So I've been working on a review of Hawking's HomeRemote wireless home automation system, but I'm stuck right now, waiting for a firmware upgrade. But I thought I'd give you a preview of what I've seen so far, because it's pretty interesting stuff. We first got wind of this Home Automation System at CES 2007, in the Z-Wave Alliance booth. The Z-Wave Alliance is a consortium of companies committed to making interoperable, wireless home automation products that are based on Z-Wave, a wireless remote control standard. Z-Wave-based products use a low-frequency radio signals to create a mesh network in your home. What this means for you is that you can link various appliances in your home to a central network, that you can then control both in the home and remotely.
High-end home automation systems tend to be expensive and require professional installation, but the kit Hawking sent to us is meant for people like you and me--regular consumers who'd rather save money on installation and maintenance. We received Hawking's HomeRemote Wireless Automation Gateway, Hawking's HomeRemote Wireless Video Camera, an LG data-enabled cell phone, and several lamp and appliance modules from Home Settings, one of Hawking's partners.
Setup was surprisingly easy, though it does take some time. I hooked up the Hawking gateway to my home's wireless router and powered it on, then ran the installation CD on my PC. After the initial network verification and software updates, I customized the Hawking Web interface to match my house: you input the names of the rooms (living room, master bedroom, garage, etc.) and which floor they're on. I ran around the house, plugging my lamps and appliances (in my case, a stereo and a TV) into the provided adapters, which in turn plug into power outlets. Using the included remote, I added each appliance to my HomeRemote network and then sent that information to the gateway. The setup CD even has helpful videos to demonstrate the involved button routine the process requires. Then you name your modules and tell the interface which room each appliance lives in.
When you're done with the setup, you can turn lights and appliance on and off, while sitting at your computer. The interface is cleanly laid out and simple to use. You're not limited to turning individual appliances on and off, either. Hawking lets you set "scenes" that include various appliances. For example, I set a Coming Home from Work scene to trigger at 6:30 p.m. Several lights turn on, so I don't have to come home to a dark house. If you have one of the climate control modules, you can set the thermostat to kick on the heat or A/C just before you get home, too. You can set any number of scenes to suit your needs. In addition to the Coming Home scene, I set Weekday Wake Up and Weekday Going to Bed scenes. The latter shut off lights and the TV at 11 p.m., so I'm reminded not to stay up all night watching bad '80s movies.
The really cool thing about this system is the remote access aspect. During the initial setup, you can download a service called CellLink to an approved cell phone, which I did using the provided LG MM-535. Using the cell phone, I was able to trigger scenes and check on the status of appliances, as well as turn them on and off. This is great if you're out unexpectedly late, for example, but you want to make it look like someone's home. You can ask the system to send you alerts and notifications if specific things happen, such as a TV being turned on (great for when you're wondering whether your kids are actually doing their homework like they say they are!). The notifications can go to an email address or a cell phone (SMS).
You can also access the control panel remotely using a Web browser, because during setup, you create a custom Web address. It should operate just as the control panel does from within your own network. I say "should" because I wasn't able to get it to load. A Hawking representative says that this is a known issue (the gateway sends out packets that are too large for a DSL line to handle) and that their techs are working on a firmware fix. Likewise, I couldn't get the alerts and notifications feature to work, but again, that's supposedly covered by the new firmware.
Finally, I hooked up the provided video camera and was able to watch a video feed from the HomeRemote control panel. I live in a third-floor flat in a building with security gates, so I wasn't too concerned about intruders. So I set up the camera to watch my cats instead. As it turns out, cats sleep pretty much all day, so that was kind of boring. But you can put the camera to better use by training it on your front porch so you can pretend you're not home when solicitors knock. You can even check the video feed on the cell phone.
Hawking has teamed with a bunch of Z-Wave Alliance members that provide all kinds of devices, from window shades to home security systems to outdoor appliances. You can pretty much have your entire home connected, because the system supports a lot of devices. Like I said, the full review of the Hawking gateway is still brewing (pending the firmware upgrade), but otherwise, it works as advertised and it seems like a nifty way to automate your home and keep an eye on it when you're out.