Homes Are Becoming Smarter than Humans

First it was cars chirping up to let forgetful drivers know, “Your lights are on.” Now, the home is becoming smarter and better able to “think” for itself. Whether you love or hate the idea of a house that is smarter than you are, the fact is that the smart home is coming. It brings with it technology ranging from computers to music, from fire protection to intrusion security. Among the market trends catapulting digital media into hypergrowth are CD-Audio, satellite TV receivers, DVD players, Internet access, and more. The wild success of MP3 audio galvanized the music industry into accepting the inevitability of digital distribution of content. Broadband connections are everywhere, driven by rich media content like streaming audio and video. Everyone in the family—dad, mom, children—wants fast Internet connections. In the early days of the automobile, one had to be a mechanic just to keep Old Betsy running. In the early days of the PC, one had to be a techno-geek to stay connected. That is changing. The industry turned to plug-and-play, recognizing that most computer users simply want to download their MP3 files or surf the net. For the electrical contractor, this presents a world of opportunity. With a solid understanding of low-voltage and networking applications—and help from some vendors who tailor products to the market—a contractor can profit from home automation. Networking PCs Most homeowners are purchasing second or third PCs. Once they have multiple PCs in their home, the first thing folks want to do is network them. Next, they want to be able to share their broadband connection. According to consultants at Strategy Analytics, that already is the case in 25 million homes in America and in another 17 million households in Europe. The consultants predict that 22 million of those households will be in the market for home networking in 2003. “What consumers want for their home viewing experience are content, convenience, and control at a price that makes sense,” said Brian Heuckroth, vice president of marketing at Stream Machine (, San Jose, Calif.). “The full consumer potential of digital media will be realized when the home network comes of age,” he continued. The fact that Internet Protocol (IP) can be used on both home and business networks will smooth the way. “We can see this happening right now in phone line networks, and next year with wireless and powerline technologies,” Heuckroth said. His company offers a Home Media Center that ties together all of the elements that a digital consumer might want or need. Several types of media-capable connections—such as phone lines (HPNA), wireless (802.11) and power line connections—are available now to tie home electronics products together. Stream Machine’s Home Media Center runs on IP on top of any of these existing technologies. Called Maestro, it captures and streams high-quality, full-frame-rate audio, video, and TV over a home or intranet to PCs or dedicated audio/visual (AV) clients connected to a TV or stereo system. Its main hardware components are a low-end X86-compatible processor, an MPEG video capture and coding card using a TV tuner and the SM2210 video codec, a digital signal processor (DSP) card and a local area network (LAN) interface card. The box is about the size of a VCR and can handle a variety of applications including streaming audio and video files via a home network, acting as an intranet video server, and providing security and Webcasting. Another challenge is linking multiple PCs to the Internet with a single network adaptor. The OneNIC Internet Sharing Solution from Sygate Technologies (, Fremont, Calif.) is the latest addition to the Sygate Home Network 4.0 (SHN) system. While some contractors are familiar with SHN for providing a simple Internet access sharing solution, it has been tough for users to install a second network adapter into their computers. “This solution will significantly simplify the process of sharing cable modem and DSL connections,” said Chris Guo, chief technology officer of Sygate. The SHN has a built-in firewall for enterprise quality security using packet filtering and dynamic tunneling technology. The product is available through strategic partners including Cisco, Dell, Intersil, Linksys, and Xerox. Another way to set up a network for a client is to do away with the wires altogether. Lucent Technologies (, Murray Hill, N.J.) offers the ORiNOCO Internet access and wireless networking system. By using a wireless universal serial bus (USB) client, users can wireless network a computer simply by plugging the device into a spare USB connector and installing the software. “Users no longer have to open up computers or worry about finding a spare ISA or PCI slot and changing PC configuration,” said Peter van der Salm, product manager. “Just plug in the radio, install the software, and it’s ready to go.” The ORiNOCO is Wi-Fi certified and enables users to get 11 Mbps wireless Internet access and wireless networking anywhere in a building or home, indoors or outdoors. The system has a range of 1,200 feet under normal conditions. It is compatible with machines from Acer, Apple, Dell, Enterasys (formerly Cabletron), Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Melco/Buffalo, Sony, and Toshiba. Security is included in the product price. Lucent also has 10/100 Mbps Ethernet network capability, which allows a user to roam a large building or campus and connect wirelessly to their network. Connections now are available for the new AP-1000 Access Point and the Remote/Central Outdoor Router system for wireless outdoor point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless networking. Home security There are other, more tangible ways to feel secure in a smart house. A good camera looking at various rooms in the house, over the grounds and pool, or down the lane will do that. Leviton, (, Little Neck, N.Y.) offers a pair of Decora-styled video cameras that use complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor technology for efficient, stable operation under a wide range of conditions. CMOS technology is known for decreasing the amount of electricity needed by integrated circuits. The indoor Decora-Cam is a high-resolution CMOS-based color camera that comes in a single-gang custom-molded Decora plate. The unit has a 3.5mm wide-angle, fixed-focus, high-resolution lens that eliminates the need for constant readjustment. It has an RJ-45 output jack that provides high-quality long-distance point-to-point or networked video transmission over UTP cabling using Leviton’s Decora Media System. A second version of the camera, using conventional RCA output jacks, is available for use with legacy systems. In addition, an outdoor swivel camera, housed in a weather-resistant enclosure with an RCH jack is available. It provides black-and-white NTSC baseband video for direct connection to any CCTV monitor, line-level video, or designated channel using a video modulator. For fire protection, SimplexGrinnell (, Houston, Texas) offers fire protection capabilities on its new Simplex 4290 Series of Information Management Systems (IMS). The IMS is a family of graphical, PC-based information management systems, which is based on Microsoft Windows. It provides an integrated solution for managing and controlling networked fire alarm systems in large facilities and campus environments. It is designed for any fire alarm environment where two or more control panels are linked. The IMS seamlessly accepts information from thousands of detectors, notification appliances and other network devices, enabling customers to manage their fire alarm environment easily and effectively. The 4290 IMS offers a range of flexible, agency-listed primary operator workstations, remote client stations, and gateways that provide state-of-the-art network annunciation, configuration and control, custom reporting, and Internet connectivity. On the TV Heuckroth predicts the establishment of “net-ready” TVs as the outgrowth of this trend. TVs will be net-ready just as they are cable-ready today. Electronic Program Guides (EPGs) can be implemented through a home network connection to a media service provider over the Internet, since it uses the same Internet Protocols (IPs) as the Internet. “Ease of use is very important for home wireless systems,” said Barney Dewey, analyst of Andrew Seybold’s Outlook, which is a review of their research. He cites Lucent’s USB-based system as removing one of the last remaining challenges to installing a wireless networking system in the home or small office. Especially in the new construction area, the smart home with smart home office promises to be a growing and lucrative field for the properly trained electrical contractor. Be assured that the impact of the smart home will be felt in all areas of the residential market. HARLER, a contributing editor to Electrical Contractor, is based in Strongsville, Ohio. He can be reached at (440) 238-4556 or

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