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“Home Security and Automation” Project Description

“Home Security and Automation” Project Description

[What the project is to achieve, a half to one page. Please describe the educational component of the project.]

Home security projects are relatively common for engineering and computer science students.  They typically focus on a superficial and limited technical implementation. The objective of this project is to learn how to design a system that combines multiple practical technological components and computer science techniques but which also considers a measured and holistic process that examines aspects of universal design and a realistic evaluation of risk (e.g. criminal risk versus environmental risk, socio-economic elements, etc.).

The three students will work together to develop a home automation and security system, integrating their individual components into a complete system that can be controlled by an authorized user, can actuate particular devices (e.g. door lock), can be used to help identify locations of individuals in proximity of the house, can be used to help identify such individuals and can provide appropriate levels of response.  Furthermore the system can interface to HVAC, monitor environmental anomalies and respond appropriately.

Project 1: Home Environmental Control and Sensing. This portion of the project is responsible for general environmental sensing based on a risk analysis of non-criminal elements, as well as the implementation of a door entry / perimeter camera. General / low fidelity room presence is to be implemented.  Air quality (smoke, carbon monoxide, etc.) is to be monitored and reported. General interfacing to an existing HVAC (or simulated HVAC controller) is to be implemented.

Project 2: Home Security Action: This portion of the project is responsible for permitting actions to be taken in response to (a) fire risk in the kitchen, (b) entry risk at the door and (c) authentication or physical risk to the outside world communication method. More specifically, fire risk at the stove/oven is to be monitored and power to the unit is to be controlled at the breaker level; door lock actuation is to be controlled in response to authentication verification conducted by Project 3; failsafe switchover from landline to cell network in response to break-in or integrity compromise.

Project 3: Home User Authentication and Privacy: This portion of the project is to examine how to detect a physical break-in into a home, how to encrypt and obfuscate data travelling within the security system and to the outside world including concerns over meta-data, how to protect firmware located on the physical security controller and how to authenticate users in active (e.g. passcode) and passive (e.g. pendant) scenarios

Together, the three participants will have to examine and decide on communication methods between a local central controller and sensors and actuators within the household, as well as communication to a user monitoring device (e.g. a display and/or cell phone) and an external security authority.

Background Requirements

Prerequisite courses: completion of some third year computer science / security courses.

Corequisite courses: none.

Other experience: Knowledge of embedded systems and programming at a typical 3rd year level.

Student and supervisor will meet twice a week: once on Monday for general discussions regarding theory, milestones, and project development, and once on Thursday for a technical tutorial on ARM processors.


Software: C/C++ is likely.  Python is possible. C++ within Arduino + Teensyduino (update June 2018)

Hardware: Hardware is not yet specified, but likely to be a microcontroller in the class specified in Jay Carlson’s Amazing $1 Microcontroller (  Sensors and actuators related to home security and automation will be required, likely requiring the use of a communications bus.  Embedded operating systems (e.g. Linux, FreeRTOS, etc.) will only be considered if the finalized design can objectively justify the use of one.

Existing hardware resources will be made available. A budget of up to $100 per student will also be made available, with all purchases requiring verification ahead-of-time.


The following is a categorized list of related readings. Students are expected to review this readings and to follow-up with additional self-directed readings as appropriate.

House types & demographics  in the Greater Toronto Area and/or Canada

Non-technical papers on people & home security (in the broad sense)

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)


Security concerns with Home Automation / “Smart” homes / Home Security Systems

Comparison of Home Automation technologies

Comparison of and Components in Home Security technologies

Issues related to embedded systems (general)

Barr Group Survey on Embedded Systems

C vs C++

    Which Embedded System to use?

Embedded Systems Communication standards (but not usual WiFi or Ethernet)

Security & Embedded Systems

This blog post was originally published on my previous blog site in July 2018 : ‎

James Andrew Smith is an associate professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department in York University's Lassonde School.  He lived in Strasbourg, France and taught at the INSA Strasbourg and Hochschule Karlsruhe while on sabbatical in 2018-19 with his wife and kids.