Compact Controllers Automate Window Blinds

Commercially available motorized window blinds are a nice high-end touch for today’s automated home, but they tend to command a premium price. Seems silly to charge so much for what amounts to a gear motor and controller, which is why [James Wilcox] took matters into his own hands and came up with this simple and cheap wireless blind control.

[James] started his project the sensible way, with a thorough analysis of the problem. Once COTS alternatives were eliminated – six windows would have been $1200 – he came up with a list of deliverables, including tilting to pre-determined positions, tilt-syncing across multiple windows, and long battery life. The hardware in the head rail of each blind ended up being a Moteino on a custom PCB for the drivers, a $2 stepper motor, and a four-AA battery pack. The Moteino in one blind talks to a BeagleBone Black over USB and wirelessly to the other windows for coordinated control. As for battery life, [James] capitalized on the Moteino’s low-power Listen Mode to reduce the current draw by about three orders of magnitude, which should equate to a few years between battery changes. And he did it all for only about $40 a window.

Window blinds seem to be a tempting target for hacking, whether it’s motorizing regular blinds or interfacing commercial motorized units into a home automation system. We like how compact this build is, and wonder if it could be offered as an aftermarket add-on for manual blinds.

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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.

Blink Thrice To Let Me In

Now here’s a really cool home hack. [Luis Rodrigues] has automated his garage door to open, simply by flashing his headlights at it.

But wait, doesn’t that mean anyone could break into his house? Nope. At first we thought he had just added some photo-sensors and a bit of computer logic in order to turn a pattern of lights into an output to open the garage, but no, it’s actually specific to his car only. Which is awesome because if anyone ever tried to copy him to break in, all they break into is a very confused state of mind.

You see how it actually works is the headlight output is connected to a control box under the hood of his car. A Moteino (RF Arduino variant) reads the input signal of the headlights flashing three times, and then communicates wirelessly to the garage door in order to open it.

But [Luis] also has a gate outside his property — so if you hold the lights on for a second, both the garage door and the external gate will open as well.

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THP Hacker Bio: Felix Rusu

As far as entries for The Hackaday Prize go, Moteino is exceptionally interesting. It’s the only project to be used in other projects for The Hackaday Prize. The two other projects making use of the Moteino, 433MHz transceiver and Plant Friends didn’t make the cut, but [Felix]’s Moteino did.

Like many of the Internet of Things project, Moteino is a radio module and a microcontroller in an extremely convenient package. The radio is a HopeRF RFM69 operating in the  315, 433, 868 and 915MHz ISM bands. The microcontroller is everyone’s favorite – the ATMega328, but [Felix] also has a Mega version with the ATMega1284 on board. Already there are a few great examples of what the Moteino can do, including a mailbox notifier, a sump pump monitor, and a way to Internetify a water meter.

[Felix]’s bio below.

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THP Semifinalist: The Moteino

One of the apparent unofficial themes of The Hackaday Prize is the Internet of Things and home automation. While there were plenty of projects that looked at new and interesting ways to turn on a light switch from the Internet, very few took a good, hard look at the hardware required to do that. [Felix]’s Moteino is one of those projects.

The Moteino is based on the Arduino, and adds a low-cost radio module to talk to the rest of the world. The module is the HopeRF RFM12B or RFM69. Both of these radios operate in the ISM band at 434, 868, or 915 MHz. Being pretty much the same as an Arduino with a radio module strapped to the back, programming is easy and it should be able to do anything that has been done with an ATMega328.

[Felix] has been offering the Moteino for a while now, and already there are a few great projects using this platform. In fact, a few other Hackaday Prize entries incorporated a Moteino into their design; Plant Friends used it in a sensor node, and this project is using it for texting and remote control with a cell phone.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

Hey There Little Plant. Let’s Be Friends!


Perhaps, you’re circle of friends is getting too small. Or maybe, you just want to communicate with the leafy, green beings that have rooted themselves in the soil inside your house. If so, this environmental monitoring system will be perfect for you!

Created by [Dickson], this project monitors soil moisture, air temperature, and air humidity of your indoor plants and will alert you via email and SMS when your plants are thirsty. No longer will your sprouts shrivel up in the sun, but rather, they will be well-hydrated ready to produce their veggie goodness.

The system is battery operated, wireless, Arduino and Raspberry Pi based and comes with an Android app, which in turn allows you to view real-time and historical data, thus giving you the option to check in on your crew of Chlorophyll-embedded friends.


Let’s look at the sensors which are at work on the project.

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Open Source SwitchMote Promises Easy Home Automation

[Felix Rusu] is fast becoming a big name in home automation with his clever Moteino systems. His latest is called the SwitchMote which is a super easy way to upgrade your light switches for home automation, and he’s just released the source!

The SwitchMote is a drop in wireless light switch which lets you control a standard AC load, limited to 100W at this time. It uses a solid state relay (SSR) to perform the switching, but like any project involving mains electricity… MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!

It makes use of a Moteino (duh) which is a wireless Arduino clone that operates over RF. We’ve seen it used before to control a Keurig coffee maker, operate a garage door over the internet, and even text you when your sump pump fails and your basement is about to flood!

Excited? Take a look at his GitHub repository, and check out how it works in the following video.

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