Control & Automation

The Magic of QMotion’s Power-Efficient Shades; Control4 ZigBee Coming Soon

QMotion window treatments offer long battery life and sleek aesthetics because of a patented counterbalancing system that doesn't strain the motor.

The Magic of QMotion’s Power-Efficient Shades; Control4 ZigBee Coming Soon
QMotion shades are treated as native devices in a Vantage control system for optimizing lighting and shade control in daylighting applications.

The new hardwired solution, introduced at Lightfair International 2016, delivers both power and two-way control via a single Cat 5 cable through a combo power/control hub (top left).

Tug on shades to initiate movement.

Julie Jacobson · June 20, 2016

QMotion came seemingly out of nowhere in the motorized shading category just a few years, rising to #2 in the most recent Brand Analysis survey of CE Pro 100 integrators. Today, 33% of the industry’s highest-revenue home-technology installers specify QMotion, which was acquired by Legrand last year. Three years ago, QMotion was at 6%.

There’s a reason for QMotion’s preeminence in the channel. Not only does the company make products that integrate with leading home automation solutions; not only does it offer a wide variety of window coverings including roller shades, Roman shades and draperies; but QMotion also offers some real innovations that no one else in the category is doing.

For example, QMotion’s track-less motorized drapery rods are nothing short of super-cool. The rolling rods move the drapes with no unsightly wires or motors, which are tucked into the rod itself. The rods spin, bringing the material along with them.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about QMotion is the least sexy: How its motors are so darn efficient.

Motors naturally require quite a bit of power to operate, and running power to window coverings can be especially awkward, especially in retrofit situations. Batteries are big, often requiring bulky headers. Plus, eventually they die, so they need to be replaced, which can be both expensive and annoying.

Therefore, power performance is key when it comes to maintaining the aesthetics of the shades and the longevity of the batteries. Here is where QMotion excels, not because of the batteries themselves but the engineering of motor mechanism.

In its shading products, QMotion draws from a patented counterbalancing system, not unlike you would find with parking barriers, where a long arm is moved via a tensioned counterbalance.

So it should be no surprise that QMotion was founded by Willis Mullet, former CEO of garage-door giant Wayne Dalton.

Mullet and team had been researching protective shades for hurricane season, finding that existing products were noisy, difficult to install and unsightly due to power and communications wiring. Battery power would be required because of probable outages, but existing battery-powered products lacked longevity and finesse.

That project was shelved by Wayne Dalton, but Mullet and crew went on to create a viable solution under QMotion … although QMotion has yet to enter the hurricane-shutter market.

In mid-2012, QMotion filed a patent (awarded in 2014) for the counterbalance gear tensioner used in its products today.

Here’s the gist of the invention, with more details below:

The counterbalance assembly, which usually includes a spring, is utilized to compensate for the weight of the shade and reduces strain on the motor, if provided. The counterbalance spring may be pre-tensioned so as to prevent excessive current draw by the motor which drains the battery more quickly and causes the motor to wear prematurely. 

The counterbalance technology enables QMotion to build quieter and more efficient motors. More efficiency means smaller and/or fewer batteries are required, which not only reduces the need for frequent battery changes, but also allows for smaller headers for a more pleasing aesthetic.

But the technology benefits QMotion’s hardwired products as well, which is how the company seems to have developed an industry-first motor that requires only a single Cat 5 cable for both power and communications.

How do they do that? “Because we’re running on such low power,” said Ben Kutell, director of strategic programs for QMotion, during the recent Lightfair International 2016 expo. “Our motor doesn’t do all the heavy lifting because of the counterbalance. That’s also why we’re so quiet.”

QMotion Integration with Vantage, ZigBee 3.0, Control4

QMotion shared a booth at Lightfair this year with its new parent company, Legrand, where shades were controlled by Vantage, also a Legrand company.

Already there is two-way integration between QMotion and Vantage – you get feedback on shade positioning on the Vantage interface, as well as information on battery life.

Vantage is “building even tighter integration with Vantage,” Kutell says, by treating shades as native objects in the Vantage programming software.

Kutell says that treating shades as native objects in Vantage lighting – just like any Vantage lighting load -- can provide better interaction between the two critical categories for daylighting applications.

QMotion also will be offering a universal ZigBee 3.0 option for its QMotion shades, both battery- and Cat 5-powered.

In addition, QMotion will offer a Control4-compatible version of ZigBee . It’s just a matter of “loading the right firmware,” Kutell says.

The wired products, furthermore, will be able to act as ZigBee repeaters; the wireless won’t.

More from the QMotion Counterbalance Patent

BACKGROUND ART 

Shade or blind assemblies used with windows or similar openings are well known. The assemblies provide for privacy when desired and block sunlight or allow sunlight to enter a room. Many types of shades are configured with vertical or horizontal slats that are raised and lowered, or moved sideways, by a chord wherein the angular position adjustment of the slats can also be provided. Both adjustments can be automated or manually implemented. 

In some shade assemblies it is desired to provide motorized operation of the shade. This allows for convenient and automated control of the shade assembly. In other words, the shade assemblies can be programmed to open and close at particular times of day or evening so as to let in sunlight when desired or block sunlight when heat in the room becomes uncomfortable. In any event, to assist in operation of the shade assembly, the internal mechanism for raising and lowering of the shade may incorporate a counterbalance assembly. The counterbalance assembly, which usually includes a spring, is utilized to compensate for the weight of the shade and reduces strain on the motor, if provided. The counterbalance spring may be pre-tensioned so as to prevent excessive current draw by the motor which drains the battery more quickly and causes the motor to wear prematurely. 

In order to provide for tensioning in prior art shade assemblies it is common to hold the tension and stored potential energy with shear pins as a means to trigger a release event when thresholds are met. These thresholds may be used for safety purposes or to prevent the transmission of undesired forces, but they do not allow further tension adjustments of the counterbalance spring, which many times is needed to achieve optimum counterbalancing. Indeed, it is well known in the prior art to provide counterbalancing systems, but none provide for pre-tensioning of the counterbalance system. 

Therefore, there is a need in the art to provide a gear tensioner and related method of installation to store tension in a shade or blind assembly such that the assembly is pre-tensioned at the factory, the point of shade or blind assembly, or during installation of the shade or blind. Further, because a torque profile of counterbalance springs does not always precisely match the force requirement of the roll shade being payed out or reeled on to a storage roll, there is a need to be able to set various pre-tension values on the counterbalance springs. Moreover, there is a need to minimize drag on a motor utilized to raise and lower the shade assembly, thereby extending battery life. 

QMotion is exhibiting this week in London at IFSEC, the international fire and security expo (stand E1060).



  About the Author

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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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Lighting · Motorized Shades · Whole House Control · News · Products · Legrand · QMotion · Vantage · All Topics
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