For almost a decade now, engineers have batted around the idea of a RF-based protocol that would enable consumers to wirelessly control home appliances, something like an X10 network on steroids (and without the wires). That concept might finally be realized if Actiontec’s zControl series of devices catches on.
The first generation of the zControl line, scheduled to ship next month, will be a stand-alone bridge that connects to a home router and can be accessed by PC or cell phone. It will communicate with appliances like surveillance cameras, lights, garage door openers, thermostats, and more by using Z-Wave, a interoperable wireless communications protocol that’s designed for low-power and low-bandwidth appliances. The $399 Actiontec zControl Starter Kit will include the zControl unit, one indoor camera with motion detector, one lighting- control module, and a remote control.
Actiontec says zControl will enable consumers to define settings for light, heat, and other household electronics that can be automatically triggered or manually activated by PC or mobile phone at specific times or for various scenarios. The interface can be accessed from any Internet-enabled PC anywhere in the world or from most mobile phones with a special service package available from Actiontec.
The company says that setup will be automatically accomplished via a discovery button on the front of the device, which enables it to automatically add other Z-Wave devices to the network. I haven’t seen the zControl, but a simple setup will certainly be key to its success. Another fundamental component appears to be already in place: The Z-Wave Alliance says that products that carry the Z-Wave logo are completely interoperable. And that means you can mix and match devices from any number of manufacturers, and they all should play nicely together. There are currently more than 170 Z-Wave enabled products available that covers a wide range of home appliances, according to the alliance.
For now, Actiontec is touting the technology as a boon for security, convenience, and energy efficiency. But the company says it later will offer Wi-Fi routers and DSL gateways to service providers, who are likely to offer a companion set-top box later in the year that will bring all of the home automation to your TV. And will make the home automation market something worth watching.