Riding the Z-Wave to Home Automation

Z-Wave Home automation made easy

In short, Z-Wave is a wireless technology that opens up a world of opportunities in home automation. According to Sigma-Designs, the company that bought Z-Wave designer Zen-Sys, it’s a wireless technology and protocol that can also be used in the light commercial environment. With over 160 manufacturers worldwide embracing the concept, the protocol and technology seem poised to explode into common use in the next couple of years. So, let’s take a look at it and some of the types of equipment it can be found in today.

What Can I Use Z-Wave For?

Z-Wave Home Automation
Image via Wikimedia Images

Pretty much anything that turns on and off in your home can use this. So far, modules have been developed for security systems, smoke alarms, lighting systems, and many small appliances. Did you forget to turn off the coffeemaker before leaving home? No problem, call it up on your tablet or smartphone and turn it off using the Z-Wave module attached or built into the coffeemaker.

According to the Z-Wave alliance, the technology can be used on an ever-increasing wide variety of devices. This also includes devices that we normally wouldn’t have considered open to remote control, such as small appliances, lighting systems, thermostats, and even window shades and draperies.

Controlling things like draperies and lights remotely can make your home look occupied when you’re on vacation, making it less inviting to burglars. Also, being able to control the thermostat remotely means you can turn the heat up or down when you come home from work or vacation and come home to a house with a perfectly regulated temperature.

Here’s one for you that you’re going to love if you have children and both parents work. You can program the modules on your door locks to notify you when the kids come home from school. How’s that for added peace of mind? Or program the garage door module to turn on entry lights inside the house when you come home from work (or play) late.

What Exactly Is Z-Wave?

That’s a pretty good question! Technologically, it’s a wireless communications protocol that operates in the 900 MHz frequency range. Although, being on the 900MHz frequency range puts in the same radio spectrum as cordless phones, it does keep it off the more crowded and data-sensitive 2.4GHz frequency range used by Wi-Fi and other IEEE 802.11 devices.

Getting even more technologically cryptic, the protocol utilizes a low-power transceiver that is designed specifically for remote control applications. Unlike the high bandwidth requirements of Wi-Fi, Z-Wave is a low latency protocol that makes use of small data packets. What this means is that the protocol communicates between and operates devices quickly using small amounts of data.

Currently, the protocol and technology are not open source, meaning that anyone that wants to embed it in their products have to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Sigma-Designs. Companies will then be able to buy the special transceiver chip designed by Sigma-Designs in conjunction with Mitsui.

The technology works in a controller and slave configuration. Each controller or slave device is called a node. A network of devices can include up to 232 nodes and devices can be programmed to rebroadcast the commands it receives for error-checking. This functionality also helps ensure that full coverage in the house is obtained, since the devices can only communicate at distances up to 100 feet.

Versatile and Easy

There have been other whole home automation technologies introduced over the past 20 years or so. But all of them either required wiring the devices, which usually required you to rip into the walls, or they were so complicated they practically required an engineering degree to make proper use of the system. Since this is a wireless technology, there is no costly wiring installation to get up and running.

Not so with this one. Like Windows and Mac computers, this is truly “plug and play” interoperable protocol. Plug the device you want to have remote control over into a module and tell the module to join the network. Bing. Bam. Done.

Also, unlike previous iterations of home automation systems, the remotes that operate the system are simple two- or three-button affairs — not large complicated control panels. Just about anybody should be able to learn how to make use of at least the most basic features of the sysyem in a matter of minutes, while learning the advanced features may take an hour or so. Compare that to the massive novel that was being passed off as a user’s manual with the older home automation systems.

The network can grow with you as you learn how to use it. Start small with just a couple of modules opening your garage door and turning on some lights. Once comfortable controlling these devices, connect your security system and door locks and one push of a button will open the garage door, turn on lights, deactivate the alarm, and unlock the door for you. You’re basically only limited by your imagination with Z-Wave technology.

Photo credit: DarthNick via photopin