by Robert D. Findlay, Bill Lynch, Graham McCormack

The Home Automation Portal Appliance will soon become an essential addition to most home automation projects of any complexity.  In this paper we discuss how the small, lightweight and low power box produced by IO Anywhere can act as a Home Automation Portal Appliance.

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 expanding.

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 them all.

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 this article.

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 available.

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 any browser  
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 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.

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 ways.

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 Internet browser.

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 analog IO.


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 Appliance.