SAN JOSE, Calif. — Someday the smart home may be the norm, but today it still a somewhat pricey set of proprietary products, slowly opening up to work with industry standards.
That's the view I took away from an interview with Matthew Swatsky, a computer engineer turned product manager for Lutron's smart home products. The company has been wiring homes since the 1980s. In the 1990s, it rolled out Clear Connect, its own wireless technology now in its fifth generation.
"We're in the early stages of the connected home," said Swatsky, who is attending CES 2015 this week. "In the early 90s, custom cabinets were an upgrade. Now they are standard. The connected home may follow that trend."
Before we get there, AV and security products need to work better with the kind of lighting, motorized shades and HVAC controls Lutron makes, and everybody has to interoperate with everyone else.
Lutron has been taking its own small steps in that direction. Its proprietary 433MHz wireless systems now work with a WiFi thermostat from Honeywell, and Lutron recently agreed to support the Google Nest thermostat.
Matthew Swatsky shows some of Lutron's Caseta Wireless gadgets.
The company already ships Android and iOS apps for its network that goes under the Caseta Wireless brand. Apple demoed its app running on the Apple Watch when it was announced last year. "All the technology in that watch was not available five years ago," Swatsky said. "Mobile devices make home controls more accessible."
Lutron has 15 partners in its Caseta Wireless ecosystem, including Logitech, and it is reaching out for more. This year, it will embrace ZigBee in a remote control for smart LED lights.
Today's up-and-coming networks -- Bluetooth, WiFi, ZigBee -- weren't ready to plug into the smart home when Lutron started work on its wireless technology nearly 20 years ago. But today the private company that sells to both consumer and contractors, which need to embrace the rising tide of open standards to continue to thrive.
Swatsky does not pretend that his FM band network made with off-the-shelf radios and microcontrollers is at the bleeding edge. Its 62.5 Kbit/s links are meant to extend only 30 feet in a typical home. The key is that they are reliable and support nodes with battery life measured in years.
"The customer doesn't always care about the protocols," he said.
That said, consumers are getting more savvy about the WiFi and Bluetooth networks in their homes and on their devices. And those networks support bigger ecosystems with higher-volume products that sell at lower costs.
Lutron's dimmers sell for $70 or more. It sells bridges to link to WiFi nets for $150 or more. So managers like Swatsky and his counterparts at other top-tier building controls companies walk the CES floors looking for ways to step gracefully into the big WiFi, Bluetooth, and ZigBee ecosystems. "We work with a lot of open standards," he said.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times