Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting started in home automation

I just picked this up from the Smarthome factory store and it prompted me to write a blog about home automation, abbreviated as HA from here on out.

I'm not going to go into a definition of what HA is as I will assume you are already aware of it. As I am interested in robotics, I am also interested in home automation. Like robotics it is a series of sensors (distance, motion, temperature), a brain (computer/MCU), and actuators (servos, relays).

The two protocols I am focusing on for now are X10 and Insteon. The place to go for X10 hardware is:, the place to go for Insteon hardware is Although smarthome also sells X10 components in a pinch. I would recommend because they have nice deals on packages of hardware.

While Insteon is more modern and has error checking and correcting in a sense, I am mostly going to go with X10 for now because it is cheaper and I'm a starving student.

Starting out I would recommend buying all your X10/Insteon hardware first and use it around the house with your controllers and remotes by hand. Buy bulk in motion sensors, lamp modules, and appliance modules (2 and 3 pin).

Recent experience has told me to stay away from the X10 TM751 transceivers because they have a high failure rate. TM751s also can not accept Power Line Carrier (PLC) commands, which we will use later when we bring the computer into the picture. The transceiver I recommend for starters is the RR501 model. Later on we will replace the RR501s with something much better, a W800USB, but will require the use of a computer. The W800USB will also be able to receive X10 signals from those magnetic door contact closures which by default only work with security system receivers.

The package you see above in the picture is a kit containing an RR501 transceiver and the HR12a Palm Pad. The item number of the package is PHK05 or RC5000 depending on where you go.

Since the number of rooms in your residence will vary, I will just give you the basic inventory per room:

LM465 Dimmable Lamp Module - 1 per incandescent lamp (do not use on flourescents)
MS13a HawkEye or MS14a EagleEye Motion Sensor - 1 per room
AM466 3-Pin Appliance Module - Depending on how many 3-Pin devices you have in a room
AM486 2-Pin Appliance Module - Depending on how many 2-Pin devices you have in a room.
RR501 Wireless Transceiver - 1 per 16 wireless devices
Remotes and/or Controllers - Your choice:

Note: You can use appliance modules on everything. You can use lamp modules on only incandescent lamps.

Later I will talk about adding a computer, software, computer interface, X10 wireless receiver interface, and DS10a door/window sensors.