"Complexity must be grown from simple systems that
From Out of Control by Kevin Kelly
Be it for security, device control, climate control or exterior
control (eg. irrigation systems), the home automation market continues
to grow and thrive.
A quick perusal of any home automation catalog shows that for any
project the choice of sensors and "smart" devices is continuously
To connect all these devices into a useful system often requires
several network layers within the home such as ethernet, X.10 and/or
RS485. Wireless home automation projects are increasing and this will
likely become more true as technologies such as RFID and Zigbee roll
out. However, this says nothing of the miriad of other digital/computing
devices present in many homes, including personal computers, laptops,
DSL routers, PDA's, PVR's, digital cameras and game consoles.
Many urban homes are now connected to the Internet via some form of
broadband connection. With this type of connectivity, there is the
making of an ethernet network to bring together all these devices.
Much has been written about the home gateway appliance, i.e. a small
computing device used to centralize all aspects of digital storage and
secure connectivity to the Internet.
Less has been written about what we are terming the Home Automation
Portal Appliance or HAPA.
What would an ideal Home Automation Portal Appliance look like?
In our opinion, the HAPA should be inexpensive, small, lightweight and
easy on power consumption.
It should come with an ethernet interface so that it can easily
interface with the other devices on the home automation network.
Not only must it coexist, but the appliance's internal interfaces should
be accessable from any of the above computing devices.
Ideally, the HAPA should come with a webserver to allow simple browser
based access to internal configuration and setup screens.
In addition to ethernet, the ideal HAPA should be able to understand
other protocols typically present in any home automation project of any
complexity. These would include such protocols as RS232, RS485 and X.10.
It should also be capable of accepting direct I/O from sensors.
While there are a number of appliances available in home automation
catalogs which meet some of the requirements for our HAPA, nothing meets
However, in this paper we will be discussing one particular appliance
that in our opinion comes very close. IO Anywhere Inc. (IOA) out of
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada produces a network appliance positioned for
the OEM marketplace. Despite this positioning, the IOA comes with some
impressive capabilities right out of the box.
It meets most of the HAPA criteria and it sports its own webserver
which can be used to configure all the home appliance capabilities. For
more details and an on-line demo see the reference section at the end of
As outlined on the IO Anywhere website, the webserver is certainly not
the only means to interact with the IOA box. One interface, SIMPL, is a
powerful way to connect other computer software into the IOA interface.
To help potential users make use of SIMPL, there is a no fee online
programming course where students can learn to write local Tcl/Tk and
'C' software programs. These, in turn can be used to control a remote
IOA appliance. All the tools these students use, including the
library containing the entire IOA API, are open source and freely
The IOA appliance sports two serial ports which can be configured to
talk RS232 or RS485. With the addition of a serial to X10 converter
such as the Smarthome PowerLinc II, the IOA can also interface into the
world of X10 devices.
The standard IOA appliance comes with 32 TTL I/O channels and there are
add-on boards that enable you to do 16 bit A-D conversions.
Example of a simple HAPA application using the IOA
To illustrate how simple it is to add internet/intranet access to
an existing X10 system and keep your costs as low as possible without
re-inventing the wheel, we decided to use the Smarthome PowerLinc II to
physically connect to the X10 wiring.
When we made this connection, it allowed us to maximize the
flexibility afforded by the IO Anywhere Inc's Ethernet Peripheral that
contain the following features:
a. all configuration, control, and programming is accessible using
With the increasing availability of broadband connectivity both from the
office and the home one can invisage many applications for the IOA -
HAPA such as illustrated below.
b. IOA draws power directly from the PowerLinc II, no additional
power supply needed
c. full local diagnostics of X10 network traffic
d. full ON/OFF control of all Plug-in appliance modules
e. automatic Email generation on detection of network problems or
programmed event detection
f. user password protection (allows 4 levels of security)
g. PC access using Open Source 'C' library
h. auto detect of most X.10 modules
i. user definable labels for each X.10 module
With the IOA connected to the X.10 home network via the
PowerLinc II, someone using an Internet browser in their office, could
turn up (or down) their thermostat setting if they're working late at
night, they could also turn on their exterior lights to welcome them
home. Or, you could have the freezer or electrical panel set up to send
an automatic Email to the office if the power has been shut off for a
specified period of time. This type of alert could be used a myriad of
Another use could be to connect into your home network from your
laptop while in an airport, airplane or hotel room to allow you to turn
up the heat in your swimming pool and turn on the interior and exterior
lights. When you get home from a long business trip, you'll be able to
drive into a well-lit home with the swimming pool ready at the right
temperature for a refreshing dip. All this can be done from any remote
While this illustration shows the IOA - HAPA connected to the X.10
home network via the PowerLinc II, other connectivity possibilities can
coexist in the IOA box such as RS232/RS485 and/or direct digital or
The Home Automation Portal Appliance will soon become an essential
addition to most home automation projects of any complexity.
In this paper we've discussed how the small, lightweight and low power
box produced by IO Anywhere can act as a Home Automation Portal
For futher info