Home under control

The smart home is almost as popular a dream as the flying car. Who wouldn’t want the house to turn on the lights according to the sunlight? Enter io-homecontrol, an alliance of companies that wants to do just that – and much more.

At the turn of the century, several companies – many of them IT and mobile phone companies – were beating their chests and preaching about a revolution on the home front. The managing director of io-homecontrol, Jean-Luc Guillaume, has seen the developments from the beginning. “I was at Somfy at the turn of the century, and one of the things I was in charge of was to find a way to make home control a mass market segment. We studied the field and arrived at the conclusion that an alliance was necessary because no one company could cover all the needs,” he says.  

Shared protocol
Since 2002, leading companies in the building components industry have been working together in the marketing and development of a unique protocol that can be shared across different building components, thereby creating cross-functional home control. The result of their efforts is an alliance between ASSA ABLOY, Honeywell Heating, Honeywell Security, Hörmann (automatic garage doors), Somfy (motors and controls for interior blinds), and VELUX (roof window, shutters, solar systems); a strong marketing cooperation in several European countries; and the protocol itself: two-way radio communication at frequencies from 868 MHz to 870 MHz.  

At the moment, the main areas of a home are covered by the participating organizations. However, to really turn the protocol into a standard one, more companies need to adopt it. That means new members to the alliance, which has plans for many other building component manufacturers to join in 2008 and 2009. “All companies have to accept that even their competitors can join,” Guillaume remarks.  

The seamless technology system enables some versatile lifestyle scenarios, such as: “Good morning”, which opens the bedroom shutters slightly – and the kitchen and bathroom shutters fully – to let in light. Additionally, the kitchen and bathroom are quickly heated up. 

The “going on holiday” functions ensure that the heat is down and that all the doors, roller blinds and windows are locked. The homeowner can make it look as if someone is home by having the lights come on and shutters open and close.  

Quicker response
One of the big challenges for home control is the security and the consistency of each independent unit’s behavior. According to Guillaume, other technologies are implemented using black boxes that can’t inform the user about the real status of the products they control. One of the unique advantages with the io-homecontrol protocol is that the technology is embedded in the products themselves.  

Io-homecontrol also has a faster response time than the other technologies. “Take, for example, a setting for “holiday”. You need to lock the entrance door, the windows and the shutters, plus dim the lights and lower the temperature. With the other technologies, this takes 10-20 seconds. With io-homecontrol, it is important to get the feedback fast, and this only takes a second or so,” Guillaume remarks.  

Configuration with io-homecontrol is simple as well. When first used, the transmitter and the receiver (the io-homecontrol product, for example, a door) automatically exchange the encryption key. They then link this key to a random number provided by the receiver (the number changes at each new command). It is then that a computation allows the product (the door) to be registered as part of the installation. From then on, the result of the computation enables the command (lock the door) to be executed, to the exclusion of any outside interaction, Guillaume explains. “When the io-homecontrol components are installed, they recognize each other automatically.” 


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