In the ten years that LonWorks technology has been around it has managed to gather significant momentum in pretty much any control networking market you can imagine â€“ buildings, factories, trains, home and utility markets, to name a few.
At the same time, there seem to be a lot of mis-information and confusion about how the LonWorks solution fits in with the home automation market. Well, here’s your chance to get up to speed on what LonWorks technology is and isn’t.
The 50,000 foot view
In a nutshell, the LonWorks solution provides a complete soup-to-nuts platform for control networking â€“ from silicon to software.
Here’s a good analogy to clarify why this is important. The Internet has been around since the 70’s. Why then has it exploded in the past five or six years into the phenomenon that it is today? The answer lies in offering the end-users a complete solution. Sure, the TCP/IP protocol and Ethernet were around for a long time. But it wasn’t until the HTTP protocol, the HTML language and the now-ubiquitous web browser were invented that the Internet and the Web really began to be used by the masses. What was needed was a complete, open and seamless platform.
That’s exactly what LonWorks offers for home automation – a complete platform that includes not just a protocol or a transceiver, but the interoperability standards and a universal software API that all work together seamlessly. Figure 1 illustrates this.
Figure 1. What’s needed is a complete home automation platform.
Throughout the past few decades there have been many home automation companies who have offered a subset of a complete solution. Consequently they have mostly either failed or have managed to eventually hit the ceiling imposed by their limited offerings.
Let’s look at the different components of the LonWorks platform.
The Physical Media
In a diverse and challenging environment like the home, any home networking solution must be able to adapt to the homeowner needs and the special requirements of the home itself. For example, it is often more cost effective for existing home to use the power line as the networking medium, whereas for new homes a twisted pair cable can be easily be pulled throughout the house.
It would also be desirable to be able to mix different media types within a single home, so for example a part of the home network operates over the power line, other parts over twisted pair, some section over radio frequency and yet another over Infrared.
The LonWorks platform is media independent. Many companies offer transceiver for different media types, including PL, TP, RF, Coax, IR, and FO.
Of course reliability is just as important as flexibility. To give you an example, Echelon’s PLT-22 fourth generation power line transceiver achieves a 99.7% outlet communication coverage in a typical home without the need for any special devices installed in the home (e.g. phase couplers). You may not need that for your lights (assuming you can sleep with the lights on), but you can do without that kind of performance when your dealing with your security and access system. For more information on the PLT-22 see www.echelon.com/products/Transceivers/powerline.htm.
LonWorks technology was designed about 10 years ago by Echelon Corporation as a universal platform for almost any control system. The technology, mainly the protocol and programming environment were designed from ground up to deal with the idiosyncrasies and demands of control networks. The LonTalk protocol is a complete implementation of all 7 layers of the OSI reference model and has not only be embraced by EIA (EIA-709) but also many other standards bodies (IEEE, ANSI, IFSF, ASHRAE, CEN, SEMI and AAR to name a few).
The protocol is open for all to use (no royalties) on any platform and processor. Neuron Chips implement the LonTalk protocol in silicon and are manufactured and sold by Toshiba, Cypress semiconductor and Motorola worldwide. There are currently about 8.5 million devices installed around the world that incorporate a Neuron Chip. For more information about the protocol refer to www.echelon.com/products/Core/default.htm#protocol.
LonMark Interoperability Association
The LonMark Interoperability Association was formed in May 1994 by 36 companies and already has over 230 members making up the who’s who of control networking world. The LonMark Association’s mission is to enable the easy integration of multi-vendor systems based on LonWorks networks. The Association provides an open forum for member companies to work together on marketing and technical programs to promote the availability of open interoperable control devices.
The LonMark Association major functions are to promote benefits of interoperable LonMark products, to provide collaborative marketing programs for companies developing LonMark products and to provide a forum to define application-specific design requirements.
Products that have been verified to conform to LonMark interoperability guidelines are eligible to carry the LonMark logo. The LonMark logo is an indicator that a product has completed the conformance tests and has been designed to interoperate across a LonWorks network.
More information on the LonMark Association can be found at www.lonmark.org.
The Software Platform for Control Networks
The LonWorks Network Services (LNS) software provides a robust API for network management, diagnostics, monitoring and control. LNS is already being used by hundreds of companies world-wide to develop interoperable, easy-to-use software tools for the installers and end-users. For more information about LNS refer to www.echelon.com/products/LNS .
LNS’s built-in IP support allows seamless integration of a home control network with the Internet for performing remote monitoring and control of devices from anywhere. For a demonstration of this capability check out www.echelon.com/demo.
LonWorks in the home
By enabling the home control network to extend beyond the home and allowing service providers to offer value-add services to leverage the in-home network, many new things become possible. First, the cost of the in-home network will begin to be insignificant, as it has happened to cellular phones and cable TV set-top boxes.
Second, a whole new set of applications and services will begin to emerge which will not only offer new levels of living comfort to the homeowner, but will allow him or her to start saving money. Now that’s compelling.
For example, Merloni Elettrodomestici, one of the largest European white good manufacturers, has announced their Ariston Digital line of smart appliances (dish washers, washing machines, refrigerators, etc.) that use LonWorks technology to intelligently communicate with each other and regulate the overall power usage in the home (an issue in certain countries in Europe).
Merloni also leverages this in house power line network to remotely monitor the appliances and inform the homeowner if an appliance is about to breakdown. You can imagine what other things you can do with this type of a setup, but the key to this vision is seamless access to in-home data from the service provider â€“ end-to-end networking. For more information on the Ariston Digital line of products see http://www.merloni.com/eng/ari_digi.htm.
The LonWorks platform enables all the players involved to use an open, interoperable and robust solution to solve a common problem â€“ and it does it now. Figure 2 below show the relationship between these players.
Figure 2. The players that benefit form a common end-to-end solution.
So the next time you’re comparing prices for a home automation system (or device) think about what you’re comparing. Ask yourself if your choice is indeed future-proof. Is it reliable enough? Is it scaleable enough? No amount of technology or hype can change the universal truth that you do indeed get what you pay for.
Want to find out more?
In addition to the Echelon Web site (www.echelon.com), you can see and hear more about LonWorks and home networking at the LonWorld99 International Conference and Exposition, October 13-15, 1999 at the RAI Center in Amsterdam.
A full conference track is devoted to the home market, with presentations and products from leading edge companies including BPT, Cisco, Echelon, Enermet, Ericsson, Leviton, Merloni, Schlumberger, Teknema and many others. For information and online registration, point your browser to www.lonworld99.com.