10 Cool Things I Didn’t Know About Nortek’s Linear Security/Home Automation

Did you know that Nortek’s Linear security and home automation group has the only NASA-approved doorsets? Or that it has a crash-test dummy named Fred? I didn’t.

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Linear, the Nortek company that makes commercial access control and surveillance, as well as residential security and home automation, wants you to know that the trendy smart-home startups du jour have nothing on them.

Linear is huge in the category, reportedly the world’s largest supplier of Z-Wave devices (chipmaker Sigma Designs says so), with products sold under its own brand, as well third-parties’.

Also, Linear has sold more home automation systems (security + home control) than any other company – nearly 2 million of them. As such, Linear hosted for the second year in a row the annual Developer’s Forum & Unplug Fest in November, this year attended by some 100 Z-Wave developers.

Linear also is the No. 1 purveyor of personal emergency response systems (PERS) in North America. It’s their button that the old lady pushes when she falls and can’t get up.

These things I already knew because I’ve been following Linear for over a decade, and even more so since the company acquired 2Gig last year.

During a recent press tour of Linear’s Carlsbad, Calif., offices – led by VP security and integration Avi Rosenthal – I picked up a few interesting tidbits that I didn’t already know:

1. Linear is the largest seller of commercial access control keypads in North America, Rosenthal says. I did not know that.

2. Linear has the only doorsets approved for use in NASA buildings, where you’ll find plenty of them.

“NASA was unable to destroy them,” Rosenthal says, noting that the locks come from Linear’s International Electronics Inc. (IEI) brand.

3. Linear’s own factory in China has an impressive retention rate of 85% in a business (manufacturing) that tends to churn through workers.

4. Linear is currently working on a fall detector to be incorporated into its PERS devices, so if the user has fallen and can’t press a button, the algorithms will do it for them. Beta units should be going out this month. The test dummy’s name is Fred.

5. Yes, Linear still sells lots of intercoms, a category it acquired through the acquisition of Music & Sound (M&S) many years ago. Rosenthal says some 10 million units are installed today – mostly products from Broan and Nutone, which Nortek also owns – and believe it or not people are replacing them with more modern units, particularly for multiroom audio functionality with no new wires needed.

Rosenthal reminds us, “Sonos is a relatively new thing.”

6. How does Linear test its glass break detectors? By smashing glass, of course.

“We get to break stuff,” says Robert Reichert, director of technical services.

In the “break room,” Linear has scores of glass sheets, each with a different thickness and other properties, like tempered and untempered.

“They all have different acoustic signatures,” Reichert says.

The team takes turns with a big hammer, crowbar and steel ball, smashing the glass panes to make sure the noise triggers an alarm. At the same time, the engineers test other natural noises to mitigate false alarms – hard, echoey rooms such as bathrooms, a knock at the door (for when security salespeople come by), coins clanging in a pot, and even water running down a gutter.

7. Linear has a giant anechoic chamber/Faraday cage on its premises that’s impervious to RF interference so the company can test its own wireless devices. Meanwhile, as long as they have that super-soft and silent space, it’s a useful testing chamber for security system microphones and speakers.

8. Linear already offers surveillance cameras and NVRs on the commercial side, but the company is launching in Q2 2015 a kit for the residential market, with IP (PoE) dome cameras expected to retail for less than $200 and a 1TB NVR with a price tag that hasn’t been divulged yet.

The camera systems will be sold through Linear’s 2Gig security channel.

9. Linear has been a pioneer in wireless communications for a very long time. The company developed the first supervised RF link for use in the security industry and developed and introduced the first multi-million code transmission format for use in security applications (MegaCode).

10. Linear is launching a Z-Wave light bulb that is expected to retail for about $50.

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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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