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Celebrating the First Smart Home Device Turning 50 Years Old


Current home automation is a wonderful thing. One can control just about everything in a home from door locks to your home theater. So then, how far have we come in home automation?


The fourth ECHO, or Electronic Computing Home Operator, was the first device created with the idea of home automation in mind. Built in 1966, it needed lots of room to operate, 3kw (3000 watts) of power to run, and plenty of technical know-how to use.

Also ‘Lots of room’ would be an understatement! Computers back then needed entire rooms or sometimes could occupy an entire floor. James Sutherland, an ECHO IV engineer, stated, “it looked more like the home was built to house the computer instead of the other way around.” It was composed of four cabinets weighing 800 pounds!

All that mass and the CPU clocked in at 160kHz. Compare that to a modern 4,000kHz (4gHz) CPU, the ECHO IV is a mere 25,000 times slower!

What could it do?

If utilized correctly, the ECHO IV was capable of a small list automation tricks; simple educational programs, tone generator, basic TV control, stereo on/off, and an alarm clock. A device capable of these things in 1966 was considered quite ahead of its time. Imagine using your computer to turn on your TV? Sounds like a simple task, but then it was literally unheard of!

It wasn’t what it did that made investors interested. It was the potential of what it could do in the future that made it revolutionary.

What about now?

Today’s home automation devices are mind-blowing in comparison. You can open/close a garage door, lock the house, answer the door with a video chat, turn on appliances and home theater, dim the lights, you name it — all remotely as well!

Some smart devices are still in their infancy and need improvements before they become an “every-house” kind of device.? Take the Amazon’s Alexa for instance, it has made quite an impact on tech-savvy consumers but it isn’t compelling enough yet that everyone needs one.

Fifteen years ago we were supposed to get our HAL 9000, Alexa may have to do for now…

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