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.

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Art for Planespotters

We don’t know art, but we know what we like. And this gizmo by [Johan Kanflo] is right up our alley.

First, [Johan] gutted an old Macintosh Classic computer and stuffed a Raspberry Pi inside. Now this is not really a new idea, but [Johan] did a very nice job with the monitor and his attention to detail shows in the rebuilt floppy-drive eject mechanism. He gives it back that characteristic “schlurp” noise.

Then he outfitted the Raspberry Pi with an RTL dongle running dump1090 software to listen to the ADS-B radio signals. The data extracted from the SDR is piped off to an MQTT server with all sorts of data about the airplanes overhead. Another script subscribes to the MQTT topic and figures out which is the closest and runs an image search for the plane type in question, publishing the results back to another MQTT topic. One final script subscribes to this last topic and displays the relevant images on the screen. Pshwew!

The end result is a Macintosh Classic that’s continually updated with whatever planes are closest to being overhead. We’re not at all sure if this is fine art, or part of the useful arts, or maybe even none of the above. But we really like the nice case job and think that using MQTT as a back-end for coordinating multiple concurrent Python scripts (on the same computer) is pretty cool.

Break Your Wrist? Twitter-Enable That Plaster Cast

Plaster casts are blank canvases for friends and family to post their get well messages. But if it’s holiday season, adding blinky LED lights to them is called for. When [Dr Lucy Rogers] hurt her hand, she put a twitter enabled LED Christmas tree on her cast.

The hardware is plain simple – some RGB LEDs, an Arduino, a blue tooth module and a battery. The LEDs and wires formed the tree, and all the parts were attached to the plaster cast using Velcro. This allowed the electronics to be removed during future X-ray scans. The fun part was in connecting the LEDs to the #CheerLights project. CheerLights is an “Internet of Things” project that allows people’s lights all across the world to synchronize to one color set by a Tweet. To program the Arduino, she used code written by [James Macfarlane] which allowed the LED color to be set to any Cheerlights color seen in blue tooth UART data.

Connectivity is coordinated using MQTT — lightweight standard popular with connected devices. By connecting the MQTT feed to the cheerlights topic from [Andy Stanford-Clark’s] MQTT feed (mqtt://iot.eclipse.org with the topic cheerlights) the lights respond to tweets (Tweet #cheerlights and a color). The LED colors can also be selected via the phone from the color picker tool in the controller, or directly via the UART. If the Bluetooth connection is lost, the LEDs change colors randomly. Obviously, delegates had great fun when she brought her Twitter enabled LED blinky lights plaster cast arm to a conference. It’s not as fun unless you share your accomplishments with others!

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.

IoT Enabled Thomas The Tank Engine

This month the popular “Thomas the Tank Engine” toy celebrated its 70 anniversary. As a fun project, [tinkermax] wanted to bring this traditional toy into the age of IoT, while preserving its physical appearance and simple charm.

He used a model called the “Diesel” which seemed big enough to house the electronics, but proved otherwise once he inspected the innards. He needed to fit in an ESP8266 module, an accelerometer breakout, some discrete parts, a nifty analog multiplexer, and a 14500 3.7V LiPo. Once done, he was able to control its speed remotely over WiFi, with an auto “throttle-boost” that kicks in when the accelerometer senses that the train is going uphill, and has remote monitoring of battery state, engine load, inclination and track vibration – all in real-time using MQTT over WiFi. It’s quite a demonstration of the power of these super-cheap WiFi modules that are powering the current wave of IoT innovation.

The train motor works off a single 1.5V battery, so [tinkermax] tried a couple of boost converters to get the ESP-12 to work. But the modules were a tad bigger, and couldn’t provide the high peak current needed by the ESP-12. So he used a 14500 3.7V LiPo battery instead. A series diode drops the LiPo voltage to a circuit friendly 2.9V ~ 3.6V range. The ADXL345 accelerometer is used to measure “pitch” to detect going up and down a hill, “roll” to check for tilt or tip over and vibration to identify track defects. It communicates with the ESP-12 using a special Lite-SPI library that he wrote.

Two analog measurements are performed. One uses a resistor in series with the PWM driven motor to measure its current, with a low pass filter to smooth out PWM noise. The other is a resistor divider network used to monitor battery voltage. But the ESP-12 has just one ADC channel. Instead of adding another ADC module, [tinkermax] used a neat device – the FSA3157 – which allows two analog inputs to be channeled to a single output much like a SPDT switch. One PWM output is used to control motor speed and a second one to pulse a LED.

The sensor data is streamed 5 times a second over the MQTT protocol to a Raspberry Pi based MQTT broker. Finally, a JavaScript webpage receives the MQTT messages and plots the data graphically. One upgrade he would like to implement is speed measurement, to allow constant speed drive. If you have any ideas on how to extract that information from an accelerometer, chip in with your comments below. Check out his build log in the short video below. And if you’d like to see how all of this can be used in the real world, check this other video where [tinkermax]’s colleague gives a run down about a commercial enterprise IoT cloud platform hooked up to Thomas the Tank Engine.

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Controlling Central Heating Via Wi-Fi

If you’ve ever lived in a building with manually controlled central heating, you’ll probably understand [Martin]’s motivation for this hack. These heating systems often have old fashioned valves to control the radiator. No Nest support, no thermostat, just a knob you turn.

To solve this problem, [Martin] built a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat. This impressive build brings together a custom PCB based on the ESP8266 Wi-Fi microcontroller and a mobile-friendly web UI based on the Open Thermostat Scheduler. The project’s web server is fully self-contained on the ESP8266.

To replace that manual value, [Martin] used a thermoelectric actuator from a Swiss company called HERZ. This is driven by a relay, which is controlled by the ESP8266 microcontroller. Based on the schedule and the measured temperature, the actuator lets fluid flow through the radiator and heat the room.

As a bonus, the device supports NTP for getting the time, MQTT for publishing real-time data, and ThingSpeak for logging and graphing historic data. The source code and design files are available under a Creative Commons license.

Electricity Monitoring with a Light-to-Voltage Sensor, MQTT and some Duct Tape

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When it comes down to energy management, having real-time data is key. But rarely is up-to-the-minute kilowatt hour information given out freely by a Utility company, which makes it extremely hard to adjust spending habits during the billing cycle. So when we heard about [Jon]’s project to translate light signals radiating out of his meter, we had to check it out.

From the looks of it, his hardware configuration is relatively simple. All it uses is a TSL261 Light-to-Voltage sensor connected to an Arduino with an Ethernet shield attached. The sensor is then taped above the meter’s flashing LED, which flickers whenever a pulse is sent out indicating every time a watt of electricity is used. His configuration is specific to the type of meter that was installed by his Utility, and there is no guarantee that all the meters deployed by that company are the same. But it is a good start towards a better energy monitoring solution.

And the entire process is documented on [Jon]’s website, allowing for more energy-curious people to see what it took to get it all hooked up. In it, he describes how to get started with MQTT, which is a machine-to-machine (M2M)/”Internet of Things” connectivity protocol, to produce a real-time graph, streaming data in from a live feed.

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