Danger in a Strange Land | CEDIA 2015

Danger in a Strange Land | CEDIA 2015

I received an invite to check out CEDIA, a trade show for home automation users. CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) is one of the biggest expositions of its kind. The higher-ups at Z-Wave Products thought it was time to let me out of the cellars of our multi-family dwelling sites to experience this, and maybe add to my education. Plus, I would get to meet people in the industry and become more well-rounded (which would actually come about in more ways than one).

I flew to Dallas with no expectations; only a dread over my lack of industry experience. I wasn’t sure if my tales of crawling through cold war-era basements in the NYC metro area were appropriate. Nor would I impress others with complaints of my son flicking off the Dragontech dimmer I was in the middle of testing. I had to focus that I was going to learn, not be productive, and glean every opportunity to talk shop and start relationships. But Dallas was where they shot both JFK and J.R. It was going to be tough.

I met many industry regulars on the eve of setup day. It was good to attach names to faces of people I previously only knew through email and telephone. At a meet and greet, drinks loosened our lips a bit, but muddied my mind. Names and faces became just another drop of water spraying from a nearby fountain in the hotel bar. Conversations rambled on tangents I was unable to follow. I went to sleep with my mind reeling, and the conference was yet to start.

View of Dallas at Cedia 2015.

Tuesday, as I tweeted a pic of the skyline of Dallas, I eagerly anticipated the show’s start. Despite the many conferences that were in town, CEDIA seemed to dwarf them all. On the walk over to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, CEDIA name badges adorned every neck in the city. Setup day was exactly that; manufacturers and representatives took the day to erect their show booths and displays. Some were simple panels and a cabinet; others giant multi-level constructions resembling a rock concert stage. I walked around; gently immersing myself in everything ‘home experience’. There was a lot that didn’t scream Z-wave, but even my untrained eye saw how Z-wave was important to their ecosystems. There were entire areas devoted to Z-wave; such as the Z-Wave Alliance booth with many of its 350+ members in attendance. There were other distributors that offered Z-wave, and companies that carried devices available in multiple protocols. I dodged packing crate-wielding forklifts and straddled giant rolls of carpet in order to get closer looks at the folks setting up. The twin smells of new electronics and even newer carpet masked even the aroma wafting up from the nearby food court. Soon polished spokespeople and trade show hotties crept up on daises (the podium, not the flower) and tested their spiels.

We held discussions with people like us on how to support interoperability and ensure that the customer ends up with the exact device they expected when they placed the order. We also endlessly poured over ideas to complete the mind-numbing job of creating an interoperability chart for every one of our devices. We consulted with many industry experts; others in my group asking opinions and giving some. I sat there; smiling while trying to nod at the correct time. I had an ‘apartment building basement horror story’ at the ready, should the conversation turn to me.

Demo Wall at the Z-Wave Alliance Booth, Photo by Matthew

Thursday and Friday were a flood of people, devices, information and even terrorizing levels of food, all of which are too much for a simple blog. Here’s a summary of the best of show; from my warped perspective:

  • The training classes from both Fibaro and the Z-Wave Alliance were wonderful, but lacking in concrete take-home tips and tricks. On the plus side, they set me up nicely to get further education from both sources.
  • MCO Home has promising new Z-Wave devices; hopefully soon to be offered on ZWaveProducts.com
  •  It is not so hard to control your blinds with your zwaveproducts.com controller; go to www.somfysystems.com/where-to-buy to find the blind or shade portion. We will be adding new items in this category. I thank the team from Somfy for their great presentation; it’s simple once you are shown the solution. They have motors for every application. Contact me for more information.
  • Interoperability between manufacturers is a known issue, and many different firms are coming to the rescue of the end user, including the Z-Wave Alliance itself. I almost hate to think all this work we have done at zwaveproducts.com was in vain, but in the end more information for our customers can’t be a bad thing. It will only improve our relaunch of zwaveproducts.com, scheduled for around the same day kids will be queuing up for candy dressed like Bernie Sanders.
  • I spent much of my time at the show inventing new uses (when you only have a hammer every issue looks like a nail) for existing products. Such was the case with a flow meter and water zone valve from FortrezZ; both of which give Z-Wave automation to water systems.
  • Fibaro was a stand-out at the show when it came to home automation solutions. Crestron had a beautiful booth that rivaled any other, but the myriad of confusing choices and talking heads made me drown in buzzwords and jargon. I felt more comfortable with Fibaro’s solutions, which seem to cover any contingency yet be simple and modular. I look forward to getting my hands on some new products.
  • There were the sample products that industries briefly showed but vendors could not share with the public. I suppose this happens at every show; I remember seeing Nikons and Canons debuted at the Print Plus show that never made it to market. In this group of unmentionables were a few new gateway controllers, a reasonably-priced Z-Wave controller, some stunning light and scene controllers, and the promise of a more-cohesive whole when it comes to DIY Home Automation, as well as a jump on installer-only solutions with complexities as diverse as your stock portfolio.

Shirt untucked, hands twisted and contorted, the show finally got to the author (at right), Photo from Z-wave Alliance

By the time the beer came out for Friday’s ‘Beer Bash’ at the Z-Wave Alliance booth, it was past my time to leave for home. It would take some time to digest what I saw, but it’s very clear that home automation is only getting bigger. The smart home is becoming both more affordable and more expensive at the same time. 

As I got on the plane for the ride home, the flight attendant took notice of my shirt from the Z-Wave Alliance which read, ‘My smart home is smarter than yours.’ 

“What does that mean? What do you do for a living.”

“Well, in the basements there are these spiders, and that’s where we end up installing our devices. Yes, it is very dark . . .”

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