Impressive Pi System Controls Large Office

A pile of Raspberry Pis isn’t what would spring to mind for most people when building a system to control a large office, but most people aren’t [Kamil Górski]. He decided to use Pis to run the office of his company Monterail when they moved to a larger space. The system they built is one of the largest Pi installations we have seen, controlling the lights, TVs, speakers and door access. It can all be controlled through a web interface, so anyone on the network can turn the lights on or off, check if a room is occupied or send sound and video to the fancy AV system in the conference room. He even hacked a bunch of HDMI switches so that every TV can show the same image if everyone wants to watch the same event. Even the radio station that plays in the lounge is controlled remotely from an employee slack channel.

The system is run on five Pis, one of which acts as a master, while the others are connected to each of the TVs, running Chrome in console mode being remotely controlled through the Chrome Debugging Protocol.  That allows anyone on the network to control the display and send content to it. One interesting thing to note: [Kamil] freely admits that this is a bespoke system that couldn’t be easily sold as a product. Nothing wrong with that, but he decided to build in some backups: if the whole system fails, all of the lights, doors, and other devices can still be controlled through old-school switches, keys, and remote controls. Even a full system crash doesn’t render the office unusable. That’s a wide precaution that many people forget in systems like this.

35 thoughts on “Impressive Pi System Controls Large Office

    1. What exactly are they marketing? It’s a blog post of an interesting project. If you want to replicate it, why not approach the author and ask if he’d share some more info?

      Personally I’d never thought of using the chrome debugging protocol like that. Will need look into it further…if I ever get the time.

        1. Doesn’t any post here by the community market their skills? I like to see what people have done beyond the scope of blinking and clocks. I’m here for the novel uses of X. Code just makes things quicker and is a privilege to have access to.

          1. Check out their site. This looks to me like a toy that they can show to prospective clients to say “Yeah, we have the chops.” This is much more marketing than most things that pop up here.

            I never said it shouldn’t be here, though — quite the opposite in fact. Someone asked what they were marketing; so I provided the (to me) obvious answer. I happen to dig building automation, so other than an unfortunate lack of detail, I enjoyed reading about it.

    2. Hey, I didn’t expect such amount of replys so sorry for a delay. Part of your questions was answered here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12771201

      I will write an addition to the post with more technical details in few days as I see that there is a lot of interest in that matter.

      For the marketing thing: it’s not quite that. Whole system design was prepared based on two requirements: flexibility and hackability by web-developers working in Monterail. I achieved that in inconventional way, it works for quite a time and we decided to describe it for you to see. I wanted to show that RPi is also capable for handling larger ecosystems than usual projects seen in the Internet.

    3. Hey, I didn’t expect such amount of replys so sorry for a delay. Part of your questions was answered here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12771201

      I will write an addition to the post with more technical details in few days as I see that there is a lot of interest in that matter.

      For the marketing thing: it’s not quite that. Whole system design was prepared based on two requirements: flexibility and hackability by web-developers working in Monterail. I achieved that in inconventional way, it works for quite a time and we decided to describe it for you to see. I wanted to show that RPi is also capable for handling larger ecosystems than usual projects seen in the Internet.

        1. I can assure you that it was cheaper than any off-the-shelf systems. Assuming that there is some product that can handle the same things as presented one. As for maintenance, no action was required for last 8 months. Moreover anyone from the company is capable for creating new features.

          1. Of course, it was started as an experiment and such assumptions were taken in calculations. For this reason all systems are made failsafe way – you can rip out the RPi from the cabinet and you still be able to use main features of the office. As I said before, so far there were no downtimes at all, I guess we will see how it will function in the future.

    1. I have 3 Raspi’s that have been running for many years – one has been running for about 4 and the other two for 3 years, 24×7 except for power outages (and there have been more than a few in that time). Never had a SD card corruption.

      Now what to do when you get a corruption? Pull it out and replace it with one of the $8 SD cards that you have on the shelf and can re-image in about 20 minutes.

      Now compare that with a hard drive failure in a PC – because PCs fail too…

    2. My weather PI has been running from solar power for two years. No corrupt SD cards. I have two PI’s running my 3D printers for the last 3 years 24/7. Guess what, not corrupt SD cards. I have a PI in the loft, been there at least 2 years. Pipes music to the bathroom via some bathroom safe speakers in the ceiling. Despite the wild temp changes you get in a loft, still no correct SD cards.

      It can happen, but I don’t see the PI be any worse than any other system. Stuff fails, my HDD on my main PC failed a couple weeks ago. But as I have a NAS and a backup strategy, an amazon order later, back up and running.

      I only used San Disk. No idea if that is why, but works for me. :)

      Richard: Fighting incorrect internet memes…………. :)

    3. It is a year from the launch and from 7 RPis there was only one card failure after two months (some factory defect?). We will see if this will be an issue, but we are not performing many write operations onto them.

  1. I like the idea and I like reading about it. But something really confuses me:
    “The system is run on five Pis, […], he decided to build in some backups: if the whole system fails, all of the lights, doors, and other devices can still be controlled through old-school switches, keys, and remote controls. Even a full system crash doesn’t render the office unusable. That’s a wide precaution that many people forget in systems like this.”

    Why would you think about and even implement some more or less complex backup mechanism instead of replacing all 5 PIs in two minutes? The most significant benefit of this concept is the replaceability of the hardware components. It’s easy and cheap. There could even be another five PIs already running in the background, mirroring all data and automatically taking over when something goes wrong.

    So, why… why?

    1. If the network and/or power goes out, legacy controls (like keys and light-switches) are necessary. Swapping out components just to be able to unlock the door in the dark sounds pretty insane.

      1. When the power (and UPS) goes out, you want to use the light switches?
        When the network goes out, one PI is still connected to the door mechanism, right?
        Also, how hard can it be to connect 5 PIs in a reliable manner?

        Are the glass doors in shopping malls or supermarkets made for manual opening/closing by hand?

        How badly designed is this control system that it needs such extensive backup mechanisms like “old-school light switches” that work during a “full system crash”?

        1. Every system you have described has layers of safety requirements for UL and or FM, both for the materials used and the systems themselves.

          The AHJ sets the rules to grant your building owner a certificate of occupancy.

          Magnetic door locks are required to be over ridden during a fire alarm to prevent the spread of smoke and fire.

          Good luck with your innovations guys.

          At least perform an FMEA on your system.

          “What could possibly go wrong…”

    2. As Jake says plus we wanted to have a maximum reliability. This is still a professional workplace and any distruptions are not desirable. Moreover a part of system assumptions was that it should be hackable: anyone from the office can write their own feature :)

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