The move to home automation is in full swing. It started slowly, a little over a decade and a half ago, with a few products, and now it’s a growing market with dozens of products and manufacturers. The subject ranges from the exceedingly simple, such as opening a garage door and turning on lights from the safety and comfort of your car, to being able to control appliances, entertainment systems, and lighting from a central console.
Safe and Comfortable With Home Automation
One of the oldest features of home automation is the ability to open your garage door and turn on the garage light from inside your car. This means you don’t have to get out of your car in the cold and wind when it’s stormy, or expose yourself to “problematic encounters” upon arriving home. This has expanded to the ability to tie in your home security system to the home automation control center, allowing you to arm and disarm your security system, and lock and unlock your home from your car with a single remote.
Lights! Camera! Action!
Here’s the scenario: You’re having a party at the house and you’ve got guests telling you the music in one place isn’t loud enough to dance to, but guests in other parts of the house say the music is too loud to have conversations over. Do you run around the house making the music softer in some rooms, while making it louder in others?
No, you head over to the home control center, punch a couple buttons, and make everyone happy quickly and easily — without running from room to room making changes. There are even a few manufacturers that can put this power into a small portable remote, making the job even easier.
Here’s another scenario: You’re having the family over, with both adults and children. You could go room to room queueing up programming for each age group, and have to repeat the circuit multiple times during the night. Or, you could do it all from a central remote or control station. Imagine being able to queue up a new children’s movie in the game room without having to leave an engaging political discussion with the adults.
Some of the systems from Crestron give you granular control over every room of the house — from environmental controls to entertainment, from dimming and brightening lighting to opening and closing shades, blinds, and draperies. Most of the Crestron systems can be connected to your home’s network and controlled using mobile apps on iPhones and Android devices. You can even program in system presets to do things like bring the lighting down, close the shades or blinds and queue up a movie, with the push of a single button on the remote or in the mobile app.
Multiple Protocols Give More Product Options
The systems that bring you control over your house from a central location operate within a home control network. These networks work using a communication language known as a protocol. As of this writing, the main protocols/platforms in use are ZigBee, Z-Wave, and X-10. They all deliver varying degrees of control over the electrical and electronic devices and appliances in your home.
ZigBee is one of the fastest growing home automation protocols. It delivers control over just about everything that makes use of electricity in your house, including the environmental controls, washers and dryers, entertainment systems, lighting, and security systems. Check out the ZigBee Alliance site for a full description of everything it can do and what they plan for the future.
Z-Wave is another protocol with the strength of a large alliance behind it to control the direction of the protocol and set worldwide standards of interoperability. This protocol also delivers single control center control over just about everything that makes use of electricity in your house. Think you forgot to turn down the furnace before leaving for work? No problem. Boot up the mobile app and check and make adjustments on the go, quickly and easily. You can also check the status of your door locks and home security system from work.
X10: Less Support, Similar Options
The X10 protocol is backed up by a loose consortium of vendors, but not a worldwide alliance. This means that interoperability can normally only be guaranteed if you purchase everything from the same provider, unlike the other two protocols. However, your control options will be quite similar to those you get from the other protocols. This one’s a bit newer, so there may be an alliance forming to control the protocol and guarantee interoperability between devices from various vendors, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet.
We’re not quite at the point in home automation where George Jetson or Captain Picard would feel at home — yet. However, we’re getting closer and closer every year. There are products out there that give you a modicum of voice control over modules, but they are still new. I will say, though, I don’t expect it to be too long before you can walk into a room and say, “Computer! Lights at 75 percent, please. And I’d like a little soft rock at volume level 6!”
Photo credit: muffytyrone