Lutron Files Patents for Lighting, Home Automation via ‘Internet of Things’
Lutron joins Belkin WeMo, Utz Baldwin's Ube, and countless others in the race for IP-enabled dimmers and load controls; files two patents for Wi-Fi devices enabling the 'Internet of Things.'
Julie Jacobson · February 12, 2013
Lutron, arguably the biggest name in proprietary wired and wireless lighting controls, filed a patent application in June 2012 (published January 2013) for a “Load Control Device Having Internet Connectivity,” describing a “load control device [that] is able to receive radio-frequency (RF) signals from a Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as a smart phone, via a wireless local area network.”
A second related patent application , called “Method Of Programming A Load Control Device Using A Smart Phone” was filed at the same time.
The patented-pending technology refers to IP-addressable dimmers and other load control devices that seemingly would eliminate the need for third-party hubs and CPUs (except for standard wireless access points), allowing the devices to be controlled out of the box via smart devices over the home network – an architecture known as M2M (machine to machine) or the Internet of Things (IoT).
Traditionally, Lutron and other home-control providers have employed low-rate wireless device protocols – proprietary, Z-Wave, ZigBee or others – that require a hub or bridge to translate commands between a controller (proprietary, Z-Wave, ZigBee, etc.) and the dimmer or other device to be controlled.
The proposed technology presumably would eliminate the need for such hubs, and enable native control from an IP/Wi-Fi-enabled device such as a smart phone … device-to-device over the home network.
The patent applications describe some security and device-provisioning scenarios, including one that includes “a near-field communications (NFC) module operatively coupled to the controller and operable to receive NFC signals; and wherein the controller is operable to obtain the service set identifier and password from the received NFC signals.” (Fig. 11 and Fig. 13)
Several Android smart phones (and iOS most certainly in the future) are equipped with on-board NFC tags for such things as digital payments and access control.
Another embodiment of the patent describes provisioning via a barcode on a dimmer or load-control device. A smartphone, for example, would snap a picture of the code, and the device would enroll itself into a control environment, providing device definitions and parameters (Fig. 14).
From the patent:
A method of programming a lighting control device using a wireless control device having a visual display and a camera, the lighting control device operable to adjust the intensity of a lighting load that is purchased in packaging having a barcode, the method comprising: scanning the barcode of the packaging of the lighting load using the camera of the wireless control device; the wireless control device determining an operating parameter for the lighting load using information received from the scanned barcode; transmitting a digital message including the operating parameter to the lighting control device; and storing the operating parameter in the lighting control device in response to the lighting control device receiving the digital message.
In yet another embodiment, Lutron describes a way to set high/low setpoints for lighting loads by aiming a smart-phone camera at the light and adjusting/capturing the setpoints for use in light scenes (Fig. 17).
It isn’t Just for Dimmers
While the bulk of the Lutron patents describes IP/Wi-Fi control of lighting dimmers, the company notes that its technology could just as easily be applied to other home automation devices:
While the present application has been described with reference to the dimmer switches ... and the wireless control devices ... the concepts of the present invention could be applied to any control devices that are operable to communicate with each other, such as, for example, dimming ballasts for driving gas-discharge lamps; light-emitting diode (LED) drivers for driving LED light sources; screw-in luminaires including integral dimmer circuits and incandescent or halogen lamps; screw-in luminaires including integral ballast circuits and compact fluorescent lamps; screw-in luminaires including integral LED drivers and LED light sources; electronic switches, controllable circuit breakers, or other switching devices for turning appliances on and off; plug-in load control devices, controllable electrical receptacles, or controllable power strips for each controlling one or more plug-in loads; motor control units for controlling motor loads, such as ceiling fans or exhaust fans; drive units for controlling motorized window treatments or projection screens; motorized interior or exterior shutters; thermostats for a heating and/or cooling systems; temperature control devices for controlling setpoint temperatures of HVAC systems; air conditioners; compressors; electric baseboard heater controllers; controllable dampers; humidity control units; dehumidifiers; water heaters; pool pumps; televisions; computer monitors; audio systems or amplifiers; generators; electric chargers, such as electric vehicle chargers; an alternative energy controllers; occupancy sensors, vacancy sensors, daylight sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors, security sensors, proximity sensors, keypads, battery-powered remote controls, key fobs, cell phones, smart phones, tablets, personal digital assistants, personal computers, timeclocks, audio-visual controls, safety devices, and central control transmitters.
Internet of Things as The Next Big Thing in Home Control
The “Internet of Things” is the big trend in home automation, seen most recently in several new products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2013. Previously, Wi-Fi radios and related electronics were too pricey, bulky and power-hungry to fit into low-cost lightweight devices such as light switches – at least compared to such technologies as ZigBee, Z-Wave and Lutron’s own proprietary RF protocols.
But lighter-weight versions of Wi-Fi and Internet Protocols such as 6LowPAN (or 6LoPAN), a method of communicating IPv6 via an 802.11.5.4 ZigBee radio, and the low-power 802.11ah open up possibilities for embedding IP standards in small devices.
That’s why so many companies have come out lately with products and technologies very similar to what Lutron is trying to patent … at least the IoT part of it.
A company called Spark also is looking to raise money for its Wi-Fi-enabled dimmers, but in this case the Spark Socket screws into a standard light socket to IP-enable any dumb bulb screwed into the module.
For its part, GreenWave Reality’s Connected Lighting Solution, featuring IP-enabled light bulbs, employs 6LoWPAN. For full IP-enabled control, the 6LoWPAN implementation still requires a gateway that sits on the existing home network.
Lutron patent attorney Mark Rose chose not to comment for this story, citing a company policy of not discussing pending patent applications.
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]
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