Zipato’s Modular Home Automation System: The Best Smart Home Platform?
Zipato’s snap-together home automation system starts with inexpensive ZipaBox Z-Wave hub, adds ZigBee, professional security, KNX, Enocean, serial control, UPnP, back-up power, more. New: ZipaMini DIY hub.
Julie Jacobson · May 1, 2015
One of the best home automation architectures I’ve ever seen comes from a Croatian company called Zipato. Don’t let the Croatia thing scare you. These guys think big and have a growing presence in Europe and North America.
They’re not flash-in-the-pan Kickstarter-types either. I discovered them about three years ago at Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) and they had a rock-solid system even back then. CEO Sebastian Popovic tells me there are “thousands” of homes with the product.
At this year’s ISE 2015 (and CES as well), Zipato demonstrated some new all-in-one DIY solutions—which we’ll get to later— but let’s start with the company’s flagship platform, which can be purchased by do-it-yourselfers but was created for pros.
A full-on Zipato system starts with a simple Z-Wave-enabled ZipaBox home automation controller ($271 retail) and builds from there. Snap-on modules add ZigBee, KNX, I/O, Enocean, 433 MHz, UPB, security, battery backup and other capabilities.
Simply stack these modules ($80 to $200) onto the anchor … as many as needed … in any order. The hardware can be mounted on a DIN rail, stacked on a tabletop or mounted to the wall with brackets.
The beauty of the architecture is that users don’t pay for features they don’t need.
True, an all-in-one-box with Z-Wave, ZigBee, I/Os and other features might cost less than a block-by-block Zipato solution, but wouldn’t you rather have a specialized box and individual modules that are purpose-built for very specific functions, say, controlling a security system?
Furthermore, if for some reason a radio or some feature goes down, there’s no need to replace an entire system, just a single module.
Finally, the architecture allows the system to evolve with new technologies. It’s a much more elegant approach than, say, plugging in a bunch of USB dongles for each new feature or protocol.
ZipaBox Hub and the Rules Engine
The ZipaBox includes the system processor, Z-Wave home-control technology, IP connectivity and the intelligence required to connect securely to the Zipato Web portal, where users can enroll the system, set up users and their privileges, monitor the home, review event history, set up email and text alerts, and create events and if/then rules.
Even the rules-creation engine is modular and intuitive, mimicking the look, feel and simplicity of Zipato’s snap-in hardware. Zipato provides “micro blocks” which can be snapped together like puzzle pieces.
Events can be triggered by:
- Conditions (many)
- Status change of any device
- Absolute time
- Sunrise/sunset (with offset)
- By email received
- Security panel events
- By matched infrared codes (via Remotec IR extender)
- Recurring at regular second/minute intervals
- Event actions
Here’s a short video of the Zipato rules creation engine.
Introducing New, Super-Affordable DIY Solutions
This year, Zipato is introducing a line of home control systems that are self-contained, low-cost and DIY friendly. None of this modularity stuff, but still the same solid back-end of the pro-oriented solution.
There are three very similar products in three different form factors: a low-cost hub, an Android tablet and a camera.
First is the ZipatoMini, a low-cost smart home hub that is expected to retail for about $100. It features Wi-Fi/Ethernet connectivity and Z-Wave (ZigBee or other technologies can be added via a USB dongle).
Then there’s the MiniTV that adds an HDMI port with support for Android TV (via XBMC). At this price ($150ish?), why not buy it for the Android TV and enjoy the automation as a bonus? The product comes with a handheld remote.
Next is the ZipaTablet (less than $300), an Android-based 7-inch touchscreen tablet with Wi-Fi and Z-Wave inside (add a USB stick for ZigBee), along with the Zipato home-automation guts.
The panel includes speakers, a microphone, mini HDMI, YPbPr video out, mini USB and standard USB. Oh, and a front-facing camera.
And for the bonus: the touchscreen comes with a conductive charger that mounts to a wall and holds the tablet in place with magnets.
Finally, Zipato is building its home control system into a surveillance camera. The forthcoming Z-Wave-enabled ZipaCam (less than $300) is a full-fledged Zipato controller with two-way audio.
VIDEO: Zipato CEO Sebastian Popovic describes new DIY home automation controllers.
Zipato Blocks and Compatible Subsystems
Zipato has two-way drivers for several popular IP and serial-communicating subsystems. According to Popovic, the supported systems are:
- Global Cache iTach Flex (IR, Serial and I/O devices)
- Nest thermostats
- Sonos audio
- Philips Hue lighting controls
- PulseWorks (UPB)
- ONVIF (IP cameras)
- SIA Contact ID
For other systems, Zipato allows users to create a rule that sends HTTP requests to any local system by using the SEND HTTP REQUEST puzzle block.
“This way you can control virtually any external IP devices,” Popovic says.
- Paradox (security)
- DSC (security)
- P1 (European electric meters)
“We are now adding a puzzle block for SEND RS232 MESSAGE in order to allow users to create rules that will send some generic message to some external device through the RS-232 port,” Popovic says.
Besides IP and serial communications, Zipato has additional tricks up its sleeves. For example, Zipato can operate IR-controllable air conditioning units. The Zipato IR Extender (from Remotec) is a Z-Wave-to-IR extender that can be operated via any of the Z-Wave-enabled Zipato hubs. The unit furthermore has a built-in temperature sensor for automating the A/C, and built-in IR codes for virtually all functions of most of the popular A/C models.
What’s most important is that Zipato offers snap-in bricks for pretty much all of the popular home automation protocols, so it supports thousands of devices based on these standards. The modules include (not all shipping yet):
- KNX – $150
- ZigBee - $80
- 433 MHz (various protocols including Somfy)
- Security - $200 (RS-232, six hardwired zones, anti-masking, anti-tamper, power to feed sensors and siren, PGM otuput; integrates with back-up battery)
- Serial (RS-232)
- Enocean - $40
- P1 (for connecting to electric meters)
- Power Monitoring - $250 (monitor four electric circuits in real time)
- Backup Module - $150 (24-hour backup battery, RS-232, temperature meter, USB port for 3G network stick)
- 3G USB Stick ($55)
VIDEO: Zipato CEO Sebastian Popovic describes ZipaBox architecture and rules engine.
Zipato in a Nutshell
I’ve had a good look at the Zipato rules engine, as well as the snap-together modules, and I like what I see. When home automation manufacturers ask me for advice on building a system, I tell them to look at Zipato, especially for pro-centric products.
Having said that, I haven’t tried it myself, I haven’t looked closely at the user interface and I haven’t spoken to any dealers or end-users who have used the product. I simply like the idea of it.
The Website features some useful video tutorials, but the product sections need to be updated. In the online forum, Zipato seems quick to respond, but there isn’t a ton of activity. I suspect that will change.
Zipato also needs to get going with some key integration drivers (at least for the U.S.), including Lutron lighting and shades (via IP or RS-232, not just 433 MHz), Interlogix security and Wemo gadgets.
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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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