The roller shutter controller is a small electronic device that is most often hidden in the box under the button which controls the roller shutter. Thanks to this button, we give a command to the controller, which is responsible for controlling the roller shutter, but this is just the beginning of the possibilities, which you will learn more about in the further part of the article.
A reliable roller shutter controller is the basis for the comfortable use of electrically operated roller shutters every day. And while most people rightly spend a lot of time choosing roller shutters, comparing the material from which they are made, the quality of the armor or the manufacturer’s warranty, a common mistake is a random, quick selection of a poor-quality roller shutter controller. The roller shutter controller is an electronic device, and in this case, technology is developing very quickly. Something that was new a few years ago may be an outdated device today, one could say not from this era. Happy owners of electrically operated roller shutters often buy quite expensive, but outdated roller shutter controller and then wonder: why the roller blind works once and then not, did they forget to close the roller shutters in the evening, did they open themselves in the middle of the night, or why they suddenly pay more for electricity?
In order to bring closer and help in understanding the topic, we need to delve a bit into technical issues, but we will do our best to make it simple and understandable.
In the case of a roller shutter, blind or awning equipped with an electric motor, the roller shutter controller, also known as a receiver, is a device that, based on an external signal (e.g. a command may be pressing a button), activates the voltage in an appropriate way (it is popularly but incorrectly said that current is supplied to the roller shutter), causing the roller shutter to move in the desired direction (up / down). The simplest roller shutter controllers can only open and close the roller shutter, and the order can be given using a button or a remote control. More advanced roller shutter controllers have a built-in schedule, thanks to which they can open and close shutters or roller shutters at a given time.
Electric roller shutters or remote control roller shutters are a hackneyed concept that is still – even in the roller shutter industry – still unsaid. To better illustrate what we mean, it can be compared to a car. The term electric shutters or remote control shutters can be compared to saying I have a car. But what car? Each of the interlocutors has a different idea of the car and considers something else to be the standard of equipment. Coming back to roller shutter controllers, there are dozens of standards, i.e. types of solutions, and on a global scale, hundreds of manufacturers of such devices – and unfortunately – as long as roller shutter installers are very familiar with the roller shutters themselves (guides, armor or drives, they know how to measure, install and adjust them), Unfortunately, for many of them “electronics” and “modernity” are black magic. Many roller shutter assemblers, despite the fact that they make connections to the electrical installation, do not even have the basic rights that every person who connects to the electrical installation with a new device, such as a roller shutter, must have.
There is often a situation in which the roller shutter installer uses and praises drivers that he learned during a short training course many years ago. In practice, the roller shutter installer most often had contact with electronic controllers at a short product show organized by the manufacturer of the controllers cooperating with the roller shutter manufacturer. And so on through word of mouth other installers were convinced of these products. Since they are usually people without electrical education, it has remained so – after all, their main source of income is the installation of roller shutters, and the control automation (including roller shutter controllers) is just an addition. How is it possible? The key to answering this question is simplicity and the fact that the roller shutter controllers are long-lasting thanks to their easy connection. But these are just the beginning of the pitfalls. Another threat related to roller shutter controllers is the flood of Chinese products that do not have the required approvals and certificates and pose a real threat to their users. In short, the desire for profit makes “installers-importers” buy very cheap products from China via the Internet and assemble them with a large copy of their often unaware customers. As a result, there have been accidents and recent problems with the failures of East Asian appliances, at least one of which has led to a fire in a single-family house.
It is worth mentioning the insurers. If, as a result of the investigation, the insurer determines that the damage resulted from the installation of a device that does not have the approvals and certificates required by law and was manufactured in violation of the standards in force in Poland, connected to it by a person who does not have the appropriate qualifications, it may refuse or significantly reduce payment of compensation.
Controllers for electric shutters are often also called roller shutter receivers, because currently the basic function provided by virtually every product available on the market is control with a radio remote control (although in the case of devices designed to control smartphones, the vast majority of products do not have this function, because the smartphone in a way acts like a kind of remote control). When you browse offers available on the market, you can find offers that seem pretty attractive to unaware user, in which roller shutter controllers are sold with a remote control. While such an offer seems attractive at first, practice shows that it is only a matter of time before the search for this remote becomes a pain in the neck activity.
Radio roller shutter controls with a remote control differ in things that a more conscious user can pay attention to – i.e. range. Although often the one given in marketing materials has little to do with reality (it is given in the best laboratory conditions in which there are no obstacles between the remote control and the roller shutter controller and in the test environment it was ensured that there were no other disturbances that could limit the range), the appearance of the pilot (i.e. which largely determines the choice of a given solution) and support for additional functions (e.g. group control, two-way communication (i.e. confirmation of the shutter closing by lighting the diode on the remote control or vibrations) – and the features that we usually do not think about at the time of purchase (most often this information is included in the technical documentation that does not mean anything to the average user), and which will have consequences for us for many years in which we will use the selected roller shutter controller.
What should we pay special attention to when choosing a roller shutter controller with remote control?
If we communicate with our roller shutter controller via a remote control, smartphone or the Internet, we use ICT communication (sending certain information remotely, in this case the information is a signal to open or close the roller shutter).
Wait a minute, what does the roller shutter controller have in common with IT security? After all, this is not confidential correspondence or a bank account, so why encrypt the transmission between the remote control and the roller shutter? After all, the neighbor knows when I open and close the blinds. At the present time, technology makes our lives much easier, but if neglected, it can easily lead to big problems. Let’s see how the remote control or smartphone sends information to the shutter controller to open or close the shutter. In the case of most solutions, the only protection against opening the roller blind by an undesirable person (but having knowledge in the field of ICT) is a short code set using buttons or automatically assigned by the roller shutter controller. This code can be easily guessed, broken with the help of a program available on the Internet or copied with a universal remote control. At this point, the question arises as to why we need anti-burglary blinds, since the average 13-year-old child, without any hacker inclinations, after watching a YouTube video, will be able to open our blinds without leaving any traces? How about a thief making a living out of it? It is worth considering whether the installation of roller shutter controllers that do not meet the basic safety rules will not be a reason for refusing to obtain compensation from the insurer?
But there is no point in exaggerating. Producers who care about quality anticipated this situation and found a solution. To prevent the shutters from being opened by unauthorized persons, over ten years ago, some manufacturers introduced rolling code remotes. It was a breakthrough solution for its times, but for several years this solution has been completely ineffective, because the computing power of an average smartphone is many times higher than the power of computers from several years ago, so all kinds of “rolljam attacks” can be carried out with the help of a regular Android smartphone, making this solution obsolete. Interestingly, most of the roller shutter sellers are not aware of it, on the other hand, if we have already established that the roller shutter assemblers do not have knowledge in the field of electrical engineering, let alone teletechnics, such information should not surprise anyone.
So is no remote-controlled roller shutter safe?
In ICT, continuous development and updating of the offered solutions is important. Many manufacturers who care about the safety of users introduce products that can be wirelessly controlled while maintaining a high standard of safety. One can even mention the solution presented by Polish scientists at Aalto University in Helsinki. They presented an encryption solution for wireless devices based on elliptic curve cryptography. Without going into strictly technical issues (these can be easily googled), until now, no device or program has been created that could impersonate such a secured transmission and open the blind (gate, door, etc.). This type of solution, using elliptic curve cryptography, is used, among others, in remotes produced by blebox.eu (uRemote, inBox, actionBox, proxiBox)
Another solution that is very popular nowadays is control with the use of a clock. To put it simply, the installer or user programs the times at which the roller shutters are to open or close. This solution works especially in office and commercial buildings, where the day cycle takes place at predetermined hours – however, in houses and apartments – it does not work completely – because at six in the summer morning the sun comes into our bedroom and it is pleasant it is important to look at them when getting up to work, in winter – at most a neighbor can see us get up – because it will still be completely dark outside. Therefore, drivers based on the astronomical clock were created.
It is much better and healthy for humans to function in accordance with sunrise and sunset. According to research carried out by Spanish scientists, our body will be much more refreshed and the brain will work more efficiently when we get up awakened by the sun’s rays, and not by the sound of an alarm clock. And although slogans such as “American scientists” can fit virtually anything, under the discovery of our western neighbors – we sign with our hands and feet. But to the point!
Roller shutter controllers based on an astronomical clock for operation use a geographical location and a special digital mathematical model that allows to determine with high accuracy the times of sunrise and sunset at a given latitude – so the roller shutter controller thanks to a special microprocessor – knows what time, in place where we live, the sun rises and it can automatically open the shutters along with its first ray.
For several years, along with the popularization of smartphones, we have been observing a surge of devices offering the opening and closing of roller shutters with a telephone on the market. In many solutions, apart from the possibility of opening and closing the roller shutter with a key, it is the only function that is fulfilled by cheap “smartphone” controllers, available in the offers of sellers or installers, but it is worth being aware that often at a similar price we can expect a lot more.
Why do we persistently use the term “smartphone control”? It’s because that due to the multitude of standards – i.e. means of communication – the alternative term “Wi-Fi drivers for roller shutters” would be too narrow at this point. After all, there are solutions that use central units to control roller shutters, which generate their own radio network in our house or apartment. These control units (also called hubs, bridges, controllers – etc. – there are different names), that is, in fact, intermediary devices between our phone and the roller shutter controller, and although they are slowly falling out of use, many sellers and installers still offer them (as we already wrote, These solutions are simple, so they enjoy trouble-free operation, and in the opinion of the installer, if something works, why bother, because who needs encryption of connections?). These kinds of solutions use radio waves to operate (including popular protocols such as Z-Wave or Zigbee) – however, the technology has advanced so much in recent years that devices that are simpler to configure, more reliable and more affordable – offering the same, and often much more functionality.
One of the varieties of wireless roller shutter controllers are products that use the Bluetooth standard for communication.
It is not an easy task to find a smartphone that does not have this standard, but while this standard works great in limited, small spaces, such as a car, in the case of single-family houses or larger facilities, there may be significant problems with ensuring proper communication. Simply put, nowadays and with the availability of other solutions, we can rather throw it out the window.. We would also remind that they operate in a limited area, usually from a few to several meters from the roller shutter, and are poorly resistant to interference.
Returning, however, to the control of roller shutters via WiFi – this solution is currently the most promising and gaining market acceptance. It is worth emphasizing that the first WiFi roller shutter controller was developed and implemented for production by Poles from the Wrocław-based Blebox company – at the turn of 2013 and 2014 – under the shutterBox brand. And although it is not the cheapest, it is still one of the most popular roller shutter controllers available for sale. And since its prototype from over 8 years ago, it has come a long way. But more on that in a moment.
As we mentioned – each WiFi controller allows you to open and close roller shutters, blinds, awnings or even projection screens, however, there are at least a few differences that are definitely worth paying attention to.
First of all, it is extremely important to be able to control locally – i.e. whether we will be able to open the blind or close the roof window in the event of an Internet failure. The cheapest products – mainly those available for a dozen or so dollars with shipping from China – work only on the basis of the manufacturer’s cloud. When there is no Internet connection, or for any reason, this cloud will cease to be available – suddenly we won’t be able to control anything.
Most of the devices available on the market allow only the connection of the supply voltage to the roller shutter motor. It then turns until the internal mechanism in the roller shutter switches it off. The user does not know whether the roller shutter is closed or open – and setting it in the selected position (e.g. tilting to 1/3 of its length) – requires clicking and waiting to manually stop the roller shutter. And although in 2013, the first WiFi roller shutter controller used a solution that allows monitoring the current flow through the roller shutter motor – to this day most products available on the market – still do not offer this function – mainly due to the fact that the electronic components needed for its implementation would increase significantly the cost of the cheapest products, making them less favorable.
It is worth mentioning that in the last few years the solution presented by Poles has evolved significantly. The latest version of the WiFi roller shutter controller – shutterBox – uses a dedicated microchip that analyzes the engine operating parameters in real time, allowing not only to accurately determine the position of the roller shutter (with an accuracy of individual centimeters), to detect failure or damage to the armor (not all roller shutter constructions) it is possible) or even controlling the angle of inclination of the slats in the blinds. And this is what only two or three products in the world can do at the moment.
Control shutters, slats, window, awning or curtain (230V AC). Schedule – desired position at sunrise and sunset! Remotes!
Control roller shutter, blinds, awnings, windows and 12-24V DC actuators. Movement to a given position at sunrise and sunset!
It would seem obvious, and just on one hand you can count devices for controlling roller shutters using smartphones and tablets, which also allow you to control the remote control. And the remote control is always useful – mainly for the elderly.
Speaking of remote controls, it is worth mentioning that the shutterBox device allows you to connect both roller shutter remote controls as well as wireless battery transmitters – both in the form of ready-made buttons (e.g. Simon 54 GO) and “tablets” – allowing you to attach any button or connect roller shutters e.g. with an alarm system. With the use of such transmitters, it is also easy to implement functions such as central roller shutter control. What is worth adding, the communication between these pilots and the receiver is secured using the aforementioned elliptic curve cryptography.
Cooperation with voice assistants – let’s face it, we are in the 21st century and it is estimated that in the next five years, 2/3 of households in Europe will have at least one device enabling voice control. What’s more, both Google and Amazon are already working on recognizing the Polish language – so even if today you have to say “Open roller shutters”, the familiar “Close the blinds” will soon be enough and reaching for the phone will become unnecessary. That is why it is important that the roller shutter receivers that we use allow for cooperation with devices such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa, just like the aforementioned shutterBox.
This is an extremely important aspect of safety and comfort. And although it would seem that not much will change in roller shutters installed, it is completely different when it comes to electronics. Of course, the device itself will not change physically, but the software that controls it – by all means. The most modern roller shutter controllers have a built-in microprocessor and memory with a power comparable to computers from several years ago. And although it does not allow you to browse Facebook or play games, using special real-time software, it can efficiently and safely control roller shutters, operate time and astronomical functions or even communicate with us (yes, shutterBox can send us a notification that, for example, the shutters were closed when it started to rain or it failed due to the pot standing on the windowsill). And just as we update our smartphones and tablets, we can also update modern roller shutter controllers. Although so far only a few of them allow you to update the software by clicking a button in the application.
We have already mentioned the integration with voice assistants, so it is also worth mentioning that the most advanced roller shutter controllers allow for cooperation with other elements of an intelligent building. So, when we decide to add, for example, intelligent lighting, heating or build a home theater after some time – our roller shutters will be able to work with them without additional devices, installation or pulling wires. For example, shutterBox can work with the entire blebox.eu product family, which includes, among others FAKRO roof windows, garage and outdoor gates and wickets by Wiśniowski or Plast-Met, Kontakt-Simon electrical installation equipment and many of other devices.
To sum up – currently, roller shutters owners face a difficult decision: is it worth buying the cheapest device, often costing less than one hundred zlotys, but consciously (after reading the above article) to give up some of the functions and the possibility of extending the control in the future or pay a few dozen zlotys (times the number of roller shutters)? and choose one of the best devices in its class.