As we forge our way toward the new millennium, the demand for automated products, such as smart appliances, and energy management systems, in the home and business has empowered an industry. Looking at some of the key factors will shed light on how this phenomenon has evolved and where it may lead us.

An understanding of the constantly-changing dynamics of the industry is paramount. Contributing factors such as digital convergence, deregulation, and creation of the CEBus standard protocol have propelled the home and building automation industry forward. Looking at each variable separately from the perspective of a leading industry engineering company, Diablo Research Company, should provide some clarity to this turn of events.

Digital convergence is a powerful player in the automation industry and the world. In the past, various forms of media (text, sounds, still images, video, etc.) have been disseminated independently of each other. With the arrival of the “Digital Age” comes the accelerated demise of these distribution channels. Convergence of media, telecommunications, and information and control technology industries has mandated a reassessment of the ways in which entertainment and information content are produced, distributed, manipulated, and used. In turn, this has driven both rethinking and repositioning of the players in the home and building automation arena. This is evidenced by the growing number of strategic alliances (i.e RG Group and PG&E, Microsoft, and TCI, etc.) between companies that have been in or around the industry for years but had never worked together until recently. More exposure, larger markets, and major corporate interest increases competition, lowers prices, and removes home and building automation from the exclusivity of the affluent.

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Utility and telecommunications deregulation, referred to by some as reregulation, is also a key factor in the propulsion of home and building automation to new heights. Deregulation provides incentive for both providers and consumers. Telecommunications and utility providers will be looking to enlarge their customer bases and strategic alliances in order to develop and deliver a competitive advantage to consumers. With this in mind, development of home/building automation systems, gateways, and value-added or advanced products in the form of turn-key solutions is paramount to the sales and distribution of their offerings. The ability for utility and telecom companies to provide savings through energy management will help establish guidelines. When these solutions are available it will allow consumers to differentiate and choose between various providers based on their offerings. If a provider has a solution beneficial to its customers, the solution will be an incentive to keep customers loyal and further fuel the growth of the automation industry.

Developing standards also play a major role in growing the industry. The EIA’s Consumer Electronic Bus (CEBus) consists of three (3) interrelated elements: the communications protocol, media interfaces, and Common Application Language (CAL). Until recently the CEBus Industry Council (CIC) had always presented the three elements together, thus producing a plug’n’play network over which a wide variety of consumer electronic products could communicate between themselves. However, in January 1997, the CIC announced the Home Plug and Play (HPnP) specification. The specification was developed to expand CIC’s original charter to cover the problem of interoperability among home automation products using CAL. The specification puts the desire of the homeowner at the forefront by taking a top-down approach to interoperability, with the focus on subsystem operation. The HPnP specification consists of three levels of compliance: Communication Interoperability insures transmitted data arrives at its proper destination in the correct format; Application Interoperability, on a device-specific basis, it provides assurance the message content is meaningful; Scenario Interoperability, the highest conceptual level, ensures products cutting across manufacture and category boundaries operate in an orchestrated manner. (HPnP specification information provided by CIC). Standards evolved to this degree and backed by industry power brokers lends greater credibility and stability to the rapidly-growing home and building automation industry and retail markets.

The forces driving the automation industry are both real and many. With convergence, deregulation, alliances, and standards being set, there is no end in sight to the up-side growth potential of the home and building automation industry. Since its inception in 1982, Diablo Research Company has focused its engineering experience and knowledge in the home and building automation arena. Diablo Research has created relationships with industry visionaries and manufacturers and developed performance optimized products for this rapidly changing environment. We will continue to strive to meet the engineering needs of this exciting market.