Commandeer X10-based home automation with your favorite microcontroller

X10 has been around for a long time. It’s the brand name for a set of wireless modules used to switch electrical devices in the home. There’s all kinds of different units (bulb sockets, electrical outlets and plug pass-throughs, etc.) and they’re mass-produced which makes them really inexpensive. Whether you already have some X10 controlled devices or just plan to add them later, we think you’ll find [Jeff Ledger's] post on controlling the system with a Propeller chip interesting. The technique is not Propeller specific and will be simple to port to your microcontroller of choice.

[Jeff] got his hands on an X10 Firecracker. This provides a DB-9 serial connection meant to be used for computer control. But the interface is so simple all you need is two I/O pins feeding the level converter circuit seen above. You can get the TC4427 for less than a dollar, and the Firecrcker module for as little as $6. Since [Jeff] has already covered adding Ethernet via a ENC28J60 he goes on to detail a web-server that lets him switch his devices, all served from the Propeller chip.

Here’s a different ENC28J60 Ethernet tutorial for those interested in webpages from microcontrollers. And then there’s also a ZigBee home automation project if you’re not warming up to the idea of using X10 modules.

Comments

  1. Hal says:

    What was his source for the Firecracker module? I thought that serial module was discontinued in favor of USB.

    [EDIT]Hmm. Seems it is back for sale but at some hefty prices. Interesting.

  2. AJ says:

    The only problem with X-10 is that, reliability wise, it’s a heaping, steamy pile of fail. One big bag of hurt. But, a neat idea none-the-less!

  3. Colecago says:

    I found this awhile back

    http://ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/appnotes/00236a.pdf

    Which does it without the need of another controller between you and the wall (no firecracker module).

  4. mkanoap says:

    While there are X10 devices that can be communicated with wirelessly, the X10 protocol is the opposite of wireless. It sends signals over the power line. The idea is that your house wiring becomes the network that allows you to switch on lights and other devices. The wireless part comes in where you have remote control devices that can inject the X10 signals into your “network.”

  5. JS says:

    The level convert isn’t necessarily needed needed. While the firecracker was designed to plug into the serial port. It used the RTS and DTR pins +5v is all the device needs to operate. I’ve built a web based controller out of the firecracker and an ATmega128 and and an ethernet i/o adapter. The Firecracker and the X10 wireless protocol is very reliable the PLC protocol is much less reliable and when there is a problem its very hard to troubleshoot. When it works it works very well when it doesn’t work you’ll pull your hair out. The Firecracker protocol as well as the X10 PLC protocol is well documented.

  6. Microguy says:

    X-10 isn’t that bad. I’ve been using it for decades. I had a pot of hot, fresh coffee waiting for me in the morning, because Mr. Coffee ever even thought of having a timer installed on one.
    I’ve still got a timer/clock/control module from like the 80’s, that still works fine.

    Yeah, sometimes the modules die out, but big deal, they’re cheap. *I* expect them to die!

    But if you want a more reliable module, then check out the new ones at Smarthome.com. A bit more expensive, but better.

    I’ve got a messed up back, and X-10 really saves me a lot of moving around. I can turn on/off/dim/brighten almost any light in my house, all from a simple remote control that looks like a TV remote. The basic set up cost me what? $45 on sale? The extra modules were pretty cheap. I even got extra wireless stick on “wall switches” to control several lights.

    Not perfect, but it’s pretty nice, considering the price. You can (could?) even get modules that open/close vents in your AC system or have little fans in them to increase air flow. They used to have a lot of stuff. Some of it comes and goes.

    • Ren says:

      Microguy wrote:
      “Yeah, sometimes the modules die out, but big deal, they’re cheap. *I* expect them to die!”

      Some of the modules have common failures and fixes can be found on the Internet. But you’d better hurry and download them before SOPA/PIPA takes effect.
      (tongue in cheek).

      I have an IBM branded X-10 computer interface (maybe it is the Firecracker) and GE interface that displays through a television with an Infrared remote control.

  7. Chad B says:

    My entire house runs off old/new X10 stuff. I’m aware there is better stuff available, but its not going to control everything in my house for a couple bucks.

    I’ve got the keychain controller for my porch light, a light sensor in my mailbox and by using the firecracker on my media (read: file) “server” I’ve got control from any web enabled device. Everything including the TV remote can control the lights and other appliances in the house. The best is running cron jobs on the lights while we are out of town :-P

    Only REAL failure is the lack of 2 way communication between devices. I’d like to be able to see what lights are on from my tablet, but it’s not a deal breaker.

    I put together a quick android app for my personal use:

    Might look into what the OP has done. Although my file server is always on anyways… I’d prolly buy a better system rather than spend any more time on my setup.

  8. lwatcdr says:

    What I would really like to see is a cheap serial over powerline mode. It doesn’t have to be fast just really cheap. It would be nice to have a way to sync clocks and send commands to devices over power lines. Maybe tell a lamp to turn on at x and then once a day set all the clocks on the network. You wouldn’t really need to be super accurate +-.1 second would be more than good enough for a lot of tasks.

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