Smart Home

6 Smart Home Projects You Can Take On This Weekend

James Bruce 22-08-2014

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.

DIY Ambilight

My latest project, this $60 DIY Ambilight Make Your Own Ambilight for $60 Ambient lighting that reacts to the image on your TV is easier and cheaper than you think - and it makes for a great upgrade to your home cinema experience. Read More 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 Arduino Night Light and Sunrise Alarm Project Today, we'll be making a sunrise alarm clock, which will gently and slowly wake you without resorting to an offensive noise-making machine. Read More , you can emulate a sunrise enough to wake you up slowly. You may also want to try these sleep tracker Can An App Really Help You Sleep Better? I've always been a bit of a sleep experimenter, having for much of my life kept a meticulous dream diary and studied as much as I could about sleeping in the process. There are a... Read More 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 Logitech Harmony Ultimate Review and Giveaway Your living room is chaos - admit it. You're forgiven for wondering which remote controls which device. What with the TV, amplifier, TiVO, BluRay player, maybe even the lighting - switching activities becomes a long... Read More  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 How To Control Your Custom RGB Lighting From a Harmony Remote If you own a Harmony Remote, you're probably aware that they can now control the Phillips Hue "connected bulb" - a wifi enabled but extortionately priced $200 LED lightbulb set. But did you know your... Read More , 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 AirPlay vs. Bluetooth Speakers: Which Do You Actually Need? If you're an audiophile with a Mac or an iPhone, you've probably considered getting some wireless speakers and have been faced with the question: AirPlay or Bluetooth? Read More , 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 Control Appliances From An Arduino: The Start Of Home Automation Last time, I showed you a few ways of making your Arduino projects speech controlled via SiriProxy, OS X's built-in speakable items, and some Automator scripting, or even a dedicated voice recognition hardware chip. I... Read More 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.

Once you’ve got that working, use Arduino Manager (for Android or iOS) to build a custom interface Arduino Home Automation Remote Control from iOS or Android For home automation, remote control or monitoring of your Arduino, Arduino Manager does it all. Read More with various switches and sliders – you can even read back sensor data and display it on a dial.

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

Explore more about: Apple Airplay, Home Theater, Smart Lighting.

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  1. Guy M
    August 22, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Just to be clear - DC electricity can kill you too. ;)

    With the Harmony Remote and the lights around the room - do you have them behind slightly lowered crown moulding? (link goes to a Pinterest page with examples.)

    If not, consider it. It classes up a room incredibly.

    • James B
      August 26, 2014 at 9:43 am

      Hah, yeh, but it's a lot harder to kill yourself with standard DC producing transformers ;)

      My living room lighting is very ugly, no moulding. It was the first LED project I tried, so kind of ghetto. I really ought to class it up a bit, but there's like a million other projects I need to do first...