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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Rant begin:

As more hi tech hardware is becoming self install, why does this industry seem to stonewall the DIYer? If I were to hazard a guess it would appear many of the HA devices out today started life as a security system or extension of one. Not one is open source but instead would prefer to nickel and dime every possible option. Worse yet is some designs appear to have been designed in the 1980s with no incentive to bring modern parts into the mix. Paying for someone to ship me physical ROM IC upgrades is really old school, opening the box and prying out ICs to install an updated OS is so 1980s.


I believe an open source collective effort could result in a very powerful HA system that doesn't need expensive custom vendors specific control panels (iPads) and a team of technicians to do even the most basic functions.


A typical connected family probably has 75% of the gear they need already in their home. A WiFi router, some computers with a web browser. It's figured Apple will have sold 12 Million iPads by the end of 2010, this is an incredible device that could easily be used as a HA / HVAC remote.


I would simply like to see some of the electrical items in the house to be connected, I don't see the need to spend $50k to do it for a typical home. I'm not talking about the monster homes where $50k is a drop in the bucket but for a typical working family home.


I'm an embedded engineer who specializes in microcontrollers so I can build such a device if the demand exists. I'm not a marketer so if I'm wrong I'd like to hear why.

Rant pause:
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the link, good reading too bad the OP hasn't returned since March 2010. I'm not aiming my product at the rich but the everyday man. Why can't the average joe like myself included be able to control his thermostat or lights from the web without hiring a consultant or thousands of dollars worth of hardware to do the job.


I have a vision, maybe I'm way off track but that's why I'm posting here. Have I missed something, does this device exist?


The first physical part of the puzzle is a flexible affordable controller. Ethernet connectivity with some serial I/O and handful of relays and inputs. I don't expect it to run my audio system (Apple's done a pretty good job of that) and not everyone owns a home theatre. Pretty much every homeowner has lights and a thermostat, most have WiFi and the internet so why isn't there an affordable simple system that can do that. Heck in the awful old days I had an X10 system, pure unreliable junk designed in 1970 but showed potential.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hmm OpenRemote seems promising. It's an app for iOS but that's cool. I'll put it on my iPad take a look.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19583478


I believe an open source collective effort could result in a very powerful HA system that doesn't need expensive custom vendors specific control panels (iPads) and a team of technicians to do even the most basic functions.
Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19583478


I'm an embedded engineer who specializes in microcontrollers so I can build such a device if the demand exists.

After reading what you wrote I thought you could help them with ideas for an embedded controller. Open remote runs on a PC with an iPod Touch/ iPhone or iPad as options for control.
 

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For lighting and thermostats you can get by with a system based around an HAI or ELK unit. They are about as cheap as you can get and yet they still work very well, given their limits.


The hardware for the lights and thermostats is still going to be MUCH more expensive then the "dumb" hardware that is typically used when wiring a home.


We just installed such a system using a HAI OmniProII, HAI RC-2000 thermostats and HAI/Simply Automated UPB lighting equipment.


The bill for the lighting equipment alone was around $5000. For a hardwire system you will have additional labor costs. Even the UPB stuff tends to cost a bit more to install since you can end up spending extra time trying to cram the larger UPB units into the boxes.


Setting up such a system is well within the capabilities of a DIY type person.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I'm curious to what CPU the Omni Pro uses? Looks like a Realtek Ethernet IC.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
IMO The closed black box controller has got to go. I'm trying to take the mystery out of the HA / HVAC world. That said some folks want it all and are willing to pay for it, that's fine, but wouldn't it be nice to have an HA / HVAC controller for the rest of us. I'm not talking about distributed audio and home theater but basic control of a typical home. ie: lights, thermostat for starters.


What I propose is:


Open source hardware. This is something I can design (of course the more suggestions / feedback I get the better the initial design) and would make the schematics and documentation available to anyone. I've already begun the groundwork and am reviewing a MIPs core MPU with Ethernet, OTG USB, Six serial ports and more on a single inexpensive IC. Throw in a handful of relays and some inputs and you have the heart of an HA / HVAC controller. I'm going to try to keep the target price around $200.


The hardware as of today are a 32bit MIPs microcontroller with

1 10/100 Ethernet

1 USB

6 relays

4 general purpose or opto-isolated inputs

2 RS485 ports

2 RS232 ports expandable to 4 (may include onboard XBee Pro or ZigBee)

1 IR blaster port

1 onboard temperature sensor (freeze sensor)


Open source firmware. Take Linux for example, look what the community can do if source code is available. There are a lot of really smart people out there with ideas far outreaching anything I've envisioned. You want a feature or have a better way to do something now's your chance. The IDE is free and the C compiler has a free academic version available to anyone. The programming hardware is cheap $50 and a bootloader will be part of the programming so the device can be user updated either via Ethernet or USB.


Just like your PC this device can be customized for the application. Firmware could be upgraded, customized or completely rewritten. It's possible even for user programs to be added or a simple interpreter onboard to run inline code.


What it must be is inexpensive, reliable and low power. What I don't want is something chewing through current like a full blown PC, you just don't need that sort of horsepower to turn lights on and off or run the furnace. What's the point in turning off the light when you've got a 300W PC running 24/7
 

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Reliability is key! HVAC *cannot fail* or in the very worst case must fall into a safe mode. Certain home automation tasks can have dire consequences--think irrigation stuck in the on mode.


I think security is the other big area that could benefit from a re-thinking. Your door/window sensors could tell your HVAC system some useful information. (Don't run AC if windows are open!) Again, though, reliability is crucial. Can't have security disarmed if the power fails. What happens if the system crashes?


Craig
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19586192


IMO The closed black box controller has got to go.

Why? What "closed" part of the HAI/ELK products (or any other line) is causing a problem? What do you want to do that you cannot do?


Lots of people own cars with "black boxes" in them - that doesn't seem to be causing a problem - people still buy lots of cars.

Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19586192


I'm trying to take the mystery out of the HA / HVAC world.

I don't think that the controller is the mystery. I think it's more the open ended nature of the home automation problem as a whole. There are many, many solutions to a given problem (which lighting hardware to use for instance). The average homeowner may find it very confusing. Open hardware isn't going to matter much to them.


While I think such a project as you are talking about could be fun I don't think you will make a dent in the market - there are already too many players.


There are signs that the concept of home automation is making progress at reaching the masses but it still has a long way to go.


It still is too expensive for most folks. Consider a few hundred bucks for standard light switches/thermostats versus many thousands for automated products plus the cost of installation.


And there is the WAF. I have two mostly automated homes. My wife says that when I am gone she is going to rip it all out - too complicated. I hope she is not serious.


Of course this is all just my take on things.


Have fun and good luck!
 

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If the goal is to create an IP gateway to control HVAC, and a few other misc. devices, I'd say you're already way behind and will never be able to catch up to others.


These devices (HVAC, Lights, etc.) will be handled by device manufacturers that already have experience and marketshare. As menioned in a previous post, Zigbee will be the communication standard that will allow all of these devices to be accessed Via IP. Also, as previously stated, these device manufactures have open protocols so anyone can develop an iPad interface to control them. Furthermore, these manufactures also handle solutions that scale from a stand alone stat, or home theater lighting bundle, all the way up to the 25k sq/ft home that wants a home theater, distributed audio (that incorporates Apple), etc. Here is a 2011 catalog that clearly demonstrates my statements and puts things into perspective:
http://homeauto.com/Downloads/Market...duct_Guide.pdf
 

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I used to think the controller was the problem here. Alas, it is not. Deal costs for controllers that do everything you want to build is only a few hundred dollars. The cost doesn't get up to $50K for that reason. It gets up there for all the other items people have mentioned which includes control points. iPad, etc. is already available and fully integrated into every system in the market today so relying on that in your solution provides no advantage.


Second point is key: you need an easy framework to create custom control system. If it takes days and weeks to build a custom solution, few people will attempt it. I need to be able to tell the system I have all of these devices and have it "gen up" the entire system for me. Having me write code or deal with obscure architecture of a system is no good. This unfortunately requires significant investment in time and energy which likely won't be volunteered given the fact that the usage would be pretty low, compared to say, building that for some other web application.


Still, I admire your desire to want to build this. Let me know if you need architectural help with what the system needs to do per above.
 

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There are about a dozen DIY controllers available now, including Elk and HAI offerings, as mentioned. Those 2 seem to be the most popular for DIYers that need an alarm too. As Amir said, it's the additional devices which add up. And, labor is expensive if you want to pay someone to do it for you, and do it well. Think of all the R+D required to bring the controller, and additional devices, to market.


Another controller for you to consider is a low-wattage PC running your software of choice (CQC, HomeSeer, Premise, MainLobby, many other less well known brands). HomeSeer also offers a stand-alone 'controller', which is essentially a low-power PC. Cortexa is another. Premise is free, BTW.


I will prefer to pay a little more and go with Elk/HAI, combined with a PC-based controller, likely CQC. I'm in the same boat as you, blueroom, still looking at all the possibilities. I'm installing the subsystems now, to be controlled later, carefully choosing subsystems that will work well with most controllers (lighting, distributed audio, HVAC, alarm sensors). Alarm is next on my list, and with Elk or HAI, I'll be able to control most of what I want to.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I'll go into further detail shortly, I'm just hammering this out on my iPhone.

Without mentioning the PC software what stand alone hardware options are there to consider?


Elk Gold

HAI Omni Pro 2

Cortexa (it's a mini-itx PC with what appears to be an I/O expander PCI card)

JDS Stargate (not mentioned so far)

Crestron

Am I missing any popular choices?


In the next couple of days I'll start a new thread with my proposed specifications based on feedback here and in other forums.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19590932


Elk Gold

HAI Omni Pro 2

Cortexa (it's a mini-itx PC with what appears to be an I/O expander PCI card)

JDS Stargate (not mentioned so far)

Crestron

Am I missing any popular choices?

The complete list is quite a bit longer. Here are some additions:


AMX

Elan/HomeLogic

Control4

Crestron Prodigy
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19590932


In the next couple of days I'll start a new thread with my proposed specifications based on feedback here and in other forums.

Let us lurkers know when you do that? I'd like to follow your learning curve.


Right now I'm playing with HCA. Seems great so far. I'm getting good results just using their visual programmer but I'm going to look into the scripting too.As a programmer myself the Visual Programmer is pretty hokey and unreadable. You've got all these building blocks linked together but they don't say what device they are associated with unless you double-click on them. I'd MUCH rather be able to read code that tells me everything that's going on with a simple glance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I Googled HCA, got hospital health care. And yes it's a learning curve. If you could read my mind at the moment you might see a tiny self contained Linux LAMP server with SD card...



Missing units added thanks, now here a tricky one. Rough estimates on price? Installer needed or self install?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by blueroom /forum/post/19591106


I Googled HCA, got hospital health care.

Try Googling "Home Control Assistant". You can get a 30 day free trial of the Pro version that has scripting. I wouldn't consider something that's not programmable.
 

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HomeSeer offers a hardware controller.


Amir, those you mentioned are much more of a challenge with the DIYer, with 'protected' hardware and software.
 
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