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What is X10, and what does it do?

January 1, 2004

in All Articles,Robotics

A reader asks: “What are the devices that send and receive information over electric wires and turn lights off and on?”Another way to ask this question is “What is X10?”

When I was a kid, my family was lucky enough to regularly test interesting technologies. Among my favorites were X10 units: I had a “control box” on my bedside table. I had a lamp on the other side of my bedroom. I’d always read books late into the night, and by the time I was done reading, I was feeling sleepy and lazy. I didn’t want to get up out of my warm bed and walk across the room to turn off the light. No problem: Just reach over to the control box, press a button and shazam: My light would turn off!

An X10 device sends information to other X10 devices using your home’s electric wiring. It’s a very handy way to automate or control parts of your home without worrying about wireless interference, or having to add more wiring.

Add safety, convenience and energy savings to your home

Install X10-enabled motion-sensors outside. If motion is detected, your X10 control center can automatically turn on outside floodlights, inside hallway and doorway lights, and a video camera. If there’s no further movement after five minutes, it will automatically turn everything off.

You know the sleazy movie actor-in-a-supporting-role who automates his bedroom? Push a button and the fireplace turns on, the radio starts playing swoony romantic music, the lights dim, and the bed starts rotating? X10, baby.

For the non-sleazy types: Yes, you can have separate control mechanisms for sprinklers, thermostats, lights and appliances, but it’s cheaper and more convenient to consolidate and manage these from one single control unit. This also means the single unit can be controlled from inside the home, remotely via telephone, or you can carry a controller with you: Press a button on your car keychain when you get home from work late at night, and have outside lights turned on for you, and have them automatically turn off in two minutes.

Putting lights on a schedule, using timed motion detectors and thermostats reduces energy consumption and helps lower power bills.

What you need

In its simplest form, turning a light or appliance into an X10 device requires a cheap (under $20) plug-in module. You’ll also need a control device, and a simple controller costs under $15. The fancier kits for controlling home security (including motion detection and video recording) start near $100.

If all you want to do is turn devices on and off at certain times, it may be cheaper to purchase a dial-type appliance and light timer. Existing electronics in your house (including some computer and television equipment) may interfere with X10 communications. If so, you’ll need to purchase a filter (read this for more info).

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