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Z-Stick Gen5
02 Apr

Z-Stick Gen5

With the new Z-Wave USB Stick Generation 5 by Aeon Labs your PC, notebook, Barebones, Raspberry Pi etc.

Home Automation Project
06 Jun

Home Automation Project

I love the idea of home automation. Ever since the early days of Star Trek when they could get back to their room and tell the computer what they want – lights, music … food! This idea was taken to another lever by S.A.R.A.H. (Self Actuated Residential Automated Habitat), the bunker home Jack and Zoe Carter live in on Eureka.

I ways knew I wanted an automated home, not only does it appeal to the geek in me but I’m also fairly lazy and like systems that make life easier. During a recent week off I spent almost the whole time setting up my smart house (which I’m calling GERTY from the 2009 movie Moon).

When I started my project I’d played and experimented with other systems, some worked better than others and some were killed off my the makers, but up till now I’ve been tinkering. There’s never been a fixed design or plan. Now I know what I want. I just don’t know how I’m getting there yet – and that’s the adventure.

At present I’m using OpenHAB. It’s not something I’ve ever played with before and so far I’m liking it. It’s doing what I want and giving me the power I’m looking for.

My plan is over the next few weeks to use this blog as my ‘grail diary’ recording my experiences with results. I found the OpenHAB learning curve was quite high and the examples didn’t always explain anything fully – just copy and paste – and I struggled to find many real world examples. My grail diary will consist of this blog and a git repository the house the working examples.

Thought out the journey I welcome you all to join in and let me know what you think and how you would or are solving the same problems. In my first article I will be looking at presence detection, since one of the most important things of a smart house is for it to know if you home or not.

29 Oct

Which Home Automation to take LightwaveRF

LightwaveRF is the new kid on the block, unrelated to X10 it shares the 1970s spirit and economic appeal. One of the biggest advantages I can see so far is the availability of components. LightwaveRF devices can be picked up locally from Maplin, B&Q or Homebase – which is a big advantage.

Unlike X10 communication is wireless from the each controller on the 433.92 MHz band, so should not interfere with WiFi or Bluetooth however it is possible to get some interference on some cordless home phones. Range is quite limited as the controllers do not have a lot of power, you can get around 15m in doors, this is offset by the fact you will probably have multiple remotes. Like X10 communication is one way, so there is no acknowledgement of commands being received.

LightwaveRF doesn’t use a base station or central control with each remote communicating with devices directly, however it is possible to get a WiFi link hub which allows you to access the system from the web or a mobile device. Functionality is limited however and you do not get the same kind of control or ‘programmed actions’ available in other systems.

There are also limitations in the size of network you can build. The magic number seems to be 64 devices, each device can only be linked to 6 controllers or sensors.

Once again I have found my self barking up the wrong tree. LightwaveRF has the same problems as X10, with the lack of two way communication or confirmation a command worked added to my requirement to support my mobile and ‘action’ commands once again have to move on.

27 Oct

Which Home Automation to take X10

As I stated in my previous post, I have narrowed down the home automation protocols I wanted to look at to the big three: X10, Z-Wave and LightwaveRF. In the comments Bernard has suggested I look into Universal Remote (URC). I have had a very quick look at it but not as in-depth a look as I would like to have, before writing about it. So this post will not feature URC, instead it may get its own post at a future time.

This post is not an impartial look at all three options, I have tried to make it one but I have not rigidly stuck to that. I did investigate all three options before making my final selection and in the next three posts I am hoping to take you through my thought processes and explain how I have come to my final decision. If you are in a similar position to me I would suggest you use this article as just one-more-peace in your own research. My final selection might not be the right one for you, I just hope to explain why it is the right one for me.

X10

First developed by Pico Electronics of Glenrothes back in 1975. It has been the first protocol I payed attention to. Primarily communication is performed over the power lines, however a radio transport protocol has been defined as well. X10 is also the cheapest and therefore most accessible of my three options.

X10 seems to be one of the most popular home automation options available with a vast number of modules controlling lamps, wall switches and standard plug appliances. There are also sensor modules available to report on motion, infra-red, light level, temperature and door or window contacts.

The controller’s available range from simple on-off remotes to computer plugs running some local software. Remote control and scheduled tasks seem to rely on the host PC being on to receive the inbound command, in my case from my phone, and relaying that out to the X10 network. For me this does not feel like the ideal solution because I would rather not have to keep a PC running to control my setup, but in a push I could use a Raspberry Pi for the job.

From what I have read there also appears to be come compatibility problems. X10 switches seem to leak a very small amount of current which can cause problems with lamps or fluorescent bulbs. The network is also prone to interference in the power lines, high load devices such as ovens or showers turning on or off can block or mask out the command signal. There are also problems with high load devices like computers, televisions and satellite receivers cause constant interference making and X10 socket useless in their local areas.

By this point I have already decided X10 is not the solution for me. The protocol does not acknowledge any commands, more UDP than TCP, so if there is any interference in a setup you expect to work-first-time no further attempts are made by the controllers to insure your commands are carried out. So I move on.

25 Oct

My Path Towards A Smart House

I have had visions of an automatic house since first seeing the idea on Tomorrows World. A few years ago I made my start, automatic lights controlled by motion sensors and door connectors. This was based on Motorola’s proprietary hardware all controlled by a router box from within my network. The primary interface was very intuitive all configured using a drag and drop web interface, this would of course soon become its Achilles heel.

Motorola’s system was soon re-branded as Xanboo as before long some much needed updates were being pushed out and the format looked like it was benefiting from the change. Like all good things it didn’t last long. Xanboo was bought over by AT&T in December 2010, this news was soon followed by a letter at the end of March from AT&T’s general attorney Meredith Mays who said “AT&T is currently in the process of integrating Xanboo into AT&T’s portfolio of services and affiliated companies. At this time, AT&T anticipates modifying or eliminating current Xanboo products and services and winding down its existing processes. The purpose of this letter is to notify you that your agreement shall be terminated effective as of midnight, July 4, 2011.”

My local supplier soon notified their customer base of the news which would mean the closing down of their online services as of December 2011. As I previously stated, even though the router controlling my devices was located in my house I had to use their website to configure it. So I, along with everyone else, faced the prospect of losing control over everything we had already bought. They did however promise to search for an alternative. Non was found.

So as of December 2011 my home automation/security system had turned into a rather expense collection of paperweights. I am now, finally, searching for a new solution.

My criteria are quite specific this time:
1. Open Standards – If one company were to close down I should not be left starting from scratch.
2. Local Access – I must have access to my configuration internally, without requiring the internet
3. Mobile Access – My phone is my remote control for everything else, so it should control my house
4. Tasker integration – Not a requirement, but it would be good

There are a number of solutions available at present. I will investigate fully before making my final decision, but the short list is Z-Wave, X10 and LightwaveRF. As always with projects of this nature I will use this section of my site to categorise and log my journey.

If you have experience of any of these options or would like to share your experience and any pitfalls please use the comment box below, I would love to hear your thoughts.