Strange name, but an important technology
ZigBee is a communication protocol digital radio frequency based on IEEE 802.15.4-2003, which falls within the 915mhz spectrum of several “Wi-Fi” communication standards. This radio frequency is capable of 2-way communication and operates from a very small radio circuit, about the size of an average coin.
The ZigBee alliance (www.zigbee.org) describes the name’s origin. “The technique that honey bees use to communicate new-found food sources to other members of the colony is referred to as the ZigBee Principle. Using this silent, but powerful communication system, whereby the bee dances in a zig-zag pattern, he is able to share information, such as the location, distance and direction of a newly discovered food source to its fellow colony members. Instinctively implementing the ZigBee Principle, bees around the world industriously sustain productive hives and foster future generations of colony members.”
In essence, the ZigBee digital communication is more than simply point-to-point. ZigBee signals are repeated between other ZigBee devices. The more ZigBee devices that are connected to the system, the overall signal increases proportionally. Since the radio signal is small and ZigBee devices can sleep and wake almost instantaneously, ZigBee is also very energy-efficient. Similarly, Zigbee transceivers are relatively inexpensive, a dollar or two in overall manufacturing cost. In several instances, ZigBee products can be operated by batteries lasting several years.
This is a real benefit to control systems technology. Prior to ZigBee, the only reliable device communication methods were either wired or standard Wi-Fi. Early adopters to home automation had light switches and dimmers that required cat-5 cable for each device. These devices could be daisy chained with a maximum of ten devices per-run. This may be somewhat practical for new construction, but what about existing structures? Wi-Fi provides two-way communication, but requires larger radio circuits and accompanying power hogs. Zigbee is the perfect solution for both new and existing applications. Light switches and dimmers are connected to the electrical system like ordinary products, drawing a small trickle of current to communicate with the mesh network.
Zigbee can also be used in outdoor and extreme conditions. For example, Card Access has several ZigBee enabled products that contain a mounted antenna and signal booster. With this option, systems can gain up to three hundred feet of additional range. This is a great solution for pool houses, detached garages, in-law apartments, and other separate structures.
The Ever-growing Device List
We have discussed automation applications in previous newsletters, and the list is growing. Here is the current list of ZigBee enabled devices: remotes, keypads, switchers, amplifiers, lighting dimmers, lighting switches, 30-Amp power controllers, contacts, relays, motion sensors, thermostats, couch/chair occupancy sensors, sofa/bed occupancy sensors, door latching systems, garage lift systems, and power meter monitors.
Did you say power meter monitors? Yes, you heard it right. ZigBee is currently being deployed among a number of power meter manufacturers. ZigBee technology will be embedded into your home power usage meter, allowing your control system to track and provide critical information regarding power usage. For example, in a near brown-out scenario, ZigBee enabled homes can communicate with various appliances, such as data storage drives, computers, refrigerators, ovens, AV equipment, and other critical electrical products to prepare for an outage. Likewise, these systems can track power usage and make best application of power at peak periods.
Smart Grid Technology
With many homeowners getting onboard the solar bandwagon, ZigBee will most likely be accepted as the means to which solar power is sold back to the power grid. In essence, John Smith installs a solar system. During the afternoon, when solar electricity is generated at maximum levels, his ZigBee enabled meter switches in reverse to sell power back to the power company. When the sun goes down and demand changes, the ZigBee enabled meter switches back again to run from the power grid. ZigBee meters can monitor and control power flow and make the necessary switches to maintain optimal efficiency. Solar systems connected to the grid would require less battery power storage, since the grid itself acts as the reservoir.
"ZigBee Green Power provides the world with a true standard for control and sensing products that can utilize harvested energy," said Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance. "These maintenance-free devices greatly expand your flexibility when added to comprehensive ZigBee networks already automating or monitoring businesses, homes and industrial environments."
Clearly, ZigBee is becoming a universally accepted standard. Likely, its funny name will become as familiar as Jello or Band-Aid, which have made their way into the common American vernacular. If ZigBee products are specified for your residential or commercial environment, don’t shy away because you are unfamiliar to its strange name. ZigBee is here to stay, and it is an excellent solution.
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Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved, Sight And Sounds
About the Size of a Quarter...
This macro photograph compares a ZigBee circuit board to a 1 Euro coin, which is about the size of a U.S. Quarter. (click image to visit zigbee.org)
Many Control Product Options
Here are just a few ZigBee enabled products. Since ZigBee circuits are both small & inexpensive, they are easily deployed. (click image to view product information)
Long Distance Applications
An affordable $169 Wireless Motion Detector communicates at 300 feet and increases ZigBee signal. (click image to view product information)
ZigBee and The Smart Grid
ZigBee will most likely be the chosen wireless communication protocol for Smart Grid products. (click image to view ZigBee's Smart Grid Information Page)
Black & Decker has partnered with ZigBee to provide wirelessly-controlled lock systems. (click image to view product information)
Control4 7" Portable Touchscreens are now available! Give us a call, and we can add one to your system. (click image to view product information)