Unless you live with other home automation geeks, there’s a fine balance to achieve when designing your system. Although you can be as creative and innovative as you like behind the scenes, there still needs to be a point of contact between the system and the users. It is this point of contact that can prove the most difficult. You need to strike a balance here: it’s important that the end users feel comfortable with the controls and get some kind of feedback that what they have requested has been carried out.
The simplest and one of the most common ways to provide an interface is via a touch screen. Family members may not want to whip out their mobiles every time they want to turn on a light, so a permanent touchscreen is useful in that situation. We have a Sony Tablet S permanently standing on its charger in the living room for this purpose, but what to do when you are not in the living room? My choice was to place LightwaveRF Mood Controllers next to every light switch. These controllers are wireless and the battery can be changed easily. A blue LED illuminates to confirm that a button has been pressed. The only downside is that the markings are not very clear, especially in the dark, and there are only generic symbols on them (1, 0 on the two large pads, and ‘Standby’, ‘1’, ‘2’, and ‘3’ on the 4 smaller buttons). Because each “pad” (as I call them) does something different in each room, I printed custom covers for the pads and stuck them on.
Because all the mood switches do is send an RF signal, the clever stuff can be done behind the scenes by Domoticz. For example, by pressing one button on the pad, all lights in my room switch to maximum, change colour to bright white, and my Sonos switches to a ‘daytime’ volume and starts playing This American Life. A great button to have when you’re back home from work and want to get changed in your room!
The ultimate test of a user interface is to see how users react to it. It seems like guests to the flat understand what the buttons would do, even if they are sometimes afraid to press them!
I just asked Chester what he thinks of the pads. He was non-plussed in a kind of ‘well, they just work’ way. This is a good thing as it means the pads have seamlessly integrated into the flat and are taken for granted by the users, which is of course the ultimate aim for home control user interfaces.