Raspberry Pi Home Automation for the Holidays

When you want to play around with a new technology, do you jump straight to production machinery? Nope. Nothing beats a simplified model as proof of concept. And the only thing better than a good proof of concept is an amusing proof of concept. In that spirit [Eric Tsai], alias [electronichamsters], built the world’s most complicated electronic gingerbread house this Christmas, because a home-automated gingerbread house is still simpler than a home-automated home.

fya59blixaq00y3-largeYeah, there are blinky lights and it’s all controlled by his smartphone. That’s just the basics. The crux of the demo, however, is the Bluetooth-to-MQTT gateway that he built along the way. A Raspberry Pi with a BTLE radio receives local data from BTLE sensors and pushes them off to an MQTT server, where they can in principle be read from anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried to network battery-powered ESP8266 nodes, you know that battery life is the Achilles heel. Swapping over to BTLE for the radio layer makes a lot of sense.

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PURE Modules Aim to Make Prototyping Easier

[Sashi]’s PURE modules system wants your next wireless microcontroller and sensor module project to be put together using card-edge connectors. But it’s a lot deeper than that — PURE is an entire wireless gadget development ecosystem. Striking a balance between completeness and modularity is very difficult; a wire can carry any imaginable electronic signal, but just handing someone a pile of wires presents them a steep learning curve. PURE is at the other end of the spectrum: everything is specified.

So far, two microcontroller options are available in the system, the nRF52 series and TI’s CC2650. Both of these run the Contiki OS, so it doesn’t matter which of these you choose. Wired data is all transmitted over I2C and connects up via the previously-mentioned card-edge connectors. On the wireless side, data transport is handled through an MQTT broker, using the MQTT-sn variant which is better suited to small radio devices. At the protocol layer everything uses Protocol Buffers, Google’s newest idea for adding some structure to the data.

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64×16 LED MQTT Laundry Display

When you have an MQTT broker receiving messages, you want to be able to see them. [Xose Pérez] already had a system set up that sent him notifications, but he had a pair of 32×16 LED matrices, so he decided to make a big, bright sign to let him know when he got an important message sent to the broker.

[Xose Pérez] had already built a laundry monitor which was sending messages to an MQTT broker so he wouldn’t forget his laundry sitting in the washing machine. To communicate with the broker, he used an ESP-12. He had already ported an Arduino library for the Holtek HT1362C display drivers used by the matrices to work with his driver board.

mqtt-led-matrix-driver-boardHe wanted to try out SMD soldering so he built a custom PCB to hold the ESP-12, power supply, passive components, and a connector and he describes his methods and results. Instead of hardcoded messages, he wanted the system to be configurable and display messages coming in, not only from his laundry system, but also from other sensors. A web interface, built with jQuery and WebSockets, running on the ESP-12 allows the user to subscribe to a topic on the broker and show a customized name and value on the display when a payload is available.

All-in-all, [Xose Pérez] has posted a great tutorial in which he goes over the hardware he built, the libraries he used, SMD soldering, how he made the enclosure, and even his choice in IDE (PlatformIO). He also posted the software, board designs and enclosure models software and hardware on bitbucket. The end result is a great looking LED matrix that displays not only his laundry’s status, but also anything else he wants to from his MQTT broker.

If you want to try your hand with MQTT, the ESP8266 is a wonderful device for sensor nodes, and any Linux box (like the Raspberry Pi) makes an easy broker. Check out [Elliot Williams’] Minimal MQTT series and you will be up and running in no time.

We’re Fans of Dave’s Fans

Hackaday.io contributor extraordinaire [davedarko] gets hot in the summer. We all do. But what separates him from the casual hacker is that he beat the heat by ordering four 120 mm case fans. He then 3D printed a minimalistic tower frame for the fans, and tied them all together with a ULN2004 and an ESP8266. The whole thing is controlled over the network via MQTT. That’s dedication to staying cool.

We really like the aesthetics of this design. A fan made up of fans! But from personal experience, we also know that these large case fans can push a lot of air fairly quietly. That’s important if you’re going to stand something like this up on your desk. While we’re not sure that a desk fan really needs networked individual PWM speed control, we can see the temptation.

Now that they’re individually controlled, nothing stops [davedarko] from turning this into a musical instrument, or even using the fans to transmit data. The only thing we wouldn’t do, despite the temptation to stick our fingers in the blades, is to complicate the design visually. Maybe that would finally teach the cat not to walk around on our desk.

Dumbing Down a Smart Switch

Internet of Everything is the way to go for home automation these days. ITEAD makes an ESP-8266 switch that IoT-ifies your appliances. If you still have an ancient, 433 MHz style radio switch system, they even make one that does WiFi and 433 MHz. But if you’re too cheap to shell out for the dual-mode version, you can always add a $1 433 MHz radio yourself. Or at least, that’s what [Tinkerman] did.

IMG_20160522_163814x_thumbnailAside from the teardown and reverse-engineering of the WiFi-enabled switch, [Tinkerman] also flashed custom firmware into the switch’s ESP-8266, and worked it all into his existing home Node-RED framework. Now he’s got more possible ways to turn on his living-room lights than any person could possibly hope for!

If you want to get into this whole WiFi-based home automation game, you could do worse than to have a look at the series we ran on MQTT just a little while ago. Seeing [Tinkerman]’s Node-RED demo makes us think that we’ll have to give that a look for our home system as well.

Minimal MQTT: Power and Privacy

In this installment of Minimal MQTT, I’m going to cover two loose ends: one on the sensor node side, and one on the MQTT server side. Specifically, I’ll tackle the NodeMCU’s sleep mode to reduce power and step you through bridging MQTT servers to get your data securely out of your home server and into “the cloud”, which is really just other people’s servers.

If you’re just stepping into this series now, you should really check out the other three posts, where I set up a server, then build up some sensor nodes, and then flesh-out a few ways to control everything from your phone or the web. That’s the coolest material, anyway. This last installment just refines what we’ve built on. Let’s go!

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Minimal MQTT: Control and Clients

So you’ve built a central server and filled your house with WiFi-connected nodes all speaking to each other using the MQTT protocol. In short, you’ve got the machine-to-machine side of things entirely squared away. Now it’s time to bring the humans into the loop! We’re going to explore a couple graphical user interfaces.

You could build a physical knob and/or LED display for every little aspect of your entire system, but honestly, this is where GUIs really shine. In this installment of Minimal MQTT, we’re going to look at human-friendly ways of consuming and producing data to interact with your connected sensors, switches, and displays. There are a ton of frameworks out there that use MQTT to build something like this, but we’re going to cut out the middle-man and go straight for some GUI MQTT clients.

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