Archive for Home Automation

Vera – Recovering from the upgrade

Just over a week since the upgrade to U17 and I am 90% certain that the system is functioning properly again. The processor is under a higher load, but routine functionality is back.

Vera Home Automation

I’ve opened two tickets with tech support (the first dealing with rolling back the firmware – which I have put on the back burner), and the second dealing with a recurring error message (the forums suggest this is a common problem, and that tech support does NOT have a solution for it).

Meh. We’ll see.

Vera Upgrade – Oh dear.

I’ve been running my Veralite with the older U16 firmware since I got it. The new and improved U17 was rolled out some time ago, but I was happy with the performance of my Vera and decided I’d put off the upgrade.

Last night I received an email from the company recommending the upgrade, and I figured “what the hell, it might just resolve some minor issues I’ve been dealing with.”

It did not.

Vera Home Automation

It broke, or more importantly ‘bent’ every facet of this system aside from manually turning things on or off. The entire “automation” part of my “home automation” system needed to be torn apart, examined and put back together by me over the last 16 hours.

Most of the issues seem to stem from the way the firmware converts scenes from U16 to U17. Examples of the malfunctions are;

– Virtual Switch set to turn exterior lights on or off – using this switch causes a runaway process where the switch turns itself on and off dozens of times a minute until the system is rebooted.
– Vera Alerts App configuration screen damaged, causing multiple pop-up window errors. Had to be deleted and reinstalled.
– Exterior Multi Sensors began reporting detected “motion” as “Low battery” alarms (regardless of ‘armed’ or ‘disarmed’ state).

There were others, and presumably issues I could not find as the system itself would become unresponsive and would fail to fire scenes when the associated triggers were activated.

I fired off an email to tech support demanding they help me roll the firmware back about 4 hours ago, but in the interim I have identified a few of the key problems and resolved them. I’m now sitting on the fence trying to decide if I should keep working on this, or roll things back to the way they were.

-sigh-

Phillips Hue

Phillips Hue is a line of Hub controlled lighting products – initially just LED bulbs capable of producing thousands of ‘hues’, it has expanded into LED strips, spotlights and plain-Jane dimmable LEDs.

Phillips Hue

The appeal of the system is likely its non-intrusive nature. Simply pair the Hue Bulbs with your Hue Hub and screw them in where you want them.

Hey Presto! – Remote control lighting!

Of course it won’t work if the light switch controlling that particular bulb has been turned off, but that’s not a total deal breaker – this stuff is snazzy.

The Hue system is, for me, a solution in search of a problem (even more so that the rest of my Home Automation experiments). It DOES allow remote control of lights that are controlled by switches who do not have a neutral (preventing a smart switch being installed to control them), and there is some “neato” value to having your bulbs change colors at the press of a button, but for the $300 I’ve spent on the Hue hub and bulbs its a feature we hardly ever use.

As a gadget geek however, I felt obligated to give them a whirl, and truthfully the do fill a niche here in our house (Our Hue bulbs are controlled by the Vera system through a plugin).

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 Sensor – Power issues?

We’ve had two of these sensors running for the last two months, and the batteries (generic batteries included with the units) have run down to 20%. I’ve replaced the stock batteries with Lithium batteries and we’ll see how long those last for comparison.

Aeon Labs 4-in-1 sensor

These sensors have the option to hardwire (which I would obviously prefer), but this is done using a supplied USB cable. This presents some minor, but not insurmountable, difficulties in getting the 5VDC to the locations.

Instead of running additional wiring to each location from a central location I found an automotive 12VDC – 5VDC USB unit for cheap that will allow me to tie into the 12VDC supply for the CCTV cameras (located nearby) and supply the sensors.

In theory this should be a simple solution.

Boxee Box – Network stuff for posterity

I’m happy with our Boxee Boxes, and expect to be using them as our primary media players for some time to come. I’ve experimented with XBMC on them, but in the end have stuck with Boxee Hacks+

Their versatility and dependability, combined with their useful interoperability with our home automation system (remote shutdown, displaying network messages originating from Vera, etc etc etc) has been astounding.

Boxee is dead however, and each time I have to go out on the interwebs and find reference materials for obscure commands they seem to be harder and harder to find. I’ve decided to save my notes on these under the cut, more for my ease of reference rather than yours.

I’ll add to it as we go along.

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HA – Making your house talk.

I am a big fan of Vera (You’ve probably picked up on this) – one area where it does miss the mark for me is in its notifications.

By default it sends email or semi-SMS notifications. The emails are long and generic, and include more than a bit of Vera branding (I guess thats fair), and the SMS notifications are just as cluttered.

Email Vera Alert

The solution is in an Vera app available called Vera Alerts. This consists of an app installed on the Vera, and corresponding apps on your smart phone(s). The system allows you to configure your own notifications, specifying the precise wording and attachments.

Email Vera Alert

The smart phone app includes an option of having the received alerts trigger a sound or be read out through a built in TTS function. I simply plugged a jack into an old smartphone and fed the audio into our CCTV channel at home.

Hey presto…. voice notifications.

Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch

One of my favorite devices associated with this whole home automation experiment is the Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch. It’s about what you’d expect from an appliance module – you plug stuff into IT, and then you plug IT into an outlet. The zwave functionality allows you to turn on or off the devices plugged into IT, and it reports the amount of power used by the devices plugged into it when they are on/off/sleeping.

Aeon Labs Smart Module

I’m generally not a big fan of appliance modules in general (although at this point we have a couple of the Aeon Labs and a few of the Wemo Appliance Modules shutting things off for us when we leave the house), but I’m warming to them as they give our Veralite the ability to shut down clusters of consumer electronics that would otherwise happily suck tiny bits of energy that collectively add up.

The Aeon Labs switch allows me to actually see what that cumulative value is (our home automation/CCTV/Network/NAS arrangement draws just under 100 Watts, our home entertainment system can draw just shy of 400 with all the devices and the TV up and running).

Aeon Labs Smart Module

Our Veralite keeps track of when we are home and when we are out, obviously we don’t need all these devices on when we’re out so the system (after sending network commands to the devices that can be remotely shutdown) turns the appliance switches off, limiting our vampiric electronics consumption.

(I should plug a Wemo and an Aeon Labs switch into another Aeon Labs switch to see what the parasitic draw of these appliance modules is…maybe later).

MiCasaVerde – Vera Lite – 6 months in

We’re six months into this Home Automation experiment, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself. I feel like I can indulge my OCD and keep an eye on our house while I’m at work, on vacation or sitting in bed reading. The system now turns most of our consumer electronics and lights off when we leave the house, it unlocks the front door for us when we return home, and it turns some lights on and off automatically to give the impression that we are home even when we are not.

In short, Vera has done everything I’d hoped it would do, and we’re far from done exploring the possibilities.

The learning curve has been substantial, and I’ve added to the system bit by bit. The cost of the hardware SPECIFICALLY tied to the home automation system (separate from the cost of the stand alone DSC alarm system and CCTV system, both analog and IP based) has now hit the threshold originally mentioned in my ADT Pulse cost breakdown – that is the cost of the basic ADT Pulse system AND monitoring for three years.

$1500CDN.
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Aeonlabs – 4 in 1 Zwave Sensor

The most recent addition to our home automation system was the Aeon Labs 4 in 1 Sensor, a Zwave device that reports motion, temperature, humidity and light levels to your Home Automation controller.

Aeotec 4 in 1 zwave sensor

Another solution in search of a problem you say?

Possibly.
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