Category Archives: Home Automation

Automate Any Light With This $30 Smart Switch

You’ve seen the TP-Link Smart Plug, but did you know they make a smart light switch as well? With a little wiring, you can control any lighting fixture in your house with your phone or your favorite voice assistant (assuming that’s not Siri), no hub required. $30's not quite an all-time low, but it most frequently…

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Apple announces new IoT app called Home

Apple launched HomeKit two years ago during the crazy early years of home automation. At that time, it was tough to add devices to your smart home suite due to incompatibility and lack of security. Today at Apple WWDC, Craig Federighi announced that Apple has an app called Home that integrates with an enormous range of devices, including cameras and door locks. He said that Apple has partnered with “every major maker of home accessories,” as well as home builders in the US and China. The home builders bit was particularly interesting, as it means Apple is working to integrate Home into the physical structure of buildings, so “you can move in and just start controlling your home.” Imagine shopping for a house and having to worry about whether it’s compatible with Apple or Android.

The big “Internet-of-Things” news at WWDC this year was the Home app, though. It fully integrates HomeKit into all your iOS devices as well as AppleTV. You can see Home right on your iOS home screen, and when you launch it you’ll see all your accessories, no matter who made them. Federighi showed the audience how easy it is to tap the lights accessory and turn on or dim the lights.

You can also control several accessories at once by creating a “scene.” For example, your Good Night Scene might lock the door, close the shades, turn down the heat, and turn off all the lights. If you want to feel like you’re waking up in a science fiction movie, use Siri to activate a scene. “Siri, good morning!” you can say as you wake up, and Home will automatically start your coffee pot and turn on your local NPR radio station for the morning news. You can also set up geofences so that movement outside or in a particular area of the house will trigger a scene. When your car rolls up your driveway, for example, it could automatically open the garage door and turn on the kitchen lights.

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Build a Twitter-Based Home Automation System with a Raspberry Pi

There are all sorts of variations on Raspberry Pi-powered home automation systems, but ARM Tutorials shows off a pretty simple project that uses Twitter as the backbone.

http://lifehacker.com/build-an-entir…

The Pi is hard wired into a home automation board that controls a fan, light, AC, and the temperature. It’s then controlled over Twitter direct messages so it’s super easy to check the status or flip the toggle on any of the connected devices. The Twitter link is a pretty handy way to get around some of the programming requirements that would otherwise be required here, so it’s worth taking a look at how it’s done here if you’re making your own home automation controller. Head over to ARM Tutorials for the guide.

Pi Buddy – Twitter based automation | ARM Tutorials

The Seven Best Things You Can Do With an Amazon Echo

The Seven Best Things You Can Do With an Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo offers our first serious glimpse into the future of an intelligent home. It’s not perfect, but whether you’re you’re thinking of getting an Echo, hear people talking about “Alexa,” or not sure what the one you have is capable of, here are some of the best things you can do with it.

When the Amazon first released the echo with this ridiculous ad, I had a very hard time taking it seriously. It seemed like a silly niche product in an already overcrowded market of Bluetooth speakers. After I got my hands on one though, I started to play with all the ways it integrates with other devices. Soon after, I came to love it. In this post we’ll take a look at some truly awesome things the Echo can do, but also how to do them well.

Play Virtually Any Song Just By Asking

The Echo is a speaker. It plays music. You get that. But it does so in so many wonderful ways that we need to talk about it. When the Echo launched, you could only play music from your smartphone, like any other Bluetooth speaker, by requesting music available via Amazon Prime Music, or asking for songs you’ve uploaded to Amazon Cloud Drive yourself. Amazon’s library is big enough that you can ask for a song and get it in most cases, but you can also request playlists or play by artist. The Echo can sometimes offer a playlist for your mood, or for a specific holiday. If you want to know what I’m talking about, try some of these commands:

  • Alexa, play some Christmas music.
  • Alexa, play some meditation tracks.
  • Alexa, play some Adele.
  • Alexa, play playlist _________. (Fill in the blank with the name of a playlist you created in your Amazon Music/Amazon Cloud Player account and the Echo will get things started.)

Those were the early days, but now you can use Spotify, too. If you pay for Spotify Unlimited and want to access everything it has to offer through the echo, you only need to ask (after you link up your account, of course):

  • Alexa, play Tony’s Got Hot Nuts from Spotify.
  • Alexa, play songs by L’il Johnson from Spotify.

You can also ask for playlists, genres, and even composers so long as you end your commands with from Spotify. You can find a full list of commands here if you’d like to explore.

Find New Features

Isn’t it nice to know when you get feature upgrades? Normally you have to subscribe to an email list and then actually read the email that tells you about the new features, or just look them up online when you remember. With the Echo, you can just ask:

Alexa, what new features do you have?

Whenever Amazon adds something new, they program an explanation into Alexa and she’ll give you all the details by just asking that question.

Build and Control a Smart Home, Even If You Rent

The Echo integrates with a variety of home automation hubs, such as Wink, Insteon, and SmartThings. You can also hook up other smart devices like Philips Hue Lights, Belkin WeMo, Sensi, Ecobee, and more (thanks to some of the previously-mentioned hubs, and you can find Amazon’s up-to-date list here). I always thought a voice-controlled smart home was out of reach because I rent and don’t have a lot of money, but the Echo changed that. Now I can control my lights, the temperature of the apartment, and even turn on my video recording setup with a simple command. This is, by far, my favorite service the Echo provides.

Voice commands differ somewhat based on the devices you use and what you name them in the Alexa app (or online, if you’re sneaky). I can’t give every example, but I can offer a few I like to give you an idea:

  • Alexa, turn the bedroom lights on. (I have a set of Philips Hue lights that are specified as the bedroom lights for Alexa, so she knows which ones to access when I refer to them as such.)
  • Alexa, turn the bedroom lights to 50%. (Want less light in a room? Just specify a percentage!)
  • Alexa, turn the heat up to 72. (If you have a connected thermostat like the Nest or Ecobee 3, you can set it up to respond to a command like this.)
  • Alexa, turn video mode on. (When I want to record a video, this command triggers a couple of Belkin WeMo smart switches in my home that I named “video mode” in the Alex app. This turns the camera on and lights the room for recording.)

You can do much, much more with your home automation devices with integration hubs. I have a Wink hub that I haven’t even got around to setting up yet that will open up far more home automation possibilities for me. That used to be the only option, but if you have any hub it probably works with the Echo these days. Just add your devices in the Alexa app and play around with the all the fun possibilities.

Get the Weather (and Other Useful Information)

You can find the weather in all sorts of places. The same goes for the time. But have you ever been putting on your underwear and wondered what time it was, halfway through, and then fell over trying to get to your phone because you’re a moron who can’t finish putting on his clothes first? Probably not, unless you’re me, but I bet you can think of a time where you wanted to know basic information a glance could provide you if you were only your phone, computer, or whatever device you prefer were in reach. It’s simple and lazy, but incredibly convenient. Try these commands:

  • Alexa, what’s the weather? (She’ll tell you in far more detail than you want, but you’ll get the highs and lows and chance of rain so don’t worry. If you want to know the weather somewhere you aren’t just add “in New York City” or wherever you please.)
  • Alexa, what time is it? (She’ll tell you! Again, you can ask for the time in a specific location as well. I find this super helpful when scheduling phone meetings and interviews with folks in other time zones.)
  • Alexa, what’s my commute? (If you input your home and work address, she’ll tell you what traffic is like and about how long it’ll take. This feature is pretty terrible because you only can specify one route at the moment, but it’s still good to know.)

You can also set up news briefings and other information in the Alexa app so you can ask her a lot more.

Listen to a Book or Article

Unsurprisingly, the Echo integrates with another Amazon company: Audible. If you have audiobooks from Audible, you can listen to them on the Echo with simple voice commands and sync your place. You can even set up a sleep timer so you can fall asleep to a good listen. Let’s try it:

  • Alexa, play audiobook Animal Farm. (If you have a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm in your library, it’ll play. Swap for any book you have in your library.)
  • Alexa, resume my book. (Whatever book you were last listening to—probably Animal Farm—Alexa will resume it for you with this command.)
  • Alexa, go back. Alexa, go forward. (If you want to go forward or back in the book by 30 seconds, these commands will do that for you.)
  • Alexa, stop reading the book in 30 minutes. (This will set a sleep timer and the book will stop after 30 minutes, or whatever amount of time you specify.)

You can find more fun Audible commands here, but that’s not all you can do with books. Amazon also offers several Kindle books that don’t have audio companions but you can hear through voice synthesis.

  • Alexa, read Dump Dinners: The Absolute Best Dump Dinners Cookbook with 75 Amazingly Easy Recipes. (Yes, if you own this Kindle book, Alexa will read it to you.)
  • Alexa, pause. (You should know this command when listening to a cookbook called Dump Dinners. It’ll stop her from reading it.)

Alexa can also read Wikipedia articles. These commands should suffice:

  • Alexa, wikipedia Lifehacker. (You can also say wiki if you prefer, but I find the full name less cumbersome to speak aloud. Either option will give you a short description of whatever topic you asked for.)
  • Alexa, read more from Wikipedia. (She’ll tell you to say this if you want to know more about a topic you requested, but I’m telling you in advance.)

No more reading for you! Alexa can replace your parents and you can time travel back to your childhood days when your mother read you cookbooks and Wikipedia articles before bed.

Use Alexa as a Kitchen Assistant

When the Echo was first announced, pundits joked about how Alexa will make for a great kitchen assistant, but nothing else. Well, she certainly does lots of other things, but she still does a great job helping you out with food preparation. She can convert measurements and units for you, and she can set timers so you don’t burn the food you measured properly:

  • Alexa, how many cups are in a quart?
  • Alexa, how many tablespoons are in a stick of butter?
  • Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.

If all of that’s not enough, don’t forget that she can read Dump Dinners: The Absolute Best Dump Dinners Cookbook with 75 Amazingly Easy Recipes to you anytime you want! If you don’t have time and practically no energy to cook and read, just let Alexa tell you how to dump your dinner in a pan and make magic happen. It’ll be like you didn’t even cook.

Do Practically Anything Else with IFTTT

The Echo also connects to IFTTT. You can automate anything with it, and it can even save you money. Just for an idea of its possibilities, check out our IFTTT tag page. The Echo always kind of worked with it, but it’s gotten a lot better in recent weeks. You can now trigger entire recipes with a simple voice command (after setting things up, of course):

  • Alexa, trigger “party time.” (This command triggers a popular, more complex Philip Hue Light recipe called Party Time. You can view it here and see why this method offers more options than the direct Philips Hue integration from Amazon.)
  • Alexa, send me my shopping list. (You can ask Alexa to add an item to your shopping list by saying Alexa, add batteries to my shopping list. It’s then available through the speaker or in the Alexa app, but this recipe can automatically email the contents of that list to you to make this feature actually useful. You can do this with your to-do list as well!)

Not everything requires a voice command. You can also have IFTTT log the songs you listen to in a spreadsheet for easy playlist-making later. If you know IFTTT, you know the possibilities come close to endless, and you don’t have to use any of these pre-written recipes—or you can customize your own. Then tell Alexa to trigger them and be amazed.


Control Arduino Projects with Your Voice and an Android Phone

Voice recognition is a one of the best ways to control Arduino projects, but it’s not exactly easy to implement on your own. Instructables user ASCAS shows off how to add voice control to your Arduino projects using your Android phone and Bluetooth.

The Arduino gets a Bluetooth attachment and a set of code. Then you’ll need Android Meets Robots, an app that lets you pair voice recognition with any Bluetooth module. From there, it’s just about pairing the two together and creating your own commands. It’s a pretty simple set up process that could potentially control a ton of projects. Head over to Instructables for the full guide.

Voice Activated Arduino | Instructables

Voice Control Your Nest Thermostat from Your Android Phone

We’ve discussed why smart thermostats are awesome, but if you already have one, you know how easy it can be to control with your phone. If you’re an Android user, a little Tasker and AutoVoice action will let you control your thermostat with your phone as well.

Norman A explains on his Svbtle blog that he used Tasker and AutoVoice, a powerhouse pair we’ve highlighted before, to push voice commands through Google Now to the Nest app to set or change his home thermostat anywhere, just by speaking to his phone. The nice thing about the Nest app is that it works anywhere, so you don’t have to be near the thermostat or on the same network to use it, and while the setup does require a few added scripts and Tasker profiles, it’s not difficult to set up.

He walks you through the whole thing at the link below (complete with gifs to show you how everything looks) and links to all of the components required to set everything up. Keep in mind though that this works best on devices that support Google Now and touchless controls, so he used a Moto X and his Nexus 7, although a Nexus 5 or any phone with the Google Now Launcher installed. Hit the link below to see how it all works.

Thanks to Monica for sending in the tip!

Voice Controlling My Nest Thermostat | Norman A

Your WeMo Home Automation Device May Have a Risky Vulnerability

Your WeMo Home Automation Device May Have a Risky Vulnerability

We really like Belkin’s line of WeMo devices, as they simplify home automation in an elegant way. Unfortunately, security firm IOActive claims to have discovered a vulnerability that may allow malicious hackers access to your devices.

The vulnerabilities found within the Belkin WeMo devices expose users to several potentially costly threats, from home fires with possible tragic consequences down to the simple waste of electricity. The reason for this is that, after attackers compromise the WeMo devices, they can be used to remotely turn attached devices on and off at any time. Given the number of WeMo devices in use, it is highly likely that many of the attached appliances and devices will be unattended, thus increasing the threat posed by these vulnerabilities.

In their press release, IOActive doesn’t really explain how a malicious hacker could gain access to any given WeMo device. They also state they will provide protective solutions, but only at a forthcoming securities conference. Because we don’t know the details its hard to gauge the risk level of this threat, but we’re not keen on advising everyone to unplug their WeMos immediately.

If you’re concerned, however, consider locking the WeMo down to only your local network in your router settings. Simply blocking every WAN port for its IP address should do the trick. That means you won’t be able to turn off your lights from halfway around the world, but at least you’ll be able to do it from the other room. If you’re worried about this potential threat, however, this is a simple fix. That said, we’re not yet convinced it is a significant one. You may just want to keep an eye on your devices until more develops.

IOActive Lights Up Vulnerabilities for Over Half a Million Belkin WeMo Users | IOActive

Build Your Own Wi-Fi Connected Thermostat

Build Your Own Wi-Fi Connected Thermostat

With Google’s acquisition of Nest, you might be considering building your own Wi-Fi connected thermostat. Over on the Spark blog, they show you how to build your own open-source thermostat that connects to Wi-Fi so you can change the temperature from anywhere and logs your usage to the cloud.

While Spark’s thermostat is by no means as intelligent as Nest’s, it’s still a cool project if you’re looking to upgrade your thermostat. As you’d expect, they use a Spark Wi-Fi development board, ans LED, a Honeywell temperature sensor, and a motion sensor. The whole thing’s enclosed in a nice wooden case, and it all connects to a server where all your thermostat data is logged. The total cost is about $70 (although the wood was free), and while it’s certainly not as flashy as a Nest thermostat, it gets the job done to a point. The whole project is open source, so you can find the directions and software at the link below.

Building an open source Nest | Spark.io via Hacker News

What Google can really do with Nest, or really, Nest’s data

Google’s acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion this week has been heralded as the company’s big move into home automation. Nest has made overtures about customer privacy, but given the size and profitability of its new owner’s advertising and personal data business, the new relationship needs a closer examination.

Certainly, Nest’s products—currently a thermostat and a smoke detector—have potential  in their own right, and Google is getting a new slate of devices to sell in the deal. But along with the devices, Google is getting access to new types of data it can put to very good use along with a new set of very interested customers. And like other types of data collection, this has potential negative consequences for consumers.

What Nest says, and what Nest is actually saying

It makes sense to begin with a close read of what Nest actually says it will do with customers’ data under Google. A quote from an FAQ with Nest founder Tony Fadell:

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Turn a Raspberry Pi Into a Sunrise Alarm Clock

Turn a Raspberry Pi Into a Sunrise Alarm Clock

One of the more clever types of alarm clocks is the sunrise alarm, which turns on a light in the morning and gradually gets brighter to help wake you up. You can even make your own with a Raspberry Pi.

The build, as featured by hardware hacking blog Adafruit, is relatively simple, consisting of an LED strip, a Raspberry Pi and a few requisite adapters. A small amount of soldering is required, but it’s otherwise fairly straightforward. For those with a programming slant, it can even be connected to the internet and set to respond to customized commands.

LED Light Sunrise Alarm Clock | Adafruit