This is a little experiment, I hope you don't mind me using the list
As some of you may already know, my company, Universal Air Ltd.
produces microcontroller and robotics/UAV products for hobbyists. You
may have met us on our odd visit to the hackspace.
We believe it's critically important for any business producing DIY
and hobby products to get involved with the DIY and hobby community
that they are serving, so what I'm interested in doing is involving
the hackspace at an early stage in our product development process so
that we can produce products and designs that are more useful, better-
tailored, and generally better suited to your projects. Of course,
your valuable involvement does not go unrewarded, we have discounts
(or freebies donated to the space!) on the final product as well as
access to prototypes. And on account for our love for the Hackspace
principle, London Hackspace members will always be able to get a
discount (from the retail price) on all our stuff!
So to start the ball rolling, I'd like to talk about the first of our
new ideas for DIY home-automation products, a PCB containing relays,
that can be controlled by any one of our microcontroller products.
Therefore mains relay switching via USB (or Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, or
XBee, depending on which microcontroller board is used, and in the
future there will be also a GPRS/GSM option). I'd like to hear what
people think of it, in particular any thoughts or comments that would
make the product better or more suitable for you.
Ultimately, I hope this experiment is of benefit to both the Hackspace
(with discounts, donations and some prototypes), and the wider
community (with products that better enable them to do the projects
that they want).
So some current design points of the 4-relay board are:
- Four 16A SPCO relays (5V triggered, with transistor for low-current
- Current sensors for each channel
- M3 mounting holes
- Mounting point for antenna (the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Xbee boards all use
the same external 2.4GHz antenna)
- Status LEDs
- approximate dimensions: 110mm * 80mm
Current unknowns are:
- Integrate an IR receiver for remote control? (useful but rarely
- Mains voltage and frequency monitoring? (complex isolation circuits
required, increases cost)
- Micro SD card slot for datalogging? (useful but rarely used?)
- Connectors for temperature probe? (useful but rarely used?)
- Use dedicated GPIO/ADC chips on some sort of serial bus for several
boards to be chained together to the same microcontroller? (very
useful, but additional cost and complexity, would it be easier just to
offer 8- and 16-relay versions?
- cost: haven't a clue at this point, too many variables
So what do people think? Does anyone have any suggestions for
modifications or additions to the idea? (We can add little bits of
circuit if there's any spare PCB space that you could populate for
your own project).
With best regards
As for mains monitoring I think microchip do a line of chips that are
suited to this like the MCP3909 http://www.microchip.com/wwwproducts/Devices.aspx?dDocName=en520376
Slightly off topic but I'd love to see a FAT library/tutorial for the
forebrain + EEPROM USB memory stick. Also a USB CDC implementation for
Hope that helps,
I had a general purpose board in mind, so not just home automation,
but also various uses as a computer-controlled (or Android controlled)
relay boards. But you're right, single-appliance home automation is
only one of several applications that I'd like to cover, but I also
have to find the highest common factor between the most likely usage
purposes, while balancing cost and accessibility to hobbyists.
Because relays are so cheap, I'd rather have more relays and only
increase the cost and size marginally, than to rule out some other
For example, one type of home automation application is to
automatically switch off devices that are in standby; e.g. a large
home entertainment centre may have many boxes and stereo equipment in
addition to a TV, all of which draw current on standby. Current
sensors on individual relays allow the board to shut off devices that
are in standby (user-configurable thresholds of course), and an
integrated IR receiver can be used to turn the relevant devices back
on from the user's remote.
But I think you've implicitly made a very good point - to that end,
I'm working on trying to solve that cost problem, and I have some
designs for a low-cost and small networkable relay. We've hired some
new people who I hope can contribute to this product line (I'm going
to pinch some people off the UAV and robotics projects when this gets
going). This is just the first step in that direction, I hope to
build up some expertise working with home automation systems.
As for powerline communications, I can see the radio enthusiasts
gathering their forces against us already. But they can relax, we're
looking at good old 2.4GHz (for now). Although I did look into
powerline networking just now, and I think we could design an
affordable product; for example Maxim produce a couple of ICs that are
compatible with Homeplug(TM) 1.0 devices, we'll revisit that idea at a
Yes, you are thinking on exactly the same lines that I was. The relay
board is actually going to use a Forebrain board as the main
controller, the reasons for this is so you can swap out Forebrain for
one of it's wireless cousins - Hivebrain (Xbee), Mandible (Bluetooth
SPP) or WeirdEye (WiFi). To prove I'm not kidding:
Pictured are prototypes for Hivebrain and WeirdEye.
Oh yes, I was half-way through trying to port a FAT library over to
Forebrain, as well as develop our own USB stack, and then got
sidetracked dealing with all the other UAV stuff, with these delayed
shipments, slow customs controls, parts going missing, and the flood
in Thailand also affecting supply of some parts.
You can use Keil's USB-CDC example that comes with the LPC1343 sample
code bundle with Forebrain, we can't modify or distribute the source
for that due to licensing (I would very much have liked to alter the
source and include it as part of the Forebrain function set). The
link for that is here: http://ics.nxp.com/support/documents/microcontrollers/?scope=LPC1343
or you might have to download LPCXpresso to get it.
You can also use Microbuilder's codebase as well since they also do
some great work with the LPC chips, they have USB-CDC in their library
as well (if I recall correctly they also use Keil's code, don't know
what they've done with the licensing). Somewhere on:
Hopefully once all the UAV stuff clears up, we can focus more on
getting more tutorials and examples.
On Nov 22, 11:27 pm, Robert <pins...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Why not put an xBee socket on there. Seeed studios have bluetooth,
> GPS, WIFI, and ISM radios in the xBee format, pretty universal. Use
> the LPC1343 with your uafunc.h file like you do with forebrain and
> you've got some seriously powerful processor with real world outputs.
> As for mains monitoring I think microchip do a line of chips that are
> suited to this like the MCP3909http://www.microchip.com/wwwproducts/Devices.aspx?dDocName=en520376
I imagine there are problems with this, but anything that can turn on
a washing machine, dishwasher, house lights, coffee machine, Roomba
upon receiving a command from a distant iphone/Android app would sell
In addition to being very useful.
I love the hackspace...
can I order one please...
"I imagine there are problems with this, but anything that can turn
a washing machine, dishwasher, house lights, coffee machine, Roomba
upon receiving a command from a distant iphone/Android app would sell
like crazy. "
I wonder if this is actually the case given:
a) the technology to do this (iphone / Android aside) has been around
for donkey's years
b) pretty much every geek (and many non-geeks) seem to think this is a
c) there seem to be many big players thinking about it (all the major
consumer electronics companies, google@home, Apple etc.)
So very curious on others thoughts on what exactly is holding this
* too much fragmentation around technologies - nothing talks to each
other and users are turned off by this?
* too expensive - cost of implementation and / or too fat
margins...needs to reach the scale 'tipping point'?
* switching technology has been cheap but rf (up until now) too
* control technology / user interface has historically been too
expensive up until iPhone / android etc?
* when it comes down to it, consumers are unwilling to pay a 1000+
price tag for what many see as a gimmick i.e.: does the price point
need to be <1000?
* too many issues involved with retrofit / installation (particularly
for renters and things e.g.: washing machines less suitable to on/off
* ugly (I'm thinking of x10 here..)?
* can't source products (can only buy low end products like x10 in
places like hardware stores)?
* industry targeting 'total solutions' i.e.: everything has to be
seamlessly integrated before they are prepared to come to market?
It seems like the industry is ripe for the picking particularly with
an open hardware type offering and yet I can't help thinking what
looks simple is often much more complex than first appears.
That looks like an awesome board.
The boards that I mentioned are general purpose development boards
with wireless modules. And the penalty that you pay with general
purpose development boards that are designed for ease of use (everyone
has WiFi, and most have bluetooth) and flexibility is that they are
not optimised for any one particular task, both in terms of
functionality, and cost. It's not surprising that they are overkill
for most home automation applications, as they were designed for
hobbyists to quickly create WiFi and Bluetooth projects of various
Specificly, the XBee modules are for medium-range wireless
applications (primarily we use these as a radio link with our UAVs up
to half a mile). The WiFi boards are for projects that interact with
the internet (e.g. check weather, send tweets, poll a server). The
Bluetooth boards are designed to interact with smartphones (and we
have an exciting project for smartphone-controlling our UAVs like the
We are, after all, a hobbyist company; I have to design the relay
board to be compatible with our existing line-up of products for
flexibility and interchangeability, and should allow users to quickly
build up a project using hardware and software that they are already
familiar with. But I do agree with you, as we expand into the home
automation market, I have a low cost 802.15.4 based solution to deploy
I've only done a little research but google@home details seem thin at
them moment - they could be using http://www.synapse-wireless.com/
mesh technology (see
And then something with on board rf like the ATmega128RFA1 (http://
www.sparkfun.com/products/9734) becomes viable as both a fit for
purpose and more user friendly option.
I actually agree wholeheartedly with your comments. This is how I see
it: Cost versus functionality is the main problem for consumers -
nobody wants to pay a lot of money for too few features (a gimmick as
you say). The cost we can deal with - RF modules and solid state
power switching are becoming cheaper, but the functionality is more
difficult - most things that we would want to automate, we can't do by
switching on and off at the socket, we will need to interface with the
control systems of the device itself.
This might not be an issue for those who wouldn't think twice about
ripping into appliances to get at the control circuitry, but for the
mass market this isn't an option, and it would have to be down to
individual companies providing integration with home automation
systems. But then you have a problem with getting industry to play
nice with each other, and any instance where you have to encourage an
entire industry to do something without any external impetus is a
catch-22 situation. Nobody is using the system, so nobody sells the
system, so nobody uses the system.
And further to that, few individual companies are prepared to spend
the money engineering this functionality into the appliances. This
is a penalty for the early adopter, and it takes a massive effort to
coordinate a group of companies to do something like this if they
can't see the immediate benefit. You can consider most companies to
be paranoid schizophrenics - they edge away nervously at adopting new
technologies because they're afraid nobody else will do it, but as
soon as they see a trend taking off, they'll have that technology
plastered all over their advertising, heralding it as a must-have for
Solution? Either form a large alliance of companies who pledge to
support a certain technology, this is the path the ZigBee alliance,
and the Enocean alliance are heading in. It's slow, wrapped in
paperwork, this is a "manager's" method - get everyone around a table,
start discussion how to do things, make agreements, "my people will
contact your people". Eventually they might get there, but it'll be
on their terms.
OR, you take the "engineer's" method, just go and do it - produce a
system that people start adopting, force the big companies to adopt
now or fall behind. And what's more, force them to sell it for what
it's worth to stay competitive, such systems only add a maximum of £20
or so to an existing appliance and with (comparatively) minimal
development time and cost; if nobody is going to drag the industry
kicking and screaming into the future on the terms of the consumer,
then all that's going to happen is that some pen-pushers line their
pockets some more.* Problem with this way of doing things is that as
a disruptive technology, it's not prime candidate for being adopted
mainstream (without some significant funding), and so as a business
decision, that would be a bad idea.
And so the solution to the solution: open source standards.
Same points and conclusion as yours, but I spent about 20 times longer
arriving at it.
*Any opinions my own.
On Nov 23, 11:27 am, Evan Davey <evan.j.da...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Not wanting to hijack the thread, but picking up on what SheraDreaming
> "I imagine there are problems with this, but anything that can turn
> a washing machine, dishwasher, house lights, coffee machine, Roomba
> upon receiving a command from a distant iphone/Android app would sell
> like crazy. "
> I wonder if this is actually the case given:
Google are very good at producing disruptive technologies - they've
basically cast aside GPS device makers like rag-dolls with their
Google Maps/Navigation service.
Regarding that sparkfun board. That's kind of expensive, there are
cheaper solutions, I'm thinking ARM Cortex-M3 cores with built-in
802.15.4 modem and Zigbee stack. Maybe we'll create a home-automation
dev board (low cost, low power, mains switching), I'll look more into
On Nov 23, 1:18 pm, Evan Davey <evan.j.da...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Will be interesting to see what impact the google@home protocol has if
> it is ever made open source in that the technologies you describe
> above effectively converge (in a way this is happening anyway with
> bridges between things like xbee and wifi).
> I've only done a little research but google@home details seem thin at
> them moment - they could be usinghttp://www.synapse-wireless.com/
> mesh technology (seehttp://www.eetimes.com/electronics-blogs/other/4217102/Rumors-abound-...).
> And then something with on board rf like the ATmega128RFA1 (http://www.sparkfun.com/products/9734) becomes viable as both a fit for
From a home automation perspective (at least on / off / dim) it would
then be a case of being able to integrate it into existing light
sockets / meeting regulatory standards / make it looks nice - probably
the hardest bits and why no-one has been successful at it yet.
From a 'hacking' users perspective, it would still be nice to have a
single protocol / platform even if the looking nice etc. parts aren't
meet. That way you can have some confidence there is a community
playing around with the same home automation products as you (which is
one reason why I think arduino has been so successful).
Relay board fully controllable over I2C. Current sensors on each
channel. Lots of buttons, LEDs and stuff.
Compatible with any microcontroller board you like, as long as it has
an I2C interface: Arduino, Forebrain, including wireless ones,
computers with I2C outputs (like Raspberry Pi), etc.
interface is 6-pin connector (0.1" pitch):
-reset (optional, pull high if not used)
-interrupt for button inputs (optional, open-drain),
Also a pin for the IR receiver on the Forebrain socket, at the P1
I will deal with low-cost 2.4Ghz 802.15.4 versions later after I've
done some research on home automation protocols.