Intelligent Building Control tools

In the process of developing modern technologies, there are lots of suggested options which more or less are able to solve an existing problem of intelligent building control: a mobile phone, a pocket PC, a desktop PC etc.  After numerous attempts, it became obvious that it is impossible to adapt those devices which were developed for certain functions  to solve new non-standard tasks . Thus there was a need in a fundamentally new device, which was created specifically to control and manage an intelligent building: a universal remote control. Today on the market there are many solutions of intelligent building control panels offered by a number of companies, including such world-class vendors as Philips, Sony, Logitech and others. Increasing popularity of those consoles makes to put forth a number of stringent requirements for devices of this class:

  • minimum weight, if possible, should not exceed 600 grams
  • duration of battery life with active use is 5 hours or more
  • ability to remember and manage  250 units at average
  • support of modern communication interfaces
  • shock resistance
  • waterproof etc.

However, many of the existing solutions on the market do not meet modern requirements: they have low battery lives, small LCD-screens, no possibilities to work with modern communication interfaces, miss flexible changes and software upgrades etc. 

This article presents main results of analyzing this situation in the market of universal remote controls and intelligent buildings and it also lists basic requirements for devices of this class. It describes a solution developed by Promwad company and gives a detailed description of the hardware and software parts and so forth. A universal solution which combines the price and quality, as such, do not currently exist for a smart home remote control. Thus, current situation in the market of the devices which control smart homes shows the need of creating a universal remote control that meets all requirements listed above. While its cost should be significantly lower than existing analogues on the market (an average price of a universal remote control in Russian market ranges from 890 to 1,000 US dollars).

Company Promwad had a task to develop a hardware platform, software design and enclosure design of a universal remote control with a large color LCD screen and a wide range of supported interfaces, and make a prototype as well. The remote control unit had to be portable, ergonomic and with low power consumption.

The hardware part of the unit had the following requirements from the customer company:

  • Ethernet 10/100 Mbit;
  • USB 2.0 host;
  • 802.11b/g Wi-Fi;
  • 800х480 definition and 24-bit color  LCD screen ;
  • Touch screen; light sensor;
  • Presence detector;
  • IR port;
  • Audio line out;
  • Microphone input;
  • Keypad and LED display;
  • 12V external  power supply or Ethernet (PoE technology);
  • An autonomous power supply by lithium-ion batteries;
  • Work under OS Linux.

The title of the developed universal remote control in this particular article is a UCP (Universal Control Panel).

The PCB designed for the UCP is based on SoC Cirrus Logic EP9307 processor. This particular system on a chip has a lot of integrated interfaces used in the remote control. This kind of solution allows to decrease significantly the number of additional components, and it means that it is possible to make the size of the device smaller.

CPU performance allows to carry out successfully all tasks assigned to a developing device under. OS Linux is used as an operation system, and a built-in hardware graphics accelerator provides a user with a colorful dynamic interface.  

The use of OS Linux helped making this device versatile in terms of functions and its using not only as a remote control. For example, when placing the device in the "cradle", the remote control at a certain setting becomes an electronic photo frame, displaying downloaded photos. Due to the possibility install free software, a user can surf the Internet, download a variety of games, check e-mail, create reminders, notes for other family members and much more.

The UCP remote control has a Hitachi TX18D16VM1CBA LCD screen with a touchpad which is one of the largest among touchpads of this class (7” against analogs of 3.3”) with 800x480 resolution and 24-bit color. In addition a keyboard (it uses a 8x8 Keypad Scanner interface of the CPU) is implemented on the PCB, LED indication of various modes and LED lighting of the keyboard.

Audio codec AD1981BJSTZ, connected to the interface processor AC`97,  digitizes the sound from the microphone and displays messages or transmits music to the speakers. Also, the device is provided with an infrared receiver and a transmitter, since this technology is still widely used to control audio and video devices.

In order provide low power consumption, a light sensor based on a TSL2550T  chip and a presence sensor on a Qprox QT113- ISG chip  are installed on a UCP board.  

 Such solution reveals its effectiveness and allows to extend running time of the remote control by 35%.

To implement wireless communication functions via WiFi, a Unex RM5 module of 802.11b / g standard, based on Marvell M8385 chip, is used.

For USB-drives and other USB-slave-devices connection, an interface of USB-host Standard 2.0 is implemented.

In addition, three power options are provided in the device. A PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) module is used in the first option, and it allows electrical power provision along with data transfer via a standard Ethernet T-wire. At the present time this solution is not so spread and over the time it may become more popular among developers and consumers. The second option is an external power supply. And the third option is a built-in rechargeable battery.

During creating a hardware platform a hardware support package was developed based on the U-Boot  bootloader (BSP) and the Poky Linux operating system for the ARM processor, based on the GNU libc full-function system library.

As the core of the operating system a standard stable version of Linux 2.6.20 kernel with upgrades is used, the upgrades are supplied by Cirrus Logic.

In the software development process  drivers for the presence detector and drivers for power control, used by various functional units of the device, are also implemented . In the process of adaptation of the core changes in the keyboard driver. In the process of the core adaptation, changes in the keyboard driver are made. In order to work with Hitachi LCD screen an appropriate driver of frame buffer support was adapted to and a graphics X-server was modified to support the LCD touch screen structure.

The cost of suggested system on chip is not high, it is about $20.00. At the same time the developed PCB consists of 6 layers. Such small number of layers for a PCB allowed to decrease manufacture costs, as well as simplifying it in such a way that it made it possible to conduct the full manufacturing cycle of the device at Russian factories taking into account their technological regulations and processes. In aggregate with minimization of used additional components, that allowed significantly decrease the cost price of the device.   

Eventually the cost of the suggested UCP remote control is many times lower in comparison with similar devices and makes $ 500.00. A low price range will later allow to make smart home technologies more popular among mass consumers, and perhaps, as a result of that, it will decrease the average cost of  this kind of devices.

Thus, a developed intelligent building control panel efficiently allows to replace with one device a whole variety of other ones.

A suggested universal console allows execution of the following functions:

  • control of all devices connected to the local area network; 
  • displaying the status of all connected electronic devices; 
  • using it as a universal remote control with a programmable possibility;
  • a CCTV integration, execution of the function of displaying quality images and sound transmission-reception; 
  • integration into the automated control and energy metering system; 
  • an e-book; 
  • a tablet PC for internet access and emails; 
  • a digital audio- video- player; 
  • a photo-frame when it is set in the cradle; 
  • internet-radio; 
  • an alarm-clock, an organizer, a family reminder.

This list of executed functions is not complete. However even at this stage, it is clear that the device, developed by Promwad company, can compete with many modern similar devices by a number of significant parameters such as size, and screen resolution, support of all modern interfaces, operation under free OS Linux with the possibility of free software upload, functional possibilities and low power consumption. Widespread use, free distribution and a large number of experts in the field of Linux allows to make changes to the functionality of the remote control with the minimum cost, which makes it possible to adapt the device to specific requirements of entire consumer groups and an individual user as well.

For example, if a consumer has expressed a desire to individualize GUI interaction, the policy of open source of Linux operating system allows to provide that customer a solution for the shortest possible time that meets best his or her requirements. Thus, this feature provides a high level of competitiveness of the product with the line of existing analogues, which often use commercial operating systems and they have a number of drawbacks associated with closed source, absence of a large number of professionals who are familiar with the architecture and the need for mandatory royalty payments.

Another important criterion for successful competition with similar developments is the low cost of the device, which will allow to open up the market of smart home cheap universal remote controls for a wide range of consumers. Perhaps, that very quality will play a key role in the further destiny of this device.

It is worth noting that the development process of the UCP-console is not finished yet, and so it is possible to make further improvements of some hardware and software parameters of the device.