The Buzz: Install of the Month
Aug 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Charles Conte
The concept of the wired home — and its flashy heart, the home theater — appeals to our desire to control our immediate environment. Sometimes, however, systems control is not just an appealing option but a necessity. Control can mean the difference between an individual's total dependence and his or her ability to function with a significant and meaningful degree of independence.
Gideon Elfassy — owner of Sound Specialists, Chicago — faced this issue with a client. Neal Golden is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a motorcycle accident. He has use of only his two index fingers. Elfassy developed an intuitive system for complete systems control encompassing his client's 15,000-square-foot Lake Forest, Illinois, home and grounds.
For nearly 20 years after his accident, Golden lived with his parents in a home a fraction of the size of his new one. His parents are his primary caregivers. Golden had become increasingly depressed by his inability to perform even the simplest of tasks, like switching on a light, playing a CD, or turning on the TV.
The completely customized home integration system that Elfassy developed for the Golden residence is based on software and hardware from Crestron that enables Golden to control all home functions: audio, video, lighting, doors and shades, HVAC, security, and the indoor and outdoor pools. Golden controls all these systems and more through multiple touch-screen panels — eight TPS 6000, 15-inch Crestron panels and 16, 4-inch color Crestron CT-1000s — located throughout the home.
The key interface is a Crestron two-way RF STX-3500 touch panel affixed to Golden's wheelchair. When not in use, the STX-3500 tucks alongside the chair. On command it swings up and out on a mechanical arm developed specifically for Golden and then unfolds into position. This distinctly configured touch panel, only completed and installed earlier this year, was the most difficult element of the installation to realize.
In addition to this wheelchair-mounted touch panel, Elfassy needed a way to keep Golden and his parents in touch with each other throughout the home.
“Moving from such a modestly sized home to one that is so spacious created issues for Neal's parents,” says Elfassy. “They needed to know where he was at all times so that they could locate him in case of an emergency. The tracking system accomplishes this and, in so doing, also offers Neal some measure of independence within his home, which was the primary goal.”
Besides all the systems — including 24 independent zones for music, 24 zones for video, and two major home-theater systems — Elfassy needed to come up with an IR tracking system.
“Unfortunately, every tracking system available on the market was either too expensive, not practical, or did not integrate with Crestron the way we needed it to,” says Elfassy. “After an exhaustive search and many man-hours of thought, we found a creative way to use Crestron's IR receivers and transmitters to custom design our own tracking system.”
First, Elfassy and his team created a visual floor plan and integrated it into the large-screen touch panels that would be located throughout the home. “Then, we created a custom-fit IR transmitter with regenerative battery pack and built it into Neal's wheelchair,” he says. “Finally, after hundreds of programming hours and planning, we integrated these two systems.” The result is a map of the home that Golden's parents are able to view from any panel and see where their son is.
“Since Neal's parents are older people not accustomed to high technology, we focused on making the system colorful and easy to use,” says Elfassy.
Located in a 17-by-22-foot room in the lower level of the two-story home, the home theater is composed of products from Sony, Denon, and M&K.
The dedicated home-theater system is based around an HDTV-compatible Sony VPH-G90U CRT projector and video scaler and a 100-inch Stewart Filmscreen LX100 HD. A home-theater system in the master bedroom is based around a Sony LCD projector (VPL-VW10HT) and a 120-inch diagonal front-projection screen (Draper Access Series E). In addition, four Sony PFM-500A3WU 42-inch 16:9 plasma displays are located in the kitchen, Golden's study, the game room, and the parent's bedroom suite, and the great room has a 50-inch Ronco plasma.
Audio for the dedicated home theater is by M&K. An S-150 THX Ultra system consists of two S-150THX front-channel speakers, an S-150CTHX center-channel speaker, four SS-150THX dipole surround speakers, and an MX-350THX dual driver subwoofer. Denon surround-sound receivers — an AVR-5800 for the dedicated home theater and an AVR-3802 for the bedroom — power the theater loudspeaker systems. An Escient CD management system and 48 in-wall and ceiling speakers from Speakercraft provide audio throughout the house.
Whatever the system — entertainment, HVAC featuring five furnaces, comprehensive lighting control, digital phone and voice mail, an extensive computer network, security and surveillance, and even the indoor and outdoor swimming pools — Neal Golden can control it from any one of the panels in the home. But the wireless touch panel on his wheelchair is more comfortable for him to access.
Months of research went into developing the sophisticated joystick-controlled hydraulic system that brings the touch panel up and into position so that Golden can operate it with two fingers. “This final element was key to the success of the entire system. Our top priority was Neal's ability to control the system,” says Elfassy.
“This system gives me total independence to be alone in my home,” Golden says. “I can turn on the lights, open doors, access audio and video sources, even operate the elevator.”
Elfassy hopes that the custom work that went into the complex programming of the touch-panel control system and the controllable touch-panel arm will be able to help other similarly disabled people.
“We have created many home automation and home-theater systems where the aim is to make life more enjoyable for the client,” says Elfassy. “But here is a system that was truly a necessity. After all the work, this a great feeling.”
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