SMARTHOME, BEST KNOWN AS AN ONLINE distributor of home automation products, has reconfigured its corporate image, changing its name to SmartLabs to better reflect the company's recent shift toward new product development.

The move is largely aimed to better position the company's new Insteon technology as a low-cost, practical choice for home automation. Insteon products promise to link home systems such as lighting, security, comfort control, consumer electronics, appliances, and safety sensors. Insteon has both power-line and radio frequency capabilities.

“For a retail distributor to promote new technology was confusing to people, so we decided to change the name of the company,” says Ken Fairbanks, the firm's vice president of sales and business development.

SmartLabs will have three divisions:

  • SmartLabs Technology: Includes research and development, plus an Insteon sales and marketing team focused on selling Insteon chips to manufacturers.
  • SmartLabs Design: Oversees the design and manufacturing of lighting products using Insteon technology.
  • Smarthome Direct: Supports the Web site and the company's catalog and distribution operation.
  • The company's goal this year, says Fairbanks, is to roll out Insteon-based products slowly. The first Insteon lighting-control products shipped last spring. Starter kits, which include two plug-in lamp modules, a desktop controller, and two radio frequency (RF) access points, are available for about $99. Ahigher-end package with two dimmer switches, one keypad, and two RF access points costs about $160.

    “We think we're hitting the market at a real nice price point,” Fairbanks says. “It should help broaden the home automation marketplace.”

    Late last year, SmartLabs started a pilot program with a Home Depot store in Long Beach, Calif., and plans to market Insteon products in other locations throughout 2006. For now, however, home builders interested in Insteon products should contact a local integrator or visit the Web site.

    Fairbanks says that the company's plan is to start marketing more aggressively to home builders early next year, most likely at the International Builders' Show. “We're mostly looking for 2006 to be a year of getting our Insteon lighting control products out,” he says. “[We want] a good solid year of performance out in the market.”

    Another goal is to introduce networked Insteon products that are developed as joint ventures with other companies. One such product that will ship later this year is a bridge that will connect a First Alert OneLink security alarm system with Insteon lighting.

    “We're adding more intelligence to the home,” says Mark Devine, vice president of residential business for First Alert. “So if there's a carbon monoxide incident, the homeowner can set the system to turn on the lights as well as the exhaust fans to get fresh air.”

    Other joint-venture products that will ship this year are a ventilation system using Insteon technology that would network Broan NuTone fans to Insteon lighting products, and a joint venture with Somfy that would use Insteon technology to let homeowners control their shades and blinds.

    “As builders are able to show their consumers that these types of products are available, the value to the home buyer increases,” says Fairbanks, adding that SmartLabs is looking at various ways to present a package of these Insteon-based products to home builders.

    One possibility is a safety package in which a homeowner could push a button in the bedroom to turn on all the lights in the house if there is a noise outside. The same lighting could be used to set a pathway out of the home when the smoke detectors go off.

    Fairbanks says, “We're just starting to look at how we might package something like that.” He adds that a 3,000-square-foot house could be fully Insteon-enabled for lighting for about $1,000.

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