House of the Future: Building smart homes for the handicapped with Azure on the edge

December 9 2021

I am an enterprise cloud architect and .NET developer. I’m also legally blind. Together with my business partners, I’m using Microsoft technology to build solutions for the disabled. Let me tell you about what we’ve learned in our technical journey.

First a little bit of background about how we use Azure technology. There are many facets to our vision. The backend plumbing and architecture including the Azure hybrid integration is referred to as the Myth Suite.  Software that runs in the Myth Suite is designed to operate the Handicapped House of the Future; we have shortened this to the House of the Future. Handicapped does not have pleasant connotations.

Your home should be thought of as a possession that takes care of the occupants instead of the other way around. When a person has a disability, their house should be able to support the needs that the person may not be able to do for themselves. In the House of the Future project we see a machine learning system that supports residents of the home with tasks that would otherwise be impossible.

Designing a hybrid cloud architecture

We started off playing with ARM 64 processors, a broadly available architecture that is very inexpensive and used in smaller devices like the Raspberry Pi, a famed hobbyist device. We are able to purchase these boards really cheap for $55 each. Even smaller microcontrollers, marketed for devices in the home, cost as little as $4 a board.

From there, we have worked to figure out how to program on Linux instead of Windows, and that was going to be challenging for a group of Windows .NET developers. Fortunately, Microsoft did a fantastic job of solving the problem by coming out with the .NET 5 and 6 and, lo and behold, both versions run really well on Linux. Since we wanted to provide computing both in the cloud and on the edge, we started looking at Docker containers. We save on cost by using open-source software managed by large organizations. In fact, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) itself is a good example with a whole lot of contributors. Docker invented containers and the CNCF invented Kubernetes and Helm, which make containers sustainable on a long-term basis.  Containers are like tiny VMs, but smaller and different. They are small microservices contained within an incredibly tiny footprint of sometimes less than a megabyte, and they can do amazing things.

We were able to deploy several services on containers with Azure. Container Registry allows everyone using our software to access that microservice in their own container. From there, we can scale to millions of people. With the ability to scale our software, we started looking at other Microsoft products like storage. Here, cloud service prices range between 3.3 cents and 4 cents per gigabyte.

All told, we use Azure in a lot of different ways: Key Vault to store and communicate secrets, authentication with Azure AD, Blob Storage to backup files and store messages for multi-message servers, and more.

Balancing cloud and local computing

About Tracy Rooks

Tracy Rooks was born in Florida and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He was passed the Uniform Certified Public Accountants examination and worked for such prestigious firms as Price Waterhouse in Jacksonville, Florida and Coopers and Lybrand in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Tracy has owned several successful IT solutions startups including T Squared Software which he merged into 11Binary in 2014. Tracy currently holds the position of Chief Cloud Architect with this organization.

Tracy has built software for some of the largest and smallest companies in the world including Northrup Grumman, Winter Haven Hospital, Home Shopping Network, Jabil Circuit, Petco, Promis Solutions, TKE and MGM Resorts. In the past several years Tracy has championed and programmed a Microservices Lightweight Messaging Architecture including a Universal Data Storage component capable of handling Petabytes of data, a Universal Logic Layer capable of designing  business rules and algorithms for big data situations and finally a Universal Analytics and AI platform for predictive analytics. These tools do not require software engineers and may be used my trained business analysts.

Tracy likes to fish in the St. Johns River near his home in the historic district of Sanford, Florida near Orlando. He often travels to visit his son and grandchildren in Las Vegas and Nashville.

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