Ceding Control

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” —The Wizard of Oz
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“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
—The Wizard of Oz

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Traditionally integrators have been forced to design inflexible interfaces requiring complicated reprogramming whenever a client requested the slightest change.

In an ideal world, an ESC would program the complicated bits of a user interface and control systems, then empower the end-users to make slight adjustments to macros, lighting scenes, and timed events themselves. Unfortunately, the complicated nature of control system programming almost always made this dream impossible.

These days, as our industry struggles to compete against the flashiness and intuitive design of Apple and Droid products on the market, that old way of thinking (and programming) is changing for the better. ESCs, who can no longer afford to hide behind a mysterious veil of programming, like the Wizard of Oz, are discovering new methods of programming, and new IP-based hardware that allow more flexibility for the end user.

Last month, I spent a day in Harrison, NY, where I learned just about everything there is to know about URC’s much-anticipated Total Control line of whole-house automation and control products. The system, which is designed to compete with products like Control4’s automation package and Crestron’s Prodigy line, consists of network-based user interfaces, wholehouse audio, network audio entertainment, lighting control, climate control, energy monitoring, security management, and camera surveillance. Some of what URC is doing is not so revolutionary, yet it is a huge leap forward for a manufacturer exclusively known for its remote control and wall keypad products.

What really caught my attention during URC’s presentation was this statement from content development manager Russ Hoffman: “We’re going to put a lot of power in end users’ hands.”

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That sentence was part of an explanation of URC’s revamped CCP programming software for dealers, which integrates event timers for certain home automation macros within the Total Control line. Although the design of these macros is still fully in the hands of the URC dealer, the client has been given much more control over changing the start and stop times for events such as sprinkler system on/off, night light on/off, “good morning” scenes, etc. The integrator programs the macros, and the customer, with the aid of a built-in astronomical clock, can set start and off times themselves.

Another empowering gesture was URC’s decision to offer off-site control to a client’s system, but only after the client has enabled this access by clicking one “button” on his or her user interface.

All of this may sound trivial, but even as a veteran of this industry, I’m still a consumer who likes to have control of the products that I own. I think that the flexibility of new technology, like the IP-based system that URC began shipping last month, will enable our industry to remain competitive and relevant, even in the age of the iPad.

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