The Nest thermostat received quite a bit of attention from the press for its sleek industrial design and features. It was the first such product to receive widespread press coverage. In addition to being a thermostat which can be controlled over Wi-Fi, it also maintains energy history and is advertised as a 'learning' thermostat. These type of value-add features justified the original introductory price of $250. The first generation Nest became very popular amongst consumers and the second generation version with updated hardware and compatibility was launched recently.

Nest, however, was far from the first device to enable thermostat control over Wi-Fi. As long as the 'smart learning' features are not needed, there are plenty of cheaper options available. Radio Thermostat's Wi-Fi enabled products (along with iPhone and Android apps) have been around since 2010. Radio Thermostat’s offerings can be accessed through well-documented APIs. This means that tech-savvy users can roll up their own control mechanism without being at the mercy of the iOS or Android app. Home Depot's 3M Filtrete 50 and the Homewerks CT-30 are rebadged versions of Radio Thermostat's offerings.

These units are cheaper than the Nest, though self-installation might be challenging for the average consumer. Other options for Wi-Fi / network enabled HVAC thermostats include the LockState Connect LS-60i WiFi Internet Programmable Thermostat. and the ecobee Smart Si / Smart Thermostat.

My colleague, Brian Klug, has been using the Nest thermostat for a number of months now, and he is a big fan of the device. GigaOM, while heaping praise on the device, does point out some issues with it in the context of a smart home. Being a standalone device, it can’t be controlled over the same interface as other HA components. While the review does recommend the Nest to people who currently have no HA system installed, I fear that the device would lead consumers down the path of a walled garden similar to what Apple has created in the computing landscape. To elaborate on this, consider the fact that the APIs for Radio Thermostat’s offerings are well documented. On the other hand, Nest refuses to provide similar details for their device. In fact, users have done some snooping to discover some of the bits and pieces. On the whole, the lack of official API documentation makes the whole scheme appear very complicated. In a larger sense, HA is about control as well as building a smarter and more efficient ecosystem. While Nest succeeds very well in the latter, we hope it will also integrate well with other HA devices.

Due to the closed nature of the Nest system, third-party developers may not find enough incentive to control it along with other Wi-Fi enabled HA components over a single interface. It is a pity that the lack of slick marketing and an attractive industrial design have relegated consumer-friendly devices such as Radio Thermostat’s offerings to a niche when compared to closed systems such as the Nest. Hopefully, as tech-savvy readers, we consider the bigger picture before choosing any HA device.

Coming back to the thermostats, we find that Radio Thermostat offers models with ZigBee or Z-Wave modules instead of Wi-Fi also. The thermostat itself is protocol-agnostic because of its support for U-SNAP bridges. Nest, on the other hand, went the non-standard route by integrating both Wi-Fi and ZigBee radios within the device itself. A look at the pricing of various U-SNAP modules online indicates that the Wi-Fi module costs around $10 more than the ZigBee and Z-Wave modules. However, Wi-Fi modules have the volume factor going in their favour. A downward movement in the pricing can be expected as multiple silicon vendors compete against each other in the same space, as outlined in the previous section.

Wi-Fi in Home Automation Power Switching with Wi-Fi: Belkin & Visible Energy
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  • brotj - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    The market is fairly confusing for a non techie customer, We were about to buy 3 Z-Wave locks from Lowes for our home a few weeks back. But then I noticed the lock keypads are not really weatherproof(very important in the northeast), and there is a $12.99/month fee to access your locks online. What a load...

    $299.99 for the door kit and base station
    $129.99/additional door handle
    $12.99/mo for as long as you want access remotely to your home....

    We want:
    -3 outdoor weather resistant locks(only one will be under an overhang)
    -outdoor lights defaulted to motion detection, over ridden by secure mobile app or door locks
    -indoor lights that can be grouped by zones
    -cameras defaulted to motion detection, turned on anytime the doors are open, and overridden by secure mobile app
    -thermostat
    -All information stored on my own server, and accessible from mobile app.

    The wifes primary concern: wants to turn off everything and make sure the doors are locked from her Android tablet from bed when I'm out of town.

    ...any suggestions
    Reply
  • andrewaggb - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Could get a micasaverde (vera)

    Personally I don't find their ui very intuitive, but it supports a lot of devices and there are mobile apps with no monthly fee.

    I have one I've used for testing a few things but to be honest I don't even have it hooked up right now.

    I have an alarm panel module (ip datatel - bat) that lets you control your alarm system from an android or ios app and it works pretty well - my wife can use it. I believe it does have a low monthly fee (I have one for testing/work so I'm not paying personally), but it's nice enough.

    One of the things I do is write video surveillance software and so I dabble in home automation and alarm/sensor monitoring. I find many cheap ip cameras try to tie you into their software and online systems etc, but then fail to provide a complete solution (like what you are looking for). A full featured system like you are asking about... Is still hard to come by. Maybe somebody else knows one, but my own software, and any other software I have used (quite a few), don't provide everything you're looking for out of the box. But I don't work in the residential market so there may be a gem out there I just don't know about.
    Reply
  • jhh - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately, my smart meter was installed this year, and only supports Zigbee Smart Energy profile. Perhaps someone will build a converter to make it available via WiFi, but otherwise, it's locked into a very restricted license for access, such that it is quite expensive for a hacker to use. One has to get a key from a RIM subsidiary, and the first license is quite expensive. The license is likely restricted to devices which have passed Smart Energy profile certification, and I have no idea how much that will cost. So, if someone wants to build a WiFi to Zigbee converter box, I'd be happy to buy one. Reply
  • Conficio - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I do not care to much about home automation. However, I have noticed myself to stand in front of my house pushing the car remote and wondering why the door does not unlock ;-)

    So I think the much more desired use is integration of technology by open standard. For most younger people the cell phone is the key to their life. So why not have the ability to use it as door opener, access badge at work, gym locker key, ATM card, car key (with seat memory and other setting preferences), ...

    The key to all this is the ability to register securely the user's device or the operational unit with the user's device. How does current home automation do this?

    Also, where is open source on this? I really can't see myself using a third party web service to access my house remotely? Next thing police forces them to open the door? So I want an open source based control server on my own hardware.

    Also one of the objects that many geeks want to remote control is their computer(s). What is the state of Wake on LAN to achieve this? Most of what I have seen is standard routers not having the feature.
    Reply
  • jhh - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I have a zoned heating system with 3 zones. I probably could have gotten away with 2, but the third came with only the cost of an extra thermostat. Unfortunately, the zoning system provides no input to the HVAC system other than the 2 stage furnace or 2 stage air conditioner. Ideally, this would all feed back into the control board in the furnace, with information on how many zones need heat/cooling, the size of the zones, whether they are in the sun or not, and the outside temperature. This would allow better control over whether the second stage of the heat/AC is useful, and how fast the fan should run based on the number of open zones. A heating cycle could be extended if one zone was close to needing heat rather than more frequent furnace cycling which is hard on the heat exchanger. The set-points for each thermostat could be maintained in the control board, and controllable through a smart phone app or locally. But, the thermostat could really be reduced to just a temperature sensor with no user feedback. The NEST thermostat is an overly expensive device primarily because its combining a user interface, processor, controls, and temperature sensor. I would rather have the intelligence in the furnace control board (or blower control from outside the control board and intelligence in the HA system). Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Essentially, for HA to really work, there's a higher level protocol that's going to be required. And this has to be standardized.
    There's currently a big push for this kind of thing, with many patents and standards being published, and I wouldn't recommend to anyone to invest heavily before this has somewhat settled down.

    Zigbee still seems to be THE M2M-technology according to what I see at work (M2M research lab at a large European telco), as it is much cheaper to implement than the heavier protocols.
    Future 802.11 might change this, but at this time, I'd put the focus there.

    Finally, until there are better presence /identification /activity sensors and the required logic to learn usage patterns, it will remain remote control. This is convenient, but it doesn't go far enough for me to truly adopt it. Never mind spending big money on it.

    For now it is still mostly faffing about with electronics, and in that case I would stick to rolling your own, in the most modular way possible, so that if eventually a consensus standard emerges, the USB of HA, you can swap out your interfaces, without touching the hardware.
    Reply
  • JoanSpark - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    +1

    The market still is too cluttered to propose 'the standard' that will be the USB of HA, especially as most of the ones currently being offered are proprietary and heavily protected by licenses.

    I'd also like to point out that there is more going on/needs to be looked at for all those gadgets and helpers to be more efficient (resource usage).
    These days every little thing comes with it's own acdc converter if it needs non-neglible power for displays or actors, this means all over the place there are powerplugs with their inefficiencies and clutter. There is (afaik) no venture to standardize the powersupply of things in the 0.5W - 30W range.
    Ideal would be some kind of low voltage dc distribution network for each house/apartment that is standardized similar to 230VAC power distribution.
    But there is NOTHING going on there - and most importantly the sockets/plugs for this. NOTHING (besides some 600V DC plugs for server environments - google: 'datacenter VDC').
    And to tell you the truth, once you got this distribution network, it's easy to just pull some more wires along for some protocol/interface, which would even eliminate the need for wireless most of the time.
    That would be the USB of HA ;-)
    Reply
  • JoanSpark - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    correction: http://www.google.com/search?q=datacenter%20380vdc... ..for the datacenter DC power distribution stuff Reply
  • JoanSpark - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    addendum:
    http://blog.circuitprotection.com/blognews/low-vol...
    Reply
  • alek99 - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I have a rather nifty (nutty?!?) application of Home Automation that allows people on the Internet to control my Holiday displays at Halloween and Christmas - http://www.komar.org/cgi-bin/halloween_webcam and http://www.komar.org/cgi-bin/christmas_webcam

    These have been around for a while, so using X10 ... and oldie but goldie. Lotta various control & sensor stuff" out there (and cheap) ... but yea, is a bit slow and has some reliability issues ... although many of those can be addressed via some really cool devices from this guy - http://jvde.us/

    I'd love to go to a higher tech (and agree that it will converge on Wi-Fi) but am waiting for the marketplace to mature and stuff to get cheaper.

    Great overview of HA Ganesh!
    Reply

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