Home Automation Is Hung Up On Software

Home automation is a favorite in sci-fi, from Tony Stark’s Jarvis, to Rosie the robotic maid on the Jetsons, and even the sliding doors pulled by a stagehand Star Trek. In fact, most people have a favorite technology that should be just about ready to make an appearance in their own home. So where are these things? We asked you a few weeks ago and the overwhelming answer was that the software just isn’t there yet.

We’re toddling through the smart home years, having been able to buy Internet-connected garage doors and thermostats for some time now. But for the most part all of these systems are islands under one roof. Automation is the topic of the current challenge for the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Developing the glue that can hold all of these pieces together would make a great entry. Why doesn’t that glue yet exist?

I think the problem is really twofold. On the one hand, there isn’t a clear way to make many devices work under one software. Second, there really isn’t an obvious example of great user experience when it comes to home automation. Let’s look at why and talk about what will eventually get us there.

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Your Laundry Is Done!

Have you ever put a load of dirty clothing in the washing machine and set the cycle running, only to forget all about it and discover a mouldering congealed mass in the machine a few days later? [Xose Pérez] has more than once, and to stop it happening again he’s got a project that monitors the machine in his basement and notifies him when his wash is done.

At the centre of his washing machine monitor is an ITead Sonoff IoT mains on-off switch. This device contains a 10A mains relay, an ESP8266 chip to control it, and a small mains switch-mode power supply. The Sonoff doesn’t use the ESP’s ADC pins, so he’s broken one of them out on a lead to a current transformer which captures the power level being consumed by the washing machine. The Sonoff is one of those IoT devices that relies on a proprietary cloud service and doesn’t have its own API, so [Xose] has created his own firmware for it incorporating an ESP port of an Arduino current sensing library. To round off the project and because he could, he’s added an ambient humidity sensor to the device.

The resulting boxed-up unit returns minute-by-minute current readings for the entire wash cycle. To spot when the cycle has finished, he waits for a moment when it has been using no power for more than five minutes, at which point his Node-RED system sends him a notification via Pushover.

This project is a very neatly executed hack on an extremely cheap piece of hardware whose capabilities would ordinarily be somewhat curtailed due to its proprietary interface. Surprisingly it’s not the first laundry monitor we’ve seen here at Hackaday, we’ve had this apartment laundry monitor using an accelerometer and a Raspberry Pi, and a notifier for a finicky dryer that insisted on stopping mid-cycle.

DIY Smart Home Device Means No More Fumbling in the Dark

Smart home tech is on the rise, but cost or lack of specific functionality may give pause to prospective buyers. [Whiskey Tango Hotel] opted to design their own system using a Raspberry Pi and Bluetooth device connectivity. Combining two ubiquitous technologies provides a reliable proximity activation of handy functions upon one’s arrival home.

Electrical Wiring Diagram

The primary function is to turn on a strip of LEDs when [Whiskey Tango Hotel] gets home to avoid fumbling for the lights in the dark, and to turn them off after a set time. The Raspberry Pi and Bluetooth dongle detect when a specified discoverable Bluetooth device comes within range — in this case, an iPad — after some time away. This toggles the Pi’s GP10 outputs and connected switching relay while also logging the actions to the terminal and Google Drive via IFTTT.

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Bending The New Amazon Dash Button To Your Will

Most Hackaday readers are familiar with the Amazon Dash button even if it has not yet made an appearance in their country or region. A WiFi enabled button emblazoned with a product logo, that triggers an Amazon order for that product when you press it. Stick it on your washing machine, press the button when you run out of laundry soap, and as if by magic some laundry soap appears. You still have to get out of your armchair to collect the soap from the delivery guy, but maybe they’re working on that problem too.

Of course the embedded computer concealed within the Dash button has been the subject of much interest within our community, and quite a few creative uses have been made of repurposed and reverse engineered examples.

Earlier this year a new Dash button model appeared. Largely similar on the outside, but sporting a comprehensive hardware update internally. Gone is the STM32 processor to be replaced by an Atmel part, and unfortunately since they also made changes to its communication protocol, gone also are most of the hacks for the device.

[Evan Allen] writes to us with his work on bending the new Dash button to his will. He goes into detail on the subject of retrieving their MAC addresses, and modifications to existing hacks to allow the buttons to be intercepted/redirected to trigger his MQTT server. It’s not by any means the end of the story and we’re sure we’ll see more accomplished uses of the new Dash button in due course, but it’s a start.

If the new button’s hardware interests you then [Matthew Petroff]’s teardown is definitely worth a look. As well as the Atmel chips — discovered to be a ATSAMG55J19A-MU with an ATWINC1500B wireless chip — the buttons now support power from a AA cell, and boast a significantly reduced power consumption. We really, really, need to pwn this tasty new hardware!

We’ve covered quite a few Dash button hacks before, from simply capturing button presses to cracking it wide open and running your own code. Let’s hope this new version will prove to be as versatile.

Kansas City Maker Faire: Lawn da Vinci is the Droid You’re Looking For

Summer is now in full swing, which means that mowing the lawn once a week is starting to get old. So why not build a robot do it for you? That’s what [Blake Hodgson] did, and he’s never been happier. It only took him a couple of weeks of quality time at one of the local makerspaces.

[Blake] was showing off Lawn da Vinci at this year’s Kansas City Maker Faire. He had his own booth around the corner from Hammerspace, the shop where it all came together. [Blake] started with a standard push mower from a garage sale and designed a frame around it using OnShape. The frame is made from angle iron, so it’s strong enough that he can ride on the thing. To each his own, we say. The wheels and motors came from a mobility scooter and match the beefiness of the frame. These are powered by two 12v car batteries wired in series. He drives it around his yard with an R/C airplane controller.

lawnmower gutsLawn da Vinci’s brainpower comes from two Arduino Pro Minis and a Raspberry Pi. One Arduino controls the motors and the R/C signal from the remoteThe other runs some extra kill switches that keep the Lawn da Vinci out of trouble.

So what’s the Raspi for? Right now, it’s for streaming video from the webcam attached to a mast on the frame back to his phone. [Blake] says he has had some latency issues with the webcam, so there could be a pair of drone racing goggles in his future. He also plans to add a GPS logger and to automate part of the mowing.

Now, about those kill switches: there are several of them. You probably can’t have too many of these on a remote control spinning suburban death machine. Lawn da Vinci will stop grazing if it goes out of range of the remote or if the remote is turned off. [Blake] also wired up a dedicated kill switch to a button on the remote and a fourth one on a separate key fob.

The Lawn da Vinci is one of many example projects that [Blake] uses to showcase the possibilities of KC Proto, a company he started to help local businesses realize their ideas by offering design solutions and assistance with prototyping. Between mowings, [Blake] puts the batteries on a trickle charger. If you make your own robot lawn mower, you might consider building a gas and solar hybrid.

A Grounded Option for the Jet-Setting Homebody

Over the course of 10 years, [Bruce Campbell] has built himself a sleek pad out of a Boeing 727-200 in the middle of the picturesque Oregon countryside.

As you’d expect, there are a number of hurdles to setting up a freaking airplane as one’s home in the woods. Foremost among them, [Campbell] paid $100,000 for the aircraft, and a further $100,000 for transportation and installation costs to get it out to his tract of land — that’s a stiff upfront when compared to a down payment on a house and a mortgage. However, [Campbell] asserts that airplanes approaching retirement come up for sale with reasonable frequency, so it’s possible to find something at a lower price considering the cost of dismantling an airframe often compares to the value of the recovered materials.

Once acquired and transported, [Campbell] connected the utilities through the airplane’s existing systems, as well going about modifying the interior to suit his needs — the transparent floor panels are a nice touch! He has a primitive but functional shower, the two lavatories continue to function as intended, sleeping, dining and living quarters, and a deck in the form of the plane’s wing.

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Solar Powered Hydroponics

[Dan Bowen] describes the construction of a backyard hydroponics set-up in an angry third person tirade. While his friends assume more nefarious, breaking, and bad purposes behind [Dan]’s interest in hydroponics; he’d just like some herbs to mix into the occasional pasta sauce.

Feel particularly inspired one day after work, he stopped by the local hardware store and hydroponics supply. He purchases some PVC piping, hoses, fittings, pumps, accessories, and most importantly, a deck box to hide all the ugly stuff from his wife.

The design is pretty neat. He has an open vertical spot that gets a lot of light on his fence. So he placed three lengths of PVC on a slant. This way the water flows quickly and aerates as it goes. The top of the pipes have holes cut in them to accept net baskets.

The deck box contains a practically industrial array of sensors and equipment. The standard procedure for small-scale hydroponics is just to throw the water out on your garden and replace the nutrient solution every week or so. The hacker’s solution is to make a rubbermaid tote bristle with more sensors than the ISS.

We hope his hydroponics set-up approaches Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon.