Home Automation At A Glance Using AI Glasses

There was a time when you had to get up from the couch to change the channel on your TV. But then came the remote control, which saved us from having to move our legs. Later still we got electronic assistants from the likes of Amazon and Google which allowed us to command our home electronics with nothing more than our voice, so now we don’t even have to pick up the remote. Ushering in the next era of consumer gelification, [Nick Bild] has created ShAIdes: a pair of AI-enabled glasses that allow you to control devices by looking at them.

Of course on a more serious note, vision-based home automation could be a hugely beneficial assistive technology for those with limited mobility. By simply looking at the device you want to control and waving in its direction, the system knows which appliance to activate. In the video after the break, you can see [Nick] control lamps and his speakers with such ease that it almost looks like magic; a defining trait of any sufficiently advanced technology.

So how does it work? A Raspberry Pi camera module mounted to a pair of sunglasses captures video which is sent down to a NVIDIA Jetson Nano. Here, two separate image classification Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) models are being used to identify objects which can be controlled in the background, and hand gestures in the foreground. When there’s a match for both, the system can fire off the appropriate signal to turn the device on or off. Between the Nano, the camera, and the battery pack to make it all mobile, [Nick] says the hardware cost about $150 to put together.

But really, the hardware is only one small piece of the puzzle in a project like this. Which is why we’re happy to see [Nick] go into such detail about how the software functions, and crucially, how he trained the system. Just the gesture recognition subroutine alone went through nearly 20K images so it could reliably detect an arm extended into the frame.

If controlling your home with a glance and wave isn’t quite mystical enough, you could always add an infrared wand to the mix for that authentic Harry Potter experience.

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Sniffed Transformer Puts Wired Doorbell Online

There’s certainly no shortage of “smart” gadgets out there that will provide you with a notification, or even a live audiovisual stream, whenever somebody is at your door. But as we’ve seen countless times before, not everyone is thrilled with the terms that most of these products operate under. Getting a notification on your phone when the pizza guy shows up shouldn’t require an email address, credit card number, or DNA sample.

For [Nick Touran], half the work was already done. There was already a traditional wired doorbell in his home, he just had to come up with a minimally invasive way to link it with Home Assistant. He reasoned that he could tap into the low-voltage side of the doorbell transformer and watch for the telltale fluctuations that would indicate the bell was doing its thing. The ESP8266 has an ADC to measure voltage and WiFi to connect to Home Assistant, so it seemed like the perfect bridge between old and new.

Transformer voltage before and after

Of course, as with any worthwhile project, it ended up being a bit more complicated. Wired doorbells generally operate on 16-24 VAC, and [Nick] knew if he tried to put his Wemos D1 across the line he’d release the critical Magic Smoke. What he needed was a voltage divider circuit that would take low-voltage AC and drop it to an even lower DC voltage that the microcontroller could cope with.

The simple circuit [Nick] comes up with cuts the voltage way down and removes the negative component completely. So what was originally 18.75 VAC turned into a series of 60 Hz blips at 2.4 VDC; perfect for feeding into a microcontroller ADC. With a baseline to work from, he could then write some code that would watch for variations in this signal to determine when the bell was ringing.

Or at least, that was the idea. While the setup worked well enough on the bench, its performance in the real-world left something to be desired. If his house guest had a heavy hand, it worked great. But a quick tap of the doorbell button would tend to go undetected. After investigating the issue, [Nick] found that he needed to use some software trickery to ensure the ESP8266 was able to keep up with the speedy signal. Once he was able to reliably detect short and long button presses, the rest was just a simple matter of sending an MQTT message to his automation system.

Compared to the hoops we’ve seen other hackers have to jump through to smarten up their doorbells, we think [Nick] got off fairly easy. This project is also an excellent example of how learning about circuit design and passive components can still come in handy in the Arduino Era.

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Building A Safe ESP32 Home Energy Monitor

The first step to reducing the energy consumption of your home is figuring out how much you actually use in the first place. After all, you need a baseline to compare against when you start making changes. But fiddling around with high voltage is something a lot of hackers will go out of their way to avoid. Luckily, as [Xavier Decuyper] explains, you can build a very robust DIY energy monitoring system without having to modify your AC wiring.

In the video after the break, [Xavier] goes over the theory of how it all works, but the short version is that you just need to use a Current Transformer (CT) sensor. These little devices clamp over an AC wire and detect how much current is passing through it via induction. In his case, he used a YHDC SCT-013-030 sensor that can measure up to 30 amps and costs about $12 USD. It outputs a voltage between 0 and 1 volts, which makes it extremely easy to read using the ADC of your favorite microcontroller.

Once you’ve got the CT sensor connected to your microcontroller, the rest really just depends on how far you want to take the software side of things. You could just log the current consumption to a plain text file if that’s your style, but [Xavier] wanted to challenge himself to develop a energy monitoring system that rivaled commercial offerings so he took the data and ran with it.

A good chunk of his write-up explains how the used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to process and ultimately display all the data he collects with his ESP32 energy monitor. Every 30 seconds, the hardware reports the current consumption to AWS through MQTT. The readings are stored in a database, and [Xavier] uses GraphQL and Dygraphs to generate visualizations. He even used Ionic to develop a cross-platform mobile application so he can fawn over his professional looking charts and graphs on the go.

We’ve already seen how carefully monitoring energy consumption can uncover some surprising trends, so if you want to go green and don’t have an optically coupled electricity meter, the CT sensor method might be just what you need.

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Building A Smarter Smoke Alarm With The ESP8266

The modern hacker wields a number of tools that operate on the principle of heating things up to extremely high temperatures, so a smoke alarm is really a must-have piece of equipment. But in an era where it seems everything is getting smarter, some might wonder if even our safety gear could benefit from joining the Internet of Things. Interested in taking a crack at improving the classic smoke alarm, [Vivek Gupta] grabbed a NodeMCU and started writing some code.

Now before you jump down to the comments and start smashing that keyboard, let’s make our position on this abundantly clear. Do not try to build your own smoke alarm. Seriously. It takes a special kind of fool to trust their home and potentially their life to a $5 development board and some Arduino source code they copied and pasted from the Internet. That said, as a purely academic exercise it’s certainly worth examining how modern Internet-enabled microcontrollers can be used to add useful features to even the most mundane of household devices.

In this case, [Vivek] is experimenting with the idea of a smoke alarm that can be silenced through your home automation system in the event of a false alarm. He’s using Google Assistant and IFTTT, but the code could be adapted to whatever method you’re using internally to get all your gadgets on the same virtual page. On the hardware side of things, the test system is simply a NodeMCU connected to a buzzer and a MQ2 gas sensor.

So how does it work? If the detector goes off while [Vivek] is cooking, he can tell Google Assistant that he’s cooking and it’s a false alarm. That silences the buzzer, but not before the system responds with a message questioning his skills in the kitchen. It’s a simple quality of life improvement and it’s certainly not hard to imagine how the idea could be expanded upon to notify you of a possible situation even when you’re out of the home.

We’ve seen how a series of small problems can cascade into a life-threatening situation. If you’re going to perform similar experiments, make sure you’ve got a “dumb” smoke alarm as a backup.

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Homekit Compatible Sonoff Firmware Without A Bridge

Generally speaking, home automation isn’t as cheap or as easy as most people would like. There are too many incompatible protocols, and more often than not, getting everything talking requires you to begrudgingly sign up for some “cloud” service that you didn’t ask for. If you’re an Apple aficionado, there can be even more hoops to jump through; getting your unsupported smart home devices working with that Cupertino designed ecosystem often involves running your own HomeKit bridge.

To try and simplify things, [Michele Gruppioni] has developed a firmware for the ubiquitous Sonoff WIFI Smart Switch that allows it to speak native HomeKit. No more using a Raspberry Pi to act as a mediator between your fancy Apple hardware and that stack of $4 Sonoff’s from AliExpress, they can now talk to each other directly. In the video after the break you can see that the iPad identifies the switch as unofficial device, but since it’s compliant with the HomeKit API, that doesn’t prevent them from talking to each other.

Not only will this MIT licensed firmware get your Sonoff Basic, Sonoff Slampher, or Sonoff S26 talking with your Apple gadgets, but it also provides a web interface and REST API so it retains compatibility with whatever else you might be running in your home automation setup. So while the more pedestrian users of your system might be turning the porch light on with their iPhones, you can still fire it up with a Bash script as nature intended.

Of course, if you don’t mind adding a Raspberry Pi bridge to the growing collection of devices on your network, we’ve got plenty of other HomeKit-enabled projects for you to take a look at.

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Reverse Engineering WyzeSense Hardware

Wyze are a company that produces a variety of home automation products. Their Wyze Sense package is a system of contact and PIR home security sensors, that piggy backs off their Wyze Cam product. In the interests of being able to use this hardware outside the prescribed corporate ecosystem, [Xuan Xing] got down to hacking.

The project starts by tearing down the Wyze Cam, and getting serial console access. This was made easier by an existing Github project, which develops custom firmwares for smart cameras. With that in place he was able to see what was going on under the hood, and read the camera’s system logs.

By poring over these logs, and examining the disassembled Wyze Sense dongle, he’s well on the way to discovering how the sensors communicate with the Wyze Cam. The end goal is to enable the Wyze security sensors to be used with the Raspberry Pi platform, and to share the code on Github for other makers to experiment with.

Home automation platforms come and go quicker than the seasons change. This makes the hardware a popular target for hackers trying to get things running independently of any one company’s servers.

HestiaPi: A Stylish Open Hardware Thermostat

A common complaint about open hardware and software is that the aesthetic aspects of the projects often leave something to be desired. This isn’t wholly surprising, as the type of hackers who are building these things tend to be more concerned with how well they work than what they look like. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with putting a little polish on a well designed system, especially if you want “normal” people to get excited about it.

For a perfect example, look no further than the HestiaPi Touch. This entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize promises to deliver all the home automation advantages of something like Google’s Nest “smart” thermostat without running the risk of your data being sold to the highest bidder. But even if we take our tinfoil hat out of the equation, it’s a very slick piece of hardware from a functional and visual standpoint.

As you probably guessed from the name, the thermostat is powered by the Raspberry Pi Zero, which is connected to a custom PCB that includes a couple of relays and a connector for a BME280 environmental sensor. The clever design of the 3D printed case means that the 3.5 inch touch screen LCD on the front can connect directly to the Pi’s GPIO header when everything is buttoned up.

Of course, the hardware is only half the equation. To get the HestiaPi Touch talking to all the other smart gadgets in your life, it leverages the wildly popular OpenHAB platform. As demonstrated in the video after the break, this allows you to use the HestiaPi and its mobile companion application to not only control your home’s heating and air conditioning systems, but pretty much anything else you can think of.

The HestiaPi Touch has already blown past its funding goal on Crowd Supply, and the team is hard at work refining the hardware and software elements of the product; including looking at ways to utilize the unique honeycomb shape of the 3D printed enclosure to link it to other add-on modules.

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