Part I – First there were the pioneers, then comes the Henry Ford effect, Discontinuous Innovations and a company called In2 Networks

New Technologies Create a Mainstream Market for Home Control

James W. Johnston

New Technologies Create a Mainstream Market
for Residential Control & Automation Systems
by James W. Johnston,

Part I - First there were the pioneers, then comes the Henry Ford effect, Discontinuous Innovations and a company called In2 Networks


There is particularly good news on the control systems horizon, news that promises to make for an exciting time for consumers, manufacturers, and dealer/integrators. What is it? Well, it appears that an entirely new wave of affordable, mainstream residential control and automation systems will be on the market in 2005.

This new technology is sexy and exciting, and it will certainly give our tech-hungry market something new to covet and chat about.  Even more important, this breakthrough in residential control and automation systems can have a positive effect on the quality of life. New or existing homes can and will be safer (and more fun) than they are today.

For example, if you have ever read a newspaper account of a residential fire, you know that smoke inhalation incapacitates and kills. This sort of problem is not as significant in commercial buildings because the fire (security) and HVAC systems are often set up to communicate. This has not generally been the case in the residential market. Until now. Now, with a soon to be released product, if a fire is detected, the HVAC fans will shut down, an exit path is lit, and email messages are sent to selected recipients. And it's actually affordable. Better still it's ready to ship and install.

That's not all. Exerting a new and greater level of control over your surroundings may almost certainly give life a bit of added zest, a new "Gee Whiz, this is so cool!" dimension that is bound to put a smile on many faces.

Simply put residential control and automation systems are coming of age, and have every chance of becoming the next new thing that many of us 'just can't live without!' After all, there are few things any more fun than spending money, and when you can feel both virtuous and entertained just by making a single purchase, that's a hard-to-refuse value proposition. Lots of dealers, integrators, and salespeople will be hearing their favorite phrase -- "I'll take it."

Oh, and one more thing -- these products are being sold by companies with names that people throughout the world have come to know and trust. If you're in the supply side of the business, it'll be easy to get on the bandwagon, carve out your own personal market share and make a tidy profit in the process. But we'll get to that later. To start with, here's the story of about how residential control and automation systems got to this particularly important juncture.

George Jetson - Father of the Demand for Residential Automation?

Nobody is really sure where or when the demand for residential control and automation began. It could have been in the superhero comic books. Perhaps it was during the New York World's Fair. Maybe it was the Jetsons. In any case, somehow, sometime, most everyone started believing in the benefits, convenience, and the desirability of residential automation. The American public wants it, and they even think they know what it means. According to a study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association[1], fully 75% of the people interviewed were "aware" of home automation technologies. So how'd we get here? Let's take a quick look.

First, There Are Always Pioneers

No matter what the technology, be it cars or planes or computers or stereos or electric lights or a host of other things that we now take for granted, each started somewhere. Some enterprising soul saw a point in the future that others did not see, and brought the reality into the world's view. The same holds true here.

In the early days of home automation, there were no ubiquitous standards--no Internet, no wireless networks or 802.11. But there was a demand for more convenience, control systems, and automation. There were Personal Computers and cards and monitors and programming languages - ample tools for inventive, forward-looking engineers and business people to do what true pioneers do. Make it work and satisfy the demand.

The industry's pioneers started by developing proprietary systems that required complex custom programming; they delivered (and are delivering still) on the promise of residential automation. AMX and Crestron, two companies that pioneered the industry, deserve a great deal of credit for what their teams accomplished and are accomplishing still.

Even today, you can still acquire an excellent custom solution from these companies. How much will be automated? Well, that's up to you. Perhaps you want just a home theater. Theaters are consistent crowd pleasers--the envy of friends, colleagues and neighbors. You'll enjoy living with your home theater, and you'll also enjoy how people react when they see your setup.

Gather everyone together, select a favorite DVD and voila! Press a button on your elegant touch panel, the shades go down, the lights dim, the screen descends from its hiding place, the projector power ups, the receiver changes to the appropriate input, and you will take part in a most excellent entertainment experience. But it comes at a price.

Each step in the entire process must be programmed. Each user interface button on the touchscreen was first created as a graphic image, it was labeled, and assigned to a specific machine instruction so that when the button image on the panel is pressed, a corresponding message is sent to the device you seek to control. In some cases, a single button press initiates a multitude of tasks. As you can imagine, timing is also critical. You don't want the movie to start before the screen comes down. You want the projector to warm up before the DVD starts playing, etc.

Each step in the entire process must be programmed and sequenced. A trained specialist must set up the communications protocols so that the appropriate device control codes (what protocol does your specific brand of receiver require to switch the input to DVD, how does the system know its current on/off state, etc.) are available for every component in your system.

Once all this information is captured and organized, and the programming work is done, the programs are most often run from a master (or automation) controller. For all intents and purposes, the master controller is often a re-purposed personal computer that includes proprietary cards that allow for everything to be connected together. (See Traditional Control Solution graphic). There may even be a need for proprietary cables, connectors and power supplies to hook everything together.

Of course, even though the whole process of design, programming and installation is theoretically complete (is software ever well and truly done?), a new residential technician will join the other household trades -- along with your electrician, plumber, and gardener, you may need an automation system programmer. Every now and then, your residential control and automation system may need rebooting or refining or debugging. Or, you may want to add another piece of gear, and it must be integrated into the system. Programming maintenance could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year. There is, after all, a price to be paid for being a pioneer. And if the controller ever "crashes" (which we all know PCs never do), you simply "reboot your house" and away you.

Of course, anyone familiar with manufacturing processes will recognize that the creation of all the proprietary equipment and protocols that goes into the custom model represents an expensive undertaking. But that's just part of the journey that new technologies take to get to the rest of us. It's OK. The rich often act as the underwriters of new technology. Take, for example, the automobile.

The Henry Ford Effect  

A predictable human phenomenon comes into play when the rich get a neat new toy. Just because not everybody can afford to buy one (whatever 'one' it is), that does not mean the rest of us don't appreciate how cool 'it' is. We want one of our very own, and quite often (especially if the demand is great enough), we get it. Call it the 'Henry Ford' effect.

At a time when only the wealthy could afford motorcars, Mr. Ford made a trip to the Chicago slaughter yards. While there, he witnessed the assembly line technologies that were being used to great effect in the meat packing and processing industry. Henry Ford realized that he could use that same approach to build a new class of automobiles--reliable, standardized motorcars that more people than ever before, the middle class, could afford.

A similar sort of thing is happening in home control systems right now.  Soon, residential automation and control systems will no longer be the sole province of the wealthy.  There is an entirely new kind of product on the horizon. No more master controllers, custom programming, proprietary cabling, graphic design, or expensive touch panels. Just an IP-based plug n' work system that uses standard CAT5 cabling, wired or wireless Ethernet, and includes everything else you need. The graphic user interface, web server, DNS server and more are included in one small, inexpensive "control system in box."

You can thank two visionary industry veterans for this affordable new wave of mainstream control and automation systems. They assembled a trusted team, developed core technology, formed a company and established the partnerships and alliances that will bring residential control and automation technology to an anxiously waiting market. They talked to leading manufacturers, industry analysts and tech savvy insiders to identify what form, from both a technical and business perspective, the proper solution should take.

Their names are Daren Orth and Aaron Myer. They are software and hardware engineers who earned their stripes at companies like Phast, Panja, STSN, and EmWare. In August of 2003, they incorporated In2 Networks. Of course, as is the case with all great technological success stories, Connect and Control Technology™ was born in a basement during the preceding years. It was a long and arduous process, and it was not done alone. With the help of a small team of talented, experienced and hard-working software and hardware engineers, they followed a path that has been trod by others who delivered great technological advances at other times and places.  

It appears that the technological progress is subject to natural and predictable forces. A twentieth century French writer and pilot, Antoine de Saint Exupéry (who also wrote "The Little Prince") aptly captured the refining processes that technology is subject to. Although the following excerpt from "Wind, Sand and Stars" begins by describing the development of aircraft technology, the insight holds true for In2's Connect & Control Systems Technology™ as well.

THE TOOL

And now, having spoken of the men born of the pilot's craft, I shall say something about the tool with which they work-the airplane. Have you looked at a modern airplane? Have you followed from year to year the evolution of its lines? Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but whatever man builds, that all of man's industrial efforts, all his computations and calculations, all the nights spent over working draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose soul and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?

It is as if there were a natural law which ordained that to achieve this end, to refine the curve of a piece of furniture or a ship's keep, or the fuselage of an airplane, until gradually it partakes of the elemental purity of the curve of a human breast or shoulder, there must be the experimentation of several generations of craftsmen. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.[2]

In2 Networks Connect & Control™ Systems success is due in no small part to the team's ability to capitalize on a handful of 'discontinuous innovations'.  In the mid-1990's, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Geoffrey Moore wrote a seminal work entitled "Inside the Tornado." In it, he describes a phenomenon which he calls discontinuous innovation, and the impact it has on the market. "A discontinuous innovation or 'paradigm shift' begins with the appearance of a new category of product that incorporates breakthrough technology enabling unprecedented benefits."

Moore goes on to explain that in some cases, the paradigm shift never reaches critical mass, but in other cases, "there comes a flash point of change when the entire marketplace, under the pressure of continually escalating disequilibrium in price/performance, shifts its allegiance from the old architecture to the new."[3] In other words, the new replaces the old, and does so in such a dramatic fashion that entirely new markets and opportunities for profit explode on the scene, like a tornado.

As previously discussed, residential control system pioneers repurposed computing technology to meet their needs, and wrote detailed code to glue everything together in a custom solution. It worked then, and it works now. But it's expensive not only in equipment costs but installation and maintenance as well. The question is, "What combination of technologies can come together, replace the previous model with a less expensive, replicable and yet sufficiently powerful substitute that can satisfy the bulging middle class demand?"

The answer is simple -- several discontinuous innovations, including the Internet, broadband, residential networks, structured wiring, TCP/IP communications, Wireless Networking and more provided the makings for a whole new kind of residential control and automation system.  

Perfection is finally achieved

As Mssr. Exupéry so wisely observed, perfection is finally achieved when there is nothing left to take away Compare the difference between residential automation and control products developed for the custom and mainstream markets.

  Custom Market Mainstream Market
System Controller Yes No
Communications Protocol Proprietary IP (Internet Protocol)
Cabling Proprietary ($$$) CAT5 (approximately $0.05 per lineal foot)
Control Device Dedicated Touch Panel Any PDA, PC, Laptop, Web Tablet, etc. that can run a browser, Java or Macromedia Flash.
Requires Programming Yes No
User Interface Custom Included in device

The following graphic (first shown at a Honeywell-APEX training session during the Spring Electronic House Expo, 'EHX, Orlando' February 2005), shows that it won't be long before leading companies will cooperate with one another to provide a 'best-of-breed' solution that combines the best security, lighting, HVAC, and entertainment systems available today in an easy to install, reliable and affordable system.

What role does In2 Networks play? In2's Connect & Control technology is what Honeywell and Lutron (and B&W Loudspeakers) have chosen to create the missing link to not only IP-enable but also automatically establish communications between their products.

Does it make sense? Well, these big companies seem to think so. Learn more next month.

Times are changing. As this new paradigm gains broad acceptance, new markets will open across the board. And an anxious, well deserving consumer will be the big winner in the end.

Next Month - Part II

We'll dig deeper into the overall system architecture, and how everything hooks together. You can also learn more about the installation techniques, skillsets needed by the dealers and integrators, and investigate the rollout and distribution strategy that promises to what? Perhaps change the face of the industry? We'll have to see.

[1] Bates, Joseph, Director of Research, eBrain Market Research / CEA Market Research, Home Automation & Networks: The Next Generation of Consumer Electronics, presented at Electronic House Expo, Spring 2004, Orlando, Florida.
[2] Exupery, Antoine de Saint, Wind, Sand and Stars, Bantam Books, New York, November 1945, p. 44-45, from Chapter 3, "The Tool".
[3] Moore, Geoffrey, Inside the Tornado, HarperBusinessBook, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1995, p.4


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