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ZigBee Pro, the New Home Automation Standard? 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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ZigBee Pro, the New Home Automation Standard?

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  • by horza ( 87255 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @03:48PM (#28086911) Homepage

    I've invested in relays and dimmers from National Control Devices [] 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 []. What would then be a REALLY nice addition is a MythTV module front-end so you can control the whole house via your television.


  • by RichardtheSmith ( 157470 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @03:55PM (#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.

  • by Anpheus ( 908711 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @04:05PM (#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:Too expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BikeHelmet ( 1437881 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @04:55PM (#28087541) Journal

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

    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?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:10PM (#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.

  • by iiiears ( 987462 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @05:52PM (#28088047) Journal

    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.

  • by xianthax ( 963773 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:14PM (#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.
  • "... does a light dimmer use something like a potentiometer?"

    A light dimmer uses a Triac [], 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 [] passes through zero voltage, the device turns itself off.

    A Triac is a kind of Thyristor [].
  • Why ZigBee will win. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MikeMulligan ( 946677 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:49PM (#28088555)
    (Disclosure/Insight: My company, MMB Research [], 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.
  • Re:Too expensive (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @06:51PM (#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:Not "new" (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @07:23PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @08:53PM (#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.

  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @09:07PM (#28089755) Journal

    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.

  • by zogger ( 617870 ) * on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:48PM (#28090567) Homepage Journal

    ..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:802.15.4 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:04PM (#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.

  • Re:lack of vision. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:29PM (#28090843)
    One guy from my work(DCS Programmer) has installed an industrial PLC AB Micrologix 1000. The first step of the house has a limit switch and a few of the light switches control numerous themes. All the programing is done in ladder logic. The only interface is RSlogix(ladder logic software). Currently he is trying to sell his automated house. Thus if he ever sells the house nobody will want to pay for the licensing fees($3000 minimum) so they will be stuck with permanent automation system without any support or upgrades without a professional to do the upgrades.
  • by kubitus ( 927806 ) on Tuesday May 26, 2009 @03:38AM (#28092153)
    home-control must distinguish between 3 levels of operation/control:

    1.) non-critical applications: TV, light, shades

    2.) critical application: pumps, heaters, etc...

    3.) security items: door openers, intrusion detection, fire detection, etc...

    for 1 IR control, maybe wireless possible, but not exclusively

    for 2 a constant sensor feedback/monitoring by the central control system is required, with auto-shutdown in case of failure. the power-lines should be the communication medium.

    for 3 only a wired system is feasible

    - I am dreaming of a cheap downgraded Ethernet with a TP bus and CSMS/CD protocol at 5 or 2 Mbit allowing cheap twisted pair wiring and cheap press-fit connectors. ( If I would get advice on how to make an Ethernet interface with a FPGA I might attempt to do it myself ).

    The home controller needs to be able to communicate with all media for 1,2 and 3 as well as with the local home-LAN, the INternet and maybe even get a phone connection, wireless or POTS for alarm calls.

    todays Home-control is too expensive: It must cost no more than $ 10 per switched device and it must provide normal operation on the switch location - like the old manual switch additional to remote/central/automatic control. It should directly replace manual switches in the electroc home installation. X10's idea is not bad - but far too expensive and it lacks a built-in back-channel.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire