Plug-and-Play Automation


Senior Member
Based on the discussion on hardware consolidation I have been pondering what it would take to define a Plug-and-Play home automation system that could be dropped into most situations and provide most of the core functionality required. This platform could be tweaked as needed for each individual situation while still providing a common hardware/software base that could be standardized enough to be supportable across a large customer base. The consolidation discussion did not go the way I had expected, primarily due to compatibility issues that arise when a single PC is loaded with too much stuff plus the current trend of application writers to create “distributed†products that assume the availability of many PCs or computing appliances within the HA environment. This drove me to a “standard†platform that looks something like this:

Field wiring will terminate in 3 structured wiring boxes. Box 1 is for cat-5 cables terminated on patch panels. Box 2 is for heavier wire such as speaker wires and fire/security wire terminated on terminal strips. The third box is for coax cables terminated on F or BNC patch panels.

The Plug-and-Play automation system will be mounted in 2 racks; the Control Rack and the Media Rack. These will be pre-configured off-site and just dropped into place in the automation closet and connected to the structured wiring boxes, and each other, via some big umbilical cables.

The Control Rack will contain:

1 Automation server running CQC, Homeseer, MainLobby, PowerHome, HAL, ECS, or Adaptive Home Logic. (or some combination). Along with any connector programs such as VWS, starCOM, xAP/xPL hubs, etc.

1 Media PC containing a PVR, Audio Server, Photo Repository etc. plus all supporting software required to interface these systems with the automation server and human interfaces such as touch screen PCs. This could be running MCE, another instance of CQC, or some other alternative.

1 Camera server which handles multiple camera feeds, recording and playback of those feeds, and provides a browser interface for remote viewing, etc.

1 or More Zone/Extender PCs to drive local touch screens; provide distributed TTS and VR services, and to act as MCE extenders (or similar function with MCE alternatives).

1 Broadband Modem.

1 Router.

1 or More 24 port hubs.

1 Panasonic KXTA824 (or similar) Telephone System

1 Panasonic KXTVA50 (or similar) Voicemail Processor.

1 Elk M1 (or similar) Security panel.

Any required interface devices such as serial hubs, weather station interfaces, 1-wire adaptors, etc.

The Media Rack will contain:

1 or More Nuvo or Russound multi-zone music systems.

1 or More supplemental amplifiers

1 or More Cable and/or Satellite receivers

1 or More DVD changers

1 or More FM and/or XM and/or Sirius tuners

Any requested legacy components that can be controlled remotely and act as system sources: Cassette, Mini Disc, Laser Disc, CED, VHS, Beta, Hi-8, Reel-to-Reel, etc. (Probably not Turntables, 8-Tracks, EL Cassettes, and the like).

1 or More Video modulators

1 or More VGA to S-Video converters

1 or More Camera power supplies

Any required Audio EQ or Video processors (PAL to NTSC converters and such)

Any required mixers and audio processors needed to connect Open Air Voice Recognition microphones.

1 or more UPS or Power conditioning devices as needed to support both racks.

I think this would cover all the core functionality... did I miss anything?
After thinking about it some more I decided that using open air Mics for Voice Recognition is probably overkill in what is supposed to be a basic "entry level" track home type system. I'm thinking that VR through the phone system would be more practical. Not as "gee whiz" but besides that are there any other down sides to doing it that way?
I did not see IR distribution in that list. Given your objective I would think a zoned system would be appropriate (I put in the xantech one and am very pleased with it).

While possibly implied on the security end, if this is an integrated solution, the switches for doors (to tell if they are open/closed), motion detector/occupancy detection, and temperature sensors would be helpful to provide triggers to act on such a complete system.

Lighting control was not mentioned. I know you have your own small army of insteon toys which would be pretty much plug and play (well once the switches are in)... (I use Insteon as well, just not as much as you). You might have thought of this as a choice at implementation time.

Tied to security, (again probably implied with the elk) smoke, heat and co2 detectors, although these drive their own automation (i.e. siren, GET OUT!).

I did not see any water/leak detection in the list, although this is lower on the HA list usually. Elk has a partnership with one that I did not originally notice. I forget which one but it is in their partner list on the website.

On the phone system, I thought I saw more people shying away from the phone systems and going with packaged solutions (8 handset remotes to a central station and regular phones). While not a complete match, I have seen several people go this way, and this is after having several panasonic or nec based phone systems (so it is not ignorance of a phone system, or just a cost issue). This is also for smaller installations however. For a larger setup, the blend of traditional and cordless may be a limiting factor that can be addressed by a phone system. Intercom functionality outside the phone system may also reduce expectation of the phone system.

Hope this helps.
Good catch on the IR, I completely forgot that! That should definitely be in the rack.

Lighting does not really have any rack components since it would just be an interface off of the automation PC or off of the Elk.

None of the field equipment is listed, just the rack stuff. That is why you don't see light switches, door contacts, smoke detectors, cameras, keypads, etc. etc. (That will be the next phase once I lock down a standard for the head end.)

Reason for the phone system is that the packaged systems don't scale well so they aren't the best choice for standardization. Most top out between 8 and 16 handsets and that just won't cut it for a lot of houses.

Also if you don't have a phone system you have to come up with different equipment for paging and intercom. Also a lot of the package systems are weak on features like "line in use" lights, quality of their speakerphones, caller ID display on all phones, etc.

Also a fully expanded package system is often more expensive than a same size phone system. Package systems are usually only a better value when you have a low handset count.