Keeping up with the Jetsons


Senior Member
Talk about living George Jetson style: Space-age coordinated control of your home electronics is here.

This notion of "home automation" has been at the cutting edge for seemingly an eternity. Certainly, numerous systems are sold that turn on and off electronic gizmos with one flip of a switch – or with a timing sequence.

Lighting, heating and cooling systems are examples. Sprinklers and coffee makers, too.

But widespread synchronization of such conveniences isn't mainstream home design. Jetson-style centralized controls is an elusive dream – or a playground for the seriously geeky.

SmartLabs of Irvine hopes to change that.

This privately held company has for 14 years been a major seller of home-automation gear – from SmartLabs and other manufacturers. It's been a successful business formula that earned SmartLabs a recent technology innovation award from the AeA's Orange County chapter.

Now this retailer is aggressively moving its Insteon technology, a spin on the better known X10 standard for remote control of home electronics. This science pushes signals through a home's electrical wires to control various power outlets.

Lighting challenges have long been home automation's bread and butter. Turning lights on and off at set times – for security or energy-saving motives – isn't new. Neither are control panels – either for counter tops or walls – that remotely operate electrical sockets and switches in a home.

Company founder Joe Dada wants to get SmartLabs out of its light-switch and wall-socket rut. Dada's crew is working with various manufacturers to put Insteon logic directly into home electronics and appliances.

"It's ready," Dada says.
read the full article at
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Jonathan Lansner
Register columnist

After trying out some SmartLabs stuff, I think this gear is pretty close to prime-time gadgetry.

I played with some basic equipment, plugs that let you turn things on and off remotely. I wasn't ready to start replacing light switches to get the full Insteon effect.

The installation's biggest hassle came from the fact that a home's power lines are not perfect communication conduits.

So modest Insteon radios must be installed to amplify the signals and ensure that all switches or plugs are on the network. This link's setup can be a quirky exercise, though the chore is only required the first time you bring Insteon into a home.

Once that task was accomplished, I hooked up two Insteon power plugs and a control panel that can adjust as many as five different outlets. With a push of a button, a light on the other side of the home went off. Not rocket science, but a nice convenience.

Fitting plugs with timing switches was a tad trickier. It either takes replacing wall switches or my choice: a computer. SmartLabs offers a free, basic PC program. Several authors sell more powerful software.

The computer links to the Insteon network via a special USB cord. The free software is clunky but it eventually worked. And I was surprised to figure out that once your Insteon network has its timing orders from the computer, the computer is no longer needed. The timing sequence is stored in the wall plug so your computer doesn't have to stay on for Insteon to work.

If I ever have free time, I may get serious and fix some of our home's lighting quirks.


Visit Ken Fairbanks' home and you see the future. Well, the SmartLabs vision.

Fairbanks, one of the company's marketing gurus, decked out his family's Irvine residence with a mix of existing Insteon technology and some prototypes.

Turn the switch by the door; the lights come on slowly so you're not jolted by a bright glare. A water fountain greets you with a soothing sound. And the afternoon sun is blocked by blinds that close on schedule.

Music can come on with the flick of a switch or at a set time. The gas fireplace can be controlled, too. And speaking of fire, the fire alarm system will turn on the house lights if smoke is detected to illuminate the way out.

If a gadget plugs into a wall, Insteon likely can turn it on or off on schedule, individually or in tandem with other equipment or appliances. That's the simple stuff.

True science and marketing wizardry in SmartLabs' growth plan is getting manufacturers of home electronics to build in Insteon controls. Fairbanks says folks who make everything from doorbells to security systems to pools to home computer networks are toying with Insteon concepts. Even some homebuilders are looking at the science.

Controllers for blinds and smarter smoke alarms with Insteon logic should come to market later this year. I'm waiting for the day when gizmos can make the volume on a TV dip when the phone rings.

This home automation is clearly a work in progress. The dream is still on the horizon. SmartLabs execs realize few folks will rush out to heavily automate their home.

"You just don't have a house like mine overnight," Fairbanks says.

"It's like you might decorate your house. People don't do it all at once."

This is practical science that's bound to catch on. Perhaps in less-than sexy ways.

I see folks fixing those annoying wiring mistakes your builder made. How about that light in your home that can't be controlled from a logical location?

Instead of spending big bucks and cutting holes in walls to rewire – a project you'd never take on – Insteon magic can likely control that switch from wherever you choose.

That's not Jetson-like robotics. But it's probably a sales hook to bring this science home.
Is Smartlabs SmartHome? If so what's so new about Insteon? Is this just a "generate interest" press release?
Rupp said:
Is Smartlabs SmartHome? If so what's so new about Insteon? Is this just a "generate interest" press release?
Smartlabs is the parent company of Smarthome:

Founded in 1992, SmartLabs, Inc. is the world's leading authority on electronic home improvement and automation. SmartLabs is organized into three companies: Smarthome Direct, which includes, "the Amazon of electronic home improvement" (Newsweek, 2004); SmartLabs Design, creators of best-in-class home control products; and SmartLabs Technology, the pioneering architects of INSTEON.
Rupp said:
Is Smartlabs SmartHome?
Sort of, they restructured about 6 months ago.

Rupp said:
what's so new about Insteon?
Not much new about Insteon technology and the article didn't imply otherwise.

Rupp said:
Is this just a "generate interest" press release?
Why do you call this a press release? This was an article from the newspaper local to where SmartLabs is located.

Rupp, why are you so negative against Insteon?
AFAIK, you aren't even using Insteon protocol and you report that your v2 hardware is working perfectly.

My Insteon installation is driven by Elk and working very well. I have had almost no hardware failures and reliability has been great. Yes, it took a little while to get to this point, but that is life on the bleeding edge. SmartHome has been standing by their warranty and the only thing I have had to swap to upgrade is the PLC. Don't let issues with HS and/or the SDM software sour your opinion of the whole product line and technology.
I believe I may have a bit more Insteon experience than you give me credit for. I do run a few Insteon devices and I too have had good luck "generally" but the state of Insteon is not in really good shape and if you spend just a small amount of time at SmartHomes forums you will see this. They are going to have to release a new PLC to correct some major software problems as well as recalling devices as well as replacing hardware left and right along with the flashing keypad lincs. I'm glad your setup is stable but for the guys that have invested a lot of time and money into this hardware and software it's not a pretty picture. Heck X10 never had this much trouble and still doesn't. I've still got some X10 push button switches that have out lasted 4 Insteon switches. The truth is I've never had and X10 switch go bad but I can't say that for the other protocols out there.
Actually all of the new protocols have serious issues at this point. Insteon may have a longer laundry list at the moment but at least it can revert back to X-10 mode as a failsafe. My Insteon switches are better looking than the X-10 switches they replaced and were cheaper than any other "high end" X-10 switch. And now that I have an XTB, I can use X-10 and my Stargate with good reliability while I wait for things to sort themselves out.

It pays to have a plan B!
upstatemike said: that I have an XTB, I can use X-10 and my Stargate with good reliability ...
Is that the signal boost you recently purchased? If so can you provide some more details (in a separate thread)? case you missed my post above it was in reference to the article mentioned by you and I'm it actually *safe* to control a gas fireplace with Insteon as they mention in the article?

I have heard alot of people on forums mention to not control your fireplace with automation..this article seems to suggest its okay to do so?

I have some Insteon switchs I will be testing in my new home but is their new switch's made to reliably and safely control a gas fireplace?
I don't know Ripper. They implied it was Insteon controlled, but they didn't say that exactly how they were controlling it and they did mention that Ken was using some prototypes.

Most people cringe at the idea of automating a gas fireplace, but yet I believe that many manufacturers have remote controls for them. On one hand, I don't see a gas fireplace as any more dangerous than any other gas appliance. But it is fire and you would hate to see a child or pet playing in the fireplace (silly I know, but) or something fall into the fireplace which then spreads the fire and burns down the house.

Personally, I would never control anything critical or expensive via X-10. I think the jury is still out on the new technologies. If the fireplace were to come on accidentally and run for 8 hours, how much would the wasted gas cost? But if you had a manual switch to ENABLE the fireplace to be automated when desiring to show off, then that should be safe.

An Insteon furnace would be a different question, as it is designed to operate unattended. I still don't know that I would want the burn cycles directly controlled by Insteon. But an Insteon thermostat doesn't sound too risky.
Thanks Wayne for the answer, I thought maybe this was something new they were talking about because over the years I have heard alot of people say it was unsafe so I had to ask.
One of the HA tricks to automating a fireplace is to use two seperate in line devices to do the switching on / off. That way it is extremely unlikely that two spurious signals will turn on both devices the same direction. You could even use two different technologies, now-a-days.