Blog: My ‘Automation vs Control’ Pet Peeve
Control Panel
Photo courtesy of Somar International Ltd./Flickr
Get with the program: Control is not automation. Automation is not control.
Buyer beware: The terms 'control' and 'automation' are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Our guest blogger explains the difference and why it matters.
By Mark Coxon

Let me start by saying I know that I am opening myself up to a slew of comments here, but being in this industry for 12 years, I finally reached my breaking point and I have to vent.

As audio-video companies, we install or integrate (that’s another difference worth talking about as well, but I’ll spare you for now) several products into a system to meet a set of needs for our customers. Many times we bring together the best products and practices from different manufacturers and industries to create a specialized system. As such, these systems are quite complicated to use in isolation – that is, unless they are bundled with a customized system to make life easy for the end user. Many dealers call this ‘an automation system,’ and this is where I have to insert myself into the conversation.

Let me start here with a couple of simple definitions:

Automation: The automatic operation or control of equipment, a process, or a system.

Automatic: Acting or operating in a manner essentially independent of external influence or control.

My pet peeve is that most of the ‘automation systems’ sold in the market do not involve automation at all, or they involve very limited automation. Merely adding a Crestron, AMX, Control4, or Savant processor and touch panel to a system is not ‘automation.’

When a user pushes a button to accomplish a goal, that is not automatic. It is not automation. It is control.

In an automobile, a manual transmission requires a user to control the shifting of the gears



Comments
Posted by Jeffcmag  on  04/25  at  08:15 PM
"My pet peeve is that most of the ‘automation systems’ sold in the market do not involve automation at all, or they involve very limited automation. Merely adding a Crestron, AMX, Control4, or Savant processor and touch panel to a system is not ‘automation.’" Crestron,AMX,and Control4, certainly are automation systems. They take a set of customizable commands and automatically complete a task. "When a user pushes a button to accomplish a goal, that is not automatic. It is not automation. It is control." To use your corollary, like an automatic transmission, you shift into drive and the transmission shifts automatically, you press a button to turn on your home entertainment system, the Crestron or other system switches on the monitor, the cable box, the audio system, closes the shades, dims the lighting, etc. And just like the automatic transmission there are customizable selections for specific tasks, like park or DVD, reverse or turntable, low or second gear or HD or SD. That is why it is always referred to as automation and control. You are just speaking about the level of automation. If you don't have to get up and walk to the TV to turn it on it is automation. If you use a stick to press the button from your seat it is automation. Control is the cause, automation is the effect.
Posted by Mike G  on  05/01  at  11:35 AM
Jeffcmag, I disagree. The example of using a stick to press a button from your seat is the exact opposite of automation. When you have a standard hand held remote control for your TV, pressing the button on the remote to change a channel does not mean your set is automatically changing channels. It is certainly easier than getting up and walking to the TV stand, but it is not automation. A stick or a remote are both considered tools in that example. Using a tool to accomplish something does not make it automatic. That would be akin to saying using a shovel to dig a hole is an automated process compared to digging it with your hands. While a shovel is certainly preferred, it does not make the process automatic. In addition, having one button perform multiple tasks, is also NOT automation. That is what is called a macro in programming. Automation is something that happens without additional user input. Rain sensing windshield wipers and daylight sensing headlights are automatic. The driver does not have to do anything when the conditions programmed into the system are met. So for an A/V system, having a current sensor installed in a conference room, so that when the system detects a laptop connected to a cable in the system, the projector turns on, the lights dim, the screen and shades come down and the switcher selects the correct input all without the user having to press or adjust anything is automation.
Posted by Jeffcmag  on  05/01  at  12:25 PM
Mike, In your sense, automation does not exist. All automation is a programmed set of responses to an, or a set of, inputs. "In addition, having one button perform multiple tasks, is also NOT automation." "So for an A/V system, having a current sensor installed in a conference room, so that when the system detects a laptop connected to a cable in the system, the projector turns on, the lights dim, the screen and shades come down and the switcher selects the correct input all without the user having to press or adjust anything is automation." The difference is in semantics. There is no difference between a button press and a current sensor. (a switch) That current sensor does the exact same thing as the button except that there must be power to the current sensor, which must be activated by a button.(switch)and then to complete a set of programmed responses. It cannot decide whether you wish to use the projector, the electronic whiteboard, or the video conference system. You must perform some manual task to do what you need the system to do. Without any input there is no output the rain sensor cannot detect rain with the vehicle off. The meeting room cannot do anything without someone plugging in a laptop. It is all a programmed input/output. Unless and until machines can read our thoughts and act upon or, (shudder) what they decide is best, then there will be no true automation.
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