Your home could be smarter, and it needn’t break the bank. Here are six ways to add a little ambient intelligence to your daily routine.
Most of the smart home projects I’ve listed here are based on lighting or home entertainment – the proliferation of cheap LEDs makes this affordable, and home entertainment devices almost always have an infrared control with which you can easily (and safely) interface. Unfortunately, a lot of other home appliances are just impractical to upgrade with “smart” features – they have physical switches and dials. Even the new generation of smart home devices are disparate and use proprietary control protocols not conducive to hardware hacking and DIY tomfoolery.
My latest project, this $60 DIY Ambilight takes your media center to the next level by creating a smart ambient lighting system behind the TV which reacts in time to on-screen action. Ditch the boring tungsten light bulbs and replace them with this colourful and dynamic style of mood lighting. Check out the video for a demo of it in action:
Arduino Sunrise Alarm Clock and Night Light
Traditional alarm clocks are tedious and disconcerting – I can’t imagine any daily activity that’s worse than a piercingly nasty beep wrenching me out my my dreams. Instead, I tend to wake up naturally with the sunrise – but this isn’t always practical if the inconsiderate sun isn’t aligned with your particularly sleep pattern. In which case, you can fake it. With a simple strip of RGB lights, you can emulate a sunrise enough to wake you up slowly. You may also want to try these sleep tracker apps, which measure body movement to wake you up in a period of light sleep. My project also includes a handy nightlight feature with a standard lamp and motion detector – but this part isn’t essential to the sunrise alarm feature.
Note: the MOSFETs I used in this originally were incorrect – be sure to purchase logic level MOSFETs instead.
Control Anything With A Harmony Ultimate Remote
The Harmony Ultimate is the mother of all-in-one remote control replacements: a programmable infrared transmitter and base station with a touchscreen and customisable display. If you can justify spending a few hundred dollars on a remote control or if you already have one but found the device support rather limited – I’d like to show how to get the most out of it to support anything with an IR remote control.
In this project, I walk you through the process of adding a custom device that’s not in the database – I use a budget strip of $15 RGB LEDs that provide ambient room lighting, but the process could be applied to anything unsupported. You can then associate custom mood lighting colours with your programmed activities (green lights for gaming, perhaps), or create new activities based around mood lighting features – such as a party mode with flashing lights.
Home automation is a difficult topic to jump into, but the Logitech Harmony Ultimate can quickly equip your living room with intelligent features.
Add Infrared Remote Control to Your PC
Most Macs come with remote control receivers, but PCs generally don’t. If you’re building a media centre for XBMC, the last hurdle is ditching that keyboard and mouse. You could use a dedicated mobile app, but then you just have yet another thing you need to hang on to – why not add a standard remote control facility and link it to your universal remote.
For $23, you can get an FLIRC device which has great drivers and cross-platform support – even for Raspberry Pi.
Make Your Own AirPlay Receiver
If your house is full of iPads, iPhones, and Macs, AirPlay is a nifty feature that allows you stream audio and video from any of those devices to an AirPlay Receiver – typically an Apple TV. But you can also turn any old Raspberry Pi ($35) into an AirPlay receiver. You can do this in one of two ways: the first is to simply install XBMC. As of version 11 (Eden) XBMC supports audio, video and picture streaming as an AirPlay target (but no mirroring).
If you’re looking for a more audio-only experience, Volumio would be a better option. Acting as either a standalone player for digital audio and web radio, or as an AirPlay receiver, Volumio features a simple Web UI to control it from anywhere in the house. Volumio can run on the Raspberry Pi as well as many other popular bare-bones development boards.
Control Appliances From A Tablet (via Arduino)
One of the biggest problems with do-it-yourself home automation is interacting with regular, dumb appliances – but in this tutorial I walk you through the various ways you can turn on and off AC electrical appliances from a hobby microcontroller like the Arduino. Of course, this comes with a warning: AC electricity can and will kill you if you’re careless. If you’re not confident with wiring and electrical isolation, use the commercially available wireless switch method, though you’ll need to modify the code to work with the next step.
Do you any other idea for simple smart home DIY projects – either ones you’ve made, or just imagined? Let us know in the comments, and we might have a go at making them!
Image Credits: tablet computer with smart home system Via Shutterstock