I don’t think the columns have gone on line - only in print. But I can post some snippets of copy here! Bear in mind these were written for a UK audience.
OK, this was a small intro in issue 258
Let’s talk for a moment about home automation kit. I mentioned Energenie a few months ago, which has a well priced off-the-shelf collection of bits and pieces, both for controlling mains powered devices and also radiators. It’s still slightly limited, as right now there’s no light dimming facilities, but I’m sure those are coming. Another well thought out system appears to be SmartThings from Samsung – I’ve not had much of a play with this yet, but the products appear to be well thought out, and it has the bonus what as well as working with Samsung’s own controller and sensors, it’ll also talk to many 3rd party Z-Wave, ZigBee and LAN connected kit.
And where Samsung has SmartThings, Apple has HomeKit. It’s a slightly different approach to that offered by Samsung and indeed most other vendors. There’s no central hub device – it relies on an iOS device for that. And HomeKit will only work over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If you want to use something like Z-Wave then you need an additional bridge. But the best thing about HomeKit is that it’s tied into Siri, so you can say things like “Siri, open the garage door” – that’s pretty neat.
In fact, if you have an iDevice and want to use this Siri integration but extend it beyond Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem there’s a neat thing called HomeBridge with you can download from https://github.com/nfarina/homebridge. It’s essentially a HomeKit emulator, and it’s dead simple to install it on something like a Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve done that you can connect the Pi to your SmartThings hub and use Siri to control your various devices. I’m really not sure whether it’s Apple or Samsung that will be more annoyed by this.
And then this was a follow up a month later:
Continuing the automation theme, last moth I made a brief reference to Samsung’s SmartThings, but I thought it was probably worth giving a few more details, as in many ways SmartThings is quite different from anything else on the market.
A good place to start is probably the Starter Kit (funny, that!). You can pick this up for around £200, or £150 if there happens to be one of the fairly regular special offers on at the time – keep your eyes peeled. You should probably think of it as an experimenter’s box, which will allow you to get a feel for what kit like this can actually do. What comes in the box won’t be enough to fully automate your home (or small business), although the sensors and controls will make a good starting point.
So, what do you get for your money? Well, the starting point is a hub. This requires a wired connection to your broadband router, although I checked and it works fine over a homeplug link if you need to install it in another part of the building. It’s a shame there’s no Wi-Fi option, but I’m guessing that might have caused interference with the other onboard radios. These comprise ZigBee (which runs at 2.4GHz), and Z-Wave, which here in Europe uses the 868MHz band. The hub also contains a Bluetooth radio, but this is currently disabled.
The Z-Wave frequency is really important, because it’s different in the US and the EU. This means that you need to be very careful when buying things like sensors on the Internet, especially as imports, as they may not work over here. ZigBee is better as it’s the same standard worldwide. Another thing that I should mention while we’re talking radios is that for most of the kit I’m about to mention, anything which is permanently powered (i.e. not running on batteries) will act as a repeater, so proving a meshed network. Which is neat.
Alongside the hub, the box contains four ‘Things’. The first is the only one of them which is controllable (the rest are all sensors), and it’s a plug-in power outlet. There’s no dimmer – it’s a simple on/off switch, but on top of that what you do get is the ability to measure the current draw, so it’s really a sensor too. And like all of the Samsung kit in the box it uses ZigBee for the comms.
The next Thing is what’s called a Multi-sensor. It’s a device that combines a temperature sensor, an accelerometer (which registers orientation, vibration, and movement), and an open/closed contact sensor which you can use for doors, windows, etc. Also in the box is a motion sensor – essentially a battery powered PIR movement detector, except it also measures temperature, and finally a Presence Sensor, which triggers an event when it comes in and out of range of the hub. It’s quite small, and Samsung suggests uses such as attaching it to your keying or leaving it in your car, so that the system knows when you are home (useful for people without geolocatable smartphones), or attaching to your pets’ collars.
All of these are tied together with very rich App, but I’ll cover that in more depth in a future column.