Early next year Somfy will be launching a home automation system for people who don’t know what a home automation system is.
For many people, their first step towards home automation is simply getting a universal remote to change channels and turn up the A/V receiver. Additional controls, to lower shades, turn on ceiling fans or switch off lights, frequently get added to the home piecemeal. Integrating all those controllers and remotes usually involves a pricey and complicated custom system.
Somfy, maker of motorized controls for raising and lowering shades or or opening curtains, wants to help people take the next big step in home automation with the launch of its TaHomA (Total Home Automation) system. Tahoma integrates the control of shades (and other window treatments) with both lighting and climate control devices using a combination of the company’s own RTS wireless technology and Z-Wave, a wireless mesh network technology that’s built into a number of devices (mostly lighting control modules thermostats and security cameras). And the company wants to do this at a price that will make it attractive to the majority of homeowners.
I had the opportunity to visit the company’s New Jersey headquarters to get an early sneak peek at the system, which will be officially unveiled at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month. With the TaHomA system, Somfy wants to address what it calls a home “energy triangle”—natural light, artificial light and climate (heating/AC). What makes this interesting is that Somfy is not releasing a whole new suite of components to automate the system. Instead the company is relying on existing protocols plus modules from other companies that will work with the system.
Somfy’s part of the home automation package is basically a simple wireless controller that is compatible with both Z-Wave and Somfy’s RTS radio frequency wireless technology. This way Somfy doesn’t need to start building Z-Wave compatibility into all it’s existing motors. To bridge the gap between Z-Wave and RTS, Somfy has come up with the ZRTSI—a bridge module that takes Z-Wave signals and converts them to RTS. So, for instance, you program in a scene that turns downs the lights, the temperature and closes the blinds all at the same time. The TaHomA controller would send out a Z-Wave signal directly to the Z-Wave light modules and thermostats while the bridge converts it to RTS for operating the shades. The benefit there is if you already have Somfy wireless shades, you don’t have to upgrade anything to make them work with TaHomA.
The TaHomA controller has an easy-to-use web interface so the homeowner can control anything in the system from any Internet connected computer or Wi-Fi device like an iPad or iPhone (apps will be available by launch time). The installer would need to configure the system and set up automatic scenes based on the home owner’s wants. The Web interface displays the homeowner’s rooms, and inside the rooms will be icons for the connected devices, such as shades or lights. The TaHomA controller can also be operated remotely, so you can adjust the temperature etc. when you’re on your way home from a trip.
During my visit, Somfy wouldn’t say what the system would cost, but noted that it would be priced as an entry-level control system. It should be ready for market the first half of 2011.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.