Internet Access to Home Controls

Background

Since 1980 home automation enthusiasts have been using X10 devices to control lights, appliances, home theater equipment, garage doors and just about anything that uses electricity in the house. Since X10 is a technology that uses the house electrical wiring to transmit signals, the ability to turn devices on or off, and control the brightness of lights are at the core of this signaling protocol. The array of DIM commands for brightness control can also be interpreted to mean something different to more sophisticated devices, such as an HVAC control system. Even the operation of non-X10 devices, such as a rain sensor connected to a lawn sprinkler control system, can be monitored and controlled through the use of an X10 low voltage probe and control relay. The probe advises you when the rain sensor is engaged, and the relay functions as a bypass switch in the event you really want the sprinklers to operate on any given day. The benefits to the homeowner of all this is convenience, simplification, and/or cost reduction above and beyond the "coolness" factor.

Much of the "control" side of home automation can be accomplished with either wired or wireless "standalone" controllers. However, homes with a security and alarm system with a wall console, a video surveillance system connected to the TV, a digital thermostat for HVAC, and X10 controls for lighting and appliances, typically have four different control devices located in different areas of the home to handle each of these functions. And this doesn't include the myriad of controllers required for the home theater system. Except for the security and alarm system controllable via the telephone, none of these five functional areas mentioned are easily controllable remotely from outside the home unless they are integrated into a single control point.

Your home personal computer is the most flexible device available to you capable of providing a single control point for most of the devices in your home. This includes your home entertainment, security and alarm, video surveillance, HVAC control, and lighting control systems.

The same Media PC that integrates all of your media content in one place can easily be extended to integrate access to these other systems to truly achieve a single control point for your home. Since your Media PC is also a web server, you now have access to this control point from any location with any device that can access the Internet.

If you own one or more vacation homes, this control point can be extended to each property providing a single point of access to all your real estate holdings. Thecost reduction possible just by remotely controlling HVAC equipment when your property is vacant and outdoor lawn sprinklers when it's raining can be substantial. Add the ability to monitor and control the other systems as conditions change, and you have a compelling solution made possible by use of the home PC and the Internet.

Software is the Key

As stated the home PC provides the single point of control for most home devices, but the software package selected to run on the PC is the key to satisfying your home automation requirements, which includes the way you wish to interact with the system. JCL Automation has identified the major "off-the-shelf" packages currently available. If Internet access is not a requirement, the Smarthome Manager Essential/Plus and Houselinc software are capable solutions without a web interface.

The existing software solutions with a web interface include: Home Control Assistant, Homeseer, and HAI Weblink II. Each of these solutions requires a broadband connection to the Internet, and a web server configured on your PC. If your ISP provides only a dynamic connection to the Internet, you will also need to take advantage of the dynamic DNS solutions provided by No-IP.com and others for maintaining the relationship between your Internet address and the IP address of your PC.

The following matrix shows the major home automation requirements versus the capabilities for each software package as of June, 2006. The light blue shaded rows represent the requirements of the JCL Automation Demo House, which has the HAI Weblink II software and Control4 installed. Note the Control4 system controllers are based on imbedded Linux with proprietary software, but the system is maintained with the Composer Windows-based software.

Home Automation Requirements HAI Weblink II Home Control Assistant 5 Plus Homeseer Smarthome Manager Essential Plus Control4
Control Access Web based via home PC Web based via home PC Web based via home PC Local PC only Web based via system controller
Alarm System Integration Replaces security system None, I/O Linc basic only Yes, with HAI panel plug-in None, I/O Linc basic only Yes, security system must have serial interface
Disaster Recovery (flood, fire, wind, rain) Complete Security System functions I/O Linc limited sensing to 4 dry contacts Yes, with HAI panel plug-in I/O Linc limited sensing to 4 dry contacts Can monitor all security system zones
HVAC temperature control Yes, w/HAI thermostat controller w/remote temp. and humidity sensors Yes, via RCS X10 thermostat Yes, via RCS X10 thermostat or HAI thermostat Yes, via RCS X10 thermostat Yes, via wireless thermostat
Direct X10 lighting control Yes, on/off, dimmer & status Yes, on/off, dimmer & status Yes, on/off, dimmer & status Yes, on/off, dimmer & status Yes, via security system or X10 converter
Wireless lighting control No No Yes, w/Insteon plug-in Yes, w/Insteon version Yes, uses ZigBee standard
Event or time-based X10 lighting control Events, flags, & counters Multi-schedule controls Event & timed triggers Event & time-based triggers Events, variables, & timed triggers
Home Entertainment Controls Only w/HAI Home Control for Windows Media Center software No Yes, w/Media Center plug-in no Will control all entertainment components with system remote
Scene/Sequence lighting control Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Multi-modes (home, away, vacation) Yes No No No Yes, via mode variables
Sprinkler control I/O Linc, probe & rain sensor I/O Linc, probe, rain sensor I/O Linc, probe, rain sensor I/O Linc, probe & rain sensor Contact/Relay extender & rain sensor
Video surveillance Yes No Yes, basic capability w/webcam plug-in No Yes, with IP Cameras
Email notification alerts Yes No Yes No Yes
Telephone-based commands & dial-out alerts Yes No Yes, with telephone plug-in No No
Voice Alerts Announcements only No Interactive voice No No
Pager text alerts No No No No No
Browser User Interface Browser only Browser/ Windows GUI Browser or Windows GUI or Media Center plug-in Browser/ Windows GUI Web Navigator Browser Interface
Comments Industrial Strength Solution. Best choice if installing an Omni System. Weather Station support Most flexible package, but some functions are rudimentary Lost cost approach for local control only Recommended product line for whole-house automation

Notes:
I/O Linc is an X10 product that supports up to 4 probe connections or contact closure relay outputs
HAI Home Control for Windows Media Center software is separate from HAI Weblink II. If you install the latest versions, they can co-exist on the same PC.

The above provides a quick overview of PC-based home automation solutions, and the advantages of using your PC as a single control point versus using several different "standalone" controllers for your home devices. To identify unfulfilled requirements you may have for home automation, think in terms of what devices or systems in your home you would like to control differently, and the associated value this would bring to you. In other words, how could your controls be more convenient or simpler to use, or save you cost? We have just touched on the possibilities in this brief. If you would like understand better how home automation can benefit you, or how we can help satisfy your requirements, contact us today!