Want to automate things in your home like fans and lights using your PC? Two widely backed specifications are quietly battling for supremacy in the wireless home-control market: Z-Wave, a proprietary technology developed by the Norwegian firm Zensys, and ZigBee, a spec based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard backed by a consortium known as the ZigBee Alliance.
Both are low-cost, low-power wireless mesh networking technologies, and a host of new products using both were announced at this week’s CEDIA Expo 2008 in Denver, Colorado. CEDIA (the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) is a trade group consisting primarily of contractors who install high-end electronics systems (home automation, home theater, etc.) in upscale residences.
Wireless mesh networking enables low-power devices to cover a large area by acting like a bucket brigade, propagating a command from its origin (a remote control or a light switch) throughout the mesh until it reaches its intended destination. Low-power radios are used so that commands in one residence’s network don’t leak out to affect systems installed in neighboring homes.
Among the new Z-Wave products announced at CEDIA 2008, some of the most interesting include the home-security products from Black & Decker. The company was showing a line of motorized door locks (that will be marketed under the company’s Kwikset and Baldwin brands) that enable homeowners to unlock entry doors using a remote control. If the home is equipped with other Z-Wave compatible components, the door lock will be able to pass a command to a light switch to turn on the lights inside the house, relay a signal to the thermostat to turn on the HVAC system, deactivate the alarm system, and trigger a host of other actions all at the same time.
On the ZigBee front, Eaton was exhibiting new components in its Home Heartbeat line of products. The Home Heartbeat system enables you to monitor your home over the Internet, sending a text-message alert to your smartphone if a window or door is opened unexpectedly. Eaton has a wide range of other devices, too, including sensors that can detect water leaks and then trigger a valve to close to limit moisture damage.
Once all these standards get up and running, we’re looking for a phone app that will let us monitor and control things in our homes. Spiffy.