Category Archives: Narrative

Philips Hue in partnership with The Voice UK will bring the studio into your living room

I don’t think I have ever been more excited about Philips Hue, and that is saying something as I am a great lover of the whole range of products.

In January ITV (the UK television network) announced that during later stages of The Voice UK, the companion app will control connected Hue devices and sync them to the stage lighting.  This means in effect that the lighting director will not only be controlling the stage where the contestants sing, but also the lights wherever you are watching.

I have downloaded the app in anticipation and have selected the lights I want to be controlled during the live performance, and also tested the setup via a short sample video supplied in the app.  If the live shows sync up as well as the sample video did, I can only tremble with anticipation before the live head-to-head shows begin.

THIS is what we have been waiting for.  Ambilight and the projection version of Ambilight from Philips proved that extending the lighting effects beyond the visible window you can see on television creates a much more immersive experience.  This new innovation (similar – but possibly an evolution of – the SyFy Sync app)  brings us one step closer to all action/music/performance programmes having “light encoding” similar to the way subtitles are currently saved alongside video.  I cannot wait to see this in action: Philips, if you are reading this and you need a “real” home to preview The Voice integration: pick me!

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Podcast interview

I was interviewed for the David Snape and Friends podcast last week.  David’s blog and podcast is an eclectic mix showcasing bloggers’ hidden talents.  It’s a great read and I would recommend you having a look.

The interview was tailored mainly as an introduction to smart homes and so may be a bit basic for enthusiasts who already have a knowledge of how devices fit together. If you’re interested in listening please go to the podcast’s page (my interview starts at 1 hour 31 minutes and lasts about 20 minutes).

I’ve been concentrating on my new YouTube channel for the last few weeks but I’m not ignoring my blog:  I have a few entries planned out including some simple Lua scripts to whet your appetites.  I am also working on a new user interface for smart home control (what’s new!) so I will be showcasing that soon and I will hopefully have a place for you to download it directly.

 

New YouTube channel

I just thought I would let you know that I have a new YouTube channel, called Fabulous Home Automation where I intend to add informational videos about home control devices.  There will be a mixture of reviews and technical hints and tips, so hopefully something for everyone.  My very first video is a quick review of some LightwaveRF products.  I’d appreciate your comments, but please be constructive as this is my first video!

View my YouTube channel

 

Logs, logic and inspiration: Managing a complex home control setup

You know how it goes.  You start with one or two home control devices.  You find it amazing that you can control them from your phone.  You want more.  And more…

Here’s a quick diagram of my current setup at home.

setup.png

There are at least 77 items for the home control system to control.  Each one has a unique set of capabilities, and inter dependencies with other devices.  Certain groups of these items require different communication protocols, some radio, some infrared, some HTTP and some via a webserver.

As my system has been created from several protocols and brands, I find it engaging and a full-on hobby to ensure they perform perfectly in concert.  Basic scripting has become more in-depth as I attempt to squeeze out the most from every device.  Although adding additional functionality is stimulating for me and ultimately rewarding for me and my flatmate, each iteration adds a new layer of complexity – and like every complex system, the bigger it is, the harder it can fall.

I’ve recently been faced with a problem.  A few times in a row, the Raspberry Pi 2 has frozen overnight. The controls and automatic lighting obviously do not respond, and then something as simple and as taken for granted as getting light and audio into the shower requires scrabbling through phone apps: not good if the water is already running!  Worse, the switches that are supposed to be triggered in the early morning, such as the “it is dawn” variable do not fire.  So with such a complex system how do you diagnose the problem?

Logs

The first answer is logs.  Loads of logs.  Ensure each of your subsystems are writing down what they are doing and just as importantly when they are doing it.  You can then rifle through the logs and find anything that is not behaving as you’d planned.

Inter-dependency diagrams

Okay, so this may be the most geeky thing I have said on this blog so far, but I like to keep diagrams and spreadsheets showing which systems and activities are inter-related.  And in the event of a catastrophic failure, they pay dividends.  You can literally trace your finger through the lines and see which scripts you need to check if something is not working right.  You can also keep track of things like ID codes and group codes for all your connected devices.

Logic

To do this you need to empty the house of unexpected variables (i.e. the rest of the family and pets large enough to trigger any sensors) and then physically run through each process that you think may be causing the problem.  If you are anything like me this usually involves an embarrassing and potentially uncomfortable period where you are remaining totally motionless right in front of a motion sensor to see what happens when the “no movement here” signal is sent.

Inspiration

You may be surprised by the other users’ perception and understanding of your home control system.  Ask other occupants what they think is happening.  At best they could hit the nail on the head, and if not they just may throw something so left-of-centre out there that is provides you with the fresh outlook you need to trace the problem.

Summary

I feel this entry will become outdated very soon.  As consumers we are on the cusp of having our cake and eating it: a fully integrated one-stop solution for home automation that will work seamlessly and without requiring manual programming.  It may even have the ability to provide reasons for failure and suggest ways to work around it, especially if open-source and app-based: a fellow user in the Netherlands could be granted temporary access to help sort out the problem you’re having with your garage door in California.

This new way will remove the complexity involved in getting disparate systems to work together, but will it provide the level of control we ‘first gen’ full home control aficionados will require?  Either way, I’m glad I’ll be able to say “In my day, we had to fumble around to find the solutions to these issues, and sometimes create our own!”

 

 

LightwaveRF and IFTTT

LightwaveRF have opened a channel on IFTTT, meaning that as long as you have a Lightwave Link Hub, you can control your lights (and later, switches) via a staggering array of recipes  using pre-made ones or by picking a choosing events from a long list of items such as calendar entries, Nest devices and emails.

ifttt1

Although not as useful for me as I prefer lower-level controlling of the devices, I can see that this is a great leap for LightwaveRF.  The company produces really good quality products and I am surprised that not more people have heard about them.  Hopefully this partnership will switch on more people to the potential time and energy saving attributes of good quality home automation products.

 

Controlling Hive via Domoticz

Hive from British Gas provides an excellent way to control your heating.  Setup is easy, you don’t need any existing home control equipment and the new-look thermostat is beautiful with its mirrored surface, colour display and satisfying prominent knob to twiddle… ahem.

hivetherm

There’s even a geolocation option in the app to remind you to switch off the heating if you leave home unexpectedly.  I thought, however, that it would be nice to immediately ‘stand down’ the heating as the last person in the flat left for the working day.  I have achieved this through Domoticz by modifying an excellent script from the Domoticz Forum (I can’t remember where – so please let me know in comments if you can point me to the thread to give the original poster the credit they deserve).

The following code is used as a LUA script (notice that I’ve set 4 virtual switches for this, one to turn the heating to 15C (our version of ‘off’), one to turn the heating to 20C (we call this ‘normal’), one for 22C (This is a boost to make the flat cosy) and the last switch to time the 22C state so that after half an hour, the heating reverts back to a more sustainable and energy saving temperature).


-- Set Hive thermostat

local HiveURL = 'https://api.hivehome.com/v5/'

local username = ‘email@email.com’

local password = 'passwordstring'

local loginhdr = '--location --data "username=' .. username .. '&password=' .. password .. '" '

local header = '--location -X PUT --data id=1 --data "temperature='

local tempcommand = '/widgets/climate/targetTemperature'

local tempUnit = '&temperatureUnit=C" '

local cookie = 'curl --cookie cookie.jar --cookie-jar cookie.jar '

local login = 'curl --cookie cookie.jar --cookie-jar cookie.jar --location --data "username=<HIVE USERNAME>&password=<HIVE PASSWORD>" https://api.hivehome.com/v5/login'

function round(num, idp)              -- Round number into manageable digits

local mult = 10^(idp or 0)

return math.floor(num * mult + 0.5) / mult

end

function LoginHive(self)

login = cookie .. loginhdr .. HiveURL .. 'login'

os.execute(login)

end

function UploadToHive(self)

upload = cookie .. header .. settemp .. tempUnit .. HiveURL .. "users/" .. username .. tempcommand

os.execute(upload)

end

function LogoutHive(self)

logout = cookie .. HiveURL .. 'logout'

os.execute(logout)

end

commandArray = {}

if devicechanged["TEMP Set to 15"] =='On' then

settemp = '15.0'

print ("Setpoint: " .. settemp .. " C")

commandArray["VAR Heating Boost"] = "Off"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 20"] = "Off"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 22"] = "Off"

LoginHive()

UploadToHive()

LogoutHive()

end

if devicechanged["TEMP Set to 22"] =='On' then

settemp = '23.5'

print ("Setpoint: " .. settemp .. " C")

commandArray["VAR Heating Boost"] = "On"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 20"] = "Off"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 15"] = "Off"

LoginHive()

UploadToHive()

LogoutHive()

end

if devicechanged["TEMP Set to 20"] =='On' then

settemp = '20.0'

print ("Setpoint: " .. settemp .. " C")

commandArray["VAR Heating Boost"] = "Off"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 22"] = "Off"

commandArray["TEMP Set to 15"] = "Off"

LoginHive()

UploadToHive()

LogoutHive()

end

return commandArray

Heating on the whole is managed by the Hive itself, so that fine-tuning to the heating can be done via the thermostat or the Hive app on our mobile devices.

The interface to Domoticz is used to select from the 3 heating operating modes as mentioned above.  The display polls Domoticz to work out which heating option is currently selected and then ‘lights’ that icon up.  This gives positive feedback to the user as to which heating mode has been selected.

glow1

Hive seem to be breaking into the Home Automation market in more ways that just heating.  For example, we have been sent a Hive Plug.  This appears to serve two purposes: the first to extend the radio range of the Hive system (to act like a WiFi extender but purely for the Hive signals) and second to control a device plugged into the Hive Plug.  There is currently no option to do this via the app so I am assuming an update will occur soon to allow users to do this.

hiveplug

Any unneeded heating costs money and energy, so from both the environmental and financial benefits, if this implementation saves 2 hours of heating a week, that is the equivalent of over 4 days of excess heating per year saved.

The Family Factor

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.

padThe 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.