Believe it or not, home automation is not new. Itís not new in concept and itís not new in practice. In fact, some forms of integrated homes have been around for more than 20 years. So why is it only recently that home automation has created such a buzz? Is it due to the proliferation of digital TV and home theaters? Is it the publicity received by the Consumer Electronics Show or Microsoftís next deal? Is it because of the wide acceptance of the Internet? Or is it simply a variety of technological innovations and economic developments that are defining home integration for the mainstream residential market to take control of their interior surroundings?
In the Unites States alone, ďsmart homeĒ technology is
expected to generate revenues of $4 billion by 2008, while revenues
are expected to reach about $900 million this year. And these figures
are based on the controls alone, not the cost of the appliance!
Letís face it, the smart home is no longer a vision for the
future; it is a reality. . . and a very profitable one at that!
And you donít think you need to be paying attention to this
growing market segment?!
In this three-part series, join Techniku, a leader in the design
of automation solutions for window coverings, as we explore home
automation, the new RF control paradigm that allows for simple smart
home integration, and how we plan to support the window coverings
industry as it crosses into this uncharted territory.
HOME AUTOMATION DEFINED
Home automation is the intelligent integration of a variety of home
technologies including HVAC, security, lighting, audio/video and
a multitude of consumer electronics working together to enable everyday
devices to be controlled and monitored wirelessly. This integration
provides consumers the ability to control their houses from a keypad,
computer, PDA or even voice-activated software.
The marriage of these systems working seamlessly together adds another
dimension of comfort and quality of life. And while this all sounds
complicated, itís actually simple when you know the basics.
Home automation combines style, innovation and imagination to create
the ultimate interior to enhance lifestyle. Sounds like the definition
of a designer if you ask us!
TYPES OF HOME AUTOMATION
During the past 20 years, a variety of home automation technologies,
most stemming from central controls, have dominated the market.
In a typical home automation application, many appliances and electronics
are integrated into a central control system or through a mesh network
of ďnodesĒ to communicate and send RF signals.
As we venture into the next phase of smart home technology, the
high-tech community is replacing the longstanding assumption that
applications must go through a central control platform. They are
recognizing new opportunities to develop open protocols, which are
changing the face of smart home controls.
There are primarily two types of protocols currently used: (1) closed/central
controls and (2) open/mesh networks. Closed protocols use a proprietary
set of interfaces (i.e., a specific manufacturer-designed control
system) that frequently differ from one home appliance to the next.
These systems require translations of the data so all of the systems
speak the same language. They typically are difficult to integrate
and cost prohibitive. Apple computers are a good example of a closed
system. While these are good computers, they are limited in usage
as they do not communicate well with other computers.
On the other hand, an open network is based on using products from
multiple vendors that conform to uniform industry standards, enabling
full interoperability across a network. A PC operating Windows is
a good open example as the universally accepted Windows controls
90 percent of the worldís computers. Open systems are based
on cross-platform integration allowing home appliances (such as
lighting, window coverings, A/V, etc.) to simply use a repeater
node and plug into a standard wall outlet. These nodes receive and
send RF signals (acting as routers) creating an open communication
platform, similar to the Internet! Should a connection or node fail,
they dynamically create new routes. With a scalable approach, consumers
can add nodes and leverage control and cost over many appliances.
Unlike closed systems that add complexity, limit choices and perpetuate
high costs, open systems are simpler to integrate, deliver lower
lifecycle costs, allow for easier upgrades and are more user-friendly.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND . . .
So what is driving the explosion of home automation? Simpleóitís
what drives all products that reach the mainstream market: robust,
solid solutions with enhanced features that achieve an economy of
scale for cost reduction.
Through the years, technology has continued to improve the usability
and cost benefits. In the past, smart homes were only for the top
one percent of the population. However, as technology increases,
prices drop and new capabilities and capacities emerge to reach
the mainstream market. By achieving a more efficient, scalable wireless
network, low-cost home automation is becoming a standard feature
in many home products and even as a bundled option in most new home
One of the most significant inhibitors to the growth of home automation
has been the lack of integration between multiple systems (getting
the products to talk to each other). The compatibility of many systems
significantly improves the simplicity in installation. Now, there
is a growing consortium of product manufacturers to create open
platforms with a synergy that will ultimately benefit the controls
and consumer electronics industry.
Want proof? Think of the hybrid car. Years ago, it was the concept
car at the Detroit Auto Show. And now, you see them just about everywhere.
So what brought on this mainstreaming? First of all, they have become
more reliable with the major car companies engineering better designs.
Second, they are no longer viewed as a novelty car. And last, think
about rising gas prices . . . now, do you see a benefit in them?
Sure, and so have lots of other people. Home automation is no different.
From a concept, to a novelty, to mainstream. It is a matter of time
before the features increase, the costs decrease, the multiple benefits
become evident and the infrastructure develops. Remember, people
purchase on perceived need!
WINDOW COVERINGS IN HOME AUTOMATION
When researching this article, something very curious kept cropping
up. In many of the articles discussing home automation, technologies
such as HVAC, security, lighting, and A/V equipment are mentioned
again and again, but you know what was missing? Window coverings
automation. This was strange; after all, donít window coverings
contribute to climate control, lighting and security? Whether a
simple media room or a fully automated home, automated window coverings
play a significant role in integrating into the ideal controlled
ambiance. Too seldom, we limit our view of the window coverings
as a design feature in the room. With automated window coverings,
not only are the treatments a functional tool to control light,
but they become a home appliance, similar to the thermostat or sprinkler
system. Window coverings become a useful tool for the consumer.
If you are not at least offering automated window coverings to your
clients, you are doing them a disservice. After all, when they begin
to integrate their homes to enhance their lifestyles with new A/V
equipment, security and lighting systems, and multiple home appliances
donít you think the window coverings should be included in
this ultimate interior control?
WHERE TO START
Overwhelmed? We understand! Techniku is committed to the success
of every window coverings professional who wants to join the revolution
in these changing times of home automation. Letís face it,
every time we try a new technology, there is a level of apprehension.
In the next two articles, we will explore the new paradigm to open,
simple home automation supported through Technikuís line of
controls and how we can work together to create a better future
for you and your clients.
Donít your consumers deserve the most advanced and fully integrated
solution to their window coverings needs? We think so, and believe
you will agree. If, as an industry, we do not address this growing
market segment with innovative automation options for a variety
of open protocol controls, we risk being left out of a big share
of the market, which means lots of lost revenue!
Techniku, located in the United States and Netherlands, is an international
leader in the design and manufacture of automation solutions and controls
for interior window coverings. With a market-approach to innovation,
Techniku is committed to the success of the window coverings industry
by creating robust automation solutions combined with the highest
levels of customer support.