Fit For A Castle, Made For A Home

Albuquerque, N.M.-based CasaWorks just launched its Cielo Home Management System, which includes software and a residential gateway. Cielo is available in four versions offering various levels of automation for individual rooms or entire homes, all less than $10,000, and includes product margins in the range common in the audio/video installer industry.

Integrators expect the Cielo system to cut the cost and time of writing and testing code and installing systems by 50 percent.

"We had been doing high-end installer and integration work with high-end custom products. We decided if there would be a market for a midtier product, we would have to bring the price down," says CasaWorks President and CEO Michael Arendall. "We try to use the most efficient, best controls around, not tied to any given processor or architecture. Our goal was to build an open platform, using standard, off-the-shelf architecture."

Integrators that have been trained on the platform and used beta products say its ease of use and low price point will open up a large market.

"You could do everything that larger $25,000 to $30,000 home automation equipment could do at a tenth of the cost, allowing whole-house automation to people that may not be in the very upper end of the market," says Kevin Hamblin, CEO of Littleton, Colo.-based integrator AV-1, which plans to install the platform in 50 percent to 75 percent of its homes. "Anyone who owns a house in the Denver market area can afford this product."

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At the heart of Cielo is a library containing hundreds of modules written by the vendor that can control nearly any networkable device and a home's subsystems, such as lighting, security, climate and media distribution. Using the included Cielo Studio software, integrators can add new devices and configure their settings. Integrators can also design complicated scenes that control the actions of numerous devices or subsystems in the home, customized to the users' preferences. The scenes can be programmed to begin at a particular time or in response to a user command.

Integrators say they expect the system's modules and ease of design to reduce the cost and time of writing and testing code and installing systems by as much as 50 percent.

"I'm computer literate to a degree, but writing code is not my forte. With the software, I was able to customize a couple of scenes in under five minutes," says Leonard Pascual, president of A Sound Look International, a Santa Fe, N.M., A/V installer that recently entered the home integration market and is installing the Cielo products in a showroom it is building. "I set up [a home theater scene] in about five minutes, did alterations in two or three, hit the test button, and was immediately able to test if I did it right."

Customized drivers for a variety of consumer devices, A/V products, security systems and control units are available at CasaWorks' Web site and can be downloaded directly to a home's network. Plus, if a customer requests a device that the company does not yet support, CasaWorks will write custom drivers for it. The vendor can also write custom modules or user interfaces for integrators' customers, or will assist the integrator in doing so.

Another advantage of the system is that it is all Web-based, so once it is installed, integrators can handle most support tasks and add new devices remotely, picking up additional sales and service revenue along the way.

"If people switch equipment, all they have to do is tell us which one, and we will go through their gateway, download to the CasaWorks server, upload equipment and it works," Hamblin said. "As installers, we can do it all from our office, without making a service call. That saves the customer money on the back end."

The Cielo Home Management System supports numerous networking technologies, including Wi-Fi, infrared, Z-Wave, TCP/IP, RS-232, RS-422, RS-485, X10 and Bluetooth. The software was designed with HTML and Macromedia Flash, so customers can control devices and systems and adjust preferences from inside or outside the home by using any device with a Web browser. Customers can also monitor and adjust settings in their homes remotely, and the system can be programmed to alert customers and the integrator via e-mail or a text message if a security or climate problem occurs.

Later this year, CasaWorks plans to launch new technology called SenseNet that will use wired and wireless sensors inside and outside the home to monitor the location and movement of people, as well as climate and lighting conditions. SenseNet will interface with the Cielo platform to adjust lighting, media and climate controls based on people's locations and conditions in the home.

CasaWorks is recruiting integrators in the Rocky Mountain states and plans to expand throughout the United States later this year, with the goal of eventually signing up several hundred integrators. All new partners must take a two-day certification training course in integrating Cielo and in general networking and A/V installation techniques. Technical support is available over the phone or e-mail, and technical forums, sales tools and other resources will be available through a partner Web site expected to be launched later this year.