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Technology allows us to switch off when our intelligent home switches on. Sapna Kulshrestha examines the latest trends and products that make our homes comfortable, energy-efficient and secure.

Just a few years ago, homes were wired for power, telephones, TV and a doorbell. But man’s relentless pursuit of the easy life has resulted in all manner of extra technologies finding their way into today’s residences.

Thus began the concept of intelligent homes, and the use of technology that allows easy control of climate, lighting, entertainment, blinds, curtains and security cameras, to name just a few aspects.

Today, owners can even connect to their homes via the internet and control and view their homes from anywhere in the world.

Market Scenario
E-Homes have arrived with particular strength in Metros and emerging cities like Pune, Hyderabad and Jaipur, albeit for selected segments of society. And while home automation systems have traditionally been used most in independent houses, developers have started incorporating them in their new ventures.

One project by Design Arch Infrastructure that is taking shape in Vaishali (NCR), offers electronic-savvy apartments with unique facilities like E-letter box and an electronic message to the owner’s mobile phone in case of any forced entry.

Recently launched projects, in Faridabad and in Mumbai, by Mahindra Lifespace Developers feature intelligent homes that automatically take care of details like switching on or off the air-conditioning or turning off the gas valve and e-connectivity.

RNA (A) Builders, a Mumbai-based construction company, has a forthcoming housing project in Worli with custom-made security gadgets and home appliances which can be operated remotely.

Another project initiated on the outskirts of Pune by city-based developer, Wonder Properties, comprises 500 automated homes that are being developed with the assistance of Aftek Technologies.

K Sayal Director/CEO Alpha G Corp, New Delhi, however, strikes a cautious but positive note: “The market is at a nascent stage, but demand will match the growing public awareness.”

Pune’s Marvel Group and Kumar Builders, Mumbai’s B Raheja Builders and Nirmal Lifestyle, and Royal Indian Raj International Corporation in Bangalore are some of the increasing number of developers catering to the demand of intelligent homes.

Costs & Benefits
Home automation offers significant savings in terms of operational management cost and energy cost. AR Santhakumar, professor, IIT (Chennai), says intelligent or automated buildings eliminate waste and create wealth.

Automated lights can save up to 75% of lighting energy consumption whereas controlled natural lighting can reduce a building’s air-conditioning load by minimizing solar heat gain. Thermostat systems control flow of temperature while electronic meters monitor greenhouse gas emissions generated by electricity use.

T Chitty Babu, chairman and MD, Akshaya Homes, Chennai, which offers a fully automated home, says: “Automation is not just about luxury features but also about energy efficiency and security.”

However, home automation systems are not a one-size-fits-all. What’s needed is a better awareness about home automation products that are considered lifestyle products. According to Sathiaram Ram, an environmental consultant, a major contributor to the high cost of automation is the lack of locally manufactured automation systems.
 

Although the starting cost of automation is relatively low, one still needs to spend quite a lot for a completely automated house.

Legrand, for example, offers a range of off-the-shelf individual components starting from Rs25,000, while prices of Somfy automated remote-controlled home accessories vary from Rs8,000 to 20, 000.

“Gen-X Home costs from Rs1.8 lakh to Rs15 lakh for the premium version with full Internet connectivity,” says Raj Maniyar, director Pearson Technologies.

Challenges
The biggest challenge to the propagation of this concept in India is the cost factor. Apart from the costs, in a country where many people are computer phobic, the term automation itself may give potential customers nightmares, especially elderly people who tend to prefer to stay away from complex products.

Also, the absence of home automation standards in India allows different vendors to use different protocols, meaning that if the consumer likes some part of the solution from a different vendor, he may not be able to install it in the home. Once standards are implemented in India, the smart devices that may adopt a plug-and-play protocol will make customization simpler and swifter.

Potential
We still have a very long way to go where intelligent homes are concerned, but the concept is catching on. The urban middle class is increasingly realising the convenience of using gadgets to manage their homes.

“The future prospects of intelligent abodes are excellent, as everyone is looking at different gadgets which will make the quality of life better while conserving energy resources,” remarks Sayal of Alpha G Corp.

Such homes are still expensive to come by, at least by Indian standards, but one can go in for selective individual smart gadgets that are already available – from security devices to internet-enabled refrigerators, for example. These new-age equipments will not only make a home far safer and greener, but add a style quotient too.

Key Players
Home automation is an up-and-coming trend in response to changing family structure, work patterns and technological innovations.

As Mr Sashi Nair, president, Anchor Electricals, says: “Home automation makes life simple. All it takes is a small control panel, and every electrical and electronic gadget can be controlled from the comfort of your couch – not just to switch on or off, but also to create ambience like dim lighting, ideal lighting or party lighting.”

Similarly, Legrand automatic switches turn on the lights when it detects a presence and turn off the lights after a defined period of time when no one is detected.

More than just controlling a set of lights, the automatic switches can also launch a scene; that is, activate a predetermined group of actions comprising lights, curtains and air-conditioning to create a preferred environment.

Drawing and closing the curtains manually could soon become passé. One can programme blinds/curtains to open and close every day at a chosen time – so even when occupants are away on a holiday, the room will get natural daylight and the home or office will stay protected at night.

Additionally, the Somfy ‘Chronis RTS Light Sensor’ fully extends or retracts automatically according to the position of the sun or the time of the day. “Since we live in a digital age, it is only natural that some solutions need to be available at the tip of your finger,” comments Emmanuel Cantegrel, business manager at Somfy.

Adding another dimension are the motorized window fashion blinds from Hunter Douglas, called ‘Silhouette’, that, when fully raised, completely disappear into the head rail for an unobstructed view while the soft vanes block 99% of UV rays when closed, claims a company source.

LG Electronics makes an Internet air- conditioner with self-adjusting settings to keep the house or room cool depending on the amount of people present, including downloadable programmes that run different air circulation patterns to make the cooling process even more efficient.

Users can connect to the air conditioner with any internet-capable device such as a PC, PDA or cell phone, and schedule a start or shutdown time.

And Philips has created the Pronto fully customizable touch screen universal remote control that offers a convenient single solution for controlling audio/video devices and home automation systems.

The Electrolux ultrasound navigated vacuum cleaners and washing machines can sense the weight of the load, required water level, wash time and can even programme the machine 48 hours in advance.

For an entertainment buff, there are motorized projection screens for home theatre that can be raised or lowered, with multi-zone speakers around the house, through which to play audio and a “watch DVD” button that activates your home cinema and dims your lights when watching a movie. Anchor, Lutron, Legrand and Schneider are some of the suppliers in this category.

Of course, it wouldn’t pinch the owner’s pockets much to turn his home into a secure bastion. Dhiraj Wali, business head of Bosch Security Systems in India, says that his company offers a range of security solutions from wired and wireless Intrusion Alarm Systems, a plug-and-play wireless solution that detects intruders, medical emergencies, gas leaks and fire accidents.

Honeywell, Zeos InfoTech and Zicom also offer an innovative range of products on similar lines for securing homes.

Other products include the Legrand ‘In One’ that can memorise detailed lighting settings for specific occasions like kids’ birthdays or dinner parties.

The Honeywell ‘Home Net System’ provides home owners with information on energy, water and gas consumption, enabling better monitoring of resources. Siemens can provide integrated communication, entertainment and security solutions over broadband lines.

And the Clipsal Schneider ‘Cent-a-meter’ is a wireless electricity monitor that monitors temperature and humidity and turns them off when not required. It also displays the cost of electricity used and sends alarm alerts to the user about excessive peak loads.

Apart from automation, one can also replace the conventional wires and cables with Fibre to the Home (FTTH) technology from Sterlite Optical Technologies to carry the traffic for all the telecom and video applications through optical fibres, thus saving the cost of laying and maintaining separate cables. Welcome, then, to the homes of the future.

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