Ridiculously Complicated Home Automation Made Simple

[Eric T] wrote up his insanely-comprehensive home automation setup. What started out as a method to notify him when his dog barked grew into a whole-house, Arduino-powered sensor extravaganza. We’ve previously looked at two different steps from this mammoth article. One automated his dog, the other focused on the Wink hub to bridge with commercial hardware like smart lightbulbs. Now let’s look at the project as a whole.

The basic backbone of the project is actually quite straightforward. He made a radio gateway base station out of an Arduino, a RFM69 radio unit, and an Ethernet shield that connects to a Raspberry Pi to serve up a GUI interface. The open-source home automation project OpenHAB makes it all available through browser or smartphone.

Next, he made additional sensor nodes from Arduino and RMF69 radios. These sensor nodes can all be separate from each other, which has enabled [Eric] to expand his system incrementally over time.

Modules of particular interest are the Uber Sensor and the Washer-Dryer module. For the Uber Sensor, [Eric] basically threw every sensor he could at an Arduino; it sends noise levels, light levels, motion, temperature, humidity, and presence of smoke, flame, or flammable gas. Some of these conditions trigger e-mail alerts, while others are simply stored for future perusal.

On the simpler end of the spectrum, he uses a noise-level detector to detect the end of a laundry cycle and then trigger a notification. The clever bit is that the message is automatically cleared when an attached motion detector triggers, presumably because someone’s gone to the basement to empty the dryer. Very neat.

16All of this is basically made practical and affordable by the presence of simple Arduino libraries and cheap hardware modules purchasable over Ebay. If you’re at all interested in a DIY home automation project, this offering is worth a look for inspiration and a great overview.

Slick Bathroom Mirror is All Tricked Out

A Mirror surrounded by a string of brightly lit lamps is something you usually get to see in a Movie Star’s dressing room. [pickandplace] was inspired by the Movies, and a dark bathroom, to come up with a Bathroom Mirror equipped with some bells and whistles. To start with, his planning was quite detailed, sketching out the features and constraints for his design. He chose to use a round mirror with 12 LED bulbs (which are safer than 220V bulbs) so it can work as a clock. User input is handled by a motion sensor to automatically switch it on/off and a capacitive touch dimmer. Under the hood there’s an RTC (for clock and brightness adjustment based on time of day), simple boost PWM LED driver, thermal management for the LEDs which are 10W, temperature sensor to pipe down the current if the LEDs get too hot, and even an anti-fogging heater strip – phew!

His execution is no less brilliant. Starting with building the wooden frame and ending with the code for driving all the electronics. Along the way, you will find detailed notes on the LED’s, PWM Driver, Heat sinking, and capacitive Touch dimmer using Atmel’s AT42QT2160 Qslide – Matrix Sensor IC. He had some trouble with the Motion Sensor PIR module, and hasn’t yet written the code to implement it. His first version used a PIC18F87J50, and the next iteration had an ATXmega256A3BU – but he asks us not to get into the Microchip vs. Amtel debate. We have to agree on that. Sharp readers will point out that neither of the two micro’s can provide 12 PWM channels. Well, worry not, he has it all figured out. He also coded up a simple control interface which is handy when the unit is hooked up over USB to a computer. To top it off, he built a miniature LED ring to use as a “Simulator” while working on the code so he didn’t have to lug the heavy Mirror in and out of the bathroom. How’s that for doing a good job better! Source files are on his Github repo, and links to the hardware schematics are peppered throughout his blog.

If you don’t want to build something so fancy, look up the Bathroom Mirror with HUD which displays Time and Weather

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Emergency Power Based on Cordless Drill Batteries

[Don Eduardo] took matters into his own hands after experiencing a days-long power outage at his house. And like most of us have done at least one, he managed to burn his fingers on a regulator in the process. That’s because he prototyped a way to use power tool batteries as an emergency source — basing his circuit on a 7812 linear regulator which got piping hot in no time flat.

His next autodidactic undertaking carried him into the realm of switch-mode buck converters (learn a bit about these if unfamiliar). The device steps down the ~18V output to 12V regulated for devices meant for automotive or marine. We really like see the different solutions he came up with for interfacing with the batteries which have a U-shaped prong with contacts on opposite sides.

The final iteration, which is pictured above, builds a house of cards on top of the buck converter. After regulating down to 12V he feeds the output into a “cigarette-lighter” style inverter to boost back to 110V AC. The hardware is housed inside of a scrapped charger for the batteries, with the appropriate 3-prong socket hanging out the back. We think it’s a nice touch to include LED feedback for the battery level.

We would like to hear your thoughts on this technique. Is there a better way that’s as easy and adaptive (you don’t have to alter the devices you’re powering) as this one?

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Cracking Litter Box DRM

DRM on a specific brand of cat litter box has been cracked. In other news, DRM on cat litter boxes exists.

[Jorge] moved into a new apartment with a feline companion and wanted one of those fancy, auto-cleaning litter boxes. Apparently only one such device exists, the CatGenie. This ‘Rolls Royce of cat litter boxes’ uses little pieces of plastic granules as ‘functional medium’ that are scooped up, cleaned, and returned to use. These granules are washed with a cartridge full of fresh-smelling cleaning solution that comes in a container with an RFID tag. Yep, DRM’ed cat boxes. Welcome to the future.

After cruising around the Internet, [Jorge] found a CatGenie community that has released open source firmware for a litter box and something called a CartridgeGenius, a drop-in replacement for the cartridge tag reader in the litter box. It simulates both the RFID tag and its reader, allowing any robotic litter box owner to select between 120 cycle cartridges, 60 cycle cartridges, a maintenance cartridge, and set the fill level of those cartridges.

Previously, [Jorge] was spending about $350 a year on the solution to clean these plastic granules, so in a few months this CartridgeGenius has already paid for itself.

Tracking Power Usage With A Raspi

With tiny, Internet-connected computers everywhere these days, home automation is finally hitting it big. [Jelora] was looking for a few more home automation projects and realized his electric meter had a pair of ‘digital information outputs’. With a Raspberry Pi and a few bits of wire, he figured out how to read this digital output and put a log of his electricity consumption up on the web.

The digital output on [Jelora]’s meter is a bit odd; it’s 1200 bps, 7 bits per character, parity, with one stop bit. It’s also a 50 kHz AC signal for a binary ‘0’ and nothing for a binary ‘1’. To read this signal, [Jelora] is using a diode to throw out half the signal, a 6N138 optoisolator so the Pi isn’t connected directly to the meter, and a small cap to smooth out the signal. Simple, and it works.

This cleaned up signal is then connected to serial to USB chip and a PHP script scrapes the data every minute. The data received from the meter is stored in a data base along with a few other bits of information: if the meter is being charged peak or off-peak rates, and the price per kWh. All this is saved on an IDE hard drive (more reliable than the SD card, surprisingly), and a ‘electricity cost per day’ is plotted on a nifty graph and served up by the Raspberry Pi.

Using The Wink Hub With OpenHAB

Spend enough time looking at home automation setups, and you’ll quickly find there are two competing philosophies. The first wants to put an Arduino on every light socket, with everything connected by cheap eBay radio modules. The second home automation philosophy requires astonishingly expensive hardware to talk to other expensive modules. The Arduino solution is a system that can be infinitely customizable, and the commercial solution talks to ‘the cloud’ for some strange reason. There is no middle ground. At least there wasn’t until [Eric] started poking around and looked at a few hardware solutions.

[Eric] was looking to control some GE Link bulbs through his phone, computer, or through the Internet. They’re supposed to be the best bulb on the market in terms of price and performance, but they can only be controlled with a Zigbee. This lead [Eric] to an interesting hack that gave all owners of the Wink Hub local control of their devices. From [Eric]’s research, this was the only way his lighting wasn’t dependent on ‘the cloud’.

Local control of the Wink was only possible after [Eric] read a post on rooting the Wink (and this post from a few days ago). Because the device could be rooted, and the fact that [Eric] already has a few things in his house integrated with OpenHAB, the choice on how to proceed with controlling a few Zigbee enabled lights was easy.

Once [Eric] got the light bulbs talking to the Wink, integrating them with the rest of the devices in his home was easy. The new bulbs are activated with his Arduino motion sensors, door sensors, and can be controlled via smartphone or by voice control. The Wink can also be completely disconnected from the Internet. A good idea, because the ability to turn a light on and off should not be dictated by the quality of your Internet connection.

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Redundant Automated Water Filler For Your Coffee

We’ve always wondered why we have indoor plumbing if it isn’t hooked up to our coffee pots. We probably drink as much coffee as water anyway, so why not just hook up a water line to refill the pot? [Loose Cannon] aka [LC] has been working on just that problem, with a whole lot of extra features, creating a very robust automatically-filled, gravity-fed, vacuum-sealed water tank for whatever appliance you have that could use it, including your coffee pot.

[LC] tapped into the 1/4″ water line from the ice maker, which has the added bonus of being a common size for solenoid valves. He’s using an eTape sensor to measure the water level in the reservoir, but he ALSO is using a flow meter in the line itself to double-check that the reservoir won’t overflow. The flow meter allows a hard limit to be set for the maximum amount of water allowed into the tank. He’s used an Arduino Micro to tie the project together, which also handles a real-time clock so the tank can be filled on a schedule.

The tank that [LC] was trying to fill was vacuum-sealed as well, which made things a little trickier. Without a vacuum on the tank, the water would just run out of the overflow valve. This is an interesting project that goes way beyond the usual automatic water supplies for coffee pots we’ve seen before.