Interview: Page (1) of 3 - 01/12/06
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CEN Interview: Joe Dada, CEO, Smarthome

Plug and play network controls everything in the home ... well, almost

By Charlie White

Since 1992, Smarthome, Inc. of  Irvine, California has offered electronic home improvement devices such as X10 lighting and control systems, security devices, switches and home automation controllers. Joe Dada, the companys CEO, and his team of engineers and designers have created a new standard of home control called Insteon, a two-way system which controls devices using both powerline and radio frequencies (RF). At CES 2006 in Las Vegas, Dada talked with Consumer Electronics Net about this new home automation standard, and about the more than 400 companies that are adopting it for their own products.

CEN: The home automation industry has long been dominated by low-end devices such as X10 and high-end devices that cost many thousands of dollars to implement in the average home. Your Insteon system promises to offer the quality and reliability of those high-end systems with the affordability of X10. Is the idea starting to catch on?

Dada: Were feeling like weve turned a corner, because the recognition of Insteon is becoming more widespread. The market is getting it. People are buying it. A lot of the experts in the industry have tried it personally and its working for them. Theyre starting to understand at a personal level what $19.99 means. Our competition cant get to such a low price point. Their RF technologies are just much more complex. Its not that their engineers arent smart; its that they didnt find a simple-enough away to do this. They have networks, and theres no concept of a network with Insteon. Its a simulcast technology, so there are no routing tables, theres no healing of a network, theres no setting up of the network.

CEN: You mentioned to me earlier that youre getting numerous companies to join in and use this protocol. Your goal is to have Insteon as the standard, and as the successor to X10, while using that same technology piggybacked with RF, right? Is that how it works?

The Insteon system works via powerline and RF, with two relay units (at left) boosting the signal throughout the house. In the middle is a control panel and at right are two Insteon switches.

 

Dada: Well, almost. The products can be assigned an X10 address. The products talk native Insteon powerline as well as native Insteon RF. So the powerline is much improved over X10 in that it has a different frequency and a completely different type of communication. Its much, much faster; much, much more reliable. Theres a ?From address, theres a ?To address, theres error detection bits, its a whole different thing.

CEN: Better than X10, but backward-compatible?

Dada: Right. We felt that was important for the early adopters. There are all these homes out there with all those X10 devices. Creating a standard is a chicken-and-egg problem, so what we did was we took the installed base and said, hey, you want X10? These are X10 compatible?you can keep buying them if you want. So all of a sudden, we have a nice installed base of well over 50,000 units. Already.

CEN: Back up a bit?how long have Insteon products been on the market?

Dada: We shipped the first three in May, 2005. Its been about eight months. There were 13 initial products in the rollout, and the 13th didnt ship until December. When you think about that, on average, weve only been shipping for about three or four months. The sell-through has been phenomenal. I cant know for sure, but the data that were aware of leads us to believe that weve outsold all the competition combined. 

CEN: Can you tell the readers about what products have shipped so far, and then maybe you can tell us whats on tap for the future as well.

Dada: Most of the products that were shipping from Smartlabs Design and Manufacturing are in the lighting control and appliance control arena. We have a tabletop controller, we have a wired-in dimmer, a plug-in dimmer, we have a wired-in on-off switch, a plug-in on-off switch, we have a USB computer interface, a serial computer interface, and a keypad dimmer, so you can replace a wall switch with this unit which has six or eight switches. All the wired-in products can be easily changed, where you can take off four screws and change the colors. You can make the LEDs five different colors?white, amber, green, red, or blue. There are six color choices on the toggle itself?white, almond, ivory, gray/silver, brown, and black. The same is true for the keypad.

Here's an Insteon timer switch, a recent addition to the growing line of Insteon products.

CEN: If users want to have a color that matches their house, can they paint these? Are people doing that sort of thing? Will there be custom colors?

Dada: They certainly could. People do the strangest things. We certainly hear about people painting them as well is putting wallpaper on them. So they can customize them pretty much any way they want, and we will be coming out with additional colors as the market asks for them.

CEN: Are these switches compatible with those of your competitors? For example, could you take the paddle off a Lutron switch or a Leviton switch and put it on one of these?

Dada: No. Every manufacturer has their own industrial design, so they are not interchangeable.

CEN: What about the future? You have 13 Insteon products so far. Are you going to be selling more kinds of switches? What do you have planned?

Dada: We have several products that are in design and/or tooling right now: a wireless handheld remote, two more lighting control products that are like the switches except they are called in-line modules. A gentleman came up to the booth earlier and said, I have 98 low-voltage halogen lights in the house, but I want to control them all individually. What he needs is a little thing that he can put up in the can, and then address that individually, so he can create different scenes. So the units will be used for that. We have a unit that will convert Insteon into infrared, so you can press a button here and turn on the radio, adjust the volume, and that same unit will work backwards so you could use a universal remote and turn it into an Insteon remote.

CEN: Will that remote be infrared or RF?

Dada: Its a bridge, itll be RF. So Insteon products can be powerline only, RF only, or both. The battery-powered devices are, by design, RF-only. Thatll be a native RF Insteon remote. A lot of us have universal remotes in the house, and all you do his program that to a well-known code thats in every one of them, so for example in button one could be this light, button two could be that light, and so on. 

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Related Keywords:Smarthome, Inc., electronic home improvement devices, X10 lighting, control systems, security devices, switches, home automation controllers, Joe Dada, CEO, standard, home control, Insteon, two-way system, powerline, radio frequencies, RF, CES 2006, Consumer Electronics Net, home automation standard

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