Smart Home DIY Project Vision

Smart Home DIY Project Vision

The fantasy of a smart home… with roots in countless StarTrek episodes and other sci-fi movies, the concepts of automation and an environment that “magicallBy” feels you, takes care of your needs and serves you is slowly becoming a reality as technology finally catches up. For the longest time I wanted to put together this series of posts of how I plan to achieve this little dream, piece by piece and in more or less on my own…


(If you too had this dream at one point in the past or still do, this is a good time to “like” this post and sign up for updates on future posts in this subject!).

Upgrading a Rented Apartment to a Smart Home Vision

There are many forms of “smart homes” and different levels of implantation – some people go for the green aspects, recycling & optimization of natural resources, some emphasize automation and embedding functionality as seamlessly as possible within the walls etc.

Since I am currently living in a rented apartment, my focus is automation that will be transferable when I move some day – this is a project I can do on my own by purchasing various products along the way and does not involve infrastructure changes construction workers) in the apartment.

I am calling it a DIY Smart Home project since I don’t plan on involving any professional external company who’ll come in, plan the implantation… offer its products and install for a whole lot of money. The idea is to purchase the various components online (via crowdfunding projects or otherwise) and then integrate and install independently…

Components in the DIY Smart Home

Integration is the key in my smart home implementation since I am planning to involve multiple products by different vendors and choose each one for its functionality, benefits and naturally costs. With that in mind, here are some of the items on my checklist (I will go into detail with individual posts per product as time goes by):

The Smart Home Hub (Center)

The role of this unit is to connect between all other items which will follow and allow me to set rules to activate and deactivate each device based on predefined cases or control them by gestures / voice / from my phone etc. The hub is the master unit that will be in the heart of the project and it should be support as many platforms / networks / standards / frequencies – since different vendors may adopt different strategies and the more options the hub support the better integration it can deliver between different smart products in the future.

My first choice was the Ninja Sphere by Ninja block, a project that started almost a year ago by a clever little Australian team that has already successfully delivered a smart home solution in the past over Kickstarter (called ninja blocks). The Sphere project brings an impressive vision of location aware environment and an awesome gesture interface and elegant design on what I am hoping will be a mature device… unfortunately this project has suffered from extensive delays and is expected to deliver in November.

stackbox with apps illustration small version for virtualida post

Following these delays I’ve opted for another hub which may prove to be just as impressive called STACK Box by Cloud Media, that supports more networks and standards than the sphere apparently which gives it a serious edge for integration.

(My hope is that the two will be able to work together and allow me to leverage the strengths of each product…)

Smart lights

The ability to open, close or dim the lights remotely – from the couch or even when I am away from home, the ability to change color of light (even if this is not a mandatory function, it’s probably a nice option to play around with from time to time I suppose).

The candidate for test on this front are a bit sketchy at the moment since it turns out light bulbs in general and smart ones particularly, are sensitive little things and you can’t just order any bulb online and expect it to work…

LIFX light bulb

Prices for these little bulbs also tend to be outrageously high going up to about 99$ per bulb (which surprisingly enough may actually be the one I opt for!).

Lucky for your – I got a 15% off coupon code here:

Light bulb by Lifx

The “Philips Hue” for example, which seems to be the most famous appears to be of the sensitive type and thus if you order from the US it’ll work on a 110V grid and if you want a 220V grid (and not void the warranty) you’ll need to order from a European vendor for a higher cost…

Philips Hue Logo

Philips hue 220V on Amazon UK

Philips hue 110V on Amazon US

Plugaways Smart LED for Virtualida post
Plugaways Smart LED (Not yet on the market)

There are also other bulbs such as the one the “Smart Led” by Plugaway which should hit the market later this year. And the down to earth in terms of price (but, is there a catch?!?) smart solutions by LimitlessLED / EasyBulb MiLight.


Easybulb Milight on Amazon UK

Smart Air-condition

While my current AC comes with a remote control it is far from smart in any standard and any improvement in my ability to control the temperature throughout the day while saving energy and reducing electricity bill is a definite goal.

For this challenge I am hoping Sensibo (which I mentioned in an earlier post) would follow through and deliver ASAP on their promises!

Smart Assistance for other devices

The ability to switch a device on / off remotely even if that device does not support this functionality – by connecting it to a smart power plug which serves as a switch and controls the power (while the device itself is “always switched on”).

Ninja Smart Power Socket photo
Ninja Smart Power Socket

I have two providers in line who are scheduled to deliver this ability: Smart socket by Ninja block team & smart plug by Plugaway – two Kickstarter projects overdue on delivery but I have yet to lose hope they will!

Sensors, transmitters and location awareness

While some of the automation I am planning relays on commands that I want to be able to give (by voice / gestures or using a remote app), a great deal of automation should rely on rules for example – do X with the device when I arrive home / shutdown device when I leave…

One obvious device to relay on for location is the smart phone, the hub can detect its presence or receive location based alerts and execute predetermined commands.

Another way to establish location inside the hose is by using Bluetooth tags (the small tags that are used to avoid misplacing your keys for example) or fitness bracelets / smart watches that are worn by a person and can also indicate position in the room.

Being able to determine exact location in the home is one of the promises of the package included with the Ninja sphere that comes along with little devices called waypoints that help it triangulate the location of all these devices in the home and activate rules based on your location – here is a nice little demo of what that should be like:

I have several players lined up for review (some have yet to deliver) that are scheduled to fulfill this role:

  • Fitbit flex fitness bracelet
  • Angel health and fitness sensor
  • GeckoTag
  • XY findit
  • Stickr Trackr

More smart home options to consider

There are other possible components and sensors that may be added such as monitoring open / close status of doors and windows (and initiating rules accordingly), surveillance equipment to enable remote view (I am really not THAT paranoid or into that) etc.

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