Complete Home Automation
Remember what TV was like before the remote control? The ability to control your TV or even your entire home theater while lying on the couch has become a way of life. Now imagine being able to control every system and appliance in your home in much the same way–not just from your couch but from every room in your house and even remotely. That’s the promise of home automation.
Though it sounds futuristic, home-automation technology has been kicking around for decades. Products based on the X-10 technology–still the most widely used because it is cheap and piggybacks on a home’s existing power lines–first hit shelves at RadioShack and Sears in 1978. For much of that time, however, home automation has been for hobbyists willing to spend hours fiddling with phase couplers and noise filters just to, say, dim a light at a particular time.
That’s now changing. Broadband Internet access, home networks, more sophisticated computer and consumer electronics products, and the digitization of entertainment all are sparking new interest in ways to tie together all of the systems within your home and make life more convenient and enjoyable. Not surprisingly, new technologies with names such as Insteon, Zigbee, and Z-Wave are coming out of the woodwork (literally) and vying to supplant X-10 and break this market open.
Put simply, home automation is anything that gives you remote or automatic control of things around the home. The systems that you can control include:
Heating and cooling
Security and monitoring systems
Entertainment (home audio and video)
Communications (telephones and intercoms)
The concept of home automation is to connect all of these systems and devices so that they can be controlled from anywhere and react to one another. For example, as you arrive home, your home automation system can automatically turn off the sprinklers, open the garage door, unlock the front door and disable the alarm, light the downstairs, and turn on the TV. Or if you power on the DVD player, it might automatically dim the lights, draw the shades, and direct all calls to voicemail.
To make this happen, you need a network to tie it all together. Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks are ideal for distributing data, voice (VoIP), and audio and video to different parts of the home. But they are overkill if you simply want to tell a lamp to turn itself on. Instead, most homes will have two different connected networks: one for accessing and distributing rich broadband content and one for managing all of the devices and systems in the home. These home-automation networks, by contrast, have low data rates (typically less than 200Kbps), are extremely inexpensive, use very little power, and can reliably controls hundreds and even thousands of devices. There are several different types of management networks: