The speed of technology and the resultant rate of business change have impacted all aspects of our lives. What started as a murmur is now a buzz surrounding different concepts and ideas relating to the magical words ‘smart home'. These concepts have ranged from full blown science fiction like homes with voice/sound/motion activated, artificially intelligent and fully integrated systems controlling just about everything, to the more down-to-earth systems focusing on a particular area like HVAC, lighting and so on.
Most of these technologies are either at an advanced stage of development or are actually available – even some of those based on artificial intelligence – but certainly not at a level and/or price tag that is commercially viable, even for enterprise/industrial applications, let alone consumer markets. Furthermore, technologies that are commercially available, regardless of the price tag, differ greatly in basic concepts and most of all implementation, making them completely incompatible.
The need for standards
The lack of common standards has prompted most players in these or similar fields, including cStar Technologies Inc., to start organising and creating basic guidelines and even set standards to meet the need. This process is still a long way away from being recognised as a set of globally accepted home automation standards, but is definitely a step in the right direction, providing at least basic solutions to interoperability issues.
From the technical point of view the difference in scope of systems that have to be integrated and interconnected, as well as the differences in the components and devices themselves and their technological and deployment limitations, dictate the use of a wide spectrum of technologies within each and every implementation layer. All of these factors made cStar Technologies, with its innovative technology, ideally positioned to become the leader in this market segment.
cStar's core competence lies in the integration of non-IT devices and systems into an IT world. This involves providing intelligence and connectivity, local and/or remote, to devices and equipment otherwise incapable of being a part of the information technology infrastructure. In today's world more than 98% of CPUs belong to a non-IT category and about 2% form part of what we call the information technology era. This just shows the sheer potential of the M2M (machine-to-machine – machine-to-men) market and underlines the limitless applications these technologies have on our daily lives, with home automation being just a tiny part.
Expertise in communication techniques as a whole, as well as internally developed innovative technology – especially in the non-conventional networking segment – have enabled cStar to become a major force in the rapidly growing M2M market. The variety of connectivity methods ranges from standard wire-line solutions over non-conventional wire-line solutions like PLC (power line communications) to wireless LAN or WAN solutions, creating a seamless dynamic multi-protocol network adaptable to the peculiarities of the transport medium, node characteristics and application requirements.
Patented Virtual Gateway™ technology, a set of specific traffic handling protocols and non-embedding protocol conversion techniques implemented in the SkyGate® and DirectGate™ product lines, make the complex task of M2M communication much easier and, most of all, economically viable. Successful implementation in a variety of applications (vending, industrial/SCADA, HVAC, AMR, lighting and so on) proved that the technology is robust, efficient and flexible.
Approach to home automation
Our approach to home automation comes as a logical extension of this technology and has been taken in two phases. The first phase concentrates on energy management as an extension to an AMR solution, while the second concentrates on in-house systems communication and control.
In phase one, cStar's AMR solution includes on-line, real-time, remote meter reading, drive-by meter reading and store and forward meter reading using public or private wireless WAN, MAN or LAN networks with local WLAN or PLC clusterisation. Wireless LAN and PLC clusters or stand-alone meters can be a part of a real-time acquisition and control network, or be independently controlled by drive-by truck or handheld computer. Available technologies include GSM/SMS/GPRS, CDMA/1X, DataTAC, Mobitex, CDPD, ReFlex, Celemetry, Bluetooth, 802.11, proprietary 900MHz/2.4GHz ISM Band wireless MAN/LAN, CEBus, Home Plug-'n-Play, Ethernet, Cable, xDSL and others, all interoperable and providing a choice for a tailor-made solution that fits each customer's needs and budget.
Internal system clusters incorporate SkyGate® energy management nodes attached primarily to major energy consumption appliances (furnace, heaters, AC, etc.) mutually communicating individual energy use and status. Internal control logic status and remote control capabilities provide more efficient energy use, minimising peak consumption. The information gathered from the appliances can be presented either locally on a PC, a handheld or the appliance itself, or supplied remotely through the AMR backbone to the utility company. Utilities can use this more detailed information to understand the needs of their customers beyond the point of an AMR-only solution. The information can be supplied back to customers through a Web-based service in situations where they cannot or do not want to gather it locally.
Phase two incorporates cStar's HomeGate™/OfficeGate™ line of products, a local PLC/WLAN cluster controller Internet gateway that provides independent local control and direct Internet access to in-house (in-office) PLC/WLAN control nodes.