The smart dashboard project

The Smart Dashboard Project
Saturday, December 30, 2017

It all started with attempting to control our security system with our phones… Initially we thought we should avoid keypad and tablet solutions. The reasoning was ‘We can save money if we use just our phones’, and I believed we should be able to leverage the ‘coolness’ of presence capabilities available in today’s phones and home automation systems to meet our needs. After months of fumbling around for our phones, dropped packages, failed and forgotten arming/disarming, and false alarms, the ‘coolness’ lost its luster.

Our needs are simple: Provide a reliable method of activating and deactivating our security system, keep false alarms to a minimum, and reduce required interactions (to ‘zero’ if possible). Our previous ‘adventure’ demonstrated the limitations of current presence systems (overly large geo fences, limited-distance dongles, reliability) to meet those needs, thus I started look for more reliable and cooperative (i.e. work with presence capabilities) solutions. Initial research suggested a keypad (or potentially a tablet) could be a solution.

The next step was to come up with (from my perspective) a reasonable set of requirements:

  1. Reasonably reliable (taking into account potential failures related to Internet connectivity, cloud, geofence, power, false alarm, and other risks)
  2. Reasonably secure (taking into account physical and technical security limitations and risks)
  3. Accommodate current and near-term smart home considerations (e.g. SmartThings, Sonos, security pin pad, wired and wireless contacts, etc.)
  4. Well-supported by manufacturer and user community (no ‘lone wolfs’)
  5. Preferably inset (flush with the wall),
  6. Visually pleasing installation: No dangling cords, wall damage or ‘out of place’ aesthetic
  7. Total cost <$300

With the initial research and requirements in hand, I dove into finding what was available. While scouring the internet several potential solutions were found. There are complete solutions (costing significantly more than we budgeted) and ‘piecemeal’ options: keypads, cameras, tablets, improved sensors and software, all requiring a fair amount of effort or additional cost to implement. The list is long, but our requirements quickly shaved the list down to keypads and tablets. After a failed attempt to implement a keypad with Lock Manager (it didn’t meet requirements 3, 5 and 6), we moved on. Shortly after we found an inexpensive tablet combined with kiosk software might meet our requirements.

During my research it became obvious there is also no one place to go to find the majority of links, a list of the software and hardware considerations, or basic configurations needed for this type of effort. This article is intended to help me and others find most of the reference information needed in one place. If you think something should be added, please add to this thread.

To make it more manageable, the work was broken into categories, e.g.


  • Specifications
  • Selections
  • Installation
  • Finish work


  • Specifications
  • Selections, Installation, Configuration
  • Testing/bug fixing

The remainder of this post groups information into these categories. Where it seemed appropriate, information is provide in bulleted lists with the intention of keeping information concise.

Hardware Specifications:
Hardware specifications were created using my own experience and includes recommendations from a few online communities. Thanks to XDA Developers for extensive information on Google and Amazon (Android based) tablets.

Tablet Spec

  • Inexpensive (less than $100)
  • 8+ hour battery life (in case of power failure)
  • Enough performance to run all required software and provide <3 second response time for all operations
  • Respectable level of quality and support from manufacturer and community
  • 6-8 inch size range
  • New or used

Electrical cable

  • Per building code

Recessed receptacle box and outlet

  • Recessed 1-2 inches behind surface mount tablet enclosure (to provide space to hide USB charger behind enclosure)

Flat USB charger with appropriate cable

  • Flat enough to easily fit in 1-2 inch space provided by recessed receptacle

Service-mount enclosure for tablet

  • This required modifying our last requirement (Inset Screen) to allow for surface mount options, as there were no inset mounts that were reasonably (<$300) priced.
  • Secure (Not easily damaged if bumped. Highly unlikely to drop tablet)
  • Very ‘slim’ design
  • Hides power cable
  • Visually pleasing

Hardware Selections:
With many of the hardware and software specs dependent on the tablet chosen, the tablet was selected first. Given our budget, tablet options were limited. In the end we chose a Fire HD 8 due to manufacturer and user community support, size, mount availability, the platform/OS supports necessary software, and price point ($50).

  1. Tablet: Fire HD 8 Tablet with Alexa, 8" HD Display, 16 GB, Black - with Special Offers - $49.99
  2. Cable: 5 feet, 12 gauge 3 conductor (from previous project) - $0.0
  3. Recessed receptacle box: Arlington DVFR1W-1 Recessed Electrical/Outlet Mounting Box, Single Gang - $17.39
  4. Receptacle outlet: Leviton 15 Amp Duplex Outlet, White - $0.68
  5. Flat USB charger with appropriate cable: Nekmit Dual Port Ultra Thin Flat USB Wall Charger with Smart IC - $11.99
  6. Service-mount enclosure for tablet: VidaMount On-Wall Tablet Enclosure / Mount - $99.99

Hardware installation and finish work:
Key considerations were easy access to 110v power, proximity to the most frequently used entry and spouse-approval of the aesthetics. After the mounting location was determined:

  • A hole was created in the drywall to accept the recessed receptacle
  • Wiring was run from nearby switch power to the receptacle
  • The receptacle was wired
  • The receptacle box was installed
  • Paint, cleanup and final power testing was completed
  • The tablet mount was installed over the recessed receptacle

Progress pictures are included below. Installation of the recessed outlet was the most time consuming part of the installation (it took a little over an hour). After cleanup and paint, the VidaBox mounting took less than 15 minutes.

Installation Photos:
Recessed receptacle roughed in
Recessed receptacle roughed in

VidaBox with flat USB converter and cable
VidaBox with flat USB converter and cable

VidaBox with tablet and Trim
VidaBox with tablet and Trim


Software Specifications
First a quick caveat: There are many reasonably good smart home controllers available in the marketplace today. Because of my experiences (I’ve been involved in multiple smart home installations using various platforms over 20 years) and my biases (I prefer ‘open’ systems with standards-based gear and highly active communities of practice, along with low cost of entry), for this project I chose a SmartThings controller using WebCore as the ‘rules engine’. Although this shouldn’t affect the hardware choices previously described, it definitely affects software selection.

Software specifications were created using my own experience and recommendations from several online communities. A special thanks to SmartThings and WebCore forum members for their extensive articles and (very active) support. Their insights and examples saved countless hours on this project.

  1. SmartThings controller
  2. WebCore as the extensible ‘rules engine’
  3. Secured interface:
  • Only admin users should be able change or exit the (limited) selections
  • Some (but not all) selections must be password protected
  1. Ability to adjust the interface remotely
  2. Hierarchical menus
  3. Easy to edit and use

Selections, Installation, Configuration
Several selections were required to address specific issues or limitations. Significant issues or limitations are mentioned in the related sections below:

Google Play Store - $0.0

  • Required because the Fire HD 8 does not natively have access to Google Playstore. Playstore (and/or sideload) access is required to install software not available on Amazons Appstore
  • No coding required
  • Installation and configuration instructions are included in the link above

ActionTiles - $28.99

  • Used to develop and manage the user interface and hierarchical menus on the tablet. This is a web host component
  • No coding required.
  • Configuration instructions are available here. Installation through Fully Kiosk is covered in the Fully Kiosk section below

Fully Kiosk - $5.88

  • Fully Kiosk is an interesting app… It attempts to ‘lock down’ a tablet interface without rooting or changing the tablet OS. This limits user access to only defined user interface elements (ActionTiles) and a small set of defined applications. This is the client component, installed on the tablet

LANnouncer -$0.0

  • LANnouncer is utilized to create a ‘beep’ and other sound-file-based alerts at the tablet. This is a client component, installed on the tablet

SmartThings SmartApps - $0.0

  • All the SmartApps were loaded through the SmartThings online management app. Several articles are available online that explain how to setup and load these apps.
  • SHM Delay: As currently deployed, users of SmartThings cannot use an internal device to start or stop alarm activations without causing the alarm to be set off as people exit (or enter) a building. This is a known SHM limitation. SHM Delay and SHM Delay TrueExit (or fairly complex custom coding) are currently required to address these exit-delay limitations
  • SHM Delay TrueExit
  • LANnouncer: LANnouncer is utilized to create a ‘beep’ and other sound-file-based alerts at the tablet. This is the smartapp component, installed in SmartThings
  • Big Talker: Used to send text-based verbal warnings through Sonos (or other) speaker systems

SmartThings Devices - $0.0

SmartThings Routines - $0.0
The following routines were created to leverage new methods either required or desired due to the new system. Primarily referenced by ActionTiles to run specific routines within SmartThings

  • Armed (AWAY): Sets Smart Home Monitor to Armed (Away). We included turning off lights, locking doors, etc.
  • Armed (HOME): Sets Smart Home Monitor to Armed (Home). We included locking doors, etc.
  • Disarm Alarm: Sets Smart Home Monitor to Disarmed. We set this up to require a pin to activate
  • Goodbye Delay: ‘Dummy’ routine used in SHM Delay

ActionTiles Media - $0.0

  • A Weather media tile was created to provide weather information. This required customizing a URL and adding it to a media object in ActionTiles. Instructions are straight forward and included in this link

ActionTiles Shortcuts - $0.0

ActionTiles Panels - $0.0

  • ActionTiles Panels were created to meet specific menuing and usage models. Home was used as the main menu, with the others as selections (sub menus) from the main menu

** Home**

  • Doors
  • Lights
  • Motion
  • Temperature
  • Vents
  • Battery Levels

Testing/bug fixing
Due to the number of components and interactions, bug fixing all the software took a few days. Most fixes centered around idiosyncrasies of Fire OS. Most issues were centered around the audio components (LANnouncer and Big Talk), and getting the entry/exit routines working properly in SHM.

Work continues on the Dashboard Project, but the first deployment is complete and working reasonably well. We’ve already ‘tweaked’ a few things: I’ll update this thread as more is learned/added.


Very cool write up. Looks great! I just finished 6 of these in my home. Looks cool but so far, nobody is using them outside of me. That’s ok though, they’ll come around sooner than later!

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@ittnerpm nicely put together…It looks great…Great informative write up and nicely broken out.


Awesome write up… gave me a whole lot of information. I was in the process of planning my setup. Have the tablet now done and going to start working on mounting it.

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Very detailed writeup - thanks for putting in so much info! I’m building out my HA setup for a new house, and I’ve also had experience with pro automation systems but haven’t been impressed with the UI for such expensive systems (Control4 is top notch, but so is their price - and out of my budget). I’ve chosen to go more with an OEM approach - unbranded POE touchscreens designed for wall mounting (the 7" one I’ve found is almost identical to the ones used by HAI / Leviton) and very sleek. Using POE to power the tablet in combination with hardwired LAN simplifies installation and reduces lag/occasional WiFi issues, though the tablets can alternatively use the included DC power supply and Wifi for retrofit. I’m still sourcing a 11" touchscreen, but it looks like a decent one should be available later this month. I’m fairly confident in the longetivity of the web-based providers you’ve mentioned, and there’s also some pretty strong fallback solutions available should anything fall through down the road (OpenHAB, HASS, CQC) that could utilize all the same hardware. I like the balance SmartThings provides between cloud and local based.

What kind of dimmers are those? I’ve got a handful of leviton, but those looks way more slick.

I recently added DakBoard as a screensaver from within Fully Kisok, and is pretty configurable within itself - transitions nicely back to AT when using motion detection to wake up the panel when you approach it. :slight_smile:


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Thanks Ron. I can relate to your being the ‘technical evangelist’ in your family.


Thanks for the feedback Graham. I’m really interested in using POE, but have not researched yet… Do you have some recommended configs/equipment?

The dimmers are HomeSeer HS-WD100+… I’ve been very happy with mine, and use the multiple-button capability extensively. Here is a link to related info and the device handler

I’m glad you mentioned DakBoard: We recently added it, and are also happy with. Here is a quick snap for those who may be interested:


Thanks Darren. Appreciate the feedback!

Thanks GavinCampbell. Would you share a photo and any words of wisdom when it’s done?

I’ve got a Sibo Q896s touchscreen and seems to be working really nicely so far with all I’ve thrown at it. I’m planning on having about 5 of them, and one 11" touchscreen for the kitchen.

They’re about 1/2" thick on top of the drywall which is pretty reasonable, and have a really clean look installed. I haven’t been able to find anything true flush-mount at all (with suitable specs). I’ve just been bench-testing it so no installed pics yet (don’t have the house built yet, either, so might be a while :smiley: )

Oooh, I just saw this on HomeSeer’s site after looking into the WD100’s:
Definitely think I’m going to use a few of these!

Hehe, I see your weather API is down too - glad it’s not just me! Looks like something’s wrong at WU, their site’s giving me errors all over.

Awesome write-up.
Thanks for mentioning BigTalker.
I am due to release the development version as Big Talker 2.0 soon. The thread for that is here. It moves to a Parent/Child app structure which allows for more granular control, removes some limitations and addresses some bugs that exist in 1.1.12 and earlier. It’s been out for quite a while and lately, I believe I have only received feedback regarding feature requests and not bug reports. I just need to document the install, configuration process, new variables, etc which is kind of my hold back to final release (among a few easy feature requests).


Can you help me with this? I am trying to setup my Fire 8 with Fully Kiosk Browser and Dakboard as the screensaver and to go into Action Tiles when there is motion. I am getting stuck on the setup in Fully. And how do I get it to display the Action Tiles when it comes out of Fully?

If I understand your use case, you won’t actually come ‘out of Fully’. To set up for your intended case, do the following in the Fully Kiosk Browser [Settings] menu:

  1. In [Device Management] set the Dakboard URL in [Screensaver URL (PLUS)]
  2. In [Motion Detection (PLUS)} set [Enable Motion Detection] to ON, set [Turn Screen On on Motion] to ON.
  3. In [Kiosk Mode (PLUS)] set [Enable Kiosk Mode] to ON
  4. In [Web Content Settings] set [Start URL] to your ActionTiles panel URL, set [Username] to your ActionTiles User Name, and set [Password] to your ActionTiles Password

There are several other settings I recommend, but these should get you started.

Thanks for the help. I did figure out the screensaver and actiontiles parts but Fully won’t go into Kiosk mode on my Fire HD8

Has anyone considered using a Raspberry Pi and associated screen for the dashboard?

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I am guessing they are trying to keep the client end easier - The rpi will introduce a whole set of complexities you do not want in a consumer end system. You should be able to set it and forget it. Also, costs. The rpi would probably be about $120 per end point. The tablet solution is $50. Consider you deploy 7 of them over the house.

For POE - I found a cheap $8 adapter that does 5.2V usb on the end to provide power - might be worth the look to see if a cheaper tablet can make use of it, rather than have a POE tablet (the ones i saw were $400+)

Link for the adapter:

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This YouTube Video (Parts 1 & 2) were helpful to me.

DAKboard just added direct support for SmartThings. Now in beta.


Is there a way to apply for Beta participation?

The feature is in open beta within the current free and premium releases in the cloud. Simply sign up for the free service if you aren’t already signed up, create a screen, and you’ll see that SmartThings is now an available block you can add.

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