Tag Archives: zwave

Oh, you mean a Maxwell Smart home

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“Chaos is an opportunity for people like me,” said Tom Kadlec, one of the founders of The Homeworks Group. They do the hard work of integrating and managing home automation systems for about a thousand subscribers. Both he and his partner have electrical engineering degrees, which is great for them but not so good for the home handyman who majored in, say, political science.

Come quick, 99. I’m surrounded by ARMed phones.

Protocol agnostic and easy to use: home automation needs heavy helpings of both if it’s to ever find its secret sauce. And the industry doesn’t seem to be much closer to solving it than it was a year ago. The missing piece is still a universal, consumer friendly gateway/hub device that can tie together different products using different protocols.

Last Thursday evening, the Wireless Communications Alliance rolled a discussion about home automation into its annual holiday party. Hosted by Qualcomm, the event featured four experts from different corners of the industry: two semiconductor makers, a market intelligence analyst and a custom installer.

“Our industry is based on a promise to solve all the problems,” IDC‘s Michael Palma admitted. “A lot depends on the service providers.” Gianluca Viale, from Renesas, offered patience rather than a solution, saying whatever it is, the silicon will still be there to support it whenever it happens.

Fabrice Hoerner, senior manager of technical marketing at Qualcomm, said they’re working on combining “multiple smarts:” smart connectivity, smart gateways, smart devices and a smart cloud.

“Everyone is building their own gateway, but there is an opportunity to bring some of them together,” Hoerner said. “If there is money to make, the industry will adjust to this potential.”

Maybe. But so far, home automation chaos has eighty-sixed home control.

No mass market home automation players yet

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Incremental advancement but no break through into the mass market for the home automation sector at CES this year. It remains a niche for hobbyists and specialty contractors.

Core technology companies, such as Qualcomm, NXP and Marvell, continue to support it. And there’s no shortage of companies offering, or at least developing, home automation products and services.

Part of the problem is the multitude of standards. Some device makers support more than one, but interoperability is the exception rather than the rule.

The missing piece is a home hub/gateway that’s both consumer friendly and network protocol agnostic.

You can find one or the other. For example, MiOS’s Vera router handles WiFi, Ethernet and Z-Wave natively, and can manage X10 and potententially other protocols via plug-ins. But its user interface is balky and basic. You need to be confortable with programming code to do anything ambitious.

Jakks Pacific’s baby monitor product is easy to use, and the wrist watch-style viewing screen is a nice innovation. But it’s a one trick pony. Canadian company 2D2C’s SafePlug is an interesting RFID-enabled solution, but they only have one item in their product line ready for market. Spain’s q1tecno is targeting the low cost end of the market with their Domotics Toys.

Home Protect, from France-based Moai, is a wonderfull piece of design work. They put their gateway and remote sensors into Tiki God cases that they claim will be plug-and-play simple to install. Unfortunately, it’s not ready for market yet. All they had to display at the show were solid plastic Tiki God statues.

Companies like Greenwave and Dutch manufacturer Freelux are positioning themselves as OEM suppliers to utilities. The advantage to that approach is that the electric company can provide customer support and incentives to use it. If the incentives are good enough, they can also dictate technology and network protocol choices to their subscribers. No one had any utility partnerships to announce, though.

Personal automation hits and misses

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Among the dozens of companies showing their stuff at CES Unveiled tonight were several targeting the personal and home automation space. Some get it, some don’t.

Samsung, Greenwave and Zomm get it, more or less. Each showed a product that enables someone to extend his or her personal information and control network, without being too reliant on closed platforms or particular service providers.

Samsung debuted the SmartCam, an Internet protocol camera with motion and sound sensors, and two-way audio conversation capability. Its particular selling proposition is that it takes a lot of the work out of setting up a remote monitoring camera.

The SmartCam uses a peer-to-peer scheme. You pair the camera with a computer, anywhere on the Internet, via Samsung’s included peering service and then watch and record the video as you please on that computer. The  motion and sound sensors can trigger alerts and high bit-rate video streams automatically, and you can use its two-way audio capability to “chat” with whoever is causing the commotion. Price point is $149.

Greenwave is selling a home automation gateway that controls home lighting via Philips’ NXP technology and power outlets via the Z-Wave standard. If an electric utility buys in, you can also connect directly to a Zigbee smart meter or, if not, they have a meter reading gizmo that will get you some of that functionality on your own.

Although Greenwave has a consumer selling proposition, their primary focus seems to be on utility companies and, failing that, anyone with an ongoing customer billing relationship: telcos, solar power installers or home heating and cooling companies. Basic kit is $200 and after that you can spend as much as you want on add-ons.

Zomm debuted its Lifestyle Connect product, which makes its possible to monitor an elderly or disabled relative (or maybe your kids, but they aren’t exactly saying that) using any Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. The little gizmo hangs on a lanyard and, when triggered, dials a “personal safety concierge” that instantly knows the location from the integrated GPS chip and can talk back and forth via the built in speaker and mic.

They’re working on a wide range of triggers, both in-house and through third party developers. Ideas include a detector that can tell if an elderly parent has fallen down or a blood glucose meter that can safeguard a diabetic. They didn’t mention breath alcohol meters or GPS analysis that knows when your daughter’s car is parked at the submarine races. The trigger is pulled, the “concierge” is called and a trusted circle (child, sibling, parent, probation officer) is notified. Cost is $199 for the gizmo and $15 a month for the service.

Alure Energy nearly got it and might yet someday. Their Eversense system consists of a thermostat and a linked iOS or Android app. The app runs in the background and tells the thermostat where you are. When you’re close to home or some other tripwire is hit, the thermostat tells the furnace to heat up the house, so it’s warm when you get there. On the plus side, it has all the usual programmable thermostat features and it’s more or less standards-based (e.g. the thermostat uses existing home WiFi networks to connect to mobile phones). On the minus side it’s still a one trick pony.

Liftmaster was the loser of the night. They took a standard garage door opener, built in a proprietary radio link that talks to a proprietary Ethernet device that plugs into a home router and tells you whether your garage door is opened or closed. And lets you open or close it via the Internet. You have to buy a whole new garage door opener – you can’t just add it on to the one you have – and it doesn’t do anything an X–10 or Z-Wave system can’t do, but it does come with a nice logo. Cost: if you really want to know, you’re dumb enough to buy it.