System integrators in the advanced home automation arena are slowly growing their applications portfolio. While the home automation industry has been promoting the benefits of residential networking, it has taken most custom integration companies longer than anticipated to embrace the latest networking applications.
High-end integration companies, known for developing strong audio and video foundations, have been installing networked control systems for more than 15 years. AMX, Crestron and PHAST launched CAT 5-based home automation systems over the past six years, introducing RJ45 connectors, hubs and web interfaces to residential system integration. With the advent of “true” network-capable systems, integrators are becoming more familiar with such applications as remote tech support and web info interfaces.
Control4 Home Automation
Re-occurring revenues from monitoring services has been a re-occurring theme among security companies. Similarly, control system giants AMX and Crestron have been promoting remote diagnostic, support and monitoring applications to their dealer networks. While home automation dealers are not in a position to offer 24/7 monitoring services, remote network support has proven quite useful to the more advanced automation integrators.
Crayfish and Voodoo
Last month, Brook Pimm, one of our high-level programmers located in Edmonton, Alberta, traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana to upgrade an existing home automation system to a state-of-the-art AMX Netlinx system. Not only was the customer looking for a more robust home automation processor, he would also require future technical support as he changed and added system functionality. While Lafayette boasts of culture, crayfish and Cajun spices, it does not possess a strong industry presence or any advanced programmers capable of coding a high-end home automation system. Further, we discovered flights from Edmonton to any other destination in the United States required a four-hop minimum; Brook was not looking forward to another Edmonton -Calgary-Salt Lake City-Dallas-Lafayette round trip anytime soon.
To top it off, this customer’s home was a haven for every unknown, unexpected and unbelievable technical problem an integrator would ever encounter. This “voodoo house” possessed a number of mysterious hardware failures (home theater devices), disappearing and reappearing electrical hums, a misbehaved router and some rather puzzling software abnormalities. While hardware and wiring issues needed to be handled on-site, some software issues and additional requested changes would not be dealt with until after the programmer’s departure.
Gumbo and the Controller
The customer was quite impressed with the fact that Brook could actually control his home’s lighting, theater and multi-room audio devices from over two thousand miles away. AMX’s integrated Netlinx controller (NXI-ME) allows a programmer to remotely connect to the home automation system, typically through a small router installed in the home. The programmer can then perform full diagnostics and project modifications to program, touch panel and infra-red files – in real time, as if they were sitting in front of the rack. The NXI-ME has a built-in FTP server, providing the ability to transfer files to the Netlinx master, storing program manuals, pictures, drawings and notes for the project, to be accessed through a secure login at a later date.
As the customer became familiar with his new home automation system, he could communicate to the programmer via e-mail those issues (voodoo and non-voodoo related) outstanding. Brook would miss his next opportunity to experience Louisiana gumbo, but the customer would not miss the immediate support he required to optimize his automation system. Little by little the project issues would dwindle, saving the customer additional travel expenses and the programmer future travel time.
The Custom Network Generation
Custom integrators are becoming more familiar with networking hardware, software, and applications having a direct impact on home automation. Manufacturers like AMX and Crestron continue to create Internet and networking software modules, which further tie together automation and home networking. A PC residing on a home network can emulate touch panels and provide whole home control. A homeowner can access weather, news, finance and other information directly from the web and display them on any touch panel in the house.
Residential LANs are still designed separately from the automation network, but custom A-V integrators are starting to install small home networks, connecting 2-3 PCs, a printer and a DSL or cable modem. Dealers continue to expand their home networking knowledge base through training and the acquisition of networking savvy technicians, and the demand for home networking continues to push custom integrators beyond the limits of early entertainment applications and into the new generation of residential information technology.
David Teel is the Co-Founder of Avenida Network, one of North America’s biggest independent system programming and design companies. You can contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his company’s web site at www.avenidanetwork.com.