Environmental Control – How to control just about anything with the push of a button.

Picture of Red button with the word "PUSH"
In a previous newsletter we discussed options for automating door opening, but in this article, we will go more in depth on how to control items in your environment.

To read the article on door opening, click here.

For people with disabilities, some very simple actions that we take for granted can be difficult or impossible, such as turning lights on/off, changing the channel on the TV, operating the telephone, and more.  Did you know that there is a whole industry of devices to help give people access to items in their environment?  This article will focus mainly on environmental control.  Look for a future article to focus on telephone access.

First, a little lesson in home automation technology.

There are two types of remote controls and three basic types of home automation technology.

For remote controls, the two types are infrared (IR) and radio frequency (RF).  An example of IR is your TV remote.  In order for the signal to be transmitted, you have to have what is called “line of sight”.  There is a receiver on the front of your TV that receives the signal from the remote control.  If someone stands in front of the TV, you cannot change the channel.  RF does not require “line of sight”.  An example of an RF remote would be a garage door opener.  The remote communicates through the door to the receiver inside the garage to allow you to open the door.  It is important to understand the difference between these technologies because many of the products discussed later can only learn IR controls.

For home automation, the three most prevalent technologies are X-10, Insteon, and Z-Wave.  X-10 is a long standing home automation technology that is used by most assistive technology devices.
Picture illustrating how X-10 works
The remote that is activated by the user sends a RF command to a base module called a Transceiver module.  This module then sends a signal through the house wiring to the module to be operated.  With the X-10 system you can have many modules all over your home.  Since the signal to the transceiver is via RF, line of sight is not required.  So, you can be anywhere in your home and the signal will still work.  There are many different kind of modules that will allow you to operate almost anything that can be turned on and off.
Picture of an array of X-10 modules
Examples of X-10 Modules

Insteon works very similarly to X-10 in method, but in addition, the modules communicate to each other to make for a more robust system.  Most Insteon are X-10 compatible.  Go to http://www.insteon.com for more information.

Z-wave is another home automation technology that only uses RF communication between the modules to send signals, and it does not use the house wiring to perform actions.

I could go on for pages about all the pros and cons of each technology, but my purpose here is just to give you a quick overview.  All of the devices that are designed for people with disabilities use X-10, so that is the technology that we will mostly be working with.

If you are able to press the buttons on a standard remote, you can control items in your environment VERY inexpensively.  For example, here is a great starter kit for $45:
Picture of Three Piece X-10 Starter Kit
Click on the Picture to Purchase

This kit includes a transceiver module, a lamp module and a remote.  With this kit you can control one lamp and one other plug in device.  The remote has the capability to control up to 16 devices.

Another option for a starter kit would be this product, only $75:
Picture of starter kit that includes universal TV remote.
Click on the Picture to Purchase

This kit comes with the transceiver module, which can turn one plug in item on/off, a key chain remote for X-10, and a universal remote.  The universal remote can be programmed to control up to four IR devices (TV, DVD, Cable, etc) and you can also control X-10 modules directly with the remote control.

This is just the tip of the iceberg as to what can be achieved with X-10, contact us to discuss you needs and we will help you find the best solution.

Now, if a person is not able to press the buttons on a standard remote, this is where the assistive technology comes in.  In order to allow a person with a disability to operate an environmental control device, a switch is needed.  There are many different types of switches that would allow a person with a disability to activate the switch with any part of their body that has reliable movement.  Here are some examples of switches:
Picture of different kinds of switchs for people with disabilities.

One product that ImproveAbility carries is the Angel ECU.
Picture of the Angel ECU FX System
Click on the picture to go to the company’s website.

This is a full featured, stand-alone environmental control system.  The system is switch activated and can be highly customized and configured to meet any and all of your environmental control needs.  For more information, please contact us.

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About improveability

I am a rehab engineer trying to make the world a better place through assistive technology.
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