This page will attempt to describe in detail exactly how the system in our home accomplishes our version of home automation. To see the latest changes on this site, go to the news page.
This project was started late in 1999 when we first moved into our house. It started simple enough with a program from IBM that could turn lights on and off in response to X10 commands from a PC. Every main light switch (living areas) was then replace with the decorator dimmer switches so a computer could control the lights. At the same time, several wireless X10 motion detectors were installed along with at least one RF X10 receiver. This was kind of neat but didn't really do the job as the IBM Home Director software was very limited in its abilities. A person could turn lights on and off with the PC but that was about it.
The next software/hardware upgrade (the X10 Activehome Automation Kit from Smarthome.com.) added a little functionality but still lacked in the programmability department. This kit used a CM11A as the X10 interface to the PC. The CM11A is capable of being programmed by the PC, then the PC can be removed and the CM11A will continue to operate. The trouble with the CM11A is it locks up if it is transmitting and another device transmits at the same time. It also seemed as if it always lost its programming within a couple of days.
After spending a little more time on the web, I was able to locate a program called Event Control System (ECS) by Omnipotence Software . Initially, we kept the CM11A for an X10 interface. The one thing I can say about ECS is I can't say enough about ECS. There are enough options and different ways to do things that without reading the manual, it is very unlikely a person would ever discover everything. The manual is even a little intimidating at first but actually quite well laid out. I would suggest reading quite a bit before you start spinning your wheels. Then test a whole bunch as you introduce more devices.
After spending countless hours programming and reprogramming, everything worked ok. Seemed like there was a point where there became too many X10 devices (motion detectors seem to be the worst) and responses started to slow down. The first copy of ECS also used 100% of a 350Mhz Pentium PC, or at least what ever the O/S (WIN 98) would allow. This also caused many delays which started to be more of a nuisance than any kind of home automation.
I started to look at other options again and somewhere along the line, I called Omnipotence and found there was an upgrade available which would solve the CPU utilization issue. This was a big problem and I knew it so I jumped at the chance to upgrade. Since there were some major changes in how the program and events were laid out, I opted to completely re-write every event (basically start over).
Since I was traveling a lot at the time, I loaded the new version of ECS on my PC and headed out of town to develop the new event rules. Since the first version was kind of patched together and I am kind of neurotic, I layed out every device and event rule prior to writing anything. I wanted this version to be planned and I wanted it to look like it when I was finished. In the interest of not losing readers at this point, I am going to skip a couple of steps so lets just say in the end everything worked as planned.
I was still having troubles with the CM11A locking up, in fact it was even worse for some reason. I started searching again for some kind of economical solution to what seemed at the time a problem with the CM11A. I found the answer in the ECS manual: the Ocelot from Applied Digital Inc. I again talked to Omnipotence via email (yes, they answer that timely too!) and found the owner used the Ocelot which gave me a whole bunch of confidence. I wasn't too fond of spending more money but this seemed like the correct answer due to its virtually limitless expandability.
Well to shorten this extremely long story to a reasonable level, here we are with the Ocelot and ECS on a 350Mhz Pentium PC running the house lights, stereo, and even the garage door. To find out more, follow the link at the top left of the page to Mary (or just click here).
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