DIY: Make a better handset controller

Although I like the look of the standard LightwaveRF hanset controllers, the user of said controller has to remember what device is switched on and off when a numbered button is pressed.  This requires Mastermind-level memory.

Besides, I don’t use the controllers for ‘On’ and ‘Off’ per se, rather just to send a signal to Domoticz, so that the computer can decide what to do (or to reject the command altogether).  This means that the same button can be used for ‘On’ and ‘Off’, and therefore the same handset can be used for multiple functions (lighting moods and audio for example).

So a way to make these controllers more intuative is to add personally created templates to them so that the controller becomes part of your home setup.  You can choose a theme and run with it (as shown).

Firstly, this procedure is reversible, so if you don’t like what you’ve done, you can undo it all and revert back to your original handset.  Just remember to keep all the bits that come off the controller safe.

Secondly, you will lose some functionality.  Because the switch is removed, you don’t have the ability to select button set A, B, C or D.  I personally don’t care about this because the whole reason I wanted to make a custom cover for my remotes was to make them as user friendly as possible.

And if your family can remember that C4 controls the TV power, and D2 controls the garage door, and B1 to B4 control the kitchen lights, then you shouldn’t be reading this blog: you should all be at Cape Canaveral getting ready to take off a-la-Lost in Space.  Danger, Will Robinson!

Basically, you’ll end up with 10 buttons per customised handset.

 

1. Peel off the backing sticker from the controller to expose a screw and unscrew it.

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2. Prise open the controller.  The things that should come off (quite easily are: The front cover, the rubber keys, the switch (which may come off in one part or may split into the plastic part of the switch and the metal part).  And the screw of course.  If the circuit board has come off from the base of the remote then I think you used a little too much force!  Get you, butchy.

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You’ll notice that the rubber buttons are not needed – the ‘pads’ you can see in the image are self-contained switches.  Like the ones you get on blister-remotes.

3. Design your overlay.  I will post a template that you can use (search for the ‘Templates’ tag).  Don’t forget to leave a space where the led will shine when a button is pressed.

I used icons from Flat Icon.

4. Print and cut out the overlay.  I found that good quality bright white matt card worked best.

You may need to cutoff tiny strips from any side to make the overlay fit correctly.

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5. Put one or two layers of the same card underneath the overlay (between the keys and the overlay).  This will make the control pad seem more springy.

6. Tape on the overlay onto the front of the controller.  I used normal tape here but I should have used a thick tape so that I only needed to use 1 pass, rather than 3 passes as I have done in the above picture.

Make sure that you don’t tape up the drawer on the back, otherwise you’ll have probelms when it comes to changing the battery.

7. Voila!  The below example is for the kitchen.  That’s why there is a cute chef as one of the buttons: when you press the chef button, all the devices in the kitchen switch on.

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8. Now it’s time to program what happens when you press the keys.  More on that elsewhere in this blog.

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Here’s an example handset (this one is for my bedroom).  It’s been created in the same style as all the ‘hardware controllers’ in the flat, so that picking it up and using it should be second nature.

You can for once use your creative side and your geek side together for this project.  Why not speak to members of your family to get an idea of what they’d like to see on the controllers (favourite colours, family member/pet’s faces etc).  Maybe they could even design the templates for you!

 

 

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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.

Introduction

Hi, I’m Harry and I live in the UK.  I’ve been interested in home automation as long as I can remember, but my interest was really fired up when I started watching Sci-Fi programmes such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and even Buck Rodgers!  I really wanted to live in this futuristic place where you could press a button or speak a command, and the computer takes over and your wish is taken care of!

I have spent a few years trying to achieve a really usable ‘smart home’ and feel that now is the time to share my findings.  I also have the added challenge that I  have a regular guest in the form of our good friend and ‘head housekeeper’ so like may aficionados have to make the home control system ‘user friendly’.

The trials and tribulations of creating a 'smart home' in the UK