Geek’s SmartLabs Inc. Visit

The Geeks were invited to visit SmartLabs’ 60,000 square foot facility in Irvine, California for research for an upcoming article on Gizmos for Geeks. We were able to tour the facility and walk through their enormous factory warehouse of gizmos as well as the INSTEON home automated idea house. In addition to the tours, we were able to spend time with Dan Cregg who is the Chief Technical Officer and regarded as the “Father of INSTEON” as well as Ken Fairbanks who is the VP of Business Development. Both Cregg and Fairbanks were highly knowledgeable and able to evangelize the INSTEON technology and product lines. In fact, everyone we talked with at SmartLabs really seemed to know the products. This is a company made up of gadgetologists (or as we like to call them… gizmatologists).

As INSTEON is the technology and basis for the products that Smartlabs/Smarthome is pushing right now, we spoke at length with the Smartlabs folks about just that. INSTEON sprang out of research that Smarthome started back in the early 90’s to produce enhanced and more reliable X10 products. For example, the BoosterLinc solved X10’s signal attenuation problem in powerlines by amplifying the X10 signals. Smartlabs solved this problem in INSTEON by making every INSTEON device into repeaters. Now, as more devices are added to the home automation network, the stronger the signal gets.

Another example of how INSTEON solves another of X10’s reliability issues is in how it handles homes with multiple power phases. X10 signals could not trasmit from one phase to another without the need for a phase coupler. In larger houses with two electrical panels and four phases, X10 is next to impossible to configure. INSTEON uses both RF (radio frequency) *and* powerlines as its transports. Devices across a large home will have some method of linking together. As both RF and powerline-based home automation networks have issues and challenges to overcome, it made sense to use both to complement each other.

Although there is already quite a solid line of INSTEON products, more are in the works and many new ones are constantly being released by both Smartlabs and other 3rd-party companies. Although we didn’t get any concrete comments, but rather hints at NDAs with certain partners, it seems that there are even more interesting products on the horizon. The Smartlabs folks were certainly excited at the prospects. For a taste of what’s currently available, at their CES and EHX booths, First Alert showed off fire alarms, Somfy displayed automated blinds, Broan/Nutone demonstrated their ventilation fans while the developer for HAL showed off the INSTEON plug-in [DOUG] for the best (and only [DOUG]) voice-activated home automation network control software. Hardware devices aren’t the only INSTEON products being developed, as software has taken off as well (imagine this: using Indigo [DOUG: link] which has built-in Bluetooth support, you could walk into a room with your cell phone, and the specialized lighting would be activated). Given that there are now over 700 partners and developers, consumers can rest assured that their choices will improve. Furthermore, there are over 30,000 INSTEON installers around the US.

There is no killer application in the home automation field currently. Instead, home automation is all about personalization. Fairbanks led us through the INSTEON idea house which helped drive that point home (pardon the pun).

INSTEON and home automation products have had significant growth over the past few years; this is evidenced by fact that they have branched out and is now not only sold through SmartLabs’ consumer-based Smarthome site but is sold on Amazon and Home Depot’s online store. In fact, the home automation product line at Home Depot is one of their largest categories on the site with 446 products! Typically, home automation products are sold online or through installers. Soon, you will be able to go to your neighborhood brick and mortar Home Depot and purchase INSTEON and other home automation products too. Currently, INSTEON products are being tested in the Long Beach Home Depot store. SmartLabs likes to refer to Home Automation Installation as “Electronic Home Improvement” as most people associate home automation as being difficult to install and use. With INSTEON’s Plug-n-TapTM, installation and use of the product is anything but difficult.

Coming Soon: Learn more about INSTEON and other home automation networks in our five-part series comparing and contrasting the various home automation technologies.