What Is Home Automation?


In its most simple form Home Automation is the ability to control Lighting & Household Appliances remotely. Almost everyone already has a limited amount of Home Automation. When was the last time you got out of your chair to change channels on the TV Set? (Probably when you couldn't find the remote control!)

All you have to do now is build on this. Wouldn't it be great if with the press of button you could turn off the main light and dim your table lamps from the comfort of your favourite armchair?

Good News......You Can with X-10!

There is a technology called X-10 which although invented in the UK in 1978 by Pico Electronics of Glenrothes, Scotland, is almost totally unheard of here. It is however, VERY widely used in the USA. X-10 uses existing mains wiring in your house to carry "Messages" to special Light Switches & Plug-in Modules. These Messages consist of 2 parts...An "Address" and a "Command". In total there are 256 X-10 Addresses and the Commands are OFF, ON, DIM, BRIGHT, ALL UNITS OFF, ALL LAMPS ON.

The Light Switches replace your ordinary switches and can be used in exactly the same way, however they also respond to the Messages sent over the wiring. The Plug-in Modules resemble the plug-in timeswitches on sale in most electrical stores but come in 2 types.

  • Appliance Modules which can switch loads of 13amps and respond to OFF, ON, & ALL UNITS OFF commands.
  • Lamp Modules which can only handle loads of 300 watts but respond to all the commands.

Each module has two switches to set its Address. When a Message is sent the module looks at the address and if it matches the address set on the switches the device will respond to the command.


How do the Messages Get into the Wiring?

Several types of "Controller" exist to "Talk" to the modules. The most basic is the "Mini Controller" which can control 8 addresses by means of pressbuttons. This plugs into a mains socket and sends the messages when a button is pressed. More than 1 module can have the same address so if for example you had 3 table lamps in a room you could control them simultaneously with 3 Lamp modules set to the same address, or individually by setting the modules to different addresses. An Infra Red version of this controller is available which when used in conjunction with a suitable remote control handset (typically a "One 4 All 6") enables 16 addresses to be controlled from the comfort of your favourite armchair.

The "Mini Timer" resembles a small digital alarm clock and has the ability to send messages at a predetermined time. Imagine turning on the coffee pot 5 minutes before you get up so that when you stumble downstairs bleary eyed a pot of freshly made coffee awaits you!

The latest piece of the X-10 jigsaw to hit these shores is the CM12U which is a small white box resembling a 3 way adaptor which plugs into the mains and your PC. Using suitable software the CM12U is programmed from your PC to perform whatever function you require at whatever time you require. At this point the PC can be disconnected, however you can leave the PC on all the time and have direct control of all your X-10 devices from the keyboard. The PC screen also provides feedback of any X-10 messages on your wiring so if someone in the kitchen sends a command to turn off the outside lights, your PC screen shows the status of the lights change from ON to OFF. Very Cool!

Home Automation can be further enhanced by integrating a security system so that when someone walks up your driveway, the floodlights come on and a picture from a CCTV Camera is displayed on your TV set. You can also arrange that if you are away from home, your video recorder will record the camera for a preset period e.g. 2 minutes so you can see who has visited in your absence.

Basically the only limit to what can be acheived with Home Automation is your imagination & your bank balance (or lack of it!). Anything you can think of probably exists somewhere (usually in the USA) but at a price. My aim is to develop projects to enable Home Automation enthusiasts to get "High End" features at a budget price.....and have the satisfaction of saying "I Built That".


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This page last updated : 5th October 2000