Application virtualization, IoT and Cloud Computing, Blog of Sacha Thomet

Smart Home

My Smart Home – Chapter 3-1: Smartacus – non tinker solution? Unboxing and putting into operation

Beside of Citrix and virtualization topics I had already Smart Home and IoT topics in the past here on this blog. You can find  posts about smart switches and bulbs or about a smart switch combined with the LaMetric smart watch.

Recent weeks I wrote about my smart mirror and about Home Assistant, both are projects which require advanced IT knowledge and are only interesting for people with according skills and time for a DYO project. REST and Python should not be unknown words … Often I was asked “Sacha can you please also build this for me?” I have a full-time job, I have a family, I’m active for the Citrix community and sometimes I work in my free time as a Scuba Diving Instructor. So, I’m pretty engaged and I cannot spend time to do this for others. But in my opinion, everyone should have the possibility make his home smart.

Some weeks ago, Smartacus has come to my attention. This complete solution is pretty similar like the Home Assistant which I blogged about last week, it combines different components to one place. Smartacus is a product by Energie 360° and is developed for the market in Switzerland.

Compared with Home Assistant is Smartacus a commercial product for End-users, which don’t have the time or skills for a DYI project. 

In December, I received my Smartacus Start package, in this post I write about the chosen components, the Unboxing and putting into operation.

Packages – the components

It’s possible to choose predefined packaged from Smartacus or to build an own individual set. Basically a  Smartacus-setup consists a central unit and one or more sensors and “actors”.

The central unit has connections to the local components and is connected to the “Smartacus-Cloud” in the Internet. But now I’m already way to technical, Smartacus is for End-users which won’t know too much about the tech.

If somebody don’t know what he need, it’s possible to talk with the Chatbot on the Smartacus web site. The Chatbot will help to choose what you need and fill up the shopping basket. A nice example how a Chatbot can help.

In reason, I don’t have a photovoltaic system and I’m living in a rented apartment I decided to start only with the radiator thermostat system and some added components.

This System would be definitely thrilling in an owned house with a photovoltaic installation.

Unboxing

I opened the package and immediately I remarked that Energie 360° and Smartacus are not boring people. Even I didn’t ordered the energy package, I received some personal energy for the time on which I install my Smartacus System. Some food and an energy drink …

I ordered the following components : 

  • Central Unit
  • 3x Radiator thermostat
  • 2x Door- / Window Sensor
  • 1x Smoke detector
  • 1 Multi Sensor
  • 1x flush-mounted switch relay
  • 1x Switch und measure plug

Putting in operation

Central unit

To put the central unit in operation is an easy thing, just plug in the Ethernet cable to the switch or router, plug in the power cable in – and the physical installation is done.

After the Smartacus central unit is online you can login to the portal and configure your setup, the system will guide you through all steps.

I was in doubt to have another central unit in my network, I have already one for my Philips Hue and one for my WirelessTags. I thought another new device which needs power… but this time I was positively surprised, it consumes 7 Watt on start-up and 4 Watt in normal operation.

Integration of Smart Devices

The integration of new devices is simple, on the portal the binding of a new device is handled in three steps. The action which has to be done on the device is explained on the portal.

Formerly I had already radiator thermostats from another manufacturer, but those I removed after I found out that already a slightly touch demolish the installation.

This new radiator thermostats supplied by Smartacus are manufactured by Danfoss and are from the quality perspective much better and stable. The installation can be done in a few minutes:

My interim conclusion at this point:

+ very easy installation
+ high quality components
– Limited number of components by Smartacus

My Smart Home – Chapter 2: Home Assistant

After my smart mirror project which was exciting, I can still only see the values of the integrated sensors on the mirror. The problem that I can’t control my smart devices from one place still exists.

The conglomeration of smart devices in my home is very various, I need to work with something which is open for almost everything imaginable.

On Facebook I saw a post of an acquaintance who adverted for Home Assistant (home-assistant.io). Home Assistant is an open-source home automation platform running on Python 3. Track and control all devices at home and automate control. Perfect to run on a Raspberry Pi.

Hass.io (Home Assistant) is still in development but works already good. I’ve started with version 0.48 or so and now in December 2017 we are on 0.60.

First I started with Hass.io on a Raspberry Pi 3, but then I’ve upgraded my Synology NAS and the new one is able to run Docker, so I moved my Home Assistant to a Container on my NAS.

I don’t write here now a post how to install and run Home Assistant, that you can find in Getting started on hass.io, the intention of this post is a short Intro for Home Assistant with some hints for the practise.

For Hass.io there is also a mobile app, you can use the App if you are in the same network like your Home Assistant server or you have a VPN connection in this network. It’s also possible to expose the server to the internet, it contains all you need for that like duck dns and Let’s Encrypt. But I won’t do that for security consideration.

Devices and Components

Home Assistant has a very broad range of supported smart devices, I added the following devices to my system:

A short demo how that looks on my environment:

Automation

Before I used Home Assistant I automated some of my smart devices with IFTTT, with hass.io I can now do that “On Premises”.

I created the following “recipes” for my home automation:

  • If the IKEA lamp in my living room turns on, also turn on the lights in my vitrine (LED plugged in a MyStrom Smart Plug):
  • If my UniFi controller don’t see any Wifi Mac address of the mobile phones of my family members, the automation “Away-Mode” turns on. This procedure powers off some Smart Plugs, bring my Sonos Player to pause, and all Hue lights will be turned off.

In contrast to IFTTT it’s possible with hass.io to combine things almost indefinite. It’s possible to define so called Conditions.

Helpful hints

If you try Home Assistant and you starting to create and modify your *.yaml files, really use a text editor which show you invisible characters! Python is very fussy for syntax errors even when only an invisible character.

Make backup from your files before you modify it, this can help to avoid some frustration.

If you intend to add a MyStrom Smart Button, I found out that this doesn’t work currently if your Home Assistant Web GUI is protected with a password.

Conclusion

A big benefit of Home Assistant is that it’s an open system with a large developer community, there are many components integrated and it’s possible to integrate by your own.

The downside of Home Assistant is that’s currently not yet a solution for an Enduser without any IT skills. More and more it’s now configurable via Web GUI but without any IT knowledge it’s impossible to manage it.

+ Command centre for your Smart Home
+ Cheap
+ Interaction with your smart components is possible
+ many Components integrated
+ App for your mobile phone or tablet computer
+ – Open Source (Open to integrate other things, improve code vs Security)
– Not an End-user product
– Needs Maintenance

A short preview for my third Smart Home article, I will show you something which is also usable for End-Users without IT Knowledge. I know the readers of my blog are mostly IT Pro’s but I’m sure you have also friends who want to play the Smart Home game and have no clue how to start.

My Smart Home – Chapter 1: The Mirror

A colleague complained that he has a 22-inch screen which he doesn’t use anymore but he can’t sell it for a valuable price. So I said he can give me the screen for free and I would convert it to something cool, I had already an idea what I want to do with it …

My intention was to display some measurement data of my home which I collect with Netatmo or WirelessTag . Furthermore, I had the idea to supersede the paper wall calendar with a digital calendar. We use already Google calendar but my wife has the opinion that she need a calendar not only accessible with a computer or a mobile phone, there must be also something on the wall to get faster an overview about the upcoming events.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall …

So I told my wife that I plan to install a monitor screen in our entrance area, honestly the enthusiasm was very limited. I found out that the WAF – the wife acceptance factor for a monitor screen in the apartment is pretty low. So I needed another idea, accidentally I saw the  MagicMirror² Project which is the solution for my Software Plattform and also the word “Mirror” solves the WAF-Problem.

So there is now no more a monitor screen, instead my project is a Mirror, a Smart Mirror to be precise. Behind the Mirror is a Raspberry Pi 2 located which is powered on 24/7, rather the power of the screen itself is controlled by a MyStrom Wifi Switch  in early morning a motion dedector turn the mirror on, at other hours in the day the screen can be activated with a push on a MyStrom Wifi Button. If the Mirror is powerless it looks like an ordinary mirror.

At the end this was how my prototype looks like:

It was a long journey and I invested a lot of hours until I was happy with the result of my project.

First I started to cover the screen with an acrylic glass laminated with a mirror foil. I was not satisfied with the result, I had inclusions of dust and air under the foil. Only the more expensive but high-grade real Spy-Glass from myspiegel.de made me happy.

It was also difficult to decide which content should appear on the display.

Content

Currenlty my configuration shows ths content:

Top left
– Date and Time
– Google calendar from my an my wife

Top right
– Weather forecast
– Hue Status
– Recent Calls (Fritzbox)

Bottom left
– Trello Task of our family

Bottom right
– Power meter of different Powerplugs (REST via MyStrom)
– battery state of charge of my EV

Bottom center
– Headlines of “Berner Zeitung” the local Newspapar (RSS)

Component List

  • 22″ Screen who has a Digital Input – Raspberry has only HDMI (I took an old one and removed the Case – on your own risk!)
  • Raspberry Pi & Power Supply
  • Spy Glass – I ordered on myspiegel.de
  • Smart Plug (optional)- e.g. I have this one MyStrom Wifi Switch 
  • Smart (IoT) Button (optional) – e.g. I have this one MyStrom Wifi Button.
  • Motion Sensor – e.g I have one from WirelessTag  (optional)
  • Some pieces of wood from your local DYO Store

(As Tools I used a hot glue gun, a saw and some screwdriver )

Conclusion

The mirror definitely gives an added value, but it’s really only for DYO’er or Nerds … No Enduser-Friendly product. It also needs maintenance.
This is a device for consume information but you cannot interact with your devices. Maybe in Some years possible with a “Touchscreen-Mirror”.

+ Added value in a Smart Home
+ Cheap
+ – Open Source (Open to integrate other things, improve code vs Security)
– Not an End-user product
– Needs Maintenance
– Only shows information, no interaction with devices

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