X10 is a home automation and communication protocol that has been around for over 40 years, developed by Pico Electronics, Scotland in 1975. It basically talks to devices over power signals in your home.
There is a lot of X10 hardware on the market, although only a few companies are still manufacturing this equipment.
How it works
Like it was stated earlier, X10 communicates over your power lines or signals. So you plug it in one place in the house, and it sends signals over your home, alternating current wires. Then it is received by other components in your home.
X10 is available to do everything in your home. There are X10 light sockets, wall switches, power outlets, lamps, coffee pots, garage doors, mailbox sensors, ceiling fans, sense of when somebody pulls in your driveway, timers, opening or closing blinds, lock and unlock your door, exterior lights, and many more.
You can provide information or signals to these controllers via a computer interface, or you can control them through a variety of remote control devices. Signals go through power lines at 60 cycles per second (or 50 if you happen to be in Europe).
The cycle speeds are slightly different across every different country in the world. So it waits for a pause to send cycles between signals. This can sometimes result in a significant delay, depending on the size of your home.
It basically goes through three steps to work, and they are:
- Start with an X10 transmitter: These are control devices that send signals through your electrical wires to the receivers.
- Add X10 receivers: When a receiver gets a command from the transmitter, it indicates by either showing light or other indications (depends on the device).
- Expand with X10 wireless: Wireless X10 transmitters control signals to transceivers, which plug into standard wall outlets.
You can get started with X10 for a couple of hundred dollars for equipment, depending on what you want to do. There are computer interfaces that can be plugged in via either USB cables or Serial ports (for old computers that use serial ports).
One computer interface that can be used is the Raspberry Pi.
History of X10
Back in 1970, Pico Electronics was founded by a group of Scottish engineers. This company designed the original single-chip calculator.
In 1974, in collaboration with Birmingham Sound Reproducers, Pico created a programmable record deck and this birthed the remote control for lights and different appliances.
In 1975, the company’s tenth project, called X10.0, came to life. After Pico and BSR morphed into X10 Ltd, it took 3 years for things to reach the markets.
The first model that was installed was basic but efficient:
- Command Console
- Appliance Module
- Lamp Module
It was soon followed by a timer and wall switch module and X10 was completely up and running. The 1980s saw a programming interface (CP-290) being implemented.
BSR faded into oblivion at the midpoint of this decade, with X10 (USA) stepping in. X10 brands are still selling in large numbers today.
X10 modules are set to a particular house code and unit number. For example, a house code can range from A to P on the lower dial, and the unit number can range from 1 to 16 and is set by the upper dial.
Then the controller unit will send out a signal on whatever channel you set it to.
All these can be done or set on the controlling device (the computer interface or remote control device). A few of the original forms of the X10 are as follows:
- X10 UM506 Universal Module
- X10 AM466 3-Pin Plug-in Appliance Module
- X10 LM465 Powerhouse Lamp Module
- X10 SR227 SuperSocket Receptacle
- X10 MC10A Mini Controller
On the open-source front, there are several projects that allow you to control X10 from various automated programs.
One example is Mocha D. Another example is Hey U, where you can type commands like, ‘hey you! Turn on the bathroom light!’ It will handle the translation to the X10 protocol.
There’s also a project called Mr. House, which provides a web-based interface where you can control the different components of your home.
There is also an extensive selection of software, Mac-based and Windows-based software that you can purchase off the shelf that does home automation, scheduling, and all kinds of things so that your home looks like it is lived in, even when you are not at home (to ward off burglars).
Advantage of the X10 home automation
- There are several compatible devices attached to this kind of home automation system, and they aren’t far-fetched at all.
- The X10 protocol allows you to control over 256 separate devices.
- Since the X10 hardware devices are old and almost outdated, they can be got very inexpensively, from either online vendors or from people who want to upgrade their automation system.
- As it is wireless, there is no issue of so many wires intertwining and clogging up the place. Absolutely no additional wiring is needed.
Disadvantages of the X10 home automation
- Because the X10 has to go over all the signal wires in your home, it can be slow and unresponsive.
- A lot of interference can happen between the transmitter and the receiver. Existing appliance can also cause ‘line noise’ which can interfere with the X10 signals
- There is a lag in time when there are several commands to multiple devices. Limitations in the Bandwidth can cause it to be slow too.
- Many X10 appliances can receive commands, but do not send any signal back to the transmitter.
- It is also a relatively hackable system.
If you have any intention of installing the X10 in your home, it is best to do more research first.