Home automation is one of those addicting things that feeds off itself once you get going. For example, many people (myself included) begin with an assortment of light switches and remote controls, thinking that controlling any light in the house from the couch is as good as it gets. Once the system works, we begin to take the functionality for granted, and almost become annoyed with the prospect of having to reach for the lighting remote. "Shouldn't it just know what I want?" begins to enter our thoughts and the next phase of upgrades begins.
One of the key aspects of having a system 'know' more about us has been termed presence awareness and basically it involves sensors...many of them. There are some very cool projects out there involving RFID tags, bluetooth proximity applications etc, but they all have shortcomings for the average person (RFID is still very much a hacked technology with no solid integration offered yet, and bluetooth proximity requires you to always carry your cellphone...even at night, when you're wearing your robe.) As these mature, I'll be all over them however for now a more practical solution involves motion sensors - Affordable, easy to install and they don't require you to carry anything for them to work.
Until recently, the best option available to us was to use an X10 motion sensor and program all your Insteon devices to have an X10 housecode which is triggered when it detects motion. The X10 sensor would turn on the light when motion was detected, and then after some pre-specified period of no motion being detected, it would shut the light off. Not exactly rocket science, but if you wanted more complicated actions than this you needed to have a computer or ISY-99i type device capture the event and do whatever else you wanted to happen. Oh, and did I mention all of this took place with the wonderful reliability that X10 is known for (ie. you had a 50/50 shot of the device actually doing what you wanted)?
Enter 2009 and Smarthome releases a bunch of new Insteon gear, one of which is a native Insteon motion detector! Home automators everywhere rejoice at the concept, but how does it actually work? Pretty well, as it turns out.
There is a high / low setting so you can avoid having your dog or cat trigger the system, and a day / night mode to only activate the sensor at night (although this is useful if you use the sensor directly with a light, those using the sensor to trigger an event on the computer or ISY can turn this off and filter events based on sunrise and sunset times for greater accuracy). The range on the sensor is claimed to be 40 feet, although I found anything over 30 feet to be inconsistent. For most rooms, this just means choosing placement intelligently is a consideration, however for larger rooms multiple motion sensors can be placed at opposing ends and paired for greater coverage.
Installation is simplistic due to battery operation and wireless transmission of events. Typical battery life is claimed at 6 months, however the device hasn't been around long enough to validate this yet. For those who hate to replace batteries (myself included) there is an adapter to power the sensor from an outlet - of course, then you need to run the cable for power in a hidden fashion but I guess we can't have it both ways.
All things considered, the new Insteon motion sensor is a solid effort which does exactly what it should and nothing more - which fits very well with my philosophy on home automation... leave the complex logic to the software.