Contemporary beachside living with the convenience of ‘Oscar’ the HPM control panel.
Until now, smart homes have been a bit like islands of expensive infrastructure looking for applications that would really appeal to the mid-range market. Let’s face it, remote control of lighting and security within a house is something few home-owners would choose to spend tens of thousands of dollars on.
The idea of home-networking starts to look more attractive to the average homeowner, however; when you start talking about ‘smart neighbourhoods’ of pre-wired homes, where everyone is connected to everyone else – as well as to the builders and manufacturers that contributed to the construction of the homes and the home automation systems.
In fact, why not bring the whole building and development process online? Why not make useful information normally kept by architects, builders, electricians, town planners, the local council and community services available to everyone living in a new housing development?
This is the idea behind ‘Key4Building’, an integrated system for storing and sharing information about the development of a new project or neighbourhood, from design to owner occupation.
Key4Building is the brainchild of Mark Davis, Director of the Stonehenge Building Group, which is carrying out a pilot-test of the system at the new Williams Bay development in the Melbourne beachside suburb of Williamstown.
The Williams Bay development comprises 51 houses, each pre-wired with CATS and audio wiring connected to a central distribution hub. The idea is that electricians and other contractors can more easily configure the wiring at some future date, as new applications and appliances are connected. Specifications for the cabling, installed systems and appliances would be readily accessed through an online digital ‘property manual.’
Williams Bay Sales Manager, Mathew Bracken, says that anyone could customise this home network by simply patching connections within a central distribution box located in each house.
“Our idea of home networking also means that houses can be linked so that neighbours can readily talk to each other online,” says Matthew.
Key4Building is one of the first of a series of internet-based technologies to be released by Key41T.com, a company set up to develop integrated technology systems. The Key41T concept was formally launched at the Ausbuild 2000 conference in Brisbane this year.
Key4Building is an internet-linked program that coordinates the many design, construction, supply, contract, financial and legislative functions carried out by builders. Ir also integrates this information with other software such as accounting and estimating systems.
At the end of the project, relevant information can be compiled into an online property manual – with details of appliances, wiring, suppliers, etc. – that is handed over to the new home owner.
“We went up to Brisbane to get 50 expressions of interest, and we ended up getting 170,” says Matthew.
“The Key4Building system also provides a digitised manual for the client, to replace the printed appliance manuals that get lost in the bottom kitchen drawer. In fact, the client has access to a website where all manuals are scanned in, along with internet links to suppliers, local traders and shops, pharmacies, doctors and chemists, local maps, local schools, and so on. So if someone’s moving into an area for the first time, they’ve actually got this whole customised information network set up for them.”
Builder Adrian Roads supervised the installation of the cabling systems in and between the 51 houses at Williams Bay. “The cable we are installing is quad-shield and tri-shield coax RG6 and a CATS 8-pair cable,” says Adrian. “We are wiring the houses so that they can accommodate a bit of expansion down the track.
“For example, every house will have six ceiling speakers installed. We allocate where they’ll go, we’ll wire them into the ceiling and they’re there if the client wants to use them in the future.
“There’s also wiring to the front door for future CCTY, and a monitor screen in the kitchen/family room area. We’re running cable to the roof for the TV aerial and a future satellite dish if needed. We run the 8 pairs out to where the street wires connect to the house, so that there’s extra capacity for any future landline connections.
“Every cable that carries a signal feeds back to the central distribution hub system. So there’s no looping on from point to point as you go round the house.
“Because we’re using coax and CATS, they can carry picture signals and phone data signals, so you can change the connections around the house to suit your needs to a degree. You could have a television and VCR in the family room, feed the signal down the line to the distribution box, and send it up to the bedrooms, for example.
“Every room in the house has phone points or TV points that are either CATS or coax- connected. When the client moves in, there may be an outlet on the wall with six phone points and two coax points. Later on, if the client wants to have a dedicated second phone line coming in or a separate line for a modem, the capacity’s there. The installers of the wiring system would come back and do that – in one case it’s an electrician, in another it’s a contractor that we’re using. That’s where Key41T comes into the picture.
“The main stumbling block that we have found in this project is that home automation is still an exploratory area. There’s really no networking systems out there that are designed specifically for the home. You’ve got computer systems that are geared for running all sorts of telecommunications and computer information around an office.
“To automate things that perform functions in your home, you’ve got to have actually bought those things in the first place. So if you’ve got a house that’s got electric blinds, an automatic sprinkler system, lots of things with electric motors that do wonderful things, you can automate them with a home automation system.
“But your average house does not have electric blinds, doesn’t have automatic sprinkler systems, generally because they can’t afford them. Home automation for your half- or three-quarter- or one million dollar home is probably viable, and if you spend 10 or 15,000 dollars putting in a home automation system, that’s fine. But in your average house, there’s nothing to automate yet.
“Yes, you can get your lights and power points to switch on and off automatically, but you pay about $10,000 for the privilege.
We really struggled in getting answers from the various manufacturers when we asked: ‘What can these systems do?’. They would respond by saying: ‘We can do anything – what do you want us to do?’
“We found that really hard, because we didn’t understand at the beginning what was available, so we were not in a position to say: ‘We want this and we want you to adapt this to do this … ‘. There was a real information gap. We ended up asking for something practical, but what was given to us at first was very expensive, a bit of overkill, an<l not terribly practical. We’ve been refining the systems as we go along.
“It was hard to find a company that covers all the applications – alarm systems, vacuum systems, intercom systems and phone systems – and has an appreciation of the needs of the domestic market.
“You’ve also got to educate your sales staff so they can speak correctly about what can be done, and not raise expectations unnecessarily or end up encouraging people to buy expensive gimmicks that really don’t value-add to how they live.
“We also need to educate the people who move into me houses about what we’ve got available, so that they can choose to use it at a level that suits them and then budget for that.
“I think we’re still a long way away from where the home networking market will be in, say, a couple of years.”
Indeed, the Stonehenge Group is breaking totally new ground with the Williams Bay development, not only in home automation, but in the way the building industry designs, builds and delivers homes. So new are the concepts that the CSIRO and the Universities of Melbourne and Swinburne are carrying out long terms studies to investigate how people will respond to the new technologies and processes. Stonehenge managing director, Mark Davis, remains optimistic about Key4 Building’s success.
“It is Australian-developed, cutting-edge technology that will introduce standards of excellence and best practice to business management in the industry,” he says. “Our aim is to provide the future owners of these homes an increased quality of living, and a greater appreciation of their surrounding community.”