HomeKit-ting out the House

I've always dreamed of having a "smart" house, where I can control the home environment through technology. I've had this dream for longer than I've owned a mobile phone, so it started out with wanting to control my bedroom lights from my PC. I dimly recall building a breakout box for the parallel port, wiring it up to some relays, and writing some x86 assembly to control them. For some reason, my parents weren't too keen on me switching mains electricity though, so the project never made it to completion.

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I have a dream

I’ve always dreamed of having a “smart” house, where I can control the home environment through technology. I’ve had this dream for longer than I’ve owned a mobile phone, so it started out with wanting to control my bedroom lights from my PC. I dimly recall building a breakout box for the parallel port, wiring it up to some relays, and writing some x86 assembly to control them. For some reason, my parents weren’t too keen on me switching mains electricity though, so the project never made it to completion.

But it’s about more than just controlling the lights. I have this crazy idea that collecting data about the home environment will allow us to make more intelligent decisions about controlling it. So, for example, it would be nice to switch lights on in the home if there’s somebody in the room, and it’s getting a bit dark. It takes a bit of time for the central heating to bring the house up to a comfortable temperature, so an intelligent home needs to know when to kick in the heating such that the rooms are up to temperature when we get out of bed. It would be awesome to be able to switch everything off when everybody leaves the house, and to switch things back on when somebody comes home.1

Sometimes, dreams do come true

With Apple’s HomeKit this dream is finally becoming a reality, mostly. Right now, I can yell, “Hey, Siri, turn on the living room lights!” and I get my wish (complete with a snarky reply — Siri is delightfully … human!). It’s still pretty early days — I suspect I’m catching the tail end of the innovators in the innovation adoption lifecycle — but right now it’s possible to buy off the shelf devices that will allow you to control lighting and heating, and we can learn something about the home by measuring its environment on a detailed level. I haven’t yet played around with triggers, but it looks like the house can react at particular times, when certain conditions (e.g. temperature) are met, or in response to somebody’s location.

I can’t yet say what sort of inferences we’ll be able to make from the data we’re capturing, but I’ve a funny feeling that there will be interesting things we can do with it. I’ll give you an example. Our home has a balcony, where I go out to smoke. I’m working towards giving up the cigarettes, so right now I’m trying to keep track of when I smoke, to see how I can cut down. I’ve been mucking around with IFTTT’s Do Button and a Google spreadsheet, but I often forget to hit the button. And this morning it occurred to me: when I’m at home, the number of cigarettes I’ve smoked is half the number of times the balcony door is opened. Passive monitoring FTW.

A screenshot from Eve, showing how many times the balcony door has been opened

Over the next couple of posts, I’m going to talk about the various HomeKit devices currently available, and the ones I’ve chosen to acquire so far. I’ll talk a little bit more about what I’m aiming towards, and what I’ve managed to achieve so far. And I might even start scratching out some code to fill in the missing bits, if I can! Follow me on Twitter to hear how I’m getting along.

Careful what you wish for

I had an Ultimate Geek Moment on Sunday morning, when I started playing around with scenes. After a bit of playing around, and learning how scene names translate into things you can ask Siri, I had an epiphany. After a little bit of configuration, I yelled:

“Hey, Siri, set phasers to stun!”

and it turned all the lights in the house to green. I LOL-ed. My partner rolled her eyes and groaned. :)


  1. With the emphasis on everyone leaving, and someone arriving. Right now, the technology seems geared around single occupancy homes, because it’s all about when I leave and arrive. My cohabitees don’t appreciate it when I leave the house and all the lights turn off! 

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