The IDRATEK solution is based on years of University research into autonomous home and building automation systems combined with a vision for truly automated homes where the right services are provided at the right time to maximise comfort with minimal intervention.
We found that existing systems had various shortcomings that meant they couldn’t meet our vision of integrated intelligent automation. So we designed our own system with a range of unique features to overcome this and created the world’s first 2nd generation home automation system.
IDRATEK’s system solution is based on two key technologies: IDRANet hardware and Cortex software. The combination delivers unparalleled capability, flexibility, reliability and ease of use and at a pleasantly affordable price.
IDRANet is highly modular, making it easy to tailor the system to individual needs and budgets, reconfigure as needs change and expand over time.
IDRANet modules are the building blocks for your home or building automation system. Each module incorporates useful functions that are necessary for an automated approach, either sensing the environment or connecting your services such as lighting, heating, air conditioning, electrical sockets and appliances or audio-visual systems into the IDRANet.
These functions can be sensors, such as temperature or motion detectors, or input interfaces such as buttons, Infra-red remote receivers or contact closure inputs. Other functions are actuators, such as relays for switching power, dimmers for controlling lighting or output interfaces such as IR remote transmitters or 0-10V analogue drivers for controlling proportional devices such as mixer valves, boiler output or window openers.
Sensory functions provide the information to allow the system to make automated decisions and actuators provide the capability to act on it. Our range of modules includes various combinations of functions allowing you to get the most cost-effective solution for your home.
IDRANet modules are designed to be generic. Our modules do not have limited, pre-assigned functions like “blinds control” or “thermostat”. Instead our modules are re-configurable and can take on different “personalities”. For example, a module with a relay function can be configured to control a light circuit, switch an appliance, trigger an alarm bell or a door bell, operate blinds or curtains, operate a projector screen and many other applications. Module personalities are set up simply by selecting the desired personality from a list in our Cortex software, no complicated programming is required.
Every IDRANet module has its own microprocessor which allows it to act on its own and be easily reconfigured for different purposes so that dedicated module types for specific applications are not required.
IDRANet modules are connected together using commonly available cat-5 type cabling and this connectivity allows modules to communicate with each other using our protocol: Reflex.
Reflex can be thought of as a low level command and control mechanism — a bit like its biological counterpart. For example it can allow a button on one module to control a relay on a different module without intervention from a higher authority. Because each module has its own microprocessor they can also take decisions based on Reflex messages they receive, such as temperature readings on one module leading to control of a boiler connected to another. This actually means that quite sophisticated automated control is available just with IDRANet modules operating in concert with their Reflex actions. This capability is very powerful because it also provides a graceful fallback in the event of higher intelligence failing. In fact a number of other automation systems rely almost entirely on this level of control (and typically with far less capability). For IDRATEK this is just the starting point…
With the interconnection of modules comes integration of all your modules and connected services. Integration is crucial to delivering useful automation. Unlike standalone devices, in our integrated approach one service can influence another. For example, thermostat settings can respond to presence indicated by motion sensors and this then allows automatic reduction of temperatures in empty rooms, saving energy and money. But the same thermostat can also take heed of external conditions where these are provided, take heed of open doors where these are sensed, or provide you with information both audibly and visually if available interface devices are connected and so on.
Integration also allows module functions to be shared. Consider a conventional security system. In such a system a motion detector can only be used for intrusion detection. With our integrated approach, the messages from a motion sensor can provide the security function as well as information for the occupancy assessment algorithms, which in turn can then influence heating settings, turn on lights or deliver voice messages.
Another example might be a light circuit integrated under IDRANet control. The light can of course be used for normal illumination purposes under automatic, remote or manual control, but can also be flashed to indicate a door bell, or operated automatically to simulate occupancy or turned on in response to a smoke alarm. In this way increasingly rich automation requires less additional hardware making it all the more affordable to have a really stunning system solution for your home.
We chose to use primarily wired interconnection since it inherently avoids problems with interference that can plague wireless systems and also allows modules to be powered from a single central power supply. This avoids any need for batteries in modules, along with the chore of regularly changing them and the loss of services when batteries are dead.
To better appreciate this, bear in mind that a well rounded smart home deployment will typically incorparate several 10’s, and can even reach 100’s, of modules. Some, such as audio and display units, cannot be battery powered in any case. Furthermore a truly smart home does not spend most of its time idling. It is not like a remote controlled thermostat or remote controlled lighting — where you might get a few messages every hour. By contrast delivery of numerous automation features with fast dynamics means that sensors have to be alive at all times and may be required to deliver multiple data messages in the space of seconds and in some cases hundreds per day.
Our interconnection characteristics allow a very flexible approach to wiring, modules can be daisy-chained along a single cable and spurs added at any point. This makes installation quicker and cheaper and facilitates later expansion.
Uniquely, our interconnection scheme includes a dedicated audio channel allowing intercom functions, computer generated speech alerts and instructions and even speech recognition to be used. The importance of such audio functions to the utility and feel of a smart home cannot be understated
IDRANet modules are hot-pluggable and support plug and play configuration, again simplifying installation and expansion.
IDRATEK’s state of the art automation philosopy is delivered by our powerful software — Cortex. Created from the ground up and continuously improved and expanded since its creation, it is without doubt one of the most sophisticated home automation applications on the market.
Cortex connects to the IDRANet network and acts as a “super-brain” to operate your automated home. It also provides an animated graphical status and configuration display and the IDRANet module configuration and Reflex generation capability, all in an easy to use, point and click GUI format. Cortex also connects you to your home whether via a tablet or a smart phone, from within the home or from a remote location.
What makes Cortex really special is that it was designed from the beginning to automate homes and buildings, rather than just provide simple control or remote control. This is an important distinction and fundamental to the IDRATEK philosophy. Many existing home automation products mainly provide a remote control function, where pressing a button or accessing an app will set a lighting scene or adjust a thermostat.
However, our opinion is that an automated home should provide the right services at the right time with as little intervention as possible. This does not mean taking control away from the occupant. Instead we simply make the best use of the available information to automate wherever possible, always allowing the user to override the automation at the touch of a button.
Why should you have to press a button, or remember to turn on lights at the bottom of the stairs when, with our system, Cortex can recognise you are present, check the light level, check the time of day and where you are and then instantly turn the light on? What is more, Cortex will also recognise when an area has become empty and turn lights off again promptly to save energy. Similarly, why should you have to remember to undo any overrides on lighting or heating when our intelligent system will make judicious decisions in order to achieve this. In our opinion you know when you have smart automation when you don’t notice it anymore!
Cortex uses a standard PC-compatible computer rather than a dedicated controller in order to give you the choice of best suited platform for your particular installation. It also allows you to upgrade easily as technology improves or your needs change. In most applications Cortex can run happily on very low-power, low-cost platforms such as “Nettop” or palm size computers. However some customers may wish to have expansive capabilities such as supporting several cameras and hundreds of devices, in which case a higher powered platform can be selected.
Cortex runs on the MicroSoft Windows operating system which provides a familiar GUI user interface, making it much easier to configure. Understandably we often get queries about reliability and security issues. This is because most people’s experience with Windows is whilst using it with multiple applications and multiple users to say nothing of much bloatware. In fact our years of experience confirms that a PC configured correctly and dedicated to Cortex is as solid as any other platform and will run for years without problems. Nevertheless we are realists and recognise the importance of reliability, so we have a range of features to handle failure in Cortex or its platform:
- “Defibrillator” that will automatically restart your computer if it detects problems with Cortex
- IDRANet watchdog that automatically switches to Reflex fallback program operation if Cortex control becomes unavailable
- Manual switchover buttons allowing user instigated full system reset to Reflex operation
- Graceful handling of power-cuts and restarts with auto starting of Cortex
- Battery backed power supply units for the IDRANet
- Backup Cortex platform — you can even run a second platform on the same network with automatic handover if this detects failure in the primary.
But perhaps longevity speaks for itself. A number of our early installations still running today date back to 2004. In fact the very first commercial deployment was in 2001, though not as expansive as today’s capabilities of course.
The Cortex PC-based solution makes it easy to include very powerful features as well as making it possible to download updates to add new functions and to use off-the-shelf hardware to provide even more capabilities such as telephony, CCTV monitoring and Internet connectivity.