Control All Aspects of Your Home Wirelessly

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.

  • resonance451
    Stuff like that's been around a good while, but it's not going to be part of the average household until the prices drop low enough to be that accessible. Which I don't see happening until about a decade from now.

    I'm assuming this is similar to the concepts displayed in Tweeter?
  • JonnyDough
    I agree that it won't happen for another decade, but parts of it likely will. Computers are getting cheaper all the time. Copper wiring, is not. Still, I would imagine that this has a way of saving money for people. Imagine if the windows on your house were automatic. You have anti-burglar sensors, along with rain and temp sensors. The system could open the windows and shut off the AC automatically if the temp drops while you're at work, saving you on energy costs. Likewise, wouldn't it be great to turn off things like your electric water heater (or the gas pilot light) while you go on a weekend trip by changing a setting on a universal remote or a laptop program? If they can get good software and market these to save the consumer money long term while also being not too costly to install, while ALSO being upgradeable then this will catch on a lot faster. It has to be able to do a lot, be easier to use, and be easily integrated into existing homes. I love the idea of sending encrypted codes through a homes existing internal energy grid (via the fusebox most likely). As long as it's secure even if someone taps into it from the outside (it would suck to have someone open your front door by cutting the lock on the electric box out by the road), then this could work splendidly. We need standards for home automation. That's all there is to it. Safe, secure, and integrated into every day products. I've been spouting the idea of a central bank of electronic components for awhile. Why should I have to buy a timer chip for my toaster, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, refridgerator, etc when I could have just one in a central box that controls them all? It isn't like the technology isn't available yet, it's just that nobody's done it yet and mass marketed it. I see Microsoft as trying to get us there, but they're doing it pretty slowly and it isn't their main focus.
  • skiwith
    X10 and now Insteon from Smarthome have been around for years. I'd love and in depth about the pro's and cons. At this point its about $40 per light to automate... Times 40 lights in a house.. without the controllers and remotes.

    I've had it with universal remotes, training the suckers over and over. Createing scenes and adding lights to zones. I seem to only use all off and all on at this point.

    Someone will win this if they make it easier and more reliable.