Homebrew LED Strips That Are HomeKit-Compatible

Google, Amazon and Apple are all duking it out for supremacy in the smart home space. As you’ve probably noticed, cheaper smart lights and the like typically don’t offer connectivity with Apple’s HomeKit system. However, if you want some smart lighting that works in that ecosystem without breaking the bank, you can always build your own!

This simple build uses an ESP8266-01S as the brains of the operation. It’s a cut-down board that only has two GPIO pins available, but for this job, that’s enough. It’s paired with a simple relay for switching a single-color LED strip on and off, and an MP2307 buck converter for power. The code loaded onto the ESP8266 is simple, and allows it to connect to Wi-Fi and link up with Apple HomeKit for control.

Let’s say you’re a real fancy-pants, though, and you want RGB-addressable LEDs for your HomeKit setup. No problem, you can do that too! It’s as straightforward as hooking up an ESP8266 to some WS2812B LED strip and flashing the right firmware that emulates an Elgato EVE LED strip. You can even activate special lighting effects on the via the EVE app if you so desire, to take advantage of the fully-addressable nature of the strip.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions in this space, but many of them are quite expensive for what you actually get in the box. Sometimes building your own is more fun, too. Alternatively, if you don’t like Apple’s smart home solutions, you can always try a more open alternative. Video after the break.

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Apple HomeKit Accessory Development Kit Gets More Accessible

Every tech monopoly has their own proprietary smart home standard; how better to lock in your customers than to literally build a particular solution into their homes? Among the these players Apple is traditionally regarded as the most secretive, a title it has earned with decades of closed standards and proprietary solutions. This reputation is becoming progressively less deserved when it comes to HomeKit, their smart home gadget connectivity solution. In 2017 they took a big step forward and removed the need for a separate authentication chip in order to interact with HomeKit. Last week they took another and released a big chunk of their HomeKit Accessory Development Kit (ADK) as well. If you’re surprised not to have heard sooner, that might be because it was combined the the even bigger news about Apple, Amazon, the Zigbee Alliance, and more working together on more open, interoperable home IoT standards. Check back in 2030 to see how that is shaping up.

“The HomeKit ADK implements key components of the HomeKit Accessory Protocol (HAP), which embodies the core principles Apple brings to smart home technology: security, privacy, and reliability.”
– A descriptive gem from the README

Apple’s previous loosening-of-restrictions allowed people to begin building devices which could interact natively with their iOS devices without requiring a specific Apple-sold “auth chip” to authenticate them. This meant existing commercial devices could become HomeKit enabled with an OTA, and hobbyists could interact in sanctioned, non-hacky ways. Part of this was a release of the (non-commercial) HomeKit specification itself, which is available here (with Apple developer sign in, and license agreement).

Despite many breathless mentions in the press release┬áit’s hard to tell what the ADK actually is. The README and documentation directory are devoid of answers, but spelunking through the rest of the GitHub repo gives us an idea. It consists of two primary parts, the HomeKit Accessory Protocol┬áitself and the Platform Abstraction Layer. Together the HAP implements HomeKit itself, and the PAL is the wrapper that lets you plug it into a new system. It’s quite a meaty piece of software; the HAP’s main header is a grueling 4500 lines long, and it doesn’t take much searching to find some fear-inspiring 50 line preprocessor macros. This is a great start, but frankly we think it will take significantly more documentation to make the ADK accessible to all.

If it wasn’t obvious, most of the tools above are carefully licensed by Apple and intended for non-commercial use. While we absolutely appreciate the chance to get our hands on interfaces like this, we’re sure many will quibble over if this really counts as “open source” or not (it’s licensed as Apache 2.0). We’ll leave that for you in the comments.

New Part Day: Alexa Connect Kit Now Available For Sale

People who were subscribed to updates on the Alexa Connect Kit (ACK) would recently have received an email informing that this kit is now available for sale. Last time we covered the ACK was back in September of 2018, the ‘release’ moniker meant ‘preview’ and there wasn’t any hardware one could actually purchase.

Over a year a later it seems that we can now finally get our grubby mitts on this kit that should enable us to make any of our projects Alexa-enabled. What this basically seems to mean is that one can spend close to 200 US dollars on an Arduino Zero and an Arduino shield-mounted WM-BN-MT-52 module from USI (though not listed on their site, but similar to the WM-BN-BM-22?) that integrates a 192 MHz Cortex-M MCU and a WiFi/Bluetooth module, as summarized on the Amazon Developer page for the ACK.

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