Home Automation

Volume 3, Issue 34; 25 Nov 2019

Playing with connected devices.

A couple of weeks ago, Aaron Parecki posted a link to his slides from Øredev, “Smarter Home Automation without the Cloud”. (You may recall Aaron’s name from my earlier post on webmentions; I’ve also been playing with his OwnYourSwarm, a way to get access to your own location data.)

Connected devices and IoT technology are really interesting, but I’ve never played with any of them because reasons. I am not going to have a hot mic in my house. And I am not going to have devices who’s functionality is dependent on my ability to connect to some web service run by a company that may expire before the milk in my fridge.

But Aaron’s talk made me aware of Home Assistant, a home automation platform that you can run on a Raspberry Pi on your own network. I had an extra Pi lying around, since my plant watering experiments have been an epic fail, so I spun it up.

I don’t know enough yet to give any kind of in-depth review. There’s lots that’s really nice and some that’s, uh, less nice. I got some Philips Hue lights and I now have a few functioning automations:

  1. If I put my laptop to sleep, the light on my desk turns off. When my laptop wakes up, the light comes back on.
  2. When I leave the house, all the (connected) lights turn off automatically.
  3. At 07:00, my bedside lamp turns on. A couple of minutes later, the living room lamp comes on (so I can see my way into the kitchen to make coffee).

On the one hand, I’ve employed an enormous amount of hardware and software technology to do what I’ve managed to do with nothing more than my fingers for most of my life. On the other, it undeniably tickles me and it’s whet my appetite for more experiments.

Some things are a little odd. My downstairs neighbor’s phone is “Cat’s iPhone”, apparently, because my Pi sees it and Home Assistant tells me when the phone is home and when it isn’t. That’s a little creepy. It has also “discovered” the Nexus 9 that I’ve mounted on the wall in the kitchen. It’s in an “Unk” state and is apparently acting as some sort of GPS sensor. I’m sure I haven’t scratched the surface yet.

There’s not a whole lot to practically automate in this apartment, though. There’s nothing that’s really weather or sunlight related that’s relevant (no irrigation systems, no windows with any energy-related need for blinds). I could buy a fancier thermostat, but a seven day program really works well enough. I could buy a connected TV, but I’m actually happy to have a stupid, unconnected TV. (Advertisers can fuck off.)

It might be fun to build some presence detectors for the furniture: don’t turn the light on at 07:00 if no one is in bed, turn off the living room lamp if no one is in the living room, that sort of thing. More accurate detection of where people are would be interesting, but both a little creepy and sort of not-that-interesting in this small apartment.

Still fun though. Now pardon me, I’m going to close the laptop and leave the office. Then the light is going to go out automatically and I’m going to grin foolishly for a short time.