So I became pretty obsessed with home automation. You know, the type where your home detects you walked through the door, turns the lights on, and says through the speakers, “Hello Mat, did you have a nice day?”
Actually the above, whilst it sounds a bit sci-fi, is something I already tested out in my home to great success. My home automation system can now speak to me and tell me things. It’s a fine line tweaking it to only communicate useful things, such as “I see you are getting ready to go out, don’t forget your kitchen window is open”, but it’s important that the automation system doesn’t become a gimmick. For example, and this is something I tested, using a combination of cheap wireless sensors in different rooms allows me to write rules: bedroom door shut, lights off, bathroom detects movement, front door opens, BANG – he is leaving the house. Automatically check windows and if any are left open then speak a message through the home network audio system using Google’s voice servers. Then send a notification to my iPhone.
Sounds far too neat to be true, but it works a treat, and reliably too. It really is “set and forget” once you get the rules right.
Whilst I ditched the “hello Mat” bit spoken through the speakers (it got annoying after a while), you must agree the hallway lights coming on when you enter the home is a rather warm and lovely thing you might want to keep.
Using a combination of cheap and free bits of tech, it’s rather easy to do this*.
* I say easy. It’s easy for the geek or the technically-minded, but sadly out of reach for the technically-challenged at the moment. No doubt this may change in the coming years.
First of all you need to replace your lightswitches with the lovely RF controlled dimmer types available from manufacturers such as Z-Wave / Fibaro, or closer to home, an English company called LightwaveRF who make very cheap multi-way multi-gang dimmer switches that pair with controllers also manufactured by LightwaveRF. These were until recently found in B&Q, I think stock may come back shortly. After playing with those for a while you can stop using the LightwaveRF handheld radio remotes (they are radio, not infrared. That means they work anywhere in the house), lovely as they are, and for £80 buy an RFXtrx which is a little USB device you plug into your laptop or server or Raspberry Pi and it transmits and receives signals and talks to your lights.
Now hook the RFX with a computer running one of the excellent open source automation products, all free of course, and hey presto – you can now control your lights from the nearby park from your iPhone! One-touch access to moods, scenarios, dimmer sliders, you name it.
A lightswitch is an “actuator”. LightwaveRF – and many others – also sell “sensors”, such as PIRs to detect movement in a room, or door sensors, which feed into the system too.
Many home automation products – the one I have settled on is called OpenHab – allow you to integrate with a number of systems you might already own. Network home audio? You bet! OpenHab has a binding for Sonos and Squeezebox. They integrate with Google Voice. No extra cost and only a bit of extra playing to get it working. The world of opportunities now opens up – you can now control your music AND your lights from your light switches…
Actually it turns out that of course the LightwaveRF switches only receive signals, they don’t send them out. They ship with remote controls that can be re-purposed for controlling your volume and play / stop etc., but the lightswitches themselves will clearly need upgrading to the more expensive Z-Wave RF types which have 2-way communications in order to do such a thing. Well I don’t plan to do that because I’m a cheapskate, and more importantly I love the challenge of building my own room audio controller. This gives me a chance to integrate a pretty flush-mount digital display into my walls showing the current playlist.
Next post: the new home.