New generation of controllers unite home automation, security

Thermostat controls, audio, video and computer networking have gradually been integrated into security controllers
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Thursday, May 1, 2003

The advent of the smart home, combined with consumers’ ongoing desire for sophisticated security systems, has resulted in the continuing integration of home automation and security functions within a single control panel.

Lifestyle enhancements ranging from thermostat controls to audio and video to computer networking, along with security-related features such as lighting controls, have gradually been integrated into security controllers.

“I think the industry has been moving toward tighter integration of systems in the home,” said Dave Mayne, vice president-residential dealer marketing for GE Interlogix Security and Life Safety Group, based in North St. Paul, Minn.

The use of structured wiring within new residences makes it easier to bring these multiple functions into a single control point.

“There’s a lot of info that is contained in the walls,” Mayne said. “It’s the direction in which everyone is heading.”

Besides, he added, “we’re an industry that pulls wire through homes. This (the integration of home automation) is the perfect marriage with what we’ve historically done.”

Arthur Van Ahnen, president of Brookhaven, Pa.-based Connective-Home.com, said today “the security system has the ability to electronically do anything you want it to do.” In the past, he said, smart home functions were part of a package, but today “it all starts with the control panel and structured wiring. You have a security system and you build onto it.”

Jay McLellan, president of HAI, New Orleans, concurred the security system “is the backbone for home automation. It’s the eyes and ears of home automation.”

While customers are interested in all the functions related to home automation, McLellan said security remains “first and foremost for most people.” He said about 30 percent of HAI’s dealers are traditional security dealers, while half are systems integrators with knowledge of both security systems and expertise in HVAC, lighting and related systems. The remainder, he said, are electricians who work with new home builders on structured wiring projects.

Brian Storrie, structured cabling product manager for Digital Security Controls Ltd., Concord, Ontario, echoed McLellan’s security-first premise, noting “the home automation market is growing, but the fundamentals of security are still key.”

Structured wiring is definitely “driving the masses” in the direction of home automation products tied in with security, said Bill Graham, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Guardian Protection.

He noted alarm companies, such as Pittsburgh-based Guardian, are getting more heavily into this dual area, having already developed the infrastructure, support and technology necessary.

Builders, he said, “are looking for one low-voltage wiring specialist,” and are finding it in alarm dealers.

The desire for high-speed Internet access is prompting more customers to go in the direction of structured wiring, Graham said, with “security riding on the coattails.”

Instead of separate panels for all the functions desired by customers, Graham said all the information is now contained in one unit.

That’s also how Rick Gratz, communications manager for Elan Home Systems, said he views the marketplace today. “Systems integration is the trend,” he said. “The homeowners’ life is made easier by having one panel for everything.”

Elan, which has its customer base in the audio/video market, provides pre-written serial drivers to make integration of the security piece easier. While the industry doesn’t have total systems integration yet, Gratz said Elan’s products are compatible with those of many major players in home automation and security.

GE Interlogix’s Mayne agreed there is still work to be done to get “across the board standards,” but he said there has been increased cooperation within the industry.

Van Ahnen of ConnectiveHome.com said while original systems were aimed at being proprietary to protect their share of the market, the maturing industry is moving toward modules that can fit into each other’s panels, he said. “We’re now finding that more manufacturers are making things that mix and match.”

Consumers, while seeking “the latest and greatest in technology,” Elan’s Gratz said, also want to keep things as simple as possible. “The more advanced the systems get and the more integrated, the more there is a need to be as simple as possible for the end user,” he said.

Ken Uhlmann, director of sales-Northeast for OnQ Technologies, Middletown, Pa., which provides structured wiring, said he has seen the evolution among security companies toward offering more technology options.

“More security guys are seeing the opportunity,” he said. “We see the security installer diversifying and getting into more (home management system) areas.”

Uhlmann said the desire for Internet access, in-home networking and other high-tech functions have made structured wiring a part of many new high-end homes.

“The beauty of this technology is that it knows no boundaries,” he said. “Not everyone has three cars, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a computer.”

Through home management systems, Uhlmann said, the security system can be accessed, monitored and altered via Internet and phone.

HAI’s McLellan said about 20 percent to 25 percent of homeowners have made Internet connectivity part of their home automation system and often use it to receive information from the security system.

“The houses are getting smarter,” he stated, “and allow you to act as your own central station.” McLellan added, however, that not everyone is capable of or interested in taking on this task themselves. And most others with whom Security Systems News spoke said they doubted consumers would move in this direction.

“We’re not bypassing monitoring, we’re redefining monitoring,” explained Mayne of GE Interlogix. The smarter panels will report events via email, pager or cellphone and provide reports to customers that make the information “more timely and more accessible.”

“It improves the efficiency of monitoring,” he added.