Remote Control Your Home

Welcome to the new age where your lives are literally being controlled by a collection of smart controllers and providing you with access to the electrical systems in your home or office when you are thousands of miles away, is very much a reality.

This is the age of being wired and having maximum control over every electrical appliance in your property and every kilowatt of power. Home automation has been around for almost three decades and existed in the imagination of science fiction writers for as long as writings can recall.Home automation is something that is categorized under the field of building automation, and often referred to as 'smart homes'. The automation, like most other automation, is done to bring greater comfort, convenience, efficiency and security in the lives of its residents. Everything that has an electrical connection coming through it can be programmed, accessed and controlled. Various equipment and techniques are used for climate control, control of doors and windows, security and surveillance systems and extended into the leisure or luxury systems of the home.

Why Automate?

Home automation, depending on the solution you chose, can be installed on top of your existing wiring infrastructure. It is, however, easier and more flexible to plan and deploy the system during the blueprint stage, in the phase before the actual construction commences, but it can, hypothetically, run either way.

Please note that I keep calling it 'home' automation, but the same concept can be applied to control the office environment since the same technology applies to both ecosystems. When home automation is installed during construction of a new home, usually control modules are added before the interior walls are installed. These control modules run to a controller over the electrical wires, which then control the environment.

There are several reasons why you would consider automation of the internal electrical power grid -- these would be in addition to the fantasies coming to life! It is convenient to be able to control the lights, fans or doorways remotely. Imagine you have a remote location where a skeleton staff of operators are housed. Instead of getting a separate office assistant to manage the operations within that remote location, you could technically have someone from the main office be available to them over a VOIP extension. Once an identity has been verified at the remote location, the office assistant in the head office, could actually buzz the staff member in, whilst sitting a few hundred miles away. It is possible.

The automation provides you with centralized control. Centralized air conditioning or lighting enables for a more efficient use of power. Especially in a time when we're all encouraged to cut down our individual consumption, if you could share power and conserve it at the same time, you may consider looking into the option. Scheduling power consumption so it is used to in the most efficient manner, is also another feature of home automation.

Enter X10

There are several technologies available for home automation. These include EHS, INSTEON, LonWorks and Zigbee, however the most popular and easy to deploy 'poison' of choice, still has to be X10.

According to Wikipedia, "X10 is an international and open industry standard for communication among electronic devices used for home automation. It primarily uses power line wiring for signalling and control, where the signals involve brief radio frequency bursts representing digital information. A wireless radio-based protocol transport is also defined."

X10 has been around since 1975 and was developed by Pico Electronics of Glenrothes, Scotland, in order to allow remote control of home devices and appliances. In the Home Automation space, one of the biggest drivers for the X10 protocol to be so popular is the fact that it can be used with relatively inexpensive devices, which enable the transmission of signals to a central computer source.

For every appliance or power source you wish to control, X10 works with hundreds of different modules which have different frequencies and tolerance, enabling fairly accurate control of the device.

The possibilities of what you can control with X10 and its various modules, is fairly endless:

-- Control Lights of your Bedroom from Living Room

-- Lights turn on for short durations through the path you take to kitchen during night

-- Dramatize scenes by dimming lights slowly and while pulling curtains through X10 curtain rails before watching Movies

-- Save water by turning on water sprinklers for required duration based on weather status downloaded from internet

-- Schedule night lights based on automatic sunset and sunrise timings adjustment

-- Log events for auditing purpose

-- Put house in vacation mode where it can turn on lights and music at random times everyday for security purpose

-- Get instant alerts via text and emails

-- Control everything with cool devices like iPod Touch and iPhone

How It All Works

X10 uses existing electrical wires to run additional control signals. The signals don't effect existing electronic equipment and are transmitted digitally 1 bit at a time during the zero portions of sine wave.

The signals are powerful enough to run through a home or office environment of any size, which is also a reason why X10 is opted for over the other available technologies. Device modules are installed with the lights and appliances, and control signals are sent over the electrical wires to control them.

Each device in X10 has an address and there can be maximum 256 addresses in an X10 network. The X10 control signal has 2 parts: the address and the command. The command can be ON, OFF, ALL ON, ALL OFF, DIM, BRIGHT. This means that up to 256 different sources can be controlled from one controller, through specific commands for each device.

The Hardware

There are tens of different kinds of X10 Modules and Controllers available that would cater any automation requirement that you may have in your home or office.

The simplest way to automate would be to start with plug-in modules, which does not require any kind of rewiring. The plug-module sits between your electrical appliance and your power sources.

An AM12 or LM12 plug-in module can be plugged into any of your wall sockets and you can fix any existing appliance which needs to be automated.

Similarly for the lights on the ceiling, you can get a 'screw-in' type lamp module, which would fit between your light bulb or energy saver lamp, and control the bulb based on the X10 commands.

If you want a more permanent, cleaner kind of solution, then you need to work with wired modules which are hidden beneath your walls and appliances and require professional installation.

These modules, such as AM12W and LM12W, can be hidden behind the appliances for a more permanent solution. Their addresses are set through 2 rotary switches on the front panel.

For the ceiling lights that require both the X10 control and natural switch control, you can something like AW12 Micro Modules which are tiny enough to fit inside the box behind the light switch.

Both kinds of modules, the plug-in and wired modules, are available in 2 types: Lamp modules and Appliance modules. Lamp modules usually handle up to 300 Watts of power and have the feature for dimming and brightening lights, but they require a minimum load of around 40 Watts. Appliance modules, on the other hand, can bear heavy load but can only make an 'On' and 'Off' action.

There are several other modules and controllers available that connect to the X10 wireless network.

An MS13E wireless motion sensor, for example, can send updates to your home automation controller if it detects movement or change in the state of lighting. A TM13U plug-in module can plug in any electrical socket in your home and transmit the received wireless X10 signals into the wired electrical network.

Finally there are controllers that can send X10 commands to all the modules in your home or office. There are simple plug-in controllers like MC10 Mini Controllers that have several buttons to send ON/OFF commands to your appliances. But if you need serious automation (as if this wasn't already enough!), you need a controller like CM12. This will simply connect to your computer and perform automation based on various variables such as time and external triggers, and also provide remote automation and altering when you are away from your home.

Possible Scenarios

If you want to ensure that all the lights in your office environment switch on as soon as it is 6:30pm, you can do so. You would apply the Lamp modules into the electrical grid for your office hall light connectivity and program the timer through the user interface on your computer screen. If you would like the air conditioning to automatically switch on when the temperature in the room becomes more than 25 degrees celsius, you would program the action specific to the condition. The X10 protocol would ensure that once that specific condition is met, the action would take place.

Certain lights and appliances within rooms where there is no activity taking place all the time, should be switched off. But you may want to, with the help of motion detectors, to program it so that as soon as someone enters a hallway or a conference room, the lights switch on for the duration of time that there is some movement in that area.

Because you don't need to dedicate staff to monitor the electrical activity and match it with specific actions, imagine the kind of saving you could have. An account or log of how much electricity has been consumed at what time of the day or night, can perhaps help to make certain decisions that will help you with the management of time and space, in a more efficient manner.

Despite the fact that X10 has been around for almost 34 years, it hasn't picked up on a very large scale. While you might think that this is a far cry for Pakistan, it might be news to report that a lot of countries in the West are only just beginning to adopt building automation. The technology has been around, but the fact that the development of specific applications is still only taking place now.

With more awareness and utility of the Cloud today, more than ever before, remote control the electrical connectivity within your home or office and have every event and incident logged, is already possible.

Editor's Note: Watch Talha Ghafoor's demonstration of Home Automation and the installation of specific modules on webstudio.ciopakistan.com and search for 'Home Automation'.

Talha Ghafoor is a Senior Security Specialist and a qualified CISSP, CISA, PCI-QSA, and JNCIS-FWV. He has 10+ years of industry experience with strong history of working with Tier 1/Fortune 10 Financial Services Institutions in Europe.

About the Author:

Talha's expertise lies in firewalls, intrusion prevention, encryption and open source software. You can contact him at: talha@ciopakistan.com

This story, "Remote Control Your Home" was originally published by CIO-Pakistan.

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