Uber device control for the tech using X10

by ~ March 31st, 2003. Filed under: articles.


So who/what is X10? X10, who’s annoying and often sexist pop-under marketing strategy leaves much to be desired, is a company who makes and sells a series of home automation devices, which themselves leave very little to be desired.

On the most fundamental level, using X10 means being able to control the lights and appliances around your home with remote controllers. The controllers. range in size and complexity from a key chain controller to a TV style remote control and perhaps more fundamentally, a thin (7 mm) light switch sized controller which sticks directly to the wall in any location you like.

A simple, practical example, would be to add a switch to the wall within arms reach of your bed to control the lights, the TV, and the coffee maker.

Understanding the X10 technology:

X10 works by utilizing the electrical wiring in the wall to carry messages from the X10 controller to the various device modules. It takes advantage of the fact that electrical wires, in addition to carrying electricity, are also able to carry a certain amount of data.

Set-up is simple, a device like a light is plugged into an X10 module which is then plugged into the wall. Two selector dials on the front of the X10 module allow for selection of that modules ID. Choices range from A though P on one dial and 1 thought 16 on the other. Setting the first dial to A and the second dial to 1 makes that module A1. Simple enough.

When you use a remote to turn on/off A1 that light will act accordingly. With the set up of additional devices you have the choice to either assign a new ID to each, or repeat ID’s for a group of lights/appliances.

To view all the X10 based home automation devices X10 has to offer you can check out:

Some X10 products are available at Radio Shack stores under the
brand name “Plug n’ Power.”

Advanced uses for X10 (the real fun):

X10 is great for both tech and non tech people alike. Both will no doubt be happy with the ability to turn on/off lights and appliances by simply punching a button or two on a remote control.

More technically inclined minds however will quickly wander toward the computer. The good news is, X10 has made a computer controller interface. Using this interface (a serial device) and some software, the world of X10 opens up to computer controlled events. Possibilities are then left to the imagination and creativity of the users and programmers. Examples include, Time based events (think cron), Motion based events (utilizing X10 motion sensors), Mood settings (set various lights to various levels of dim or on/off position at the click of a mouse) and even TCP/IP remotely controlled events (think web, cell phone/WAP, IM, SSH).

An example of a net-based X10 controller:

A real world example to get you thinking, I personally have created an IM to X10 bridge using a linux server, HEYU and Perl with the Net::AIM perl module. For what little security can be had over AIM, I used a dual authentication method. First the user has to be logged in with my screen name, then they have to send the right password for that command. Using this program I was able to successfully check the status of lights and appliances at home from work via AIM. For fun, I once used it to spook my GF by turning off her desk light while she was home alone. The IM I got back was “you are so not funny”. I of course disagreed. On a more serious note, It did save my butt one day when I left the house unsure if I had turned off the coffee maker. By the time I thought of it, I was already on the train and far from a computer with an internet connection. Using my cell phone, which allows for logins to the AIM network, I was able to poll the coffee maker to find out if it was on or off, and after seeing that it was in fact on, I was able to turn it off preventing a potential fire. That secured the real world usefulness of X10’s technology in my mind. Hey, having the ability to perform things like coffee maker power polling and toggling from your cell phone on the train, now that’s uber device control for the tech using X10!

X10 Related Links of Importance:

X10 - http://www.x10.com

HEYU! - http://heyu.tanj.com/heyu/index.html


Comments? Questions? email brian@mindflip.org


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