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ZigBee Pro, the New Home Automation Standard?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 5 years ago | from the now-if-only-they-all-worked-together dept.

170

An anonymous reader writes "Echelon, Microsoft, Intel, Sun and the Electronic Industries Alliance have been trying to create a home automation standard for two decades — to no avail. Now the ZigBee Alliance, proprietor of a low-rate two-way wireless mesh networking technology, says it will prevail. In six weeks, automation vendor Control4, which has about one million ZigBee nodes installed, will flip the switch on the new ZigBee Pro, which promises interoperability among light switches, thermostats, door locks, motorized shades, security systems, remote controls and some 36 million electric meters."

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Remote controls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086347)

That does not compute.

Cool story bro (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086357)

Yet another buzz thingy I have to learn.

And I only just got what those Hulu/Boxee stories were banging on about.

Creating A Problem. (5, Insightful)

senorpoco (1396603) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086381)

I love the idea of home automation, then I realize that my light switch isn't that far away.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086501)

But 36 million electrical meters? What Geek could resist?

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086711)

resist what?

Resetting them all to zero? Or to 10X their current value?

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086837)

Home automation is going to be a huge part of improving grid energy efficiency [wikipedia.org] over the next several decades.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Funny)

nathan.fulton (1160807) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086959)

Home automation is going to be a huge part of improving grid energy efficiency over the next several decades.

how to use less energy? Install 36 million electric meters! Wait...

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Insightful)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087057)

I realize the attempt at humor, but they measure electrical usage, and the more a home owner is able to directly observe their electrical usage, the more ably they can reduce it.

I for one would love to see a manufacturer come out with wall outlets that have built in (toggling) LCD/LED power usage displays. Power strips with per-outlet usage information.

When users start seeing those "vampire devices" sit idle for hours on end, doing nothing except maybe keeping a few LEDs lit but still costing 5, 10, 20 watts, they'll start shutting them off. If everyone does that, that's megawatts.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28087687)

I for one would love to see a manufacturer come out with wall outlets that have built in (toggling) LCD/LED power usage displays. Power strips with per-outlet usage information.

Wouldn't it be more useful to have a data channel of some sort built in to the wiring, with a feedback to a building's central power drop? Stick a device there and credential it so authorized folks can query their entire home from a wifi device (as well as control the various outlets and possibly devices).

In theory, at least, this will be cheaper and use less resources than adding displays to everything.

I definitely agree on giving people a way to track their resource use. The first step toward changing behavior is to have a meaningful way of measuring the behavior.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Interesting)

iiiears (987462) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088047)

Now a hacked web interface can tell someone it's time to raid my home or only my refrigerator. Balancing risk versus reward just more complex.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087953)

A big share of the energy we waste is the surplus generation utilities have to keep spinning, because they can't accurately predict what demand is going to be. If you have a way of scheduling your consumption with the utility, broadcasting when you're going to have your lights on, and using fine-grained controls to schedule exactly how you use your lights, HVAC and clothes-dryer, the utiltiy can get away with having a much lower spinning surplus.

On the pull side, if you have demand switching in your household, you can put things like your clothes dryer and lights on "automatic" during the day, so the utility gives you a break in price in exchange for letting them turn your dishwasher or clothesdryer on according to their schedule, in order to flatten out demand during the day.

Re:Creating A Problem. (4, Insightful)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088797)

I don't want my power company having control over my dishwasher. That's complete nonsense.

Excel here wanted to install a device that would allow them to shut down the air conditioner for up to 40 minutes at a time. I think the max limit was something like 4 times per day.
What were they willing to offer in return? $25. Not $25 PER BILL, just $25 ONCE.
Again, complete nonsense.

I'd like to use less power and home automation seems like a convenient way to achieve that. But there's no way in hell that I'm going to let my power company decide when I can use the electricity I'm paying for.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

Miseph (979059) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090293)

I think that you've oversimplified that idea a bit. Nobody suggested that these devices would operate only when the electric company says it's ok, simply that an option be built in that turns it on to use electricity when it is cheapest (incidentally, this is when demand is lowest, and when a responsible electric company would want you to use it).

This isn't giving the electric company control over your appliances, this is giving YOU control over your appliances without requiring you to constantly supervise them. You're always free to press the button or turn the knob whether it's economical or not.

Their next step then... (2, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090567)

..and BTW I agree with you, will be to institute selling their electricity to you the same way they have to get it, at variable rates. When they have to go get some peak power juice, the costs go way up, real fast. They might just decide to pass those fees on to you with smarter meters, maybe even down to per minute pricing. You decide to run your heaviest loads during peak power costs for them, be prepared to pay a lot more for it. It could happen! Take them a bit to get it pushed through local legislatures and PUCs, but I am sure they have well trained lobbyists for these tasks.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089755)

Only if an outside entity controls them. The people who owned the house my mother purchased had some deal where the electric company could install a box and turn off the water heater and AC during peak periods. It was supposed to be one then the other if the load wasn't tamed and there was supposed to be a discounted rate for doing it.

Instead, when you wanted hot water, there wasn't any if someone fucked up and did dishes, a load of laundry or something in the afternoon, and the AC would let the fan kick on or two or three hours but not the pump. We actually had to pay $180 minimum service fee to be told that was the problem when we thought the AC was going bad and not working in the hottest part of the day. And she didn't even get the discounted rates because she wasn't the owner when they were installed.

I removed them, fought with the local electric coop, almost had to go to court until I got the Public Utilities commission involved. It's nothing but a headache of inconvenience and people have no idea how much it is. I think I would take the rolling blackouts in California over giving up control of my home appliances to some third party.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089527)

Electrical meters are read-only, for obvious reasons.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087181)

36 million electrical meters

Electrical meters are physical meters times velocity of propagation, right?

So, whats the conversion factor for electrical meters to imperial?

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

play_in_traffic (946193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087201)

But 36 million electrical meters? What Geek could resist?

Can you imagine a Beowulf cluster made out of 36 million electric meters!

Re:Creating A Problem. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086801)

You will like it less when the guy down the street who wants your wife to leave you so he can continue his affair with her decides to test your home automation security.

* Wife dressing in front of her window? Open blinds.
* Need to get up for an important meeting early? Alarm off.
* Promised your wife breakfast in bed after a long fight? Power off overnight, then back on in time for spoiled food and burned toast.

Re:Creating A Problem. (2, Funny)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086971)

You will like it less when the guy down the street who wants your wife to leave you so he can continue his affair with her decides to test your home automation security.

Once she starts having the affair, wouldn't I want her to leave me? What am I missing here?

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087119)

The knowledge she has an affair.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087153)

My -- what a bunch of cold, unforgiving, and distrusting folks.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087373)

Uh, yeah, says the guy whose .sig says we're going to break anything we come into contact with...

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087455)

I love the idea of home automation, then I realize that my light switch isn't that far away.

Good thing you're not in a wheelchair.

Re:Creating A Problem. (5, Insightful)

Eil (82413) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087535)

I love the idea of home automation, then I realize that my light switch isn't that far away.

I'm sure you were going for +5 Funny, but somehow you wound up at Insightful instead.

To enlighten the mods a little: home automation is less about having to leave your couch to turn off the light than it is about giving your house the ability to control itself according to parameters that you specify.

These days, anyone can write a program that runs on their computer. Only a few of us so far can run a program that runs on our house.

Re:Creating A Problem. (1)

PhotoGuy (189467) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088311)

Most people's light switches are further than the TV, and they'd be outraged to have to turn the tv on/off without a remote... I think remote control of lights and other home functions is a natural evolution that we will see become more and more commonplace. Possibly managed by a computer, but more likely interfaced through a dedicated remote-control device. (These already exist of course, just will probably become more of a standard thing.)

Re:Creating A Problem. (4, Insightful)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088819)

It's not remote control that's the biggest issue. It's automation.
It isn't important that I can control my lights from my desk rather than walking over to the switch. The important thing is the ability for your house to realize that you just went to work in your car and you therefore don't need your lights on, the air conditioner doesn't need to keep the house as cool, the TV should be off, the computer monitor should be off, etc.

Solving major problems. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089641)

As a (slightly, but progressively) disabled young man, I heartily welcome home automation, as it may allow me to manage on my own for longer.

I don't know about others... (5, Insightful)

toppavak (943659) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086413)

light switches, thermostats, door locks, motorized shades, security systems, remote controls and some 36 million electric meters.

But I'd really prefer if my locks remain off any kind of network and have my security system talk over good old-fashioned copper.

Re:I don't know about others... (2, Funny)

PinkPanther (42194) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086679)

How *is* your lawn doing this year?

:-)

Re:I don't know about others... (2, Interesting)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087099)

Copper, meet bump key. Oh, hello there interior of toppavak's home.

Locked doors only keep out undetermined attackers. Imagine if your lock could text/page/call/tweet you when it was busted open though. Now, even a determined attacker can be quickly stopped. Short of an armed guard, you can't prevent a determined attacker while you're away. But a determined and unskilled attacker could be stopped.

Re:I don't know about others... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28087137)

But I'd really prefer if my locks remain off any kind of network and have my security system talk over good old-fashioned copper.

Unless your network is pure fiber and wireless, your cabling is "good old-fashioned copper" somewhere along the line, Sparky.

If you meant "I'd prefer my security system be isolated from my other networks", why didn't you just say so?

Re:I don't know about others... (3, Informative)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087295)

But I'd really prefer if my locks remain off any kind of network and have my security system talk over good old-fashioned copper.

Then I learned about lock-picking and bump keys.
Here : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bump_keys [wikipedia.org]
I'll use encryption on my doors the day it becomes cheap enough (and I become an owner). Anyway, all the burglars I have heard of do not use lock-picking but rather brute force...

Re:I don't know about others... (2, Insightful)

drizek (1481461) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088773)

Every security system can be compromised. You only prefer copper because you know more about hacking than you know about lock picking.

Too little too late (4, Insightful)

McGregorMortis (536146) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086417)

I've been hearing about ZigBee and Z-Wave for years. But if you look at what's out there available to you, it's crap. Poor selection, limited capability, and a high price.

Meanwhile, Smarthome and their INSTEON protocol have a broad selection of very powerful and flexible components, available today at a good price. For a DIY home-automation job, there's no contest.

Personally, I think INSTEON will become the de-facto standard that takes over from X-10. The others are just not competitive in the ways that matter.

I sound like a shill, I know. Sorry. I just like Smarthome stuff. But I wish they wouldn't embarrass me by hawking pseudo-science crap like electromagnetic water softeners.

Re:Too little too late (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086463)

I've got zwave at home, and the fact that my harmony just works with it makes it hands down the winner. Insteon needs a ir adapter, and the support just isnt there.

Not to mention phase couplers and the apparent lack of any guaranteed functionality made my decision that much more black and white.

Re:Too little too late (1)

gavron (1300111) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086813)

I have Insteon at home and the phase coupler doesn't work for squat.

I hate Microsoft so I can't be called a shill.

If someone brings a product to market that will actually work, then IN THE TRUE SPIRIT OF MARKET-DRIVEN CAPITALISM it shall win.

I hope this is it.

Ehud

Too expensive (4, Informative)

tkrotchko (124118) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086647)

I like the idea of home control, lights that turn on and off, and I've been doing it with X10 for about 20 years. But I realize it has problems, poor reliability, requires neutral in the switch box for most installations, switches and outlets that actually stop functioning after 2 years, limited availability, poor selection of switch types and colors, and extremely high prices.

So Insteon comes out and solves the first problem, and nothing else. Hey, dig that light switch for $45 plus shipping! (http://www.smarthome.com/2476S/SwitchLinc-Relay-INSTEON-Remote-Control-On-Off-Switch-Non-Dimming-White/p.aspx). A standard switch costs all of $1.

And ZigBee doesn't even have interoperability on it's side? And I'm guessing we're not going to see remote switches for $1. I'd even settle for $5-10. I'm guessing the switches will cost $70. It's like they aim at the high-end of the market to get a little traction, then settle comfortably into selling $45 light switches.

It's been many years, and I guess the market isn't there, because everything we have now is overpriced and underperforming.

Re:Too expensive (2, Interesting)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087541)

Zigbee is the most popular wireless module for DIY products/projects like the Arduino [arduino.cc] .

Current prices on sparkfun are $30 for an Arduino, and $25 for a wireless module. If the individual prices are that low, imagine how much markup companies like Insteon have? They're probably selling a $10 lightswitch for $45 plus shipping.

But Arduinos are great because you can reprogram them easily, on a whim, and they're powerful enough to control whatever the hell you want.

Oh, and a question (since I'm not actually into all this hardware hacking stuff); does a light dimmer use something like a potentiometer?

Light dimmers use a Triac. (2, Interesting)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088453)

"... does a light dimmer use something like a potentiometer?"

A light dimmer uses a Triac [gsu.edu] , a semiconductor device that can be turned on at some point during one half-cycle of alternating current. If it is turned on late, the light is dim. If it is turned on earlier, the light is brighter. When the alternating current [wikipedia.org] passes through zero voltage, the device turns itself off.

A Triac is a kind of Thyristor [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Too expensive (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088855)

They used to use variable resistors, yes. Not anymore though.

Re:Too expensive (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28088563)

I put 50+ INSTEON devices in my 6000 sq.ft. home and my total cost is $1 per sq. ft. I can push one button at the door and shut off every light in the house. At midnight, a simple event makes sure all the lights are off, and it saves me about $100/mo. on the power bill (I live in SoCal so power costs me .31/kwh). In 4 years, the power savings alone will have paid for the system.

That's less than carpet. It's less than air conditioning. It's less than CFLs. It was 0.5% of the build budget.

INSTEON isn't expensive. You are penny wise and pound foolish.

Re:Too expensive (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088893)

$100 per month? How many lights were you leaving on before you installed switches that turn off automatically? Seems like this isn't a savings associated with a good system, but rather an expense associated with an person that doesn't remember to turn off his lights as he leaves the room.

Re:Too expensive (1)

CompressedAir (682597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089135)

I'd certainly love the switches to be cheaper, but lets be realistic. My house is worth (in this oh-so-wonderful housing market) $170,000. To automate all switches, computer control, whole house music, all that good stuff, would be about $5000 using a mixture of Insteon, X10, and IR. That's 3% of the house, spread over as many years as needed. That assumes I'd do all the work, of course, but this stuff is so easy you'd be crazy not to.

So for 3% of the value of my house, not even caring about any added value the automation gives the house, I can fully automate my house. Not $1 a switch, but hardly that bad.

Re:Too little too late (2, Insightful)

dfghjk (711126) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086771)

It's easy to think this way until you've actually purchased INSTEON products, then you'll beg for just about anything else. I'm in the process of replacing my INSTEON crap right now.

Re:Too little too late (1)

McGregorMortis (536146) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087027)

Yeah, from what I've heard, it has had its problems. Mechanical reliability problems with SwitchLinc switches, which I gather have been resolved. Firmware problems with some components, which I gather have been resolved.

And it's apparently quite difficult to configure complicated switching arrangements. But I figure an computer scientist/electrical engineer should be able to figure it out.

I admit, I've never actually bought any INSTEON yet, only X-10. But I looked at the other technologies, and just couldn't find anything even remotely as cool as the KeyPadLinc switch. It just does everything.

Too little too late is the right word for Insteon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28088293)

Insteon is really a one trick pony that is pitiful in quality and they are the wrong direction for the technology.

Z-wave (A Zigbee subset) is gaining a lot of support. Levition ViziaRF is the hottest selling system for retrofits for a reason. 100% reliable and 5 year warranties. Advanced lighting automation without neededing a computer and yet integrates easily with HAI or computers.

Smarthome is for hobbyists at best. Z-wave/Zigbee is where the market is going.

Re:Too little too late (1)

rindeee (530084) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090475)

I must agree. I was a serious X-10 junkie for years. INSTEON has already displaced X-10 amongst the nerdier of users (really, were there many non-nerds using X-10 anyway). It's reliable, easy, and dare I say nearly ubiquitous (amongst most serious hobbyists) even at this early stage. ZigBee??? Sorry, I gave at the office.

You know what you doing (3, Funny)

PotatoFiend (1330299) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086503)

Take off every 'ZIGBEE'!!

It's a good idea, but... (2, Funny)

Jesselnz (866138) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086519)

...ZigBee? Who the hell came up with that name?

Re:It's a good idea, but... (2, Funny)

carlzum (832868) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086937)

The same people that revolutionized hair care [flowbee.com] of course. Just imagine the "product synergy." You're on a business trip and your child needs a hair cut. A few mouse clicks later, his hair looks great and there's a warm PopTart waiting for him in kitchen.

How much will it cost? (3, Insightful)

guruevi (827432) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086581)

The main problem with advanced home automation is the cost, inoperability between brands (which works into the cost since you have to buy everything from the same company) and basic problems with those networks. They mostly work in the 2.4GHz band (where the average microwave oven and just about any wireless device operates) which causes random issues with connectivity and synchronization. And then they have the most awful interfaces to program it. They mostly work in Windows and crash at random are difficult to decipher and if you're lucky enough to get a web interface you're stuck with ActiveX controls. And then if you want to make it work with other things, there is no scripting language for it.

Re:How much will it cost? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086681)

Interoperability? http://www.knx.org/

Re:How much will it cost? (1)

drmofe (523606) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086731)

There you go, dragging ISO and ANSI standards (amongst others) into a perfectly good Vendor-only standards discussion.

Encumberences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086649)

How encumbered is Zigbee? I've been looking for a home automation standard that is not burdened with patent or copyright siliness.

Re:Encumberences (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087209)

So why not make your own? Put the appropriate open licensing on it (GDL?). Publish it.

O.K., I have to ask ... (4, Insightful)

Old97 (1341297) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086691)

Does it run on Linux?

and they to will fail (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28086719)

Home automation != computers. Something that all those creating a "standard" seem to forget. Home automation standards need to be simple, secure, robust, guaranteed to be available for about 20 years, and being able to function independent from a PC. (Chances are that the PC as we know it may not even exist anymore in 20 years)

Usually these requirements fall victim to some compromise. I mean, wireless connections ?, come on, don't tell me that you think the security system will not be completely ripped apart in 20 years. Hell, I doubt it survives the first 5 years.

lack of vision. (5, Insightful)

simp (25997) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086789)

As someone who earns his money in industrial automation it amazes me how limited these home automation firms think. They want me to buy multiple sensors each with only one I/O point on them??? They want me to buy plastic toy-like stuff that breaks if you push the contact a few thousand times? And then there is the matter of future-proofing: in 5 years time nobody will be able to read the sensors anymore that you bought because "everybody" is on the new standard. What about spare parts for existing stuff, are they expecting me to rewire the house each time they come up with a new platform? Not a chance.

Then there is software: Windows XP, maybe with .net, was a valid choice for building the interface when the company designed it a few years ago but I expect my light switch to last at least 25 years.

These days you can run an oil refinery with a touch of a button and keep it running for 20 years with available spare parts. And you can get data in & out of that system in any format you want. Show me the same on a scaled down version for my home and I'll start installing it...

Re:lack of vision. (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087237)

So you want industrial grade products for your home? How many millions of dollars did you plan to spend?

Re:lack of vision. (4, Insightful)

simp (25997) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088121)

Not industrial grade, a bit scaled down for home use. But it has to last much longer than an average personal computer. I expect my fridge to last 15 years, the water boiler at least 20, the wall sockets and wiring in the house will probably last 50 years.

Right now 99% of all home automation equipment are gadgets. Yes they do work for the first 1 or 2 years, but after that? Who knows...

And then you are stuck with a not-quite working semi-autonomous robot house that will make bad decisions based on wrong sensor inputs. And there are enough bad Hollywood movies on that subject already.

Re:lack of vision. (1)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088955)

"And then you are stuck with a not-quite working semi-autonomous robot house that will make bad decisions based on wrong sensor inputs. And there are enough bad Hollywood movies on that subject already."

In a world where the lights don't turn off when they should... When everything you thought you knew about your house is wrong...

Re:lack of vision. (3, Insightful)

Mr. Freeman (933986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088933)

There a difference between industrial grade products rated for high criticality applications and products that aren't shit.

We're aiming for somewhere in the middle.

Re:lack of vision. (1)

egburr (141740) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089473)

Industrial versions already exist. This doesn't have to be quite that heavy-duty, but a step up from doll-house level would be nice.

Home automation so hard? (1)

Slartibartfass (1131161) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086793)

I don't understand what the problem with home automation is. Why does it need to be decentralized? You could have one switch station in the cellar, a small router running Linux would be fine. Then you connect that to a self-built electric autoswitchboard, connect a few sensors and cameras to the Linux box and do the rest in software. No need for proprietary light switches, but of course you need a separate wire for every light switch/bulb, a problem which can be solved by small "satellites" in each room, minimizing the need for extra copper. That solution is far superior IMO, you could for example trace the people in the house and only have lights in the rooms with actual persons in them, same for the speakers. Imagine, the music follows you!

Re:Home automation so hard? (1)

Nethead (1563) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087177)

The "extra copper" isn't the problem, it's getting the copper to the right spot in the wall. It fails the geeky-fun test when the drywall tools come out (and stay out for days.)

Impartial observer, huh? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086871)

Gee, I wonder who cuts paychecks for the "anonymous reader"?

Standards aren't really standards at all if they're simply rammed down the throats of consumers by a dominant entity, whether that entity is Microsoft or ZigBee.

Echelon? (1)

patro (104336) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086897)

Who'd think a signals intelligence analysis network can help in home automation? Pretty revolutionary thinking. It didn't occur to me.

Not particularly interesting (3, Interesting)

horza (87255) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086911)

I've invested in relays and dimmers from National Control Devices [controlanything.com] and have run Cat 5e all over my apartment, even into my light switches and where I expect to put sensors in the future. It's hard-wired, hence secure and safe from interference, and speaks via simple ASCII to a serial port which available on nearly any embedded controller. The great thing about serial is that you can add a dirt cheap serial-usb or serial-ethernet interface.

I'm not really interested in a proprietary interface like Zigbee. What is needed is a HA API. That way you can write a driver for all the proprietary protocols such as this, as well as things like ProXR, Dallas 1-wire, DMX, and many more.

Some ideas for a back-end to the API can be taken from the aging Perl app Mister House [sourceforge.net] . What would then be a REALLY nice addition is a MythTV module front-end so you can control the whole house via your television.

Phillip.

Re:Not particularly interesting (1)

bosef1 (208943) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087255)

I've used National Control Devices at work, and I have been very happy with their products and customer service. The have a number of different relay configurations, and support regular RS-232, serial-over-USB, ZigBee, serial-over-fiber, Wi-Fi, etc. Good stuff.

Re:Not particularly interesting (1)

fluffernutter (1411889) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090345)

..have run Cat 5e all over my apartment, even into my light switches and where I expect to put sensors in the future.

Well.. at least you no longer need to wear the aluminum foil hat, huh?

There are reasons X-10 hasn't gone away (3, Interesting)

RichardtheSmith (157470) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086979)

The nice thing about X-10 is that the protocol is simple and there are lots of devices that work with it, most of which are relatively inexpensive. It's also friendly to the home hobbyist, and the hacker, since you can buy interfaces that will hook up to your PC via a serial port and write your own scripts, or download free software like Misterhouse.

If I can't turn my outside lights on at sunset via a script, then turn that script into a cron job, don't even talk to me about it. I'll write the interface myself, just give me a clean API I can code to.

We hate it when Microsoft or Apple take the attitude of "No, we won't open up our API and play nice with the open source crowd. At best we will make you join our developer program and sign an NDA. At worst we won't talk to you at all."

When the home automation vendors do it, they're no better. They don't deserve our respect or our help.

Re:There are reasons X-10 hasn't gone away (1)

xmas2003 (739875) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087283)

Mod Parent up. I've done X10 for years and yea, while it has issues such as reliability, it's dirt simple and cheap. Plus it's fairly easy to interface via serial & USB devices and script stuff.

Re:There are reasons X-10 hasn't gone away (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090635)

I'm not sure what the article is talking about, but Zigbee is a wireless mesh networking protocol built on an 802.15 standard. You can buy the transceivers from most electronics suppliers. If the home automation units adhere to the standard you should definitely be able to control the things from a computer, or even make your own modules. I expect they DON'T make it easy to do that, but Zigbee itself is a published standard.

Not "new" (3, Informative)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 5 years ago | (#28086991)

Zigbee pro is not new. They may have a newer version but it has been around for years. The main issue with any zigbee chip is its high current draw. You need at least 55mA for receiving data and if you run a mesh network, you cannot use power saving built into the chip. Older chips are not compatible with newer versions even thought they are labeled the same, and there are numerous unexplained problems with them. Unless you are running from the mains and hence don't need to conserve power, give them a miss. Plus they run at 2.4GHz, so you get interference issues. They also don't use a standard pin pitch so you have to make a breakout board or spend extra for SIL sockets (x2). Been there, done that. Sure, if you have unlimited budget you can play with them, but they are not as good as they like to make out. Plus in the EU you are limited to 10dB output, when the pro versions are capable of 100dB.

The chips are known as XBee, the protocol is zigbee. They promise long battery life - probably true if you run off a car battery ! Try running them off AAs or PP3. You need at least 2500MaH to last a few days if they are set up to listen for data. And that includes power saving produced by hacks. Transmit I can make last for 1.5 months, if it is intermittent (ie, on an alarm condition), but the receive always has to be ready, hence the high power requirement.

Re:Not "new" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28088125)

Plus they run at 2.4GHz, so you get interference issues.

In the United States, chips can use both the 915MHz and 2.4GHz bands. In Europe, the 868MHz and 2.4GHz bands are used.

They also don't use a standard pin pitch so you have to make a breakout board or spend extra for SIL sockets (x2). Been there, done that.

What chips are you buying that don't have a normal pin pitch? Never had this problem with the dozens of ones I've used with a breadboard. Once the breadboard work is done, getting a custom PCB made is easy and cheaper than ever with services such as Batch PCB.

Sure, if you have unlimited budget you can play with them, but they are not as good as they like to make out.

When I was in college, zigbee was attractive due to its low cost. Have you looked at the prices of bluetooth or other, embedded wireless communications? The reason zigbee is so popular with embedded is due to low cost and low power.

The chips are known as XBee, the protocol is zigbee.

XBee is a brand name and I've never heard the chips called as such outside of that specific brand.

They promise long battery life - probably true if you run off a car battery ! Try running them off AAs or PP3. You need at least 2500MaH to last a few days if they are set up to listen for data. And that includes power saving produced by hacks. Transmit I can make last for 1.5 months, if it is intermittent (ie, on an alarm condition), but the receive always has to be ready, hence the high power requirement.

I have no idea what you are doing wrong, but I am running a device that includes a zigbee chip, a PIC micro, and several other low-power devices and my 3000mAh battery will last 2-3 months. The device sits in listen mode, and receives data about every 20 minutes and responds with status data. If you do not configure the zigbee device for proper low power sleep and idle, it will draw much more current.

Re:Not "new" (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28088839)

Only the routers in your Zigbee network need to run at 55mA continuously, sleepy end devices can drop back to almost nothing and then wake up occasionally and ask if there is anything new for them. This allows things like battery powered light switches to sit on your wall for years, while your ever powered light waits for it to wake up. (Why would you ever send something to a light switch? Perhaps to update its firmware.)

XBee is one vendor (who uses Ember chips), Atmel, TI, Freescale and others also have chipsets.

Disclaimer: I work for a company that builds Zigbee stuff.

Re:Not "new" (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090647)

XBee is a particular type of Zigbee (the networking protocol) capable radio. The radio spec itself is 802.15.4 and there are lots of other versions other than XBee, including an interesting chipset from Atmel... better known for their hobbyist microcontrollers.

Control4 (1)

mr_stinky_britches (926212) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087007)

I interviewed there. Interesting company...it was very disorganized though.

We already know how this turns out (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28087055)

In six weeks, automation vendor Control4, which has about one million ZigBee nodes installed, will flip the switch on the new ZigBee Pro ... following which it will become self-aware, and trigger a nuclear apocalypse in self-defense when humans, belatedly realizing what they've created, attempt to turn it off. Will we never learn?

Next: ZigBee Home Personal (2, Funny)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087065)

which promises interoperability among light switches, thermostats, door locks, motorized shades, security systems, remote controls and some 36 million electric meters.

Add personal vibrators (you know what I mean) to the list and we'll have a winner...

Radio waves (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087167)

Home automation, and especially security, is not something I would want to put on radio waves. That makes it way too open to a denial of service attack. The electrical parts needed to build a device to trash the 2.4 GHz band are readily available (e.g. no security checks to buy a microwave oven) so a person competent in electronics could easily build something that can jam 2.4 GHz.

I do have a home LAN on 2.4 GHz for convenience. But I've also tested most of it directly connected in case that is needed.

Remote controls are nice to have so you don't have to run over to, or reach up to, a switch. But that's just basic convenience. I want everything to also work without remotes when I'm not using remotes 9or when the remotes fail). For example, automated timers to shut things off as scheduled should not use RF, or even open air IR, to do that. It should be "wired" (preferably fiber optic). Critical facilities should not even have a remote option unless that can be made secure.

Re:Radio waves (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088841)


Home automation, and especially security, is not something I would want to put on radio waves. That makes it way too open to a denial of service attack.

I think you overestimate the abilities of your average burglar. I'm certain what you're describing is possible and attainable with only the knowledge and a few days work. For the average burglar though this is way beyond his abilities. If he can really do what you're describing, why is he ripping off what probably amounts to few hundred dollars of random junk in your average house? A "smart" burglar like that would be better off ripping off the electronics store down the street, or get an actual job building and designing electronics.

Even so, it's a lot easier to break into the house next door that doesn't even have a security system.

It is pitch black, you are about (click) (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087213)

The trouble with home automation is that it is far easier to find a light switch in a dark room, than to find the fscking remote control...

Oh dear.. (1)

mustafap (452510) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087253)

>ZigBee Pro, which promises interoperability among light switches, thermostats, door locks, motorized shades, security systems, remote controls and some 36 million electric meters

Now how could that *possibly* go wrong :o)

802.15.4 (1)

Epillume (855065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087343)

This is interesting as I just finished writing some code using Microchip's MpZBee stack on the PIC microcontroller. It's interesting to note that ZigBee is a closed standard (last time I checked). In reality, it's a set of improvements on the IEEE standard 802.15.4 which is specifically designed for low rate networks. I wonder what's the general view of ZigBee as a closed standard? Might that get in the way of it being adopted universally?

Re:802.15.4 (2, Interesting)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090677)

Zigbee is a mesh networking protocol that runs on top of the 802.15.4 standard. Not an improvement, a higher level protocol. As you point out, there are better, freer, alternatives. Zigbee itself is actually quite expensive.

Enjoyed the write-up,first thing that came to mind (1)

Nexzus (673421) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087435)

The Terminator: The Zigbee Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line July 8, 2009. Human decisions are removed from strategic lighting operations. Zigbee begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

IAAZP (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28087539)

I Am A Zigbee Programmer.

Some of the points being raised are a bit.. underinformed.

Interoperability: the Zigbee Cluster Library includes standard APIs for many kinds of devices, including lightswitches, HVAC, home security, etc. Devices that are certified to conform to the specification are fully interoperable. The Zigbee APIs are publicly available at zigbee.org.

Battery life: battery powered devices may last for several years if they "sleep" between transmissions. Their "parent" node in the network stores messages destined for the sleeping node. These so-called "sleepy" nodes cannot route for other nodes though, so if you have a physically large network, you'll probably want some non-sleepy devices in there running on building power. This is one of the most important features of Zigbee, and in spite of some of the other commenters here, this is actually real.

Price: this is the key reason why Zigbee will succeed: it is cheaper to retrofit a building with Zigbee devices than to knock out walls and run new wires. It's far more expensive than installing tradition switches in a new building, but that's not the a "use case." My company's clients are all looking at retrofitting HVAC systems on existing buildings and are finding some decent cost savings.

Interference: Zigbee does use the 2.4 GHz band as a lot of other devices, but there are various mechanisms (link-level acks and retries, and some other things I don't understand) built into Zigbee to mitigate this. In our tests, interference has not been an issue. Metal objects such as doors and filing cabinets have been a much bigger problem in our tests.

- Dave

Re:IAAZP (1)

fluffernutter (1411889) | more than 5 years ago | (#28090357)

What about a mesh network of 50 devices at 2.4 Ghz interfering with other devices? What have your tests shown for that?

Harmony One and Light/Fan (1)

DavidD_CA (750156) | more than 5 years ago | (#28087657)

I just bought a Harmony One remote control, and after tinkering quite a bit I'm about 99% happy with it and have it set to control the TV, TiVo, Reciever, even the PS3 (using an RF attachment).

My next step, since I'm replacing the lighting and fan in my living room anyway, is to program the Harmony to control the lighting and fan, too.

I suppose any RF switch will work, but does anyone have any recommendations?

And, is there an add-on that will bring Mountain Dew to me from my fridge?

!IP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28087753)

Zigbee has one failing- its not IP. It reinvents the wheel over proven IP standards like 802.11. And attempts to bring IP to Zigbee have been disappointing to say the least because of the small packet size, fragmention, and high likelihood of retransmission being required on busy networks. Zigbee devices, for instance, are permitted to poll the network only every 7 seconds in an attempt to avoid congestion. Imagine that on an IP network?!

I would put my money on companies like Exceptional Innovation (aka Lifeware) who are supporting VERY robust home automation through WiFi standards combined with DPWS. Their software rocks and they've been proven in huge installations!

Coming in second would be ZWave, whose failing is that they are a proprietary standard. However, they have 1000's of devices out there enabled. ZWave has some advantages in transmission frequency (900mhz if I remember correctly), which penetrates walls better than 2.4/5 ghz technologies.

Zigbee/Zigbee Pro- not so much. They are gaining ground, but its a flawed solution in need of a problem that hasn't already been solved. They've been pushing like crazy since its become a popular solution for power metering and AMI standards- but they've hit a niche there and the market is demanding an IP addressable standard with TCP/IP level programmability of services. Zigbee is popular among Electrical Engineers who adore serial communications.

The future of everything is IP. Zigbee promises an IP gateway, but that's not what we need.

Also while Zigbee touts "robust" mesh networking and low power consumption, mesh networking over 802.11 works and 802.11 devices are available with power consumption as low as 7 watts.

Again, Zigbee Pro is a little late. The problem has been solved. Its Wifi and DPWS.

Zigbee Pro Go Go Go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28088119)

The beautiful thing about zigbee is that it is meshed and that it supports self healing. 2.4ghz interference? No problem. Re-route that signal through another node.

Haven't got enough nodes because you've integrated a 3rd party lighting system? No problems Zigbee Pro will allow for your device to route through the closest Zigbee Access Point.

The issue with Home Automation is that there are no standards across not the Home Automation systems but 3rd party systems such as HVAC, Security, A/V, lighting, etc. This is one step closer to having a easier to integrate HAN.

Basic question: Why? (1)

ashitaka (27544) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088231)

Home automation has been a buzzword for years but in as mentioned elsewhere in this thread it has never really taken off. Cost, reliability, lack of standards all all good reasons but I think the bottom line is that no-one really needs their home turning lights on and off for security or convenience purposes.

Where I do see some validity is the case where automatic control is used to actually reduce home electrical usage. Imagine your home being able to be put into an sleep or power-down mode using one button when you leave the house. Enough LED lights are kept turning on and off to provide security but all other functions other than those required to keep food fresh or pipes from freezing are disabled. Taken to its limits you could conceivably run a house off battery power for these relatively short periods.

Problem is ZigBee itself (2, Interesting)

xianthax (963773) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088255)

as i recently tried to use Zigbee Pro in a development project and ended up throwing it away in favor of a custom 900mhz star network, let me say this... ZigBee is poorly designed for almost any application. its a 250k/bit link that at most can pass data at 20kbit, the rest is eaten up in the overhead of the mesh, theres also no support at the protocol level for transmitting information larger than 1 packet, which, if your using encryption, is 70 bytes. Zigbee should stay where it was originally designed for, industrial sensors and hvac controls, for home automation its not enough, light switches, fine...anything that has to listen and take action (window shades) is going to need power anyway and might as well use X10 at that point.

Interference (1)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088435)

ZigBee requires me to place a bunch of 2.4GHz transmitters in and around my house. Isn't that the frequency that my microwave oven, wireless phone, and 802.11g access point use? What about interference problems?

Re:Interference (1)

MikeMulligan (946677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088883)

ZigBee is designed to work around competing signals. A company I used to work for did ZigBee based hospitality energy saving systems. So think networks with hundreds of nodes (thermostats, relays, etc), coexisting with wifi networks ranging from your standard off the shelf box to commercial setups, microwaves, phones, etc. Those networks were extremely reliable. This is actually one of the strengths of ZigBee as opposed to a weakness.

Why ZigBee will win. (4, Interesting)

MikeMulligan (946677) | more than 5 years ago | (#28088555)

(Disclosure/Insight: My company, MMB Research http://mmbresearch.com/ [mmbresearch.com] , makes ZigBee Smart Energy hardware and software to help people integrate this kind of technology into products, and I've been involved with ZigBee for a number of years.)

A lot of commenters here seem to be comparing the various features of competing home automation technologies, which is certainly appropriate, but you also have to look at the bigger, future picture.

ZigBee - and specifically the ZigBee Smart Energy profile is becoming the standard of choice for in-home networks that will exist on the Smart Grid.

So it's one thing to compare ZigBee to Z-wave or X10 on a merits basis (though I believe it's far superior based on years of real-world experience), but when you consider your utility is going to put a ZigBee Smart Energy enabled meter/gateway in your house, and that hundreds of OEMs are going to be integrating it into wide variety of appliances that can hop on that network, you're going to see drastic reductions in cost, and increases in choice and quality.

In a few years, there might be a handful of WiFi or Z-Wave thermostats (or pool pumps, or light switches), but there will be dozens of ZigBee ones, because the installed user base will be there.

Now, Control4 is talking about ZigBee Pro and the Home Automation profile, which isn't technically part of the Smart Energy profile, but they can coexist, and many developers of Smart Energy products/solutions - including ourselves - have implemented both, opening up the HAN (home area network) to a variety of devices and controls.

And just in time... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28089035)

For the Electric Dreams remake!

X10 devices fail (1)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 5 years ago | (#28089759)

I found X10 devices failed all the time, and I've seen that mentioned here. But wasn't it the relays in them which failed, not the electronics? That means that any method of controlling a lightswitch would fail, unless you put a better switching mechanism in.

Am I wrong about this?

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