Sub-Zero May Have First Viable Plan for Smart Appliances
Luxury appliance brand shows integration with Control4 home control system via ZigBee wireless technology; some 30 models of major appliances already automation-enabled.
Every major appliance manufacturer has shown “smart” refrigerators, freezers, ovens, washers or dryers at some point in the past five years, but none has amounted to anything.
The company is exhibiting with Control4, its first home automation partner.
In a demo at the Control4 booth, project engineer Steve Nackers pre-heated a stainless steel Sub-Zero oven to 350 degrees. When the oven reached that setpoint, the lights in the “home” flashed, and a chime sounded.
Control4 touchscreens in the booth let us know that, indeed, the oven was ready for turkey.
Of course, thanks to the oven’s existing virtual temperature probe, our visiting chefs were alerted again when the virtual turkey was done.
The application is “practical,” says Sub-Zero project engineer Steve Nackers, who suggests that smart-appliance hype in the past focused on unrealistic scenarios.
Preheating your oven via cellphone on the way home from work, or reheating a meal from the bath? Who would do that?
And besides, such dangerous activity wouldn’t meet UL approval, Nackers says.
For that reason, users can’t actually operate the smart Sub-Zero ovens from their Control4 touchscreens, iPhones and other controllers. They can only receive alerts.
For refrigerator/freezers, though, the system can be programmed to perform some operations.
For example, when set to PARTY mode, the freezer could increase its ice production. Otherwise, energy-conscious customers could program the system to only make ice when electric rates are at their lowest.
Technology Behind the Scenes
There’s one big reason why Sub-Zero could be first to market with a suite of smart appliances: The hardware is already there in Sub-Zero’s E Series ovens and Built-in Series refrigerator/freezers.
In all, 40 or more automation-ready models are already in the field or will be soon.
For years, Sub-Zero has built serial ports into these major appliances, primarily for diagnostic purposes.
To enable communications with Control4, all that is needed is a serial-to-ZigBee adapter, available from CardAccess, and a bit of software.
Sub-Zero appliances already log quite a bit of data. Now that data can be communicated to a Control4 (or other) automation system via the wireless RF mesh-networking ZigBee technology.
Although other home-control protocols like Z-Wave could be employed, and other home-control systems could work with the Sub-Zero products, the first implementation happens to be with ZigBee and Control4.
Integrators (and consumers themselves eventually) can program a Control4 system to respond in any number of ways to the rich data supplied by Sub-Zero appliances – as in the case of the CES demo. Lights can flash, email alerts can be sent, and a voice could broadcast, “It’s turkey time” over the whole-house audio system.
An automation system also could log energy consumption of the appliances simply for the viewing pleasure of customers, for utility demand response, or for diagnostic purposes.
What’s in it for Sub-Zero?
That’s pretty cool stuff. Will it help sell more Sub-Zero appliances?
Probably not, according Nackers.
“Sub-Zero sees it as just the right thing to do,” he says. “We’re not necessarily going to sell more units to our customers.”
Instead, Sub-Zero endears itself to consumers and trade partners through a commitment to the environment – just as it does to its promise of product longevity.
“A lot of builders and designers are very concerned about green,” Nackers says. “We have always been very focused on green.”
Control4 (as well as most major home-control brands) can respond today to utilities’ time-of-use pricing. Now they can trigger Sub-Zero appliances to react to any smart grid activity.
The Sub-Zero software is ready to go. The company is just “waiting for the IP [intellectual property] to clear,” says Nackers.
It should be available in late February “by the earliest,” he says, “but our goal is Q2.”
Project engineer Steve Nackers says the metals and other nuisances of major appliances won’t impede ZigBee RF wireless communications. The ZigBee module from Card Access here connects to existing serial ports in dozens of Sub-Zero appliances.
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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