Whether you choose to accept it or ignore it, the fact is home automation is here . . . and its presence will only increase over the next several years! While once reserved for stars and athletes, the past few years have seen overwhelming growth as home automation systems have found a significant balance of cost and features leading to a more mainstream introduction.
Until recently, average consumers have had few choices. They could
either spend thousands of dollars for a high-end, whole home control
system or could employ a low-cost, do-it-yourself system with limited
functionality. But in the last couple of years, this emerging industry
has developed a broad base of control options, leveraged existing
pre-wiring (i.e., audio/video) for home networks and promoted a
variety of more practical home management applications for lifestyle
Professional designers are responsible for more than simply selecting
fabric and color, they must know the client and understand how he
or she expects to interact with the living environment. With the
rise of home automation, as window coverings professionals, we are
faced with a new challenge and a new tool! In addition to designing
interiors to meet the consumer’s requirements for beauty and
functionality, we must now understand and recommend the best control
option for the application at hand. And in most cases, this means
at least offering an automated window covering solution.
After all, whether your clients are currently integrating with a
whole home automation system or plan to add some form of integration
in the future, they trust your expertise to guide them in the best
direction to achieve their needs. When considering which RF (radio
frequency) window coverings automation solution to specify, it is
important to know the facts. While some RF solutions are simply
“gadget class” where there is a one-to-one ratio of product
to control (i.e., automated window coverings with RF control that
only operate the window coverings), other systems can more readily
justify the cost as they leverage multiple types of home appliances.
And while there are many current systems offered in the industry,
each with its own set of features and benefits, it is important
to know the basics of RF control and home automation.
In part two of this three part series, join Techniku, a leader in
the design of automation solutions for window coverings, as we examine
our new RF protocol that is driving the market of whole home automation,
how it works and why it is different than the current market offerings.
CHOOSING AN RF SOLUTION
As with all companies, when researching which direction to pursue
when offering a wireless, RF solution, many options must be considered.
Should you develop an in-house solution, use a current solution
readily available or wait for the ZigBee (the association setting
the international standards) universal standard solution? Clearly,
each of these options has its own benefits and drawbacks. While
in-house development provides control of the process and function,
it also can be a costly endeavor, oftentimes resulting in a closed
network that causes challenges in home automation integration. A
second option is to use one of the many traditional solutions already
used including the standard X-10. While proven, X-10 is not the
future. It has brought home automation to a new level, but many
new technologies are antiquating its importance. Or do you sit back
and wait for ZigBee to release a suggestion, which can be several
years out . . . causing lots of lost time and revenue in a growing
So when facing this decision, it is a daunting task as so much future
viability is on the line. As consumers become more comfortable with
technology, Techniku understood the importance of making the right
decision for now and the future . . . and that’s where Z-Wave
Z-WAVE: THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE . . . TODAY
Among the innovations leading home automation is the new, highly
efficient microprocessor chip, Z-Wave. International manufacturers
who choose Z-Wave as a control backbone integrate the chip into
their products/appliances. It includes built-in radio (RF) transmitters
and receivers that enable the appliance to communicate its identity,
power demands and functional status for simple control of most electrical
devices using radio waves.
From lighting and automated window coverings to security systems
and thermostats, the low-cost Z-Wave chip can transform any standalone
device into part of an intelligent network that can be controlled
and monitored wirelessly using a remote control, PC or even voice-activation.
Z-Wave delivers high-quality networking at a fraction of the cost
of other similar technologies by focusing on narrow bandwidth applications
and substituting costly hardware with innovative software solutions.
THE WORKINGS OF Z-WAVE
While many of us may not understand how these microprocessor chips
work, we are all familiar with their existence in many of the products
we already use, from computers to mobile telephones! So, let’s
take a closer look at how the Z-Wave chip works.
Operating on a low bandwidth (900 or 686 megahertz depending on
the continent), Z-Wave provides an open protocol (mesh) network,
similar to the Internet. The control provides a simple, cross-platform
technology that allows a variety of Z-Wave-enabled products to be
simply and seamlessly integrated into a multiple appliance home
automation system in seconds. Using proprietary software, each chip
establishes a unique address in the home automation system and will
automatically look for other devices embedded with a Z-Wave chip.
The newly active Z-Wave appliance will then send a signal to confirm
the presence of all other Z-Wave appliances and record them as partners
in the mesh, ultimately developing a routing table.
So, in addition to receiving commands from a wireless RF source
(such as a computer, phone or remote), each Z-Wave-enabled appliance
acts as a relay to communicate the message to other Z-Wave appliances,
working around RF obstacles. This dynamic routing principle results
in vastly improved coverage and reliability with virtually unlimited
range for up to 264 Z-Wave-enabled products! Should a connection
fail, the Z-Wave-enabled appliances can dynamically re-create routes.
Also, unlike X-10 technology, all Z-Wave devices provide two-way
communication, so the controller (remote, PC, etc.) always receives
an acknowledgement from the appliance. If it sends an “on”
command, the appliance acknowledges that the command was received
and executed or if a problem occurred, the controller will display
an error message. For example, say from the master bedroom, the
homeowner wants to verify all of the lights in the home are off,
the window coverings are lowered and wants to turn down the thermostat.
With Z-Wave-enabled products, all of this can be done at the touch
of a button. Acknowledgement will be sent from all of the appliances
back to the controller to confirm action has been taken.
THE BAND WAGON
A recent U.S. study revealed how a variety of events, technology
innovations, economic developments and market entrants are redefining
home automation and how it is becoming an integral part of many
companies’ short- and long-term strategic planning and product
development. In the past, many home automation strategies have focused
on closed protocols, ultimately creating challenges when faced with
integration of many products. However, recently many market-renowned
product manufacturers including Intel, Motorola, Microsoft, HomeSeer,
CasaWorks and Intermatics, are re-evaluating these closed protocols
and realizing that to grow the market, we must support a synergy
between multiple platforms and manufacturers.
The goal of the Z-Wave partnership was to create a universal chip
that would provide plug-and-play capabilities for all Z-Wave-enabled
products and technology. With Techniku, the partnership provides
a new focus on window coverings and motor control. And with a growing
consortium of major companies backing this revolutionary new chip,
a number of people win. From manufacturers through the value chain
to consumers, the adoption of Z-Wave results in a greater number
of options as more items from different companies can now be connected
to the same integrated system.
Technology should be easy to use. With a press of a button, a multitude
of functions should take effect . . . and with the Z-Wave partnership,
systems are becoming simplified so that the same equipment can be
used to control many appliances.
GETTING STARTED WITH TECHNIKU AND Z-WAVE
As more consumers demand to live in a fully integrated home where
individual technologies work together to compliment the environment,
we as window coverings professionals need to understand our options
for control and how to match these options with our clients’
requirements. While Z-Wave is just one of the options, its extensive
list of features are hard to ignore.
• Scalable and Cost-Effective: The Z-Wave protocol was developed
with the versatility to include additional features and applications
to connect to other appliances and devices over time. Consumers
can add Z-Wave-enabled products, ranging from lighting to home security
to automated window coverings, at any time as they require only
power wiring to integrate with current controls.
• Simple Installation: Designed to enable automatic network
address assignment at installation, simple inclusion/exclusion and
association/disassociation, Z-Wave-enabled appliances ensure easy
installation, expansion and management of the control network. Using
RF, only power wiring is required and the consumer enjoys flexible
programming without complicated wiring or programming.
• Future Proof: To ensure future flexibility, forward/backward
compatibility and expanded applications, Z-Wave provides multiple-feature
support by the use of generic command classes and a variable frame
structure. It can run about any control application for a variety
of everyday appliances directly on the Z-Wave chip. And, in the
case of Techniku automation systems, is motor agnostic as long as
the controls are used.
Today’s consumers require innovative, lifestyle-enhancing technologies
that maximize the benefits of their home environments. And while
we, as an industry, play a small role in home automation, our role
is important as we control lighting, security and privacy with the
window coverings we specify.
Here at Techniku, we are committed to providing our industry with
cutting-edge technology that allows fabricators, installers, designers
and consumers to win with the best product offering. With Z-Wave
technology, enable all of the advanced electronics in your clients’
homes to work in concert, enhancing the comfort, entertainment and
security of the entire household.
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.