Today’s homes are bursting with entertainment equipment and communications devices. Many homeowners have installed complex lighting controls, heating and air conditioning systems, as well as security devices. But while these individual products may be automated, whole-house automation—the integration of all these core systems and devices to create a truly smart home—has been difficult to achieve.

Home automation enthusiasts have long attempted to create homes that are more responsive both to their infrastructure and to their inhabitants’ living patterns. In an automated home, a typical morning scenario, for example, might include the following elements. Upstairs, when the clock alarm goes off, the bathroom floor and towel racks heat up. Downstairs, the coffeemaker starts up, the porch lights turn off, and the window coverings open. The TV in the kitchen switches on to the morning news, and the dog-food dispenser feeds the family pet.

For most homeowners, even such relatively simple scenarios have proven elusive. For years, home automation remained the almost exclusive domain of technology wizards, gadget gurus or the extremely affluent. Installation was too complicated, the devices were too expensive or the technology simply wasn’t reliable and flexible enough for the mass market.

Now, however, new home control networking technologies are bringing what is now more appropriately named electronic home improvement and automation within the reach of ordinary consumers.

One new technology that is proving popular with both device manufacturers and end users is INSTEON™, a dual-mode true mesh network developed by Smarthome, Inc. that combines wireless radio frequency (RF) with the home’s existing electrical wiring.

Because it employs dual-mode communications, INSTEON is less susceptible than single-band RF networks to the kind of interference and noise commonly encountered within the home, and because it uses the existing power line, no new wiring is necessary.

Simple Set Up

From the user’s perspective, the great beauty of the INSTEON network is its simplicity. No professional home automation installer is required. Anyone can install and program an INSTEON-enabled device made by any manufacturer, whether the product be a dimmer switch or a security alarm sensor or a comfort control device. Plug-in INSTEON products can be installed and set up in less than 10 minutes, and wired-in devices, once installed, are equally simple to set up.

The devices are programmed using a simple one touch/touch and hold method. Each INSTEON device has its own unique factory-assigned ID, eliminating the need to set addresses or manipulate code wheels. Linking two INSTEON devices is as simple as pressing and holding the ON button on the first controller device for 10 seconds, then doing the same on the second device. Commands are confirmed, providing instant feedback to the user.

All INSTEON devices are peers, so they do not need network supervision—meaning that complex network controllers and routing tables are not required. Any device can transmit, receive or repeat other messages without a master controller or routing software. It’s a true peer-to-peer mesh network that simulcasts messages rather than routing them.

Because no PC or intelligent controller is needed in the network, getting started with home automation is simple and affordable. An intelligent controller can always be added later, of course, for advanced home management—and it will then be able to upload any settings that have already been programmed.

Modular and Flexible Design

The INSTEON network is modular, so homeowners can easily add devices to the network at any time without having to reconfigure anything. It’s easy to begin with, say, lighting control in a few rooms, and then gradually expand the network either to other areas of the house or to include other systems—comfort control, safety or home entertainment, for example.

Adding more devices makes an INSTEON network more robust, by virtue of a simple protocol for communication retransmissions and retries. Every INSTEON device will automatically repeat messages as soon as it is powered up. Adding more devices increases the number of available pathways for messages to travel (as does the dual-band communication using both the power line and RF), resulting in greater reliability.

The system is affordable because the technology is optimized for home control networking; it is designed for command and control rather than high-speed data transport. The firmware is extremely simple and can run on the smallest microcontrollers using very little memory—and that means the lowest possible cost.

INSTEON technology is very inexpensive for manufacturers to integrate into a wide variety of home devices, from light switches to appliances, and retail prices for these off-the-shelf devices are affordable. INSTEON products are currently available from as well as from other manufacturers and major retail outlets.

Although INSTEON technology is simple, it can easily bridge to other technologies and other networks such as WiFi LANs or the Internet, meaning that its potential is virtually limitless. And as new technologies emerge through its developer community, The INSTEON Alliance, partner developed INSTEON-enabled products will be home-control- ready and simply added to the INSTEON network—devices that are reliable, affordable and easy to install and use.

The dream of a personalized home environment that increases comfort, safety, convenience and value is becoming a reality. Home control networks are finally ready for the mass market.

Today’s INSTEON Home Control Network

A typical INSTEON home control network available today allows the homeowners to benefit from a wide variety of applications, ranging from safety (egress lights illuminate an exit pathway when the smoke detector goes into alarm) to cost savings (motorized blinds in the skylight automatically close to cool the bathroom and save energy) to creating a comfortable ambiance (selecting a preset living room scene dims the lamps, closes the blinds, and turns on the fireplace).

An example of a recent installation included the installation of five motorized blinds manufactured by Somfy (two in the living room, two in the den and one in the bathroom skylight), costing a total of approximately $1,500; three First Alert ONELINK smoke detectors, costing approximately $180; and 47 INSTEON products manufactured by Smarthome (33 Smarthome Switches, five KeypadLinc, seven LampLinc, two SignaLinc RFs and two ControLinc), costing approximately $1,970. Total cost: $3,650.

Rajeev Kapur, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Smarthome Rajeev Kapur joined Smarthome in 2004. Prior to joining Smarthome, Kapur was a Dell executive for 11 years, traveling throughout the United States and Asian offices. Kapur is the head of the Smarthome Design Division which is responsible for product development, sales and marketing of Smarthome’s branded products as well as sales and marketing tactics for Insteon™, the company’s flagship home-control networking technology. Prior to Dell, Kapur worked in sales at Gateway and Computer Peripherals, Inc. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from California State University, Fullerton.