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Secure installation of ZigBee home temp control system

06 Feb 2015  | Colin Faulkner

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Wireless sensor networks such as ZigBee can offer numerous advantages when installed in buildings, including improved comfort, cost, and convenience.

The low power wireless network ensures that devices can be deployed quickly and easily without the need for many meters of extra cabling which is costly to install whether in new build or refurbishment. By deploying more sensors, thermostats for example, it is easier to regulate the temperature across the building on a room by room basis, leading to improved comfort. At the same time, cost can be reduced by managing the use of energy more efficiently. Improved convenience results by adding functional links between different types of devices, such as automatically switching on lights if a door is opened or unlocked.

All of these functions can be handled by a network such as ZigBee, but one of the issues of installation is the time taken to securely join all of these devices to the network and to establish the control relationships. This paper describes the implementation of a home temperature control system using ZigBee Home Automation. In particular, it describes techniques for secure installation and commissioning of devices using low cost NFC tags that are connected to the ZigBee wireless microcontroller, enabling exchange of information about the network such as security keys and device bindings.

Home automation is a hot topic right now, with numerous standards being proposed to provide connectivity to devices within the home. The standards proposed generally fall into two camps; the connectivity standard used to provide a data link in the home to individual devices, and the application layer standard that dictates which commands have what effect. With these two capabilities in place, it becomes possible to monitor and control many of the functions within a home or building. Examples of functions that may be controlled include lighting, heating/cooling, and security. Interesting usage models arise by combining these in various ways, for example arming the security system at the same time as putting the lighting into night mode.

At the current time, several new developments are available which ensure that meaningful automation of the home is on the cusp of dramatic market growth. The ZigBee wireless technology needed in the home is available as a globally acceptable standard and at low cost, ensuring that devices can be installed with no disruption to the home and that connectivity can be added cost effectively to almost any type of device.

As home automation can be a complex system to manage, the almost universal availability of an intuitive graphical interface in the form of the smartphone or tablet provides a ready-made way to interact with all the devices in the home. This is in addition to the more simple functionality available from switches or sensors which will still be required for basic on/off/dimming control, or for sensing.

The technology required to implement secure connectivity and control from outside the home is also available in the form of various cloud services products, connected through the home broadband facility. These enable control and monitoring to happen away from the home, and also facilitate interactions between a smartphone and the home, for example switching on heating at a preset time before you arrive home, based on your location and traffic information. ZigBee Home Automation is a key element of these systems by providing standardised, secure connectivity and application functionality within the home.

Figure 1: The potential for connecting devices to the internet in the residential market.

ZigBee home automation
The ZigBee Home Automation profile is constructed using the ZigBee PRO mesh networking stack. This ensures that dozens or hundreds of devices can connect together reliably using the ZigBee mesh networking stack that has been described extensively elsewhere. The Home Automation profile provides the functionality that allows everyday home devices to be connected and controlled or monitored. This functionality can be broken down into three basic areas; securely commissioning devices into the network, providing data connectivity between devices, and providing a common language for communication between different devices. In this paper, we focus on the issues involved in commissioning.

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