Wireless's Domestic Turf War

Three major wireless communications protocol rivals have made new moves in home automation , while energy-harvesting pioneer pursues its own path to the building market.

Protocol Punches: ZigBee, Z-Wave, Insteon

Due for release in Q4 and based on Motorola's HCS08 microcontroller, Freescale Semiconductor's BeeKit is based on ZigBee and ZigBee's underlying IEEE 802.15.4 standard. The developer's kit will include BeeStack software, designed to be "fully compliant with the ZigBee Alliance's next-generation home control protocol stack, which includes the home automation profile." That means it will comply with the update that the ZigBee Alliance will announce later this year. (The home automation component is a stack profile that sits on top of the general-purpose ZigBee software stack, explains Alliance spokesman Kevin Schader.) Pricing for BeeKit, including BeeStack, will start around $995 per license seat; developers can get training on it at the Freescale Technology Forum in Orlando, FL, July 24–27. (www.freescale.com/zigbee, www.zigbee.org)

Meanwhile Zensys Inc., developer of the Z-Wave protocol that is specific to home automation, capped its Series C funding with contributions from Intel Capital and Cisco Systems—both of which invested last year in Crossbow Technology, another wireless sensor networking company. Curt Nichols, vice president and managing director of Intel Capital's Digital Home Fund, says, "wireless and home entertainment control will play a key role in the future of the digital home and we see significant potential for Z-Wave given its interoperability, time-to-market advantage, reliability and low cost." (www.zen-sys.com)

Finally, SmartLabs Inc.'s Insteon protocol won the High Tech Award for Innovative Technology of the Year from AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association). The company says, "Because the technology is affordable, it keeps the product price for consumer devices down. And, because it is simple for the homeowner to install and it is reliable, products with Insteon can be sold by mass-market retailers, such as Home Depot, and by dealers, distributors, and installers (e.g. electricians)." (www.insteon.net, www.aeanet.org)

Conservation Goal Dictates Alternative Path

Because EnOcean is bent on energy harvesting, the company has forged its own, proprietary path. No other communications protocol provides the target range with so little power consumption, explains a spokesman with Ad Hoc Electronics, EnOcean's new partner.

Together, the companies are targeting building retrofit markets—both home and commercial—by pairing Ad Hoc's new LVRX-4 low-voltage relay receiver with EnOcean's doorbell-size STM250 self-powered proximity sensor. The combination lets building owners add security coverage to additional rooms, remodels, unattached buildings, even cabinets or movable assets within the buildings. EnOcean released the STM250 last fall for integration with new designs; LVRX-4 makes it suitable for use with existing ones. (www.enocean.com, www.adhocelectronics.com)