Our Home Automation Contest Starts Now!

Your home is your castle, and what’s better than a fully automatic castle? Nothing! That’s why we’re inviting you to submit your sweetest home automation hacks for a chance to win one of three $150 DigiKey gift certificates. The contest starts now and runs until April 16th.

Home buttons project, simple home automation display
[Matej]’s Home Buttons gets the job done in open-source style.
We love to play around with home automation setups and have seen our fair share, ranging from the simple “turn some lights on” to full-blown cyber-brains that learn your habits and adapt to them. Where is your project on this continuum?

Whether you’re focused on making your life easier, saving energy, gathering up all the data about your usage patterns, or simply stringing some random functions together and calling it a “system,” we’d like to see it. Nothing is too big or too small if it makes your home life easier.

Home is where the home automation is!

To enter, head over to Hackaday IO and start documenting your project there. We are, of course, interested in learning from what you’ve done, so the better the docs, the better your chances of winning. And if you need some inspiration, check out these honorable mention categories.

Honorable Mention Categories

Thanks again to DigiKey for sponsoring this with three gift certificates!

29 thoughts on “Our Home Automation Contest Starts Now!

  1. Bonus points if it still works in -let’s say- 40 years, like a normal switch does. Or do you really want to start replacing things when you’re retired (and possibly not too fit anymore).

    1. This is one big issue with all home automation systems. The plain old switches just work without any maintenance. And once they need replacing, you just replace a 30 year old switch with whatever model you find that matches the wallpaper. Be vary on automating too many things in your home. You have all the support for life after that…

      Another issur is that people and manufacturers tend to forget the “automation” part of home automation. If you just move a wall switch to your phone app nothing is gained in my view.

      Still, this can be a fun project. Just think about how many hours of your life it is worth to keep a light switch working.

  2. Everytime someone mentions home automation and blinds, I’m reminded of a story one of my coworkers once told.

    First, some background.

    In Germany, they have rolling shutters on the windows in most nearly all houses:

    https://www.rollladenbilliger.de/rollladen/seite-1-28.html

    These shutters are on the outside of the window and close tightly enough for the room interior to be dark even when the sun is up. This is needed because some parts of Germany only get few hours of actual dark at night. If you want to sleep in a darkened room in the summer, then you need shutters.

    People put such shutters on all windows, not just bedroom windows. They also put them on sliding glass patio doors.

    This is where the story starts.
    My coworker’s neighbor had a patio with a sliding glass door – with rolling shutters, naturally.

    She had an automation system installed in her house, including control of all the rolling shutters. At a particular time every day, the shutters would all roll down.

    One evening, she stepped out the patio door to pick up something she had left in the yard. While she was outside, the automation program kicked in and closed all the shutters – including the one over the patio door. The door itself was still open but the shutters were down over it so she couldn’t get back in.

    This being Germany, all the other house doors were locked or at least latched. German house door latches are made so that you must have a key to open them from the outside.

    Being in her nightgown, the neighbor didn’t have a key to get back in.

    She had to go to a neighbor and have a locksmith called to get back in her home.

    How can you automate the shutters so that they don’t lock you out? I don’t know, so my shutters will never be automated.

    1. Add a door sensor and change the automation to not close the shutters when the patio door was open?
      Don’t close all the shutters at once. Start with ones not over doors and only after a delay close the door shutters?
      Have a key pad or maybe simple push button outside that is enabled for a short period of time after closing that will open them again?
      Audible warning on some shutters that they are about to close (feels like a good idea anyway)?

      Its an important thing to consider, but also could be a fun problem to fix.

    2. Could she not have waited until the automation program opened them again? Furthermore … HOT TIP: always try and turn adverse situation into a positive one …. a chance to get to know her neighbours …. borrow some clothes, have some interesting conversations, etc. Instead, she panics and ends up destroying a lock and hefty bill for lock smith’s services.

    3. I got one for you. Installed a Alarm system, smart deadbolt lock for the front door, automated the garage door, video doorbell and a water valve. All of this was controlled from the Alarm.com App. This was a newly constructed home and the home owner was still out of state to finish up things before moving. Meanwhile the builder had a punch list to complete on the home. Well the video doorbell fell of the network and I was sent out to fix it. The batteries to the smart lock was dead and the home owner tried to open the garage door but it locked out from too many failed attempts because the other trades kept trying to access the garage when they would so up thinking the code was still set as the builder’s code. No way to get inside the house. Spent a good hour on hold with Alarm.com and we had to end up calling a lock smith to come pick the lock on the front door.

      After that Myself and a co-worker found the wonderful world of Lock Sport and we always put in brand new batteries into smart locks, don’t trust the batteries that come with the lock.

    4. “This is needed because some parts of Germany only get few hours of actual dark at night.”
      that all sounds very silly to me., so I wonder how many hours is “a few” and which part of Germany would that be?

      Doesn’t the real reason have something to do with burglars? Because these shutters are expensive and there is no need to place them all around the house if you only need a darkened bedroom.

      1. Window shutters are not a thing in the UK – indeed, the British have a reputation for being obsessed with fresh air and having windows open year-round (certainly true in my house). And still, UK and Germany home burglary rates are almost identical.

        Impenetrable shutters covering every door and window sounds like an absolute nightmare to me.

      2. The roll up shutters are usually of either plastic or light aluminum. They won’t slow a determined burglar in the slightest. The same hammer that you would use to break the glass window will go right through the shutters.

    5. This isn’t a “smarthome” problem. Many door handles have locking spring latches; simply close the door behind you as you leave and it’s locked. The doorknob doesn’t ask if you’re carrying a key.

      So instead of worrying about automating shutters, look at solving the root problem: keyless access.

      An external keypad to unlock a door or open the shutters is an easy solution. Calling a spouse or other family member who has a smart phone with remote access is also a viable option for many people. Or you can hide a spare key elsewhere on the property. This is a long solved problem.

  3. I had my home done up as a smart home. The Wife hated it, she would refer it to as “The Jetson’s home”. I was using WiFi based devices on it’s own hidden network and it was always issue after issue. God forbid if the Internet went out. Even though the devices I used didn’t the cloud and ran the Tasmota firmware with MQTT it would freak out. After two years I gave up and took everything out. If I was to do it again I would use Zigbee and use no WiFi controlled hardware.

    1. Zigbee or Z-wave are great choices for home automation. They’re self-forming mesh networks that can route around failing nodes, and they’re non-routable so they can’t communicate over the internet by themselves — no spying devices, and not directly exposed to criminal hackers. A benefit of Z-wave is that it uses the unlicensed 908MHz ISM band, so they’re subjected to much less interference than 2.4GHz based Zigbee, and to receive the Z-wave logo they have to go through interoperability testing; they’re quite robust as a result. The primary drawback of Z-wave is that it runs on proprietary chips, so the devices are always considerably more expensive than Zigbee.

    2. With all my smart home gear,( most I have built myself ) I have set up so either the original controls work or there is some simple replacement. Many items I have changed and my wife doesn’t notice until I tell her.

  4. To the editors: It seems as though it is not yet possible to submit a project?

    Submit project to…
    Hackaday.com Tip Line
    2023 Halloween Contest on Hackaday

    are the only available options.

  5. My H/A systems vs the neighbor’s kid – Advice for the H/A designer.

    1. The gate. Last year, the boy discovered the residual thermal signature for the keypad. With thermal imagery and a camera, he was able to discern at least (2) gate access codes. Changed gate access to random 6-color LED display – correct color-order keypress opens gate. Thermal or camera crack is defeated because key order always changes, and times out for (5) min after third bad entry.

    2. Fence line. Boy discovered that if he used plastic rods (appears to have been delrin or teflon), that the fence wires can be moved a small amount without effecting C or L, so freq change was not detectable. Set up cheap doppler radars (thanks alibaba) every 30m behind fence lines. Worked well until the kid used a pellet rifle to neutralize the exposed tx/rx.

    3. Doggy system. It would seem that doggos are easily bribed. No easy fix.

    4. House and workshop cameras. Some were shot out with a pellet rifle. Easy fix – lucite panels.

    5. Off-duty cop system. Very expensive but effective. After several weekends on duty, the boy was finally introduced to the California penal system.

    My H/A system is distributed, not on the internet, and is mostly hard-wired. Two weather stations are the only wireless connections. Most wiring is galvanically-isolated current loops, using over 1100m of salvaged RG6 and RG59 cable. Never use touch screens – only buttons or switches. Environmental control subsystems have independent monitors with a ‘hard’ disable not dependent on a microcontroller. Closed-loop systems (well pump, water tank, water heater, pond control, etc) have hard limits not independent of PID control value. ‘Back-door’ switches are never exposed – always within a hidden lock box firmly secured to a structure. Never underestimate devious children or clever pets, and vice versa.

    Final H/A designer advice – heed your spouse’s missives and directives.

  6. I see the smart home as a ‘maintenance’ nightmare. More your automate the more that can go wrong (bet there is a formula for the increase in complexity to when something will fail). I have one light ‘switch’ that I automated for fun in my library/office. Every once in awhile (a month or two, or three?) it won’t work properly and I have to figure out which end is having the problem. Now multiply that by 50 … that is just light switches and not anything else… From this little experience I decided no way would I attempt to ‘automate’ other things in the house. I’ll just stick to robotics and small projects. The regular o’ mechanical light switch works dandy…. All good!

    The other thing is mechanical stuff works fine without electricity. Something to keep in mind when automating stuff — is it worth it?

      1. I open and close the roller blinds here 365 days per year * 2. We haven’t had a power outage in 10 years? That’s 7300:0 in favor of automating it for me.

        (Although see lovely cautionary tale above about getting shut out of your own house in a nightgown.)

      2. That’s excellent!

        I know my reliability went way up when I moved from RPI Zero W to RPI Pico Ws. But still not 100% like your system. I also have WiFi router and a redis server in the middle. Usually the problem is on the ‘switch’ Pico, not the relay Pico across the room, or the redis server. The redis server is an RPI-4 plugged into a UPS. I use a redis server to bring everything together (all devices read/write to it). The beauty of using a redis server, is the automation devices only need to know the static IP of the redis server to get/put information. The field devices don’t have to be aware of ‘each other’. Keeps it simple, and easy to expand if I want to.

  7. Here we are extolling the seemingly virtues of automation… and yet, no one, but no one, considers ‘who’ this is aimed at. Someone earlier made a vague ref to ‘people who would benefit most’ in, I guess, a nod to older people.

    Some interesting (general) facts. People in tech are 25-40 yr old males. Output is unconciously aimed at 25-40 males. Globally that age group (note now inc’s females) is 10% of world population. What that means is that 90% PLUS is therefore NOT designed for.

    Biggest global cohort are now 55 plus and the group is growing. In the UK Govt have been researching this groups confidence & competence levels since WWII. This research persistently reports reducing confidence to engage with the unfamiliar (things they not unconsciously competent with) as people age. Post 70 competence declines as cognition declines. Further, as individuals age they are less able to regulate their prejudices.

    Men are a special case here. Unconsciously as they age men ‘exaggerate’ both their understanding of, and competence with, tech. This fact alone makes focus groups etc invalid. Making said groups even worse is that NO focus group, or similar, exhibits the levels of confidence exhibited by the general population. It tends towards approx 5 times the norm… There is much more to add 😊

    Upshot. We need to stop imposing automation as it’s unsuitable for the majority of people 🙏

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