Technology: Whole-house remote control
It's a goal of true techies: the Jetsons-style home, where one button locks doors and dims lights as you leave, and the house later calls your cell phone if it detects an intruder. But in the real world, such home-automation gear generally hasn't been very sophisticated or reliable, making the effort more frustrating than time-saving.
Now a slew of new tech with exotic names such as Zigbee, Z-Wave and Insteon is offering new hope to tinkerers. I've been toying with some early Insteon products, which are trying to succeed the X10-based gear that has dominated the market for decades. Insteon is designed to answer several complaints about X10which could only send signals through a home's electrical wires and was so unsecure that neighbors could trigger each other's devices and transmissions often failed to reach the target appliance.
Insteon ("instee-on" . . . get it?) is compatible with X10, of which millions of products have been sold, but can also transmit signals wirelessly and securelyand each module purportedly can send sophisticated commands like "dial Dad's cell phone."
So far, only switches are available for controlling and dimming simple appliances like lamps, so I couldn't test Insteon's smarts. But it's easier to set uppushing a couple of external buttons gets modules talking to each other, in contrast to futzing with X10 house and unit codesand seems more reliable and flexible than X10. More products, including PC software for coordinating all the appliance chatter, are promised soon from Insteon's maker, Smarthome (smarthome.com), which until now has just been a catalogue company selling home-automation gear from other manufacturers. If Insteon works as well as promised, maybe there's hope we can get some of George's other goodies, like flying cars and robot maids.