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Interview With George Hanover, Continued

Reader's Voice: An Introduction To Home Automation

Tom's Hardware: Are multiple protocols or a lack of compatibility a hindrance to the widespread adoption of home automation?

George: These are probably hindrances, but it’s hard to say if this is the (or even a) major cause of the HAs slow take-off.

There are activities to bring together HA standards in various ways, for example, by defining a set or sets of rules that allow translation among systems and their protocols. If the consumer saw the value in HA, the market would sort out (though probably in a messy way) the compatibility and other technical issues.

Tom's Hardware: Some of the best-known automation protocols/products are X-10, Insteon, UPB, and Z-Wave. Are there many other automation protocols?

George: Yes, and there are also company consortia whose only aim is to make the protocols compatible. And there are groups which concentrate on only one aspect of the network protocol, such as the application language protocol or the message sending and receiving protocol.

Tom's Hardware: Are there any distinct advantages or disadvantages to adopting one protocol over another, or going with a particular product line that you can think of?

George: There are several factors that stand out, and the potential home system buyer should be aware of them.

First, can the system be retrofitted into existing homes easily? Remember “homes” include dwelling like condos and townhouses not just single-family houses.

Second, is the system designed to easily interface with the outside world? Consumers should insist on home networking as a feature of the system they buy. Home automation (automation only in the home) limits the usefulness of the system. Home networking links the home to the outside world, as well as linking devices within the home, making the system much more useful. With networking, you get the option to more dynamically control energy, while monitoring device status.

Third, can the system be easily expanded to add new devices? This strikes at the heart of plug and play functionality. An installer might do a great job in getting the home system up and running to begin with, but what happens when the homeowner wants to add new appliances with HA features? The ability to easily add a new appliance to the system without calling the installer every time is very desirable.

Fourth, is the start-up cost low? It may not be easy to sell the customer on the somewhat vague concept of home automation, let alone convince him/her to spend big bucks up front (especially when the system requires one or more controllers).

Tom's Hardware: Given your networking suggestion, is security a serious issue for home automation and its associated protocols?

George: Yes. Just as when computers were first connected to the Internet, home network systems also link to the outside world. And there are those who would like to take advantage of that connection. The threat is potentially more serious in a home networking system though, because the system might be used for monitoring disabled persons or for providing fire and home security. Most protocols incorporate sophisticated encryption and other means to protect messages both within the home and on the outside network.

Tom's Hardware: Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers about home automation?

George: Obviously, I would like to encourage your readers to look into home automation, as there are many benefits to installing these systems in their homes and it is worth taking a closer look to see if it is the right fit for your environment.

Now that we've learned a little about home automation, lets take a look at what we can do with it.

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