It’s Curtains for Blu Chip

In theory, there is no reason you can’t automate things all over your house. However — unless you live alone — you need to consider that most people won’t accept your kludgy looking circuits on a breadboard hanging everywhere. Lighting has become easy now that there are a lot of commercial options. However, there are still plenty of things that cry for automation. For [jeevanAnga], the curtains were crying out for remote control.

Since cellphones are ubiquitous, it makes sense to use the phone as a controller and BlueTooth Low Energy (BLE) is perfect for this kind of application. But you can’t hang a big ugly mess of wires off the curtain rods. That’s why [jeevanAnga] used a tiny (16.6 x 11.5 mm) BLE board knows as a BluChip.

We didn’t verify it, but [jeevanAnga] claims it is the smallest BLE board available, and it is certainly tiny. You can see the result in the video below.

Of course, the BluChip only talks to the phone. A stepper motor does the hard work with the help of a belt, a pulley, and gears. The BluChip also requires a separate programmer and that’s not so tiny, but of course, you only need it while you configure the device.

Inside, the BluChip is an ARM processor (Cortex M0 with 256K of flash and 32K of RAM). It works on 1.8 to 3.6 volts and is FCC certified, so you could easily use it in a commercial product. Most of the useful signals are brought out to pins on 0.1 inch centers, which is handy.

You still need a bit of supporting hardware (like a stepper driver) so the challenge is to make the device attractive enough to reside in the living room. The good news is that you can sneak that tiny BLE board almost anywhere.

If you want a primer on BLE, you can read up on the basics. We’ve also seen non-BLE boards hacked to work with the protocol.

20 thoughts on “It’s Curtains for Blu Chip

      1. If it costs more than an ESP8266 then what’s the point? the ESP is going to be far more flexible. With the ESP you can just link them to your wifi and use some central software/webserver to control all of your gear. With bluetooth you are relying on your phone to directly interface with them, You aren’t going to be able to control them remotely or centrally unless you kludge together some BT to Wifi bridge. Then you’re left with the same issue that almost all the off the shelf home automation systems have of needing their stupid hub to control the devices. With the cost of devices like the ESP, there is no reason to be using any other wireless standard for IoT, including off the shelf devices you can pick up at your local store

      2. Not to put another nail in this – but BTLE usually requires writing a native app for whatever platform you’re using (iOS Android, etc). It’s one of the reasons I’ve never really gotten into the tech outside of beacons…web UIs work on eeevvvrryyttthhiinnggg

  1. Dear mr. Al Williams,
    regarding your statement “Lighting has become easy now that there are a lot of commercial options” I would like to respond with the following comment:

    Easier…. ehmmm actually it has been more complicated, hasn’t it. Naby years ago you only needed to know about a switch, some wires a lightbulb. Now you need to have a router for your IOT lightbulb, that needs to be configured then you must press a button on your phone (wait while I search for the app…) where in the past you just flipped a switch. In the past if it didn’t work, well then it was (in 99% of the cases) the lightbulb that was broken. But these days it could be the app, the router supplying your wifi, your internet connection, the bulb, the smart switch before or inside the “bulb” or otherwise the system itself because it was unplugged because the wife needed the socket to plug in the vacuum cleaner. Please don’t speak about easier, it simply isn’t true! (I even doubt if it is cheaper, but considering the cost of copper wire and tubing this could be interesting).

    I do agree that things have changed… and for every lazy idiot who wants to automate stuff but doesn’t have the guts to pull some wires… yep… those are served. For them it’s easier, but not for their wife(s) parents or grandparents. We’ve discussed this before, home automation is fun when it works, but when it fails (or the company who sold you the devices suddenly drops support or changes protocol and you can’t buy any new devices for your system, so you’ll need converters or replace/upgrade your installation) then your are in trouble.

    Don’t get me wrong… I love progress, but we’ve got to be real about the contraption we are creating in order to save us from a silly job that in real life is actually no real effort.

    Regarding the project, it’s fun, I fully agree, a nice job done. I really looks magical those curtains opening by themselves.

    1. That’s the reason I prefer a dedicated remote control over controlling something with a phone app. But it’s nice that LED technology enabled us to get rid of the hot-bulb and gave us a nice choice of color temperatures to choose, not only yellowish, yellow or even more reddish.

    1. Why would you want 50 different remote controls you can lose, or which can get chewed up and are then irreplaceable, when you’ve always got a device that can act as a remote in your pocket?

      1. Because I don’t keep my phone in my pocket when I’m home. I leave it in the home office most of the time. The phone never goes in the bedrooms. Nor the living room. So a dedicated remote that’s always sitting next to the TV chair might be nice. Same reason I have a TV remote instead of using my phone.

      2. No need for 50 remotes.
        I own my trusty Harmony remote and albeit that it got a tech refresh hal a year ago and I’m in the modern age of “APP APP support” aswell, I NEVER get my phone out. Bcause the touch controls just suck. I prefer to grab my remote from the sofa or table and push all the buttons I need.

        Sadly, I never got into “home automation” and I only use it for my home theater setup. Switching one tiny, mega expensive Philips Hue or Osram bulb with the remote ist just a waste – rental appartment just lacks all the stuff I would need for “automation”.

  2. I believe there are a couple of disturbing issues with the BluChip product.

    First, MakerChips claims that “The use of the Nordic NRF51 based Taiyo Yuden BTLE module means the entire package is FCC certified and can be incorporated into commercial products.” On its face, that claim is incorrect. While the bare Taiyo Yuden module itself is certified, that cert doesn’t cover assemblies incorporating the module: the BluChip would need its own compliance testing and certification, as would any commercial product incorporating the BluChip. I can find no evidence that the complete BluChip is FCC certified.

    Second, Taiyo Yuden provides module mounting recommendations on pp.27-28 of the EYSGJNZWY Data Report available here:

    https://www.yuden.co.jp/ut/product/category/module/EYSGJNZWY.html

    The BluChip board does not follow the specific recommendation for the areas under, and adjacent to, the onboard antenna: “*2 This area is routing prohibited area on the main board. Please do not place copper on any layer.” In fact, several traces are routed to pads and pins placed in this area, including the PWR input. It seems unlikely that the BluChip could pass EMC testing for FCC certification.

    I welcome any information addressing these issues. In the meantime I advise any potential commercial integrators to avoid this product.

  3. I’m at a loss in understanding why this would even be proposed as a solution in managing window shades. Because actual movement of the blinds requires a stepper motor, this means significant voltage must be present and the form factor is at least as large as a decent stepper motor.

    Because of these unchangeable requirements, there is no need to incorporate a logic controller that is super small or battery-powered. Blutooth control also does not introduce convenience over the availability of voice control options that are currently available.

    BluChip might have applications warranting a reason for being, but controlling window shades isn’t it.

    1. Probably just about any microcontroller is going to need some kind of stepper driver, or power transistors if you are going to do the stepping in the controller itself. No microcontroller is going to be able to directly drive a stepper motor

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