The bits and bobs what we have

Here’s a starter for 10.  An initial list of the items I’ll be talking about on this blog.  This is not exhaustive, even though I feel exhausted writing this down!

We’ve collected these various disparate systems over the past few years.  It’s my job to make them speak to each other.  Like some kind of flamboyant interpreter at an important European parliament discussion.

Sensors

3 x Oregon Scientific thermo/hygro sensors to monitor temperature and humidity throughout the flat, and outside on one of the balconies.  They send messages to the computer, roughly once a minute, giving up to date temperature and humidity data.  They also include in the message, a request for batteries to be changed.  That’s polite, isn’t it?

Available from: John Lewis

4 x LightwaveRF door sensors to determine if doors in the flat are open or closed – these send one signal when the contacts are moved apart – door open, and one signal when the contacts come back together – door closed. Open, closed.

Website: LightwaveRF

3 x LightwaveRF PIR sensors. These send out a signal when they detect movement, and then another signal when there is no longer any movement.  You can set how long the sensors wait before checking if there is no movement by selecting a time period using a switch on the back.  This can be from 5 seconds, to 10 minutes.  To literally never.

Website: LightwaveRF

Plugs

10+ LightwaveRF plug-in units.  These units do one of two things, depending on which ones you buy.  One type is ON/OFF which means that a signal is received and then ‘ping’, the device you’ve plugged in comes on.  Used for things like TVs or Microwaves.  The other type is DIMMER which means that not only does the device plugged in switches on and off when a command is received, but also that the device can dim from between 0% and 100% brightness.  Or it should go down to 0%, but doesn’t.  More on that in another post.  You really should not use dimmer switches to control the power level of a Microwave.

The plug-in units are really, really useful, and they were especially so when we rented, because they can be removed from a plug socket when you move, instead of frantically tugging out every electrical outlet in the last 5 minutes of your tenancy.

Website: LightwaveRF

1 x Belkin WeMo plug-in unit. I bought this from Maplin as an impulse buy, as it links with another recent purchase, my Ivee Sleek.  I’ll be doing interesting things with both of these items in the coming weeks.  Mainly when Ivee becomes more than a fancy alarm clock that chirps up randomly whilst you’re watching television.

Lighting

20140706_163537We have 17 Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips in the flat.  These are what really shook up the home control thang, and made our lives better, more relaxing, and simpler.  Quite simply these are the best home control things I have bought.  Not only do they look good, they also behave 99% of the time, and they can be controlled from practically any computer program.  This is the holy trinity as far as home control goes.  Honestly, I can’t say too many good things about Philips Hue.  More gushing to come.

Where it is physically impossible to get Philips Hue bulbs, we have LEDs.  So the flat is very nearly 100% LED lit.  There are three exceptions in the kitchen where LEDs cannot be used at the moment.  Damn you, kitchen!

We also have a few LED downlighters that can be controlled by the LightwaveRF signals.  These are cute and can be used under shelves to create mood lighting.  The only downside is that they go through AAA batteries like our cat goes through litter.

Heating and Environmental Controls

We have an app-controlled heating system called Hive.  You can control the heating from wherever you can get online with your phone (which means everywhere).

Any flat can get problems with high humidity, so we have a dehumidifier.  It’s quite a cheap one, but I’ve made it very intelligent.  It only comes on when necessary, and only when we’re home.  I’ll blog about that some time.

We also have an air purifier which is also similarly automatically controlled.  The air purifier has a lovely colour changing effect and belches out lavender fragrance.  This is nothing to do with home control, but is very much to do with my other hobby, which is being incredibly and breathtakingly gay.

Controllers

To ensure we can ‘talk’ to the flat, we need to have some kind of way to speak to it.  I can go in and change the code in my control programs, but that isn’t very easy to do for many users, so a pretty looking button or a screen is a good way of doing this.

Many of these controllers are supposed to be ‘paired’ with a specific device to switch them on or off.  I shun this concept as amateurish.  I ‘pair’ the controller with the computer, so that the computer decides what to do when it receives a signal from the controller.  More on this later in the blog.

pad4 x LightwaveRF wall mood switches are used throughout the flat to control lights and moods in various rooms.  These are useful because (a) you can stick them anywhere – so you can place them where a light switch would normally be, and (b) because they are always there.  It’s one thing having a smartphone controlled flat, but what if you don’t have your smartphone with you and all you want to do is turn on a light!  Cue this.

The mood switches have 6 ‘pads’ to press.  Two large ones, marked 1 and 0, and four smaller pads, marked with symbols ‘-‘, ‘–‘, ‘—‘ and a standby icon.

The mood switches are good, and look great, but they have very generic markings on them.  I’ve overlaid a printed design on top of them so that users can tell what will happen when a button is pressed.  The switches also have a delightful blue LED which charmingly illuminates to confirm that a signal is being sent.

4 x LightwaveRF handset controllers.  These are hand-held controllers, comprising of 10 buttons and a four-way switch.  8 of the buttons send out unique signals which change depending on the position of the switch, therefore there are 8 x 4 = 32 unique signals.  The other two buttons send out the same signals regardless of the position of the 4-way switch.  Therefore there are 32 + 2 = 34 different signals that can be sent out from these controllers.  I am no Carol Vorderman but Excel tells me that I’m correct.

Sony Tablet S in charging dock.  This is a pretty standard android tablet which is always standing in its charging dock.  It makes controlling the flat easy, as long as you’re in the living room and you have fingers.  The above controllers are used elsewhere.

Ivee

Ivee was so exciting before I bought her.  She literally took months to enter my life, I was counting the days from when I ordered her from Maplin.  Ivee is supposed to be an always-listening voice-controller for your connected devices.  As it is, I can try and ask her “Hello Ivee.  Turn on the bathroom lights.” and she’ll respond with the phrase “The time in Handsome Eddy, New York, is 12:50am”.

I’m sure she’ll get smarter.

Smartphones.  This one is a no-brainer.  It’s also very impressive to show people.  “Hey, look at this.  I can switch on the fan in my living room from here in the office”.  And then they usually say something like “I’ve left something on the photocopier” and leave.  Quickly.

Audio

20150111_215333We have Sonos everywhere.  Literally everywhere.  As the flat is quite small, we have 3 PLAY:1 speakers, a CONNECT (for broadcast to the bathroom), and a PLAYBAR which is a stereo and a TV soundbar all rolled up in one very “I may look like a draught excluder but actually I cost twice as much as the TV I’m under” package.

The Sony tablet in the living room, and our smartphones can control the Sonos, as well as any of the handsets affixed throughout the flat.

The Brain

The brain of the whole crazy outfit is a teeeeeny tiny little computer called a Raspberry Pi.  This computer, the size of a pack of cards, is useful because it doesn’t use a lot of power (so you can leave it on all the time) and it’s reliable.  I use a program called Domoticz to run everything.  A heck of a lot more on this particular set up later.

The interesting thing about home control is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.  You can decide ‘I want a lamp in my living room to come on when it gets dark outside’ or ‘I want the flat to email me when the humidity gets stupidly high in there’, or ‘sound an alarm and email me when we’re supposedly out of the flat and a door is opened or a movement sensor is activated’.

With a bit of playing around, the world is your oyster.  Or your home is your servant.

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