CommandScape: An Up Close Look at the System’s Automation Capabilities

Cybersecurity is at the core of CommandScape, a new building management and home automation venture launched by Jim Clark and run by Don Boerema, a former ADT executive.

CommandScape: An Up Close Look at the System’s Automation Capabilities

The CommandScape home automation system from Netscape founder Jim Clark is fully wired and highly secure, with modules provided on DIN rails. The UI is based on floor plans for navigation via room, floor or property.

It was bound to happen: A home-automation and building-control system with cybersecurity at its core. The system — and the venture — is CommandScape, launched by Netscape founder and Internet pioneer Jim Clark.

Netscape invented the SSL (now TLS) encryption scheme eons ago so it should be no surprise that everything in the CommandScape ecosystem — from the hubs to the end devices — is “wrapped in a cybersecure envelope,” says former ADT executive Don Boerema, president and CEO of the start-up. “We’re the first ones to use a [security] certification process fully.”

Like other home- and building-control systems, CommandScape will control lights, HVAC, security, motorized shades, video surveillance systems, and more. Unlike most systems, though, this one will be completely wired. Nary a wireless sensor, light switch, door lock or keypad in sight.

The sort-of exception is that CommandScape employs HomePlug powerline-carrier technology, delivering data and power to some products over the building’s existing AC wiring.

Another unusual feature of CommandScape is that no usernames and passwords are required for entry into a secure location, or access to protected applications. Users are authenticated via their iPhones, and permissions granted and revoked by Mom, Dad or the systems administrator.

CommandScape can do this because of its end-to-end security authentication process, Boerema tells CE Pro.

“Today, most people only verify the server, but not the clients,” he says. “We put [security] certificates end-to-end, from the clients all the way to each and every device.”

Remember that big credit-card breach at Target? Boerema reminds us the hackers got in via the HVAC system.

That can’t happen with CommandScape’s authorization scheme, he says.

Unfortunately, there’s one little exception: like if the HVAC guy borrows your phone. Or if little Amelia grabs your mobile device and wanders into the gun closet.

Asked about this fairly realistic proposition, a CommandScape spokesperson tells me: “Anyone who doesn’t keep control of their device will potentially run into problems in regards to others having access to any of the phone’s information. We do not see this as a barrier to being successful in the marketplace.”

Before joining CommandScape, Boerema was a top exec at ADT for nearly two decades, so between him and Clark, the company should have physical and digital security pretty much covered. (Earlier partners in the venture included Mike Snyder and Dennis Kozlowski, former CEOs of ADT and Tyco, respectively. A CommandScape spokesperson says the former CEOs are not now involved with the company, and they “had minimal impact on the founding of the business.”)

Keen on Security, Not So Much on Integration

At launch (which is now), the new CommandScape system offers lighting control, physical security, video surveillance, network/data security, and motorized shade control.

Not available now, but “on the product roadmap,” are climate control, energy management, access control and A/V.

CommandScape is making its own lighting, security, access and energy management subsystems.

Since the whole premise of the CommandScape business is end-to-end security, the company wants to keep it mostly in the family, working only with select outsiders that can (and will) drop a special security certificate into their devices. Currently, CommandScape is working with Axis for video surveillance and Lutron for motorized shades.

All devices in the ecosystem — from the user’s smartphone to the cloud connection to the cameras and lighting controls — “have to do a two-way handshake to verify it’s the right connection, and the individual has the authority,” Boerema says.

He hesitates when asked about other integrations, but says the company will explore third-party connectivity where it makes sense, for example, TVs. On the other hand, we probably shouldn’t expect CommandScape to work with third-party lighting, security, access or HVAC control systems.

Owning the ecosystem not only improves prospects for digital security, it also can foster better interoperability among subsystems, according to Boerema. For example, a single sensor might serve the security system (trigger alarm if sensor tripped), the energy management system (set back temperature if room is vacant) and the lighting-control system (turn on lights if motion detected).

While this scenario might be commonplace in residential automation, it’s not always the case in commercial projects, where each trade has its own ecosystem and its own set of specialists.

The CommandScape Business Model

In addition to its security thrust (a compelling thrust at that), CommandScape is promoting its “exquisite” software for dealers and end-users alike.

CommandScape Editor, the company’s app-based programming tool for pros (no computer required), can “dramatically reduce labor hours” compared to competitive products, Boerema says.

That is certainly one benefit of using a single vendor for a complete ecosystem, especially when there’s no A/V involved.

CommandScape Navigator, the customer-facing UI, takes a floor-plan approach to building control, allowing users to navigate their properties by room, floor … or country, for that matter. Touch the camera icon in a given room to view the video from that area. Touch the light bulbs to brighten or dim the space.

End users themselves have the ability to set schedules and alerts. They can create macros by setting their devices just so … and then capturing the scene.

In the future, CommandScape will offer a remote networking monitoring tool with analytics on uptime, activity, speeds, potential breaches and all the usual networky stuff.

Will CommandScape fly in the home-technology channel? It is primarily a building-management system created for commercial projects … and maybe some very large and busy homes with lots of people coming and going at all hours.

It would seem to make sense for security-conscious customers with utilitarian needs – change the lights, manage the energy, see who’s at the front door. The fun stuff won’t be available until later.

The problem, however, is that the HVAC guy and the electrician and the security guy must all install the CommandScape product. The low-voltage girl (CEDIA dealer) installs the network and maybe some parts of the other subsystems.

What’s it going to take to get all of these trades to switch to CommandScape from their go-to products? It might require an entirely new business model, where traditional home-technology integrators bring all those other trades in-house. Or maybe they just forge some very strong local relationships.

It would seem to be a mighty task for CommandScape, but perhaps no mightier than inventing the Web browser, JavaScript and SSL … and getting everyone to adopt it. Jim Clark’s been there, done that.

Boerema says CommandScape has talked to “dozens” of top installation companies in the commercial HVAC, electrical contracting, commercial integration and residential integration (CEDIA) channels.

Several installations have already been completed, he adds.

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About the Author


Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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