|Product Info | Download | Purchase | FAQ | Support | Company|
Smart Home Hacks Excerpt
We wrote this article for the excellent Smart Home Hacks book by Gordon Meyer. For additional tips, ideas, and hacks to help you boost the intelligence of your home you can purchase Smart Home Hacks on Amazon.com.
Using your computer to control your home makes your home smart. But don’t overlook the benefits of a slightly less sophisticated approach.
You can create an automated home by using different approaches.
These approaches vary in terms of the equipment needed and the degree of control
and automation they provide. If you simply want to turn on lights or appliances
without leaving your easy chair, all you need are a few INSTEON or X10 modules
and a wireless
Palm Pad or a MiniController.
This approach gives you complete control (you push buttons to make things happen),
but it provides very little automation (if you don’t push those buttons,
If you want the lights to come on by themselves, at certain
times during the day or night, you can use a standalone X10-capable timer,
such as the MiniTimer.
This box plugs into your wall and you can program it to turn lights on or off,
up to twice a day.
The MiniTimer also has a security mode that varies the on-and-off schedule you’ve entered to provide the appearance that someone might be home. You also can use it for an alarm clock and, optionally, have it turn on your coffee maker when the alarm goes off. With a timer-based system, you’re doing more than remotely controlling your home; you’re beginning to move toward automation.
Moving up in sophistication are INSTEON or X10 controllers that can use simple logic to make automation decisions, execute a series of commands defined as a macro, and execute macros at scheduled times or at sunrise and sunset. You need a personal computer to program these controllers, but once you have done so they operate by themselves.
Next up, providing the most sophistication and flexibility are computer-based home automation systems like Indigo. These systems enable you to use sophisticated logic in your automation, such as reacting appropriately based on which house members are at home and whether it’s a holiday. You also can use the other capabilities of your computer, such as voice synthesis and its Internet connection, to make your home seem smart.
Each approach has its advantages, and thankfully, it’s not necessary to choose just one. In fact, a mix-and-match approach can result in a very robust and reliable home automation system. Use the technique that’s appropriate for the problem you’re trying to solve.
For example, you might use a MiniTimer to control your landscape lighting; it needs scheduled events only, not sophisticated logic. If you travel frequently, you might decide to use computer-based home automation when you’re at home so that you can benefit from its capabilities. But you might put a standalone controller in charge when you go on a trip so that you don’t have to leave a computer turned on while you’re away.
Advantages of a Standalone Controller
In general, standalone controllers are very reliable. They rarely crash or lock up, and they don’t have mechanical components that might fail, such as a hard drive. For mission-critical home automation tasks, using a standalone controller can make a lot of sense.
Most standalone controllers can function independently, or in a mode where they pass commands only to the computer to which they’re connected. When disconnected from a host computer, they use the logic and scheduled events you’ve stored in their memory. An example is the USB PowerLinc Controller (1132CU) which works with Indigo 1.8, and the newer PowerLinc V2 (2414U) which works with Indigo 2.5 and higher. With Indigo, the process of updating the controller for standalone operation is done automatically when you quit the application.
Programming the Controller
To prepare for standalone use, you need to specify which portions of your home control logic and schedules for which you want the PowerLinc to assume responsibility when Indigo quits. Let’s say you have several X10-controlled exterior and interior lights, and you have motion detectors on the front porch, in the backyard, and over the driveway. You have defined trigger actions to turn on lights for 30 minutes when motion is detected, and you have defined time/date actions to turn on the interior lights one hour after sunset. Additionally, this time/date action is randomized by 25 minutes to give the house a lived-in look and to discourage would-be burglars. These are the actions you want your PowerLinc to continue to perform by itself, when Indigo is not in charge.
To flag these actions for standalone operation, choose Upload Settings... from the Interface menu to see the settings dialog:
Indigo provides an upload compatibility rating for all your home-control actions. This rating tells you how compatible a particular action is with the PowerLinc’s standalone mode. Some actions translate perfectly to the controller (good compatibility), some partially translate (okay compatibility), and some will not translate to work at all (poor compatibility).
If an action gets a less-than-perfect rating, select it in the list and Indigo displays more information about it at the bottom of the window. In this case, the action living room lamp with randomize has been adjusted automatically to a 15-minute period of randomization. That’s the maximum randomization value supported by the PowerLinc.
The action retains the 25-minute randomization setting when used by Indigo. It’s adjusted for the PowerLinc only when it’s uploaded to the controller for standalone use.
A standalone PowerLinc can’t execute some actions. For example, the front porch motion email action cannot be selected for uploading to the PowerLinc because the action includes steps that send email, which the PowerLinc is incapable of doing.
Even if an action can be used with a standalone PowerLinc, you might not want to upload it to the controller. The controller can store about 1000 commands (32KB), but you should consider omitting actions that don’t need to take place when you’re away from home, or at other times when you’re using the standalone controller.
Once you’ve set up Indigo to upload to the PowerLinc, switching between controlled and standalone mode is as simple as quitting the Indigo application. When you’re ready to put the computer in charge again, just launch Indigo and it will resume control.
Hacking the Hack
If you’re a dedicated computer-in-control type of automator, consider adding a standalone PowerLinc to your tool belt. You can simplify your computer-based system by offloading basic automation, such as sunrise and sunset events. However, keep in mind that if both your computer-based system and the standalone controller are working at the same time, you’ll need to ensure they don’t respond to the same events. This would result in a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen situation and would increase the likelihood of X10 signal collisions. It also could make the system confusing to debug.