For those of you in the UDI forums regularly, you know what is happening in the world of DIY and Open Source home automation. For those of you like me that have a rock solid system and you only hit the UDI website once a year (or less) I’d like to catch you up. For the rest of you, I’d like to introduce myself and tell you why I am writing on the UDI website.
Like many of you, I feel like home automation is a no brainer. It should be a lot more common than it is. If you’ve read Geoffrey A Moore’s book, Crossing the Chasm, I think we can all agree that every time home automation has attempted to cross the chasm, it simply fell in. Hopefully we will all be a part of it when it finally leaps across. Even Google and Amazon integrations haven’t made whole home automation “normal”. Only one other person on my street even has one light set up for Alexa to turn on and off.
Moving forward, I’ll be writing about automation, offering tips and tricks and opening up forum questions. I’ve been doing this since 2007 when I started the blog that is now CoolToys TV. Most people know me as either a pilot because I retired as a pilot in the Air Force Reserves in 2004 or the “CoolToys Guy”. If you watch my show you know that I think UDI ISY is a CoolToy. I might need to buy a eISY and check it out for a future episode. The HDMI ports are filled with intriguing possibility.
After not having a single light switch fail, or program hiccup for over 18 months, something happened. I hit up the UDI website and found that there had not been a post in over a year. The same was true on social media. I went to smarthome.com and found out they closed up and Insteon was in the ER.
I hit the forum asked for an update and was sent to my corner by forum regulars. I deserved it so it’s ok, they were right I should have scanned more before popping in.
Punishment aside, it was clear looking at the website that something was happening at UDI. I reached out to Michel and offered some help. I just sold a website hosting and SEO business, so I have a little time to do some pro bono and trade work to make sure UDI is clearly alive and well in the public eye. Michel doesn’t have time to write this stuff, so I am glad to help. I don’t want potential new customers to leave the UDI site because the posts on the website are outdated.
New customers at UDI are good for old customers like me. Plus I don’t want to start my house all over again, I have a lot of code and time learning the nuances of Insteon motion sensors for lighting control. There is always a selfish motivation for free work isn’t there? I may as well be transparent now.
Heath/Zenith to Crestron
My first exposure to automated lighting was a very basic X-10 setup with a super cool digital alarm clock that could trigger one of four lights. That was in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s I built an electrical business, mostly home theater and whole house audio. Clients saw my house and we started installing X-10.
In the 1990’s there was also a boom in residential lighting control. It wasn’t cheap but the business was great. At the high end Lutron systems were becoming more accessible and could be controlled by a now defunct HAI panel. My stores sold and installed a lot of those. There was also this new improvement on X-10 called Powerline Bus and then X-10 Pro which looked nicer and was more reliable. Soon Zigbee and Z-Wave arrived introducing us to the idea of a wired and wireless mesh network. Everyone was pushing the envelope in a slightly different way.
There was also this funny other company that decided to be a hybrid and not join Z-Wave or Zigbee called Insteon. I liked our rep so well, we bet on Insteon became dealers and dropped X-10. My personal home at the time was controlled by a HAI panel with Insteon lighting control. Eventually my rep convinced me to go the ELK/iSY route instead. Since then I have bought and sold five homes. Four, including the one I live in now are ELK/iSY/Insteon. So is my parents home.
Home Automation Goes Wild
The 1990’s through early 2000’s were like the wild west. Brands popped up and alliances formed and then went away. Leviton, OnQ, Legrand, HAI, Zigbee, X-10, X-10 Pro, Insteon, Z-wave and others were all playing nice one day and then not the next. It truly became an installation nightmare. A bunch of new midline brands like Control4 appeared and companies like Monster tried to dive in too. There were no standards for home automation.
From the time that UDI started until today, you could (and can) build a reliable system without breaking the bank, using any number of components. That’s why I like UDI and would like to see it be the backbone that helps move automation across the chasm. No Michel and UDI don’t pay me to say that and no I don’t own any of the company or get a cut of the deal.
This year Insteon went into the ER and suffered a near death experience. From my view it was without warning. But looking back through my emails during the pandemic lockdowns, I should have seen it coming. Thankfully a small group of enthusiasts became investors and Insteon is still alive. We won’t have a good prognosis for a year or so. Personally, I am pulling for them. I don’t want to convert my entire house to Z-wave or Lutron. My wife will never let me have light switches that don’t match so I can’t replace as they fail.
Insteon now joins X-10 as a company/product that appeared dead and is still alive. There is a long list of companies all struggling to cross the chasm and control the larger market while at the same time trying to survive. Until a consumer automates a light switch and their own light bulb comes on, they aren’t likely to automate much else. That is how I started, and I am guessing many of you. That is the challenge we have in the world of automation.
In cases like mine, unless I move, there isn’t much else to buy from UDI beyond my annual subscription so I can tell Ziggy to change the lights. The best thing I can do is to be a good ambassador of automation, and keep it democratized, so we aren’t dependent on a “dealer network” to keep our lights on.
So while we navigate the crazy world of home automation and the effects of the next economic shift, I’ll be scanning the UDI forum and a couple of others to try and keep everyone that reads the UDI news up to date with everything happening at UDI as well as the brands we can control with our UDI iSY’s and POLISY’s and soon the eISY.
“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends” – Walt Disney