Pimped out 70’s Home Intercom System, Now with More Pi

If you own a house that was built in the 1970’s, you might still have the remnants of a home intercom system on the walls of each room. They were consider the end-all-be-all of “home automation” back in the day. Now, they look dated and out of place (but still kind of retro-cool at the same time).  [Cpostier] decided that he wanted to keep his old intercom system, but give it an update with a Rasperry Pi and a 7 inch touch screen, and the results are totally groovy, man.

The original unit served two functions, as an intercom system, and also as a whole house music player.  [Cpostier] wasn’t interested in the intercom feature, and so he started with the traditional gutting of the 70’s dried up electronics. Each room received a new $7 speaker (from Amazon), and the main control panel was fitted with a Pi, TFT touch screen, and new amplifier. The Pi is running Kodi (formerly know as XBMC) and along with it being a great media player, it can also show weather data, or what ever else you would like.

Something magical happens when you blend new tech with old tech – we totally dig it.

Custom Siri Automation with HomeKit and ESP8266

Knowing where to start when adding a device to your home automation is always a tough thing. Most likely, you are already working on the device end of things (whatever you’re trying to automate) so it would be nice if the user end is already figured out. This is one such case. [Aditya Tannu] is using Siri to control ESP8266 connected devices by leveraging the functionality of Apple’s HomeKit protocols.

HomeKit is a framework from Apple that uses Siri as the voice activation on the user end of the system. Just like Amazon’s voice-control automation, this is ripe for exploration. [Aditya] is building upon the HAP-NodeJS package which implements a HomeKit Accessory Server using anything that will run Node.

Once the server is up and running (in this case, on a raspberry Pi) each connected device simply needs to communicate via MQTT. The Arduino IDE is used to program an ESP8266, and there are plenty of MQTT sketches out there that may be used for this purpose. The most recent example build from [Aditya] is a retrofit for a fiber optic lamp. He added an ESP8266 board and replaced the stock LEDs with WS2812 modules. The current version, demonstrated below, has on/off and color control for the device.

Continue reading “Custom Siri Automation with HomeKit and ESP8266”

Let Alexa Control Your Life; Guide to Voice-Enable Everything

Let’s face it, automation doesn’t feel quite as futuristic unless you can just say what you want out loud and have the machines flawlessly obey. That is totally possible now — and on the cheap. Well, cheap as far as money goes. It can be an expensive learning curve to get it all working. This will help. [Lindo St. Angel] has put together a guide to navigate voice control of hardware using Amazon’s Alexa SDK.

We previously reported that Amazon’s AI had escaped its hardware prison in the form of the Alexa Skills Kit. Yes, calling it the Alexa SDK above is wrong it’s actually the ASK but nobody knows what that acronym is while most recognize the gist of an SDK. It gives you the hooks and the documentation necessary to leverage the functionality in your own applications. The core functionality of Alexa is voice recognition. Even so, it’s still a tall hill to climb.

[Lindo] has broken down the problem into a very manageable example. The Amazon Voice Service (part of ASK) is used for voice recognition and control. Amazon’s Lambda service connects the ASK to your piece of hardware; in this case he’s using a Raspberry Pi as the server. The final step is to connect your hardware to the Pi. [Lindo] is interfacing a keypad-based home automation system with the Pi but the sky’s the limit at this point.

With all the authentication and connectivity laid bare, this is a lot more approachable. The question is no longer can you connect everything to voice control. The question becomes should you give control of everything over to one single online service?

RFM69 to MQTT Gateway on the Super-Cheap

[Martin] is working on a RFM69-to-MQTT bridge device. If you’re at all interested in DIY home automation, this is going to be worth following. Why? When your home automation network gets big enough, you’re going to have to think seriously about how the different parts talk to each other. There are a number of ways to handle this messaging problem, but MQTT is certainly a contender.

MQTT is a “lightweight” publish-subscribe framework that’s aimed at machine-to-machine data sharing, and runs on top of a normal TCP/IP network. IBM has been a mover behind MQTT since the beginning, and now Amazon is using it too.

But most MQTT servers need a TCP/IP network, which pretty much means WiFi, and this can be a killer for remote sensors that you’d like to run on battery power, or with limited processing power. For these use cases, a low-power, simple sub-gigahertz radio module is a better choice than WiFi. But then how to do you get your low-power radios to speak to your MQTT devices?

That’s the point of [Martin]’s MQTT bridge. Previously he had built a sub-gig radio add-on for a Raspberry Pi, and let the Pi handle the networking. But it looks like there’s enough processing power in a lowly ESP8266 to handle the MQTT side of things (over WiFi, naturally). Which means that you could now connect your 868 MHz radio devices to MQTT for less than the cost of two pumpkin spice, double-pump lattes.

On the firmware side, [Martin] has enlisted the help of [Felix], who developed the Arduino-plus-RFM69 project, the Moteino. [Felix] has apparently ported his RFM69 library to the ESP8266. We’re dying to see this working.

For now, we’ve got some suggestive screenshots which hint at some LAN-exposed configuration screens. We’re especially interested in the RFM + MQTT debug console window, which should really help in figuring out what’s gone wrong in a system that spans two radio protocols.

The bottom line of all of this? Super-cheap, power-efficient RFM69-based radio nodes can talk with your sophisticated MQTT network. Keep your eyes on this project.

Amazon’s AI Escapes its Hardware Prison

It’s the 21st century, and we’re still a long way from the voice-controlled computers we were all promised in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. The state of voice interaction has improved, though, and Amazon’s release of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is another sure step towards a future of computers that will pay attention to you. This allows any hardware to become Alexa, your personal voice assistant with the ability to do just about anything you command.

amazon_echoUp to this point, Alexa was locked away inside the Amazon Echo, the ‘smart’ cylinder that sits in your living room and does most of what you tell it to do. Since the Amazon Echo was released, we’ve seen the Echo and the Alexa SDK used for turning lights on and off, controlling a Nest thermostat, and other home automation tasks. It’s not Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Apple’s Siri that is behind all these builds; it’s Amazon’s Alexa that is bringing us into a world where Star Trek’s [Scotty] talking into an old Mac is seen as normal.

Right now, the Getting Started guide for the Alexa Skills Kit is focused more on web services than turning lights on and air conditioning off. Sample code for ASK is provided in JavaScript and Java, although we would expect 3rd party libraries for Python to start popping up any day now. If you want to run ASK on a Raspberry Pi or other small Linux computer, you’ll need a way to do voice capture; the Jasper project is currently the front-runner in this space.

We hope this changes the home automation game in a couple of different ways. First, the ASK processes everything in the cloud so very low power devices are now ready for some seriously cool voice interaction. Second, Amazon’s move to open up what you can do with the software backend means a community developing for the hardware could eventually exert pressure on Amazon to do things like making the system more open and transparent.

Already working on some hacks with the Echo or ASK? Send in a tip to your write-up and tells us about it in the comments below.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart Low Voltage Lighting

A common theme around Internet of Things things is connecting a relay to the web. It’s useful for everything from turning on a lamp from across the country to making sure your refrigerator is still running without the twice-hourly calls from the International Refrigeration Commission. For his Hackaday Prize project, [Matt] is turning lights on and off with an ESP8266 WiFi module, but not just any lights: he’s focusing on low-voltage lighting with the ESPLux.

Most downlights and landscape lights run off a 12 or 24 V transformer, and because [Matt] wanted to add dimming to his lighting box, he’s rectifying the low voltage AC to DC; PWMing an output to light an LED is a much better idea than chopping AC with a triac.

With a rectifier, MOSFET, and an ESP8266, the ESPLux is a simple build, but the project doesn’t end with electronics. for automation and control of these lights, [Matt] is turning to OpenHAB, automation software that works with everything you would ever use to make your home smart.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Arduino Alarm System

The last few years have seen an incredible increase in the marketing for home automation devices. Why this tech is just picking up now is something we’ll never understand – home automation systems have been around for decades, mostly in the form of security systems. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [IngGaro] is building an Arduino-based security system that does everything you would expect from a home automation system, from closing the shutters to temperature monitoring.

[IngGaro]’s system is built around a shield for an Arduino Mega. This shield includes connections to an alarm system, a GSM modem, temperature and humidity sensors, an Ethernet module, and IR movement sensors. This Arduino Mega attaches to a control box mounted near the front door that’s loaded up with an LCD, an NFC and RFID reader, and a few buttons to arm and disarm the system.

This project has come a long way since it was featured in last year’s Hackaday Prize. Since then [IngGaro] finally completed the project thanks to a change in the Ethernet library. It’s much more stable now, and has the ability to completely control everything in a house that should be automated. Now all [IngGaro] needs to do is create a cool PCB for the project, but in our opinion you can’t do much better than the mastery of perfboard this project already has.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: