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RadioRa

Another popular wireless protocol in the DIY community called RadioRa was developed by Lutron. RadioRa is the only product currently offered by Lutron that is available to the public.

Other products such as Lutron HomeWorks and Lutron GrapikEye are available through dealers only.

Various RadioRA Controls
Figure 7: Various RadioRA Controls

Hybrids

Just about all the other popular protocols available today fall into the Hybrid category. Insteon, C-Bus, and the aforementioned Lutron HomeWorks all fit this category with Insteon and C-Bus at the top of the list.

Insteon is developed by SmartLabs, which is more commonly known by its website Smarthome.com. It's a PLC / Wireless hybrid with its first products shipped in 2005. Insteon uses a P2P wireless network and power lines to ensure data is transmitted to its intended destination.

Insteon devices are also backward-compatible with X10 devices. So an Insteon switch can turn on a X10 device and vice-versa. Insteon has been getting a bad reputation recently due to hardware failure. So do your research before taking the plunge.

Various Insteon Controls
Figure 8: Various Insteon Controls

The other hybrid system is C-Bus developed by Austrailian company Clipsal. It is realtively new in the US, but has roots dating back to the early 1990s. I first learned of C-Bus from my fellow CharmedQuark (CQC) users, who happen to live in Austrailia. Although it is a hard wired and wireless hybrid system, it's most often used as a hard-wired system for reliability.

Controllers

Several software and hardware control solutions are available—so many that it would not be possible for me to mention them all. The two most popular software solutions are CharmedQuark (CQC) and HomeSeer. I've used both for extensive periods of time, starting with HomeSeer.

HomeSeer is a highly flexible application with core software that is a powerful logic engine, which allows you to easily set up events with very few keystrokes. It also allows the creation of plug-ins which allow you to interact with hardware and additional software. Plug-ins are typically available at a price, but sometimes for free.

CharmedQuark uses a very different architecture. The most powerful feature of CQC is that it's 100% network distributed. This means that you install the software on one PC and that PC becomes the server. Then you install the software on additional PCs and those become clients. So no matter which PC you are working from, it is as if you are always working on the Master Server PC.

CQC prides its self of being built 99% on a low level C and C++ framework and uses virtually no third-party libraries. This makes for an extremly robust controller. CQC also uses a proprietary object oriented programming language to ensure its plug-ins (called drivers) are also robust and secure.

Example Charmed Quark screen

Figure 10: Example Charmed Quark screen

Software controllers are flexible but hardware controllers are reliable. Many DIYers use both. Until recently, the idea of using a PC and software controller for professional installations was frowned apon. However, both CQC and HomeSeer are determined to change this.

CQC and HomeSeer support various hardware controllers including Elk M1G, HAI, and Ocelot. The Elk M1G and HAI automation controllers double as a security system, which makes perfect sense due to the nature of the application.

Home security systems usually have analog and digital inputs. The Elk and HAI take this to the next step by providing a programmable logic controller as well as serial and TCP/IP interfaces for additional PC control.

The Ocelot is a stand-alone home automation controller developed by Applied Digital Incorporated (ADI) and includes a powerful if-then-else programmable logic controller as well as analog and digital inputs. Although the Ocelot was originally designed for industrial control, it is perfectly capable of Lighting, Security, Irrigation and more.

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