Those who know me and have been in my presence over the last six month, have been subjected to my interest obsession with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Home Automation. Around November 2017, I was introduced to a little device called the ESP8266, and within a week or two I became quite intensely curious as to everything that could be done with this versatile device. Quite a few of my students have expressed a keen interest in this too, so I thought I’d put together some regular posts on what and how I’ve been kitting the house out with technology.

Perhaps this will also serve as a better outlet for telling people about this, so my wife and close friends can have a break from my obsession too…

What is Home Automation?

For any fans of Battlestar Galactica (the new series), Home Automation is probably admiral Adama’s worst nightmare. Home Automation, or a Smart Home is quite simply describing a house where nearly everything is hooked up to some kind of network, which then exposes the whole system to management via an app or web page. The easiest to picture is having your lights operate on remote control via your mobile phone, but it extends far beyond into controlling thermostats, reading data from your fridge, and even triggering “if this then that” automations.

For example, my network detects when my wife and I arrive home, and then if it is after dark, the outside and inside lights turn on in sequence as we would walk into the property. From another angle, it also extends to integrating completely different systems into a single management space, such as an alarm system and your lighting – allowing for motion sensing lights in your rooms and a savings in electricity!

How did I get into it?

In a bit of a combination of some work I was doing, coupled with a friend tinkering around, I dove into the space after completing a research report for the institute I facilitate at. IoT came up as a massive technology to watch in the next three years, and how could I call myself a techie without playing around with it. My friend gave me the first push with suggesting a management platform (Domoticz) and introducing me to the ESP8266.

After that, it was a case of dusting off the old soldering iron and refreshing my programming knowledge. There are a plethora of ways to program these devices, with many of them running on Python, C++, or C (the latter two in the case of Arduino – an open-source electronics platform, built on easy to use hardware and software). While I was not versed in any of them, the code was really easy to learn online from fellow tinkerers and easy to follow examples for Arduino.

Where am I going with this?

Who knows! One thing I’ve learned is that the sky is the limit. Some of the current projects I’ve done (and will document in future posts) are:

  • Automating the lighting based on our presence in the house
  • Integrating the whole system with Siri (though this is now a one-liner in the newer management software)
  • Receiving a Telegram message when the fridge is left open or the alarm has gone off
  • Set up motion trigger lights based on radar instead of infrared
  • So many more!

So if you’re keen to get into Home Automation and IoT, I’ll be periodically releasing articles on my blog along with how-to’s and pictures, as well as code snippets from Home Assistant (my chosen management platform) to get up and running.

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