Status of My Smart Home

Status of My Smart Home

So much time has passed since I first laid out my vision for my DIY Smart Home a couple of years ago… I guess it’s time for an update. I’ve learned a lot, made a few bad calls with some unfortunate crowd funding projects, but most of the components really deliver on their promise or allow building upon using clever API’s and all sorts of integrations.

Jumping to the end for a minute, I want to clarify the point behind this project – the ultimate goal is comfort and control. On one side are devices I use in my everyday life, on the other – human interaction – being able to control anywhere, anytime and in whichever way I want to by clicking a button on a remote, using my phone, my watch or simply talking. Home security is not one of the goals for my particular needs but it can definitely be added in the future.

IoT devices at core of the smart home

I want to divide these smart Internet of Things devices I’m using to 3 categories:

  • IoT controllers – These are intelligent units that are connected, via Wi-Fi in my case, to the internet and implement dedicated functionality of some sort
  • IoT Interfaces – These are the devices that offer ways of interacting with the smart home –  my smart phone, tablet, smart watch, universal remote or Amazon Echo can each be used to change the settings, activate or deactivate the IoT controllers.
  • IoT Bridges – since the world of IoT is evolving, some controllers have built in compatibility to the interfaces I am using , but others may not; and the IoT bridges allow me to fill the gap and make them “talk to one another”.

 

IoT Interfaces

Amazon-Echo-Alexa

The Amazon Echo brings voice control for my IoT devices as well as answers all sorts of questions, helps time various cooking actions which makes it a fairly decent assistant all around. Voice control is especially handy when your hands are full or when I simply don’t want to get up and stop whatever it is I am doing in order to achieve a simple action. Using the group option I can turn various different devices on / off even if they are not “related” such as the AC and my lights for example.

 

Amazon Echo Dot @Amazon

Get either the Echo or the Echo Dot… both will get you talking!

 

 

apple-iphone-ipad
apple-watch

Voice control is also a convenient feature of Siri, available on my iPhone, iPad and most importantly the Apple Watch. Handy when you are away from the Amazon Echo and  don’t want to shout across the house (although it’s possible!). Various apps for advance control of the IoT devices are also available for iOS (and of course Android…).

 

Harmony HUB & Universal Remote

 

 

The Harmony Home Hub and universal remote is without a doubt the king of smart remotes… I’ve tried a number of cheaper alternatives but control via a smartphone, without a physical remote does not come close.

Harmony Home Hub & Remote @Amazon Harmony Home Hub & Remote @eBay

* Prices / availability may vary – check both Amazon & eBay before purchase 🙂

 

IoT Bridges

I’ve tried using a couple of designated “Smart home hubs” such as the Ninja sphere (RIP) that took forever to deliver but then the company shut down, and the Xuan Stackbox that was quick to deliver the hardware but never fulfilled it’s potential from the software and functionality stand point as far as I am concerned…

Finally I realized I need more hands on control and using Raspberry Pi I setup two separate bridges that tie up loose ends and really deliver on ease of use where the interfaces and controllers come short:

homebridge-raspberry-pi

Raspberry Pi & HomeBridge

HomeBridge offers iOS HomeKit connectivity that otherwise required special hardware my existing controllers don’t have. With it I can command the Sensibo smart thermostat, LIFX bulbs and various devices controlled via the smart sockets I have around the house.

I’m using existing plugins I found online such as

Getting Started with HomeBridge

HomeBridge is an open source platform based on NodeJS, easy to setup if you follow the instructions on GitHub using this link and this link dedicated for Rpi installation.

HomeBridge is free, but if you don’t have a Raspberry Pi to set it up, here are a few links to get you started:

Raspberry Pi 3 @Amazon Raspberry Pi 3 @BangGood Raspberry Pi 3 @eBay

(Be sure to pick up a microSD memory card, a nice case and cables if you need them too!)

* Prices / availability may vary – check both Banggood, Amazon & eBay before purchase 🙂

 

 

home-assistant-raspberry-pi

 

Raspberry Pi & Home-Assistant

Home-Assistant is another open source platform that is used to bring together various IoT components, it offers a VERY handy dashboard presenting data from “Sensors” and control over “Switches” and “Climate” components, integrates with various “Notification” services to push alerts to you devices and most importantly “Automation”, meaning you can write short script like commands to time activities around the house as well as react to various situations (IFTTT style but much more powerful!).

The platform comes with plugins to MANY device types, and at the moment I am using

  • Netgear integration for presence tracking with my NETGEAR nighthawk
  • Orvibo S20 Sockets I mentioned before
  • WeMo Socket
  • LIFX bulbs
  • Chromecast
  • External data providers and services to track local weather, my network upload / download speeds etc.

Introducing my Own Customer Climate Component for Sensibo

I was missing a climate components integration for my Sensibo thermostat…

so I created one! As a custom component which you can download and setup following the instructions here on my GitHub repository.

climate-options-sensibo-on-homeassistant

 

Pushing Updates to the Apple Watch Face

Another feature I was missing, is being able to send notification to my Apple Watch not as push, but rather as information that is presented directly inside the watch face into one of the little place holders you can customize. I found a way to do that using an app and service called “Pushover”. Home-Assistant already was working with Pushover for push notifications but that wasn’t what I was looking for – Pushover had a new service launched recently called “Glances” and using that API I was able to write a new notification component that would send text / numeric messages to my watch and it looks something like this:

Check out Pushover on the apple app store, the trial service will work freely for a week, and after that with a one time in-app purchase of about 5 USD you will have around 7500 message available to send per month!

apple-watch-with-pushover-glances

 

This is also a part of the custom components you can find along with instructions, here on my GitHub repository.

Getting Started with Home-Assistant

There is extensive documentation on https://home-assistant.io/ and an active community to help you setup almost any scenario you can think of… I found the following blog and excellent starting point for installation tutorials as well as video and great tips – http://www.bruhautomation.com/

 

Home-Assistant is free, but if you don’t own a Raspberry Pi to install it, here are a few links to get you started:

Raspberry Pi 3 @Amazon Raspberry Pi 3 @BangGood Raspberry Pi 3 @eBay

(Be sure to pick up a microSD memory card, a nice case and cables if you need them too!)

* Prices / availability may vary – check both Banggood, Amazon & eBay before purchase 🙂

Note: I found out setting up both HomeBridge and Home-Assistant didn’t work due to conflict of either platform trying to listen on the same ports and devices around the house… there might be a way to make it work but I have each on its own Raspberry Pi to avoid any problem and give them all the space they need 🙂

IoT Controllers

lifx-bulb

For Smart lighting I am using LIFX bulbs, I have them on several lamps and light fixtures and use them to set the mood for various activities such as reading, watching TV, having dinner etc. each setting calls for different brightness level or even color.

LIFX can be integrated to the Amazon echo, Harmony Hub and universal remote out of the box, they also have dedicated ups for the smart phone / tablet / watch.

 

sensibo-smart-thermostat

 

I wrote in the past bout Sensibo, the smart thermostat crowd funding project I shared a few years back… well they delivered and are going strong these days although some of the features they promised such as setting a target temperature for you comfort and having the AC turned on / off automatically – never made it to the app. Now I can do that using Automation rules set up in Home-Assistant using the custom component I wrote about above!

 

belkin-wemo-switch

I got one Belkin Belkin WeMo switch a while back and it’s connected to a fan which allows me to open / close it using the  iPhone / Watch and  Harmony universal remote, using HomeBridge I can also command it using HomeKit & Siri, Using Home-Assistant I was able to emulate the switch as if it were a Philips light bulb and have it controlled using the Amazon Echo !

 

orvibo-wimo-s20-switch

However, I find the Orvibo S20 Sockets much cheaper (they cost half as much if not less) and good looking that the bulky WeMo Switch. Using Home-Assistant and HomeBridge I can set it up to work with all the other interfaces in the same way – so I’d recommend them over the WeMo any day.

 

Orvibo S20 Socket @BangGood Orvibo S20 Socket @Amazon Orvibo S20 Socket @eBay

* Prices / availability may vary – check both Banggood, Amazon & eBay before purchase 🙂

 

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