Smart homes deliver comfort, convenience, aesthetics, security, energy savings and enhanced property value. Chinese smart-home players are manufacturing smart lighting switches, controllers, electronic plugs, intercoms and systems.
The concept of smart homes was brought to China in the 1990s following automation trends in Japan and the West. In 2003, local construction associations released new building construction guidelines, requiring must-have security systems like CCTV and access control. This spurred development of enhanced systems for home automation and complex systems for residential communities.
Major players started first with key components like lighting switches, controllers and intercoms. Vendors with switch and scene controller products include Bechamp, Bright, GKB Group, Ruilang, Skysafe and Super; then, there is Haier in household appliances; intercom suppliers include Anjubao, Aurine, Jiale, Genway, Huanyutong and WRT. The premier group is well-known for its controllers, while the latter dominates home touch-screen portals used in advanced video doorphone systems and community-wide systems.
Smart-home systems encompass security, automation and entertainment; the main concept is comfort and ability to set lighting levels and create desired ambiance. This may include adjustable partitions and dimmers.
Suppliers are adopting various protocols or modules for smart lighting control, namely wireless, centralized, network, scene, scheduled or sensor. The applications are replacing traditional switches with special modules and switches. Wireless controllers enable mobile switching, while centralized controllers have plug play designs; meanwhile, network controllers control all appliances, while sensors improve energy savings.
Scene controllers enable lighting combinations with the click of a button. With preset lighting levels for listed activities, controllers also provide users with an easy way to control appliances, curtains and media programming (music and video) via main controllers, touch-screen portals, Web PDAs, cell phones, Internet or telephone. Customers, however, have to be aware of protocol issues when selecting controller products (American X10 or Holland PLCBUS).
"The No. 1 thing that you have to understand about home automation," said Willi Shen, Vice General Manager of Bechamp, "is that it has to be incredibly reliable and simple to use." When residents trigger the front entryway, for example, the system has to understand that someone is home and turn on the lights, a specific channel on the television or play specific music. The end user controls other functions, such as music or video selections, via software installed on their personal computers.
Bechamp's BC2-D50Lbesides upgradesfeatures seven-inch to 10-inch screens both with TCP/IP-based video and voice functions. "This new smart-home system aims to combine several functions on just one platform," added Shen. "It combines intercoms, security monitors, home appliance controls and multimedia messenger."
"Convenience and aesthetics go hand- in-hand, " said Benny Bai , Marketing Director of Ruilang, "A master controller can sit on a tabletop or bedside for easy access. Wireless controllers clipped to a car visor or on a keychain enable homeowners to turn on lights when they pull into the driveway. Scene controllers eliminate need to flip multiple switches on and off, and they replace clunky banks of switches with a more aesthetically pleasing configuration."
Ruilang, which was established in 1990, has a complete X10 Powerline series of light switches, micro modules and mini controllers as well as an X10 Wireless series for controller and base products. The remote controllers include home control PDAs, six-in-one, touch-screen remotes and 10-button keychain remotes.
The company also offers dealers handy mnemonic devices that can be used when promoting the benefits of lighting controls, which are equipped with soft boot and dimmer functions so incandescent lights are turned on gradually with adjustable brightness ensuring comfort and life expectancy of lamps. Ruilang also has another series of switch-controlled curtains that are compatible with its scene controller products.
For customers requiring mobile controllers with LCD displays, locks and 3G cell phone monitoring, the GKB Groupestablished in 1999has a GKB7UIR-3BGV5 mobile controller with LCD that works at distances of 15 meters to 30 meters. It supports status display of lights and appliances, locks for specific lights, auto blue back lighting and energy-saving mode. In 2006, GKB launched its smart-home solut ion wi th 3G mobi le phone monitoring of status of lights and appliances.
For greater sophistication, the Super PLC-RF 4073E encrypted, touch-screen, remote controller works on PLCBUS protocol. Encryption prevents signal interference and the touch-screen keypad (PLCBUS/X10 controls and push buttons) can be used to control IR devices. The PLC-RF 4073E controls 256 lamps or appliances (on, off and dimmer settings). It features electronic code settings and backlight keypad control for air conditioners, VCRs, DVDs and TVs. It operates on 38-KHz IR frequency.
When it comes to remote control via telephones, Skysafe's EZ008C33 telephone control receiver supports exterior or internal phone call control of appliances via voice indication or password protection. Its EZ008 kit is suitable for homeowners that require more operating options to enable local or remote control (telephone or the Internet). Transmission distance is up to 150 meters. It features high-sensitivity and ant i - inter ference Bluetooth technology for efficient wireless control.
Touch-screen Portal and Community-wide System
Video doorphone players are coming out with touch-screen portals for home security, intercoms, charge calculation, communication with concierge (maintenance requirements or reminders), lighting control, home entertainment, security, heat, ventilation, air conditioning, video doorphones, home music stations, digital picture frames and text messaging.
Installation is simple. While the touch-screen portal contains many system controls, the spaghetti mess of cables can be avoided with separate media control boxes that connect to alarm sensors, telephone cables and controllers. Simply connecting the portal with the media box via one CAT5 cable is all that is necessary.
Common features include door-to-door talk, call display, log lists, alarm trigger and panic button for emergency notification to the security center, information release, and visitor image and message recording. If homeowners are away, it also supports remote view via cell phone.
System components can be controlled via the touch screen or remotely via a high-speed data connection. Remote capability is particularly appealing to homeowners who use their residences only on weekends or during vacations. The touch-screen portal works with community-wide management system platforms to enhance security and communication.
The administrator at the security center, for example, can per form remote configuration of the system and check error messages for residents. The administrator can also arrange community information releases as well as advertisements. Portals come with a CMOS camera, built-in speaker and microphone, ensuring ease of operation.
Suppliers like Aurine (E9 and AH8000), Bright (CP series), Genway (E-1500 series) and Jiale (NS-A7) provide different portals for elevators, lobby entrances and home applications; these feature sophisticated appearances and robust designs. These products also come with powerful media chipsets as well as ARM and DSP microprocessors to ensure real-time video processing. The 1.5-volt power supply delivers low power consumption with reliable performance. Software is based on Linux, H.264 compression and G722 audio protocols for efficient memory and higher transmission of clear images and audio.
Other attractive features include stylish acrylic panels with practical functions such as video doorphones, alarms, multimedia, entertainment and appliance controls. The 16 million color digital screen with 800-pixel by 480-pixel resolution is embedded with 32-bit, low power consumption core processors and 32 megabytes of flash memory that support two-gigabyte SD card extension. For communi ty-wide sys tems , including home automation with security, Anjubao is well-known in the domestic real estate market. Its strength lies in its rich experience in building security systems. In 1998, it launched a community management platform that was compat ible with video doorphone, smart-card, tour guard and alarm systems. In 2004, its community-wide, IP management system was released with all-in-one features such as appliance control, lighting control, security, video and audio.
According to Weining Huang, Vice President of Anjubao, the touch-screen color portal (launched in 2004) is always on, and depending on the capabilities of the community Web site, it can display information from the community Web site, such as golf, swimming, sport events or clubhouse dinners. It also gives residents ability to register for meals, golf or events.
Anjubao portals and systems provide a community-wide security network that connects every location, including all commercial buildings, such as the fitness center, via fiberoptics. Transmission distance is up to 10 kilometers. Residents can use the portal to register expected visitors so that guards let visitors through gates without having to check with residents first. "The developer is pushing the community intranet as well as community amenities via the interface," said Huang.
According to Huang, the company's product is a comprehensive system with one database. Users have different authorization levels to log onto the Web page. The security management system provides community-wide access control, digital video monitoring, intrusion detection, visitor management and ID badging. This includes smart-card control of community gate operators, personnel gates and doors to commercial buildings. Security cameras are connected to the network and several can be viewed on resident television screens.
Future Development and Exports
Huge domestic demand for community-wide systems is honing the skills of Chinese home network system suppliers. Exports, however, present a different set of user needs. According to Ying Zhu, General Manager of Aurine, simpler home touch-screen portals with delicate appearances and user-friendly operating interfaces will be easier to export. Customers need simple home automation with lighting or appliance controls with switch and controller products using international protocols.
Major players are working together closely to provide the community-wide systems that can cover hundreds of thousands of residences. "Customers are learning about the benefits of home network systems; the market is maturing," said Bai. "There is consensus among all Chinese home network system suppliers that cooperating is better than competing."
Shen agreed. "Suppliers have to work together on open platforms." Intercom and controller suppliers are doing so to achieve these aims. Haier has formed partnerships with several companies since 2004 on its eHome projects. In addition, video doorphone suppliers in Fuzhou are also working to standardize protocols. "The issue of open-platform compatibility is easier to overcome when companies with R&D capabilities work together," said Shen.