Category Archives: Home Automation

Devolo Home Control Hardware Review



Devolo LogoPowerline specialists Devolo have moved into the smart home business with Home Control, a Z-Wave based system that incorporates powerline networking. Regular readers will have seen two unboxing videos previously. This post has more photos and details of the various components, sensors and accessories available.

Central Unit

The central unit is at the heart of the Home Control system and communicates via Z-Wave with all the sensors. Part of the Starter Pack, it’s a Devolo dLAN powerline adaptor too, so can be incorporated into an existing powerline network, though this feature doesn’t seem to be advertised very well. This is the UK version, as can be seen from the plug and it has a single network port which is used to connect to a router if there is no existing dLAN network.

Devolo Control Unit

Devolo Control Unit

Devolo Control Unit

Currently, the USB port is not used.

Smart Metering Plug

As with the Control Unit, this is the UK spec version of the Smart Metering Plug. As might be guessed from the name, not only can the plug be switch on and off remotely, it can provide power consumption information to show how much power is being used by the connected devices. The crystal LED lights up to show when the plug is on and it works as a manual on / off button too.

Smart Metering Socket

Smart Metering Socket

Motion Sensor and Door / Window Contact

The Motion Sensor and the Door / Window Contact are different sensors but physically they look the same – long half cylinders with a PIR-style window at the top. Obviously one detects motion and the other when a door or window is opened or closed by the proximity of magnet. In addition, both units measure temperature and brightness. Slightly annoyingly, a red LED lights up when both sensors are activated.

Motion Sensor

Motion Sensor

Key-fob Switch

The Key-fob Switch is a four button unit with two larger buttons and two smaller buttons. The Key-fob seems well made in metal which will put up with abuse from nearby keys and there’s a sliding plastic covered that will prevent accidental presses. Within the Devolo portal, each press can initiate an action, e.g. turning on lights, but more on this in the next post.

Devolo Keyfob Closed

Devolo Keyfob Open

Room Thermostat

The Room Thermostat is a co-branded Danfoss unit which works with two temperatures, the sensed room temperature and a target temperature. The target temperature can be adjusted both by the up and down switches on the front of the thermostat and remotely through the Devolo portal. The thermostat is powered by two batteries so can be located anywhere within range of the Control Unit. Although it doesn’t show in the pictures, the thermostat display is backlight and comes on when a button is pressed.

Devolo Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat
Devolo Room Thermostat

Wall Switch

The Wall Switch is very much in the style of continental light switches rather than the UK’s narrower style but it’s still a very useful addition to the range of accessories. Powered by CR2032 battery, the switch can be configured either as a single or double switch and although it looks like a rocker switch, it’s more of a push switch with four switches – upper left, lower left, upper right, lower right. Consequently the message from the switch is typically “button x was pushed (and released)” rather than “button x is currently pressed”.

The switch disassembles to change the battery or change from single to double switch, though you have to be brave when pulling it apart!

Wall Switch Wall Switch Wall Switch

Smoke Detector

The Smoke Detector is much like other smoke detectors in that there’s a very loud alarm when smoke is detected. Unlike the average detector, the Devolo version also fires off a message to the Control Unit via Z-Wave, which can then be responded to using rules configured in the Devolo portal.

There’s a test button on the top of the smoke detector as expected; press for a few seconds to check the battery, which is a small CR123 3V battery rather than a 9V PP9.
Smoke Detector

Smoke Detector

Radiator Thermostat

The Radiator Thermostat is a user-fit replacement for many thermostatically-controlled radiators. Simply, the old thermostat is removed and the new smart thermostat is put in its place. It’s straightforward and no plumbing knowledge is required other than how to get the old ‘stat off. The Devolo manual (.pdf) lists compatibility and it comes with two adapter rings, though in my instance I have to further purchase a thread converter (M28 to M30) to fit my old valves.

It takes two AA batteries and works very similarly to the Room Thermostat in terms of measuring and setting temperature. The photo below isn’t the best as it’s not showing the temperature – it won’t until it’s actually connected to a radiator.

Radiator Thermostat

Radiator Thermostat

Summary

Devolo has created a portfolio of useful sensors and actuators for a comprehensive smart home solution, although it seems that most of the devices are rebranded from a number of OEMs (Danfoss, Philio Tech, TKB, Popp). Regardless, the units all work well together and have a similar finish so it’s a minor point. Note that some of the photos make the devices look a little creamy; in reality they’re all a good clean white.

In the next post, I’ll be looking a Devolo’s  Home Control portal, which is where all the rules and notifications are setup to really make the home smart.

Thanks to Devolo for all the Home Control review units.


Nexia at 2016 CES



Nexia logoTodd Cochrane talks with J. George Land, Executive Director of Nexia Connected Home Solutions.

Nexia Connected Home Solutions is a software provider that works with selected products from a select number of different home automation manufacturers integrating everything into one voice-controlled software application. Nexia offers Z-Wave gateways.

The Nexia Z-Wave bridge sells for $67.00 on Amazon and can handle up to 200 Z-Wave compatible products from different manufacturers.

With The Nexia Z-Wave bridge, you can control your connected home products from anywhere you have an Internet-connected mobile device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

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BeON Home Protection at CES



BeON Home LogoImproved home security is one of the benefits often cited by proponents of the smart home, but setting up everything can be technically daunting and require a little DIY. The team at BeON have taken a different approach, developing home protection that can easily be installed without any geek or DIY credentials. Jamie and Nick learn more about this original thinking from Alexei Erchak, CEO of BeON.

The BeON Home system is a set of smart LED lightbulbs (or lamps) that screw in to replace existing lights. How are the bulbs smart? To start with, they learn the lighting patterns in the house so that when the building is unoccupied, the lights mimic the normal activity. Next, they learn the sound of the doorbell, so that when the doorbell rings, the lights will come on as if the householder is answering the door. Similarly, the BeON Home bulbs learn the sounding of smoke detectors and will automatically turn the lights on if a fire is detected in the building. Finally, the bulbs come with a backup battery which keep the lamps on even if the power fails.

All-in-all, it looks a pretty neat solution providing a deterrent to intruders and enhanced safety for the home-owner and family. The BeON Home is available now and a starter kit costs US$199.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Nick DiMeo is video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Devolo Home Control Unboxing



Devolo LogoDevolo is well known for its range of dLan powerline networking products which I rate highly, so I was very interested to see that Devolo was creating a new product range for the smart home. Called Home Control, this is a Z-Wave based system with a comprehensive set of accessories, from the usual motion sensor all the way through to radiator thermostats and smoke detectors. One of the key differentiators from similar products on the market is that the control unit is a dLan powerline device too, making it much easier to centrally position it away from the router.

I’ll be doing a full review of the components in a follow up article, but first here are two unboxing videos. The first is the Home Control Starter Pack which includes the control unit, a door/window contact and a smart metering plug. It has an RRP of £179.99. This is all UK spec gear.

Next up is the full range of the Home Control accessories, including remote control key fob, wall switch, motion detector, room thermostat, radiator thermostat and smoke detector. Prices range from £34.99 up to £79.99.

The next article on Home Control will look at the gear in more detail and how to make your house smarter. In the mean time, first impressions are good – accessories are well made and easy to use.


The Smart Home Talks Z-Wave at CES



Z-Wave LogoIf there’s any kind of smart home device in your house, there’s a very good chance that it communicates using Z-Wave. The protocol is oriented to the residential control and automation market and designed specifically for low power and low data rate communication, making it ideal for battery powered devices. Todd and Jamie find out more on this largely unknown wireless technology from Mitchell Klein, Executive Director for the Z-Wave Alliance.

Develop in the early 2000s, Z-Wave is now supported by over 300 manufacturers producing over 1500 certified devices for the smart home, from simple door switches and sensors to central heating and security systems. Operating in the 900 MHz frequency, Z-Wave has a theoretical range of 100 m, but typically this is much reduced by the density of building construction materials. However, unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Z-Wave uses a mesh network with devices acting is intermediary nodes, passing on messages. Consequently, interoperability is key to Z-Wave and all Z-Wave devices will work with other Z-Wave devices.

Mitchell talks about the current state of the Z-Wave market and discusses some of the future possibilities for the technology, including interacting with systems like Amazon Echo.

Todd Aune bridges the technology gap with the The Elder Divide and Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.

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Somabar Robotic Bartender mixes it up at CES



Somabar

The Somabar is robotic personal bartender that makes over 300 different drinks and listens to your drunken maudlin without complaining. Originally a Kickstarter project, the Somabar mixes spirits and infuse bitters to make the perfect cocktail in seconds. Scott drinks it all in with Dylan Purcell-Lowe, CEO of Somabar.

Neatly designed for the stylish home, the Somabar has six owner-refillable Soma Pods which hold liquid ingredients of choice, whether spirits, bitters or fruit juices. A connected smartphone app is used to call up the cocktail of choice which is then thoroughly mixed and dispensed by the Somabar. If there’s a particular recipe that you enjoy, it can be programmed into the app and the Somabar for your own custom drink.

The Somabar is currently in pre-order for US$429 with an expected delivery in July.

Of course, GNC always recommends responsible drinking and following alcohol consumption guidance as set by the relevant health body in your country.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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TikTeck Sells Direct to Consumer



tikteckTikTeck are coming to market with the sole purpose of bringing affordable products direct to the consumer and cutting out the middleman. With only a few gadgets available, Daniel chats with Rex Chen, VP Product Development of TikTeck to find out what’s in store.

In the first wave of products, there’s a Bluetooth-controlled smart LED bulb displaying 16 million colours for only US$9.99. You don’t need me to tell you what a bargain that price is. The companion smartphone app runs on both iOS and Android, providing group controls and timers, much like some of the market leading apps. Available for pre-order now with delivery expected end of February.

TikTeck RoverCombining both security and fun, the next product is a wireless camera rover. It’s a digital video camera on a remote controlled buggy which can be steered and monitored by wifi from a smartphone. US$69.99 when it goes on sale. I want one – the black version in the interview looks positively menacing.

Finally, TikTeck have a smart finger ring that measures heart rate and tracks activity and sends the data back to the smartphone by Bluetooth. It looks far more like a man’s ring than it does a fitness tracker. Price not finalised but likely to be in the $50-$100 range.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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Essence Behaviour Analysis for the Smart Home



Essence LogoComing from a background in home securityEssence have used their understanding of monitoring to develop a range of products for the smart home to enable independent living for those people who might otherwise have difficulty looking after themselves. Jamie and Daniel find out more from Rafi Zauer, Essence Head of Marketing.

The smart home market is exploding at the moment and there are hundreds of companies peddling hubs and sensors. What sets Essence’s SmartCare apart is a focus on unobtrusive monitoring and pattern analysis to detect when a dependent person’s daily routine changes, potentially by illness, in order to alert family members to a problem.

By using PIR motion detectors and door sensors, a pattern of behaviour is built up and deviations from the pattern can be escalated to relatives to follow-up. It’s all passive detection; there are no cameras and as such this provides an important level of privacy. Data is passed to a cloud service which in turn passes alerts to an app on a tablet or smartphone.

With an increasingly older population who want to remain in their own home, these kinds of systems will be increasingly relevant.

Jamie Davis is the host of Health Tech Weekly at HTWeekly.com. He is a nurse, paramedic and health journalist.
Daniel J Lewis dares you to get started in podcasting with The Audacity to Podcast.

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Whirlpool Unveils French Door Refrigerator at CES 2016



Whirlpool logoWhirlpool has unveiled its Whirlpool Smart French Door Refrigerator at CES 2016. Completely and intuitively re-imagined on the inside, the pantry-inspired layout in the Whirlpool Smart French Door Refrigerator is designed to use space more efficiently with a unique shelving system for families to fit and find all their edible favorites, making it the easiest refrigerator to organize.

With pantry shelves that store 30 percent more, the refrigerator won top honors with two 2016 CES Innovation Awards in the Smart Home and Home Appliance categories. Whirlpool designers considered everything from the grocery store produce aisle to the modern kitchen pantry in developing this refrigerator that does more than keep food cold.

Every section, every shelf, every bin in the French Door Refrigerator was re-designed to deliver smart organization with greater access and visibility to change the way families think about storing food.

Key innovations include:

* Infinity slide shelves line the perimeter of the fridge, so families can move small items to the edges and make room for big, high-use items front and center. The shelves are precisely spaced apart based on common sizes of food packaging so that yogurts, spaghetti jars, 12-pack soda boxes and egg cartons fit perfectly And, they glide just as far as needed to accommodate taller items like corked wine bottles and pitchers.

* Industry-first “flippers” allow families to adjust the shelves up or down without having to clear the shelves completely.

* The PerfectPlaces system has just the right spot reserved for every item, so the refrigerator and freezer spaces no longer become a dumping ground with overflowing bins
– Gallon door bins give families the most gallon door bin storage in the industry.
– A Treasure Bin is designed to keep chocolate, cheese, kid’s snacks, and small items in clear sight.
– Asymmetrical crispers are designed with dividers to display fresh produce like bell peppers up front, and store bags of apples in the back. The biggest crispers on the market were thoughtfully designed to hold common foods and packaging like unwieldy long and wide celery stalks and large plastic lettuce containers.

* A full-width “platter pocket” shelf, which slides out entirely to get to favorite foods easier. Its spaced from the other shelves at a height specifically for wide, flat items so families have a special spot for brownie pans, lasagna dishes, and pizza boxes.

* Bright LED undershelf lights in the EasyView system boast 40 percent more brightness under the shelf to help illuminate even those far-back corners where half-filled condiment jars have been known to hide for years.

* The StoreRight system’s dual cooling allows for fresh and frozen foods to be maintained at the perfect temperatures using sensor technology. Dual cooling also measures humidity levels and adjusts the temperature automatically, without the need to manually adjust.

* The ReadySet system, with dual icemakers that make twice the ice, means you will always be ready for unexpected guests.

Visit Whirlpool at CES 2016 at Whirlpool’s brand book #74352 in the Family & Technology Marketplace, located at the Sands Expo Center.


Hunter Ceiling Fans Go Wireless For CES



Hunter Fan CompanyNow this is a cool idea. Ceiling fan inventors, Hunter Fan Co, have introduced Wi-Fi controlled ceiling fans integrated with Apple’s HomeKit for CES. Feeling a little warm? Ask Siri to turn on the fan for a gentle breeze to lower the temperature.

There’s two new Wi-Fi models coming to the market, Symphony and Signal. Symphony has a graceful, modern design and comes in fresh white, while Signal, with its satin nickel housing and reversible wood-finished blades, is a contemporary blend of sleek design and classic finishes. Symphony’s MSRP is $329; Signal’s MSRP is $379. Both fans are available Spring 2016 at online sites such as Hunter FanAmazonBuildBestBuyHomeDepotLowes and Menards. Of course they will be stocked in lighting showrooms nationwide.

Hunter FanAs with all HomeKit-enabled equipment, users can also create custom scenes involving the fans and the built-in lights. For example, one could create a scene to automatically turn on the fan’s light, lock the doors, close the garage door and set the thermostat to the desired temperature in just one step.  For emergencies, users can also set up HomeKit-enabled products to work together based on triggers, such as having the fan’s light turn on the moment the fire alarm detects smoke.

Hunter FanOur ceaseless innovation is why Hunter Fan is the industry leader, and these new Wi-Fi enabled fans, with added support for Apple HomeKit, are a testament to our heritage of progress and originality,” said Hunter Fan CEO John Alexander. “They’re beautiful, affordable, high quality pieces of decor that bring state-of-the-art Wi-Fi technology where it might not be expected: the ceiling fan. As we celebrate 130 years, we have several exciting developments to share with our customers, and are proud to kick off 2016 at CES with Symphony and Signal.

Symphony and Signal were developed in collaboration with industry leaders Ayla Networks and Marvell Technology Group Ltd., which will feature the fans in their respective displays at CES 2016.