Blog entries tagged with "home automation"

The Linux of Things

Saturday, January 26th, 2019 at 3:49 pm

As is becoming a habit, January for me means attending which this time around was held in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The theme this year was “The Linux of Things” and rather than paraphrase the definition I will simply quote part of it:

“Building on the role that Linux plays in our everyday lives, we will address IoT-related opportunities and concerns from the purely technical through environmental, health, privacy, security and more.”

Those who know or follow me should immediately spot that that this is strongly aligned with my recent enthusiasm for home automation. I lost count of how many conversations I had with people about what I had done and what they had done, then there were a number of relevant talks that added more information into the mix. It is a lot to think about…

A few of the bigger takeaways are:

  • Home Assistant is good for automation and displaying recent history, but store long term history elsewhere.
  • Use what you are comfortable with. For others this may mean off the shelf devices, but for me this means I will continue building simple functionality into arduinos.
  • What you actually do is also highly personalised. Just because someone triggers the aircon in their office to turn on when they make their first cup of coffee doesn’t mean that you have to as well.
  • Always learn from what other people have done, and just as importantly share what you have done so others can learn from you.

That last point isn’t really new or home automation related, it is part of the philsophy underpinning open source itself, so not surprising that it came up (a lot) at an open source conference ;)

As is also becoming a habit, I am not going to travel to another country just for one week, in a similar way that I followed up Hobart 2017 with a road trip, I am also following up Christchurch 2019 with a road trip:

I will need to hold off (for now) the planning a road trip from the Gold Coast, because that is where LCA will be in 2020…

Tagged with: , ,

From broadcast to stream

Saturday, December 1st, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Once I had my central heating controlled by Home Assistant based on a schedule in Google Calendar I started to think about how I could also control my stereo that I use as my alarm clock. This 25 cd stacker double tape desk stereo (purchase from Brashs gives an idea of how long I have had it) was the final clock in my house (I’m considering my car stereo to be out in the garage) that I would need to adjust for daylight saving.

My first thought was to find a manually tuned radio that I could just control the power of via a relay. I was able to find a few cheap radios, but they all had electronic tuners, so you couldn’t just kill the power. I also didn’t want to use an old radio, because it wouldn’t be as nice.

Next I started looking into playing back the infrared codes from the remote control for my stereo. This looked promising, but I was starting to like the idea of getting rid of the reasonably large stereo.

I briefly looked into a radio tuner module controlled by the Arduino. This would give me the ability to remotely tune to different stations, but it would also need some form of powered speakers that turned of/off at the same time.

Another option was a network speaker and I considered some cheap wifi speakers, but dismissed them when I found that nobody had integrated with them, I also didn’t find anything good said about the phone app they use for control. Also on the network speaker approach were options like a Sonos or a Google Assistant speaker. These are a lot more expensive and require cloud integration that I didn’t like.

The solution I went with was a network speaker somewhere in the middle, a speaker with integrated Chromecast. These have been discontinued in favour of more expensive models with Google Assistant, (I was able to find a new one on ebay for a very reasonable price) but with the advantage over a cheap speaker of there being a Google Cast component in Home Assistant.

Once setup on my wifi network it was again fairly straightforward to create automations to trigger playback from a network URL, the tricky part turned out to be finding the streaming URL for the radio station I wanted. If you go to there website the stream is provided by iheartradio which I couldn’t get to work, but I found a different source for the same station from the website of the radio network.

This has been working well (and I reclaimed space where the old stereo used to sit) but it does feel a bit wrong to change from receiving a broadcast over the air to downloading a network stream, it goes against one of my goals of not relying on internet/cloud services, although it can be rightly pointed out that using Google Calendar for the schedule already violates that goal…

Tagged with:

Controlling the heating

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 at 9:52 pm

After achieving my first long term goal of a clock that I do not need to adjust for Daylight Saving, I moved onto remote control of my central heating. Thanks to some Home Assistant components this came together quite easily.

I have gas ducted central heating with a controller mounted in a central location. You could say I didn’t need to change a thing as it was already “smart”:

Yeah, nah…

This is what is referred to as a 5+2 programmable thermostat, there are two sets of schedules, one for the five days of the week and another for the two days of the weekend. The interface between this thermostat and the heating unit itself a pair of wires carrying around 25VAC, close the circuit to turn the unit on, this would be done instead by a relay connected to an Arduino.

On the user interface side I was planning to use a Google Calendar as I could put in events to represent the schedule and I could already manipulate it from my phone the the web interface which covers off remote access. The regular schedule would be in as repeating events, but I could adjust them as needed if I knew I wasn’t going to be home until later than usual.

My original plan had been to write something that would query the google calendar and push that information to the thermostat Arduino which would compare the target temperature against the current temperature and set the state of the relay appropriately. This approached changed when I saw that there was a Generic Thermostat component in Home Assistant that would handle the logic of being a thermostat. I wouldn’t need to implement that on an Arduino, it could just be a dumb relay control for Home Assistant to turn on or off. As Home Assistant can use any type of switch component for this and I was already basing things around MQTT I looked at the MQTT Switch component.

I don’t really know how a switch should be implemented, but from the desired behaviour it was easy to work out that the Arduino would listen on a topic for a state (OFF/ON) and ideally it would publish the new (or current) state on another topic. An additional thing I added was a failsafe, the relay would timeout after five minutes, if something went wrong (eg wireless went down or Home Assistant crashed) I didn’t want the heating to run forever.

I did encounter one snag with the relay shield that I had, it was hardwired to have the relay on pin D1, but that was one of the default I2C pins. While I wasn’t using one of the I2C displays in this situation, I was trying to share code between my devices. Later versions of this relay shield let you configure which pin it uses, so in my case my I pulled out the D1 pin (I had already soldered it up) and ran a wire around to another pin.

Adding the switch logic to the Arudino sketch didn’t take long, nor did adding the configuration to Home Assistant, so it wasn’t long until I has it connected up for testing:

This worked well, so I moved onto implementing the scheduling aspect using the Google Calendar Event component and automations.

Despite parts of the documentation not matching the implmentation (I need to follow that up, possibly asking on the forum or even submitting a patch…) it wasn’t long until I had automations configured to set the target temperature when a calendar event started, and to then turn off the thermostat when the event ended.

It was now a waiting game as I needed to let the automations trigger over time, and I also needed the weather to cooperate. Fortunately I am in Melbourne where despite it almost being summer we had a week or so of cool enough weather for this to happen:

I was quite happy with this, just in time for summer to really kick in and I no longer have a need for central heating… but that does give me time to sort out a proper mounting and power supply. I was initially thinking about finding some kind of unobtrusive box to mount on the wall, but the idea of featuring the electronics (such as a Tripler Base mounted to a blank plate) is growing on me…

Tagged with:

This is not a clock

Monday, November 12th, 2018 at 8:01 pm

Do you see this thing that looks a lot like a bedside clock? While it may be displaying the current time, it is not really a clock…

To explain what I mean I need to go back a few weeks to when I was inspired to finally do something with the various electronic components I have collected over the years (five years since I plugged in a DS1820 sensor) for home automation. After some tinkering and relying heavily on the examples that come with the libraries I had this going:

On this breadboard is a D1 mini microcontroller, a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, and a 4-Digit 7-Segment Display from Adafruit. It is fantastic that other people have done the hard work of sorting out the libraries for the board (with wifi), the sensor and the display. Everything I have done with these is based on the examples provided.

What is happening in this photo is that it is alternating between displaying the temperature and the humidity, but over the following few weeks I continued to tinker until I had it publishing the temperature (and humidity) over wifi to an MQTT server in order to get the data into Home Assistant which displayed this:

Yes there are two data sources, because I had five (more on the way!) of these microcontrollers and they are cheap and simple enough to scatter around the house. They are easy to run from a USB charger, so anywhere I have a powerpoint I can have a device. I now have a lot more configured in Home Assistant and I am feeding in data from other sources, but they will be posts of their own, for I need to get back to explaining why this is not a clock.

Apart from adjusting to the time change, my biggest annoyance with daylight saving is the clocks that need to be manually changed. It is a lot easier these days as phones/computers/etc will automatically update, but I still have a few clocks that need to be adjusted.

My bedside clock is one of these and while I know you can buy a clock that adjusts automatically, when I last looked (it has been a while) I didn’t like the look of them and they were too expensive. So this was going to be my first project and at first I was going to make it a clock that would use time protocols to get the correct time, but you still needed to deal with timezones and other things.

So why not make it dumb? I have a linux box that is always on (where I am running services such as Home Assistant) and it has already dealt with the timezone and DST changes. Every minute it could publish what it thought was the current local time, something as simple as cron running a bash script:

DATE=`date +%H:%M`
mosquitto_pub -h localhost -t home/localtime -m $DATE

The requirements for the “not a clock” are pretty simple:

  • Connect to wifi and the MQTT server, subscribe to the home/localtime topic
  • Every 60 seconds publish temperature/humidity to MQTT (for Home Assistant to collect)
  • Whenever a message arrives on the home/localtime topic, output to the LED display

Making enclosures is probably what I will have the hardest time with (do I buy a 3d printer?) and until this evening I had bare electronics hanging from the wall in four locations around my house. With the need to be able to see the LED display I had the idea of using a clock radio as the enclosure. I decided against gutting my working clock radio so over the weekend I stopped by the local Kmart where I found a clock radio for the lofty price of $15:

(I’m showing the silver model as the picture gives a better idea of what it is, the black model is just a black obelisk, it also comes in rose pink if that suits your colour scheme)

It is not designed to be opened up so some force was required, but after removing the internals and the strategic application of tape and hot glue I have what is in the top picture. I have the temperature sensor taped to the side because I think it wouldn’t get the best reading being inside the case, limited airflow and some heat from the electronics could skew the reading.

An unexpected bonus of this specific radio (and it makes sense from an electrical certification point of view) is that it runs from 5 volts and comes with a small power supply. I retained the socket for this and wired it up to the D1 mini instead of using a USB power adapter. I also kept the board for the buttons on the top of the clock, in the future it might be nice to use them to as a trigger for some action…

I have a lot more to say about Home Assistant, including how I am testing out control of my central heating (just in time for summer…) using a D1 mini equiped with a relay. I have also realised that the remaining clock I have to manually adjust for daylight saving is my stereo, the 25 cd stacker double tape desk stereo that I use as my alarm to play the radio… is there a wifi speaker in my future?

Tagged with:

Naming devices under Linux

Thursday, November 28th, 2013 at 8:49 pm

When I recently started monitoring temperature it involved a USB to RS-232 adapter connected to my Linux box. A few weeks later I plugged in a USB device to monitor power usage.

Temperature was via /dev/ttyUSB0 and power was via /dev/ttyUSB1. Until an unscheduled reboot at which point they swapped around as that was the order the devices are detected at boot, not the order in which they were plugged in.

A quick search led me to discover that you can write rules for udev to give devices persistent names.

Relying heaving on Writing udev rules I muddled through to these rules:

SUBSYSTEM=="tty", ATTRS{product}=="USB2.0-Serial", SYMLINK+="digitemp"
SUBSYSTEM=="tty", ATTRS{product}=="RFA-Z106*", SYMLINK+="raven"

The generic RS-232 adapter now comes up under /dev/digitemp and the Raven comes up under /dev/raven. Now my monitoring will survive a reboot.

Tagged with: , ,

Monitoring power

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 at 9:18 pm

While some people are heavily against smart meters, I am not concerned. In fact when I received the initial notification about the installation my first thought was about the possibility of playing with new technology.

When they finally installed the meter it coincided with a co-worker getting solar panels installed which led to a number of conversations about ways to monitor power generation and consumption. Based upon previous research I had done I knew that other people in Melbourne had had success with Rainforest Automation devices which use the ZigBee Smart Energy wireless protocol to connect to the smart meter.

My co-worker opted for the EAGLE as his solar panels also connected over ethernet, while I opted for the (cheaper) RAVEn which is a USB dongle.

Once the devices arrived I had to wait a few more days until my smart meter was completely setup, but then it was a simple matter of entering the address and install code from the RAVEn into the online portal for the smart meter. After a quick test with the windows app, I plugged it into my Linux box to see it come up as a serial port.

It was nice to simply run cat /dev/ttyUSB1 and see it output an XML fragment reporting the instantaneous demand every few seconds.

The documentation for the XML API showed me how to send commands and how to convert the hex values to decimal and how to apply the multiplier and divisor. It didn’t take long to wrap this in a script to be called by MRTG:

Events visible in this sample include:

  • Hot water turning on at 11PM AEST and topping up a couple of times
  • Fan and light while getting ready for work
  • Fridge cycling on during the day
  • Use of oven to cook dinner
  • Lights and other usage when I am at home

Due to complications with having off-peak electric hot water (aka a ‘controlled load’) I do not get summation values, instead that is just a graph of the instantaneous load. So while it doesn’t give true usage, it is a good enough indicator.

Currently this graph is available to anyone who knows the URL, and while it can let someone determine when I am or am not at home, the easier way to do that would be to go into my backyard and look through a window.

Tagged with:

Monitoring temperature

Monday, November 25th, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Ten years ago I purchased a couple of DS18S20 1-Wire temperature sensors to monitor the outdoor temperature, the ambient room temperature and the temperature inside my computers. Along with the sensors themselves I got a RS-232 to 1-Wire adapter and a DS1820 mounted on a demo board.

While I did connect them up and used DigiTemp to prove that the adapter and sensors worked. I didn’t get much further, until two months ago when I decided it was about time to do something related to home automation, the result being this:

USB to RS-232 to 1-Wire to DS1820

producing this:

After a failed attempt at using an old serial port header to connect the RS-232 adapter I splurged on an entire $6 to get a bright pink USB to RS-232 adapter. The remainder of the hardware pictured is the DS9097U-009 adapter and the demp DS1820 mounted at the end of an RJ11 cable.

The software side consists of the digitemp package, a wrapper to pull the temperature from the digitemp output, and my existing MRTG setup.

Since then this setup has been logging the temperature every five minutes. It was interesting to be able to see my central heating come on at 5pm and cycling to maintain a target temperature of 20°C until 11:45pm. The above snapshot shows the central heating coming on yesterday, but not on the current day.

Despite this now being in use for almost two months, my plan is to incorporate the sensors into something more sophisticated, for example an Arduino based ethernet connected thermostat for my central heating. This is not a new idea, there are just a couple of examples floating around to use for inspiration.

Tagged with: