A controlled environment
Welcome to the age of interior automation
In this part of the world, interior automation is now the norm, rather than the exception.
From increased control, comfort and aesthetics to greater energy savings, consumers are more aware than ever of the benefits of an automated environment.
And as demand for personalised experiences and spaces grows, the prevalence of automation in both residential and commercial applications is only set to intensify.
“People everywhere are dealing with a much greater volume of information than ever before and they need the capabilities to process it much faster than ever,” noted Ali Hani Fakih, marketing manager of Al Mazroui ICAS, which has a specific business unit dedicated to automated solutions.
Automation is particularly prevalent when it comes to lighting control. “What we are seeing is more controllability and more intuitive controls,” said Rogier van der Heide, chief design officer of Philips Lighting.
“You can change the colour or the intensity of the light, create scenes across a space or across a building, or orchestrate lighting based on all kinds of stimuli – from weather and the movement of people to the time of day.
“So, we see a lot of solutions in professional lighting now being connected to control systems, resulting in a more holistic approach to the lighting challenge,” van der Heide explained. “That is exciting because it offers the client greater flexibility.”
Room to grow
The growing popularity of interior automation is particularly evident in the hospitality industry, where the uptake of technology is growing rapidly.
People have become accustomed to technology facilitating their everyday lives and demand the same ease when they are travelling. At the same time, hotels are recognising the potential energy – and cost – savings offered by careful, centralised control of lighting and other interior elements.
“When a hotel installs in-room control technology, managing the lighting scenario is of course a main consideration,” noted Warren Edwards of VDA UK, which has developed the Micromaster System, a management system for in-room lighting and temperature controls.
The system uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to interface between a PMS (Property Management System) programme and Building Management Services. It can also be remotely controlled by an iPhone or iPad. Micromaster’s smart switches are also low-voltage, meaning they can be positioned anywhere – even in a bath environment.
One application of the Micromaster System is the capacity to programme lights to operate at specific dimmable settings throughout the course of a 24-hour period.
“For example, between the hours of 10pm and 6am, lights can switch to 30% illumination to promote greater guest relaxation and comfort. Clever programming enables lower light levels that allow for safety but are also less likely to be disturbing at night when, for example, a guest gets out of bed to use the bathroom,” Edwards explained.
But interior automation extends far beyond mere lighting control. AV, home entertainment, air-conditioning, curtains, blinds and security systems can all be integrated and easily controlled. Furthermore, methods of controlling these elements are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
Somfy offers motorisation and automation solutions for all kinds of interior window coverings: from traditional curtains and screens to a range of blinds.
“The automation of curtains and blinds is moving from being optional to becoming standard,” said Malek Skaff, Somfy Gulf BU manager.
Somfy has launched a rack of new products in recent months, including Glydea, a new range of motorised curtain tracks; Oximo Wirefree, a range of autonomous rolling shutters with a motor that uses solar power; and Telis 16 RTS, a hand-held remote control that has 16 channels and can control all motorised applications, including interior window coverings, exterior screens, patio awnings and rolling shutters.
The product features an on-screen display that makes it easy to navigate and programme.
Also new to the Somfy stable is Smoove, a range of wireless switches. Featuring touch sensitive technology, this fully customisable concept is available in five finishes and eight frames to suit all tastes and environments.
Smoove is reflective of a move within the automation industry to create increasingly visually appealing solutions that become a design feature in themselves.
The Micromaster System, for example, takes aesthetics very seriously indeed, and has “a stylish, luxury appearance”, according to Edwards.
“Using touch-control technology, its Vitrum Smart Switch ‘Glass Collection’, designed by Marco Piva, features an elegantly sculpted screen that allows guests to personally adapt lighting and temperature levels within limits defined by the hotel,” he said.
Al Mazroui ICAS is also focusing on the aesthetic qualities of its product ranges. It’s digital, wall mounted and wireless room control units come in a variety of colours and designs that complement the company’s decorative switches and sockets.
Al Mazroui, which specialises in top-quality German brands, also has a number of new products on offer.
These include Scope, a new IP Intercom product by Siedle which includes an indoor video station and a landline telephone within one device; and a line of AV-equipped furniture from Spectral. Al Mazroui is also offering home automation systems that can be controlled via an LCD television.
“You can control everything at home via the television, which is easy to use, as well as touch screens, which have very simplified software that even small kids or ageing people can easily use to control the AC, lighting, curtains, security system and sound system,” said Fakih.
New lease on life
Home automation suppliers are conscious of the fact that they provide more than just technology – they are selling a way of life.
“At Archimedia, we are not selling a system. Rather, we are selling a lifestyle and, as such, it is important to us that this lifestyle enhances the ways in which our customers interact with their homes,” said Omar Hikal, CEO of Archimedia, a supplier of automation and entertainment solutions ranging from compact audio solutions and fully-customised home cinemas to complete home automation systems.
“We dedicate ourselves unwaveringly to understanding what an enhanced lifestyle means to each individual client. This means that we get to know him or her and their respective families at a personal level. We invest the time in learning about their likes and dislikes, their preferred environment and their daily habits.”
Part of the challenge is ensuring that interior automation technology continues to evolve and progress, but at the same time, remains accessible, intuitive and user-centric. This is particularly important in a commercial or hospitality setting.
“The integration of technology into [hotel] guestrooms is becoming the norm rather than the exception; however, guests don’t have the time, or the desire, to study complex operations for switching it on and off.
“They are only at the hotel for a short stay, so VDA has created technology that is simple and intuitive for the entire spectrum of guest profiles,” commented Edwards.
“Vitrum’s touch-screen panels are also easy to use by those with limited mobility – an important consideration as older people increasingly travel. Micromaster is designed for the couple that has checked into a hotel to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, having not stayed in a hotel since their wedding day,” he continued.
The need to ‘humanise’ this technology will become ever more important. After all, said Fakih, “the future of home automation will very much ride the digital age and develop along with the computer and networking systems in the years to come”. Making sure it remains accessible, even as its rides that wave, is imperative.