In a smart home, control devices and monitoring sensors throughout the house are wirelessly connected to each other and a central control station such as a set top box. This box in turn can talk to the outside world by a cable or Internet connection. These devices and sensors can include home security systems, home health monitoring, entertainment (such as music, TV and video), environmental controls for heating and air conditioning, location awareness (who is where in the home), watering plants, feeding pets, and many others.
These services in turn can be monitored and controlled locally via a handheld remote control (the 'smart home dashboard') or remotely via Internet or cell phone.
What are the benefits for the consumer?
Radio Frequency For Consumer Electronics (RF4CE) remote controls provide a variety of benefits to consumers from increased and centralized services to the benefits of no longer seeing broken remotes wrapped in duct tape and rubber bands.
The greatest benefit however may be ease of use. ZigBee RF4CE is an industry standard for wireless radio technology and allows remote controls to transmit through walls, furniture and floors. There is no longer the need to point and shoot with a remote control. You no longer have to aim the remote at the small IR sensor in order to change channels or watch movies. RF penetrates most materials, so it is now possible to hide the ugly components of the home network. Set top boxes, VCRs, alarm systems, DVD players, etc., can all be hidden away in closets or in furniture.
ZigBee RF4CE is an open standard, making it easy for developers to create a wide range of devices and services that are interoperable and will talk to each other without need for elaborate programming, dangling dongles or adapters. This includes the home's entertainment, environmental control and security systems, as well as the sensors for movement, humidity, health monitoring, etc. As long as these devices adhere to the ZigBee RF4CE specification, they should speak to each other.
An important component of ZigBee RF4CE is ultra low power, leading to the creation of devices and controllers that do not require a lot of power. For example, designers can use the GreenPeak communication controller to build remote controls that can run for up to ten years on a single watch cell battery. It is possible to design a diverse spectrum of sensor devices, controls and switches that can run for the life of the device without ever having to have their batteries replaced or recharged. Depending on application, it is even possible to build sensors and switches that don't require any power supply at all. For example, light switches that generate enough power simply from the action of your fingers switching them on and off, or moving the dial, to transmit the control pulse across the room to a lamp or automated door.
Most people have had the experience of using a remote control that is only held together using duct tape or rubber bands. The battery compartment doors on most remotes are fragile and easily break. By using ZigBee RF4CE ultra low power technology in remote controls, it is no longer necessary to use removable batteries. Instead the battery can be hard-wired to the circuit board. With no need to access batteries for replacement, there is no need for battery compartments. In addition, without the need to design a battery compartment, remote control developers can design remotes with intriguing new slim shapes. They can also add cool new features like "Find Me."
@RF/Memory Editor (Janine): I too would like to see more application oriented articles.
My personal opinion on home area network (HAN) devices: I have to agree with @EllySchietse above, appliances such as RF4CE set top boxes are over kill. The primary motivation is to save energy bills, the secondary ones come from networking other things within a home, like security, weather stations, leak detection, etc.
The consumer sentiment is quite clear, every one wants to save energy but they do not want to manage with all the gadgets and things. This is NOT the same thing as a smart phone. Consumers care about energy bills once a month when it is due! They do not want to
Does ZigBee RF4CE comply with OSHAN (Open Source Home Area Network, does any one know?
Reaction on Sansfil’s comment:
In about 95% of the Wi-Fi installations at home just one router/gateway is enough to cover the whole house (depending on the size). ZigBee RF4CE and Wi-Fi are very comparable in range/coverage – so in 95% of the cases ZigBee RF4CE covers the whole house as well. Mesh technology of ZigBee PRO can solve this last 5% problem, but everything comes at a price... a ZigBee PRO remote control is hard to justify in the market.
While I agree that RF4CE is an ideal technology for home entertainment control, it is not suited for general control of devices in your home. The reason is that it is a point-to-multipoint protocol and that its physical layer needs around 20 dBm output power to ensure whole house coverage. This is needed on both sides of the link and can that kind of power can not be delivered from a coin cell or any other consumer battery.
The Home Automation and Smart Energy protocols from the ZigBee Alliance are based on the ZigBee PRO stack which gives mesh networking capabilities. This means that mains powered devices around the house like lamps can be used to effectively route packets between low power nodes. Whole house coverage is then ensured thorugh multiple hops rather than high outptut power radios.
This is a different type of application-based article for the site. I'm thinking of a new series of articles under the umbrella: RF in Action. Would you like to see more application based articles (in addition to the regular complement of design features)? Janine Love, Microwave & RF Designline editor.
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