SmartThings Community

Let's talk about shades

It’s definitely becoming a crowded product category. The torque needed for tilting well fitted blinds won’t be a problem – a challenge are blinds like my heavy wood slats at home that rub against the insides of the window frame.

Looks like FlipFlic is prioritizing ease of installation over the design of “TiltMyBlinds”; That’s a tough call for a startup to make.

Quite a weird and wonderful new world we live in where such rapid prototyping is possible to come up with viable designs … and so many sources of funding, accelerators, etc., to take the project through refinement and enough Customers to hopefully fund redesigns (or attract the investment needed for that). Heck – that’s the SmartThings story.

TiltMyBlinds is over a year past their Kickstarter campaign estimated delivery dates. While I empathize with the challenges they face, it is still incredible that project creators are still far too conservative with their estimates … and that there are still Backers who have faith in those dates at the time they put up their cash.

I also find this particular following statement disturbing… I don’t know of any battery powered product that only requires charging “every few years”:

.2. Plug-in cord. If you decide against the solar option, we developed a convenient way to charge the lithium iron battery pack. It’s as easy as plugging your Tilt manual cord (provided in brown or white) into the nearest outlet with the USB charger (also included). Charging will only need to be done every few years depending on how often you’re Tilting.

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Very good insight. Agree that tilting requires far less torque than lifting. It also uses far less battery power because the operation can be completed in several seconds. Lifting a shade/blind can easily take a minute, literally more than an order of magnitude longer running time. Even so, it looks like TiltMyBlinds didn’t do their calculations properly. They probably only accounted for average battery drain per operation and just divided the battery’s capacity by that number. In reality, lithium ion rechargeable batteries self discharge by 3-5% per month so even if the blinds aren’t being operated at all, the battery likely won’t last 2 years. So it makes sense that companies like Lutron use primary cells - almost negligible self discharge.

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That is exactly where I want mine… Still stalled on my project… :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Quick comment about the current Somfy RTS to Zwave approach. I have 7 shades using that approach and it works well. The interface is a physical controller/translator, not too expensive, and a simple install and setup process. You don’t lose the state of the shades unless you mix and match the controllers, and then correct, there isn’t a state reporting back. But if you sort of let go of the Somfy physical remote and use an ST UI to control, its all good. And if you don’t, its an easy fix with a push on your ST UI to get back in sync. The biggest issue I have run into is the power. The shades each require a battery tube of 8 of the best possible (expensive) AA’s, and you could add a 2nd tube if the shade is getting a lot of use. Their life is still an issue, time is not nice to batteries. Otherwise you can hardwire, but that is both expensive and may not be convenient or feasible. The Somfy solor option is another expensive choice, but I think that is to recharge batteries and may be another battery tube, batteries, etc altogether. So for me having used these for awhile now, the biggest issue has been power and just dealing with dead batteries.

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I think with so many RTS motors installed world wide (millions), it makes sense for Somfy to focus on their own proprietary RF platform, and then make various interfaces for other protocols. We’re not constrained as such so have the freedom of integrating a Z-wave or ZigBee module into the motor itself. In the end, as long as RF communications is reliable, then native feedback support can only be a good thing.

I’m quite interested in how you got your shades motorized. Are they professionally installed or did you DIY?

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Yes, it makes sense to have the communication in the motor, that would perhaps solve the additional interface and provide better real-time status. I did the installation and all the setup myself, which isn’t real difficult as I ordered the shades with the motors in a couple separate sets. So also have 2 of their RTS remote for the downstairs set and the upstairs. Once you set up the remotes and your mid-position stop (the ‘my somfy’ position), adding in the physical interface device and the ST devices was pretty straightforward

When ordering the motors how did you make sure they come with the right adapters fit inside your shades? Or did you buy them together from the same place?

the shades come in various configurations, motorized or not. They are then ready to install, configure the remote, etc. Check out Bali shades for instance, with somfy motors

Another power option you don’t mention, one that we use in one room of 6 Bali motorized shades with Z-wave interface to ST, is the AC/DC adapter. This eliminates the batteries and “expensive” hard wiring. We ran the wire down the side of the window frame hidden within a wire channel to nearby AC outlets. We also have battery powered shades in a location where there is no outlet nearby.

Yes, that’s the best approach if you have a convenient outlet or can install one close by. I didn’t have that option, but the battery life and cost is a pain. Would be ideal to have power run into the window frame or close to the motor

Thanks for the suggestions. Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on the mechanical aspects which basically consists of a DC motor and gearing. They’ve now been tooled up and we’ve been running various load tests. So far so good. In terms of battery life, a single charge yields around 400 cycles (1 up, 1 down) of a normal sized roller shade. Normal sized roller shade in this case is determined to be 80" x 80" - let me know if this is reasonable or not. Taking into account self-discharge of the battery, as well as battery consumption of the RF transceiver, a realistic battery life would be about 10 months if used at 1 cycle per day. Again, let me know if this feels sufficient or not.

Regarding other power options, our motor operates on a 5V platform which means you can use any USB type charger to keep the battery consistently topped up. This would be a good option for those that don’t want to bother with charging the battery. There are plenty of small and cheap USB chargers on the market which will all work.

Well you’ve got my attention… Really would love to retrofit my 2" wood blinds for open/close. Not at all concerned with up/down.

FYI - I believe that he is currently only looking at a roller shade solution - I’m currently interested for my office.

How long will the charge take? Would it be able to accept the quick charging cables? Will it have some sort of way to shut off charging once it hits 100% so as to not overcharge? I assume most would plug it in overnight. Would there be a way to chain multiple roller shades together for charging? I.E. I’m in an office building with large curtainwall, we are currently looking at roller shades, but will likely end up multiple 48" shades in a row since that’s the size of each glass with a 2.5" spacing in between them. If you could put an extension so you would only have to plug one in instead of each one individually that would seem beneficial.

Yes, charging will automatically cut off when the battery is fully charged. I can’t imagine it being done otherwise as it will result in a fire hazard. We haven’t settled on the charging rate just yet and it’s actually related to the second part of your question. To elaborate, you can use a single USB charger to charge multiple motors at the same time. How many you can charge depends on the rating of the charger (so-called chargers are a misnomer, they are really just 5V power adapters) as well as the charge rate of the motor. So if we set the charge rate at, say, 500mA, a typical 1A charger will only be able to handle two motors. If, however, we set the charge rate at 50mA, then a single charger will be able to keep 20 motors running. The downside to that is, it will take something like 200 hours (!!!) to fully charge the battery if someone is using it as a battery motor that is not constantly plugged in. But yes, in short it is possible to daisy chain many motors together and run only a single cable to the small USB charger.

Now, here’s a pic for those who like mechanical stuff. The motor and gears are currently being tested.

Wondering how your retrofit project is coming along.

Our home has non-motorized 28 solar shades. We have added automated shades by purchasing Bali with Somfy motorization. Prices through Costco are reasonable when compared to other sources, particularly dealers (some forum members seem a bit unrealistic when it comes to the cost of window coverings). We installed all ourselves and have configured the Z-Wave to work with SmartThings using the Somfy interface (about $75). This was not a difficult DIY project. In SmartThings the shades are lowered at sunset and raised at sunrise. They have worked very reliably, except once in awhile one of the shades doesn’t get the signal (this is not a ST problem). We’ve tried moving the wire antenna, which sometimes helps, and we’ve tried moving the interface. Bythe way; the Somfy interface which sends the RF to the shades is actually located in one room midway between two groups of shades in other rooms, one being on another level. So it actually works quite well.

The most challenging part of installing window coverings is the measuring. Because of Bali’s confusing and inconsistent definitions, we ended up with the wrong widths. But they actually replaced everything at no cost to us! One set was a new installation on windows without coverings and without nearby ac outlets. They are high in a stairwell and not reachable. We have the expensive batteries on these and they are still working fine after about 5 months, with daily up and down. The other group are blackout shades installed with reverse roll above existing solar shades in our media room. All but one are on the Somfy ac, with the thin cord run inside a channel alongside the window from. We painted that with the wall color and it looks fine, in my opinion. The exposed cord and ac adapter runs to nearby outlets which are behind furniture. Other locations may not have this advantage.

Now as to your project, I would find it very helpful if we could motorize all our existing shades with the high cost of complete replacement. I know Somfy motors are self-contained and just reside inside the roller tube. We received one as a possible replacement from Bali when one was creeping up on the down setting. Correct me if I’m worng, but it should be easy to just insert this in an existing tube. There may be other hardware involved where the tube is attached to the wall. One further important capability would be to have a lumesences sensor to lower the solar shades as needed based on the sun, which is why we have solar shades in the first place. It is a pain to lower all those shades individual shades at the appropriate time and we have to do it when we leave in anticipation of the afternoon sun.

Looking forward to hearing of the progress of this project.

Hi dgbsf, work is ongoing and we’ve been running various tests of production prototypes. While we’re continuing to work on our project, I came across an Indigogo project called the Axis Gear that looks quite good in my opinion. It’s something that is admittedly more suited to the DIY retrofit market, and the price is pretty attractive. I know there’s been other crowd funded projects in the past but this one just looks more polished and might actually become a decent product. Their app looks quite good also, and support for Z-Wave is a bonus for ST.

Watch for http://flipflic.com launching their Kickstarter soon too. Similar cost-effective retrofit concept.

Looks interesting though it’s hard to tell how it works. Assuming tilt is it’s only movement.

Yes, I believe that’s true.

The force (and safety precautions) required to raise and lower slatted blinds is many times that required for tilt adjustment. It’s a separate problem to solve, unfortunately.