Entertainment Smart Home

How to Get a Smart Home Like in Mr Robot

James Bruce 29-07-2016

Kicking off the second season of Mr Robot with a bang was a smart home gone mad: the fsociety collective hacked the home of Susan Jacobs, General Cousel at Evil Corp. They randomly activated lights, alarms, AV systems, and even adjusted water temperature to try and scald her – eventually driving her out of town while she waited for it to be repaired.


Ignoring the fact that it was so easy to hack Samsung's Smart Fridge Just Got Pwned. How About The Rest Of Your Smart Home? A vulnerability with Samsung's smart fridge was discovered by UK-based infosec firm Pen Test Parters. Samsung’s implementation of SSL encryption doesn’t check the validity of the certificates. Read More , and therefore no real brands would actually want to be associated with the episode, let’s take a look a look at the hardware featured scene-by-scene and see what we can figure out.

In all likelihood, the system was installed by a high-end home automation dealer, and it most resembles either Crestron or Control4, both of which are on the level of “if you have to ask how much it is, you can’t afford it”. These are outside the budget of everyone except the super-elite, but the beauty of the modern smart home is that everything you saw in the episode can also be achieved with off-the-shelf hardware and a little legwork. So what have we got?

Presence Sensing

The sequence begins with Ms Jacobs arriving home from a run to find her generic fitness tracking service “My Fitness” is offline, so she can’t record her run. Whether or not this ties into the smart home system is unclear, but you can use health tracker such as Fitbit to trigger IFTTT actions and automate your home Connect Your Fitbit Tracker and IFTTT to Automate Your Home and Life You may be surprised to learn that the Fitbit is one of the most convenient devices to use as your first step toward building what many people would consider a "smart home". Read More , so it’s possible.

mr robot smart watch

As Susan enters her home, the alarm triggers and she fumbles around to manually disable it, perhaps because she was so used to having a geofence on her phone or smartwatch automatically disable the alarm when she approached the house.


This is easily achieved with a presence sensor and Samsung SmartThings, and I even showed you how to setup a DIY solution using a Raspberry Pi that scans for a Bluetooth device Make An Auto-Locking Office Door with Smartphone Proximity Sensor We'll be setting up a Raspberry Pi with a Bluetooth adapter to be on the lookout for when your smartphone is out of range, and snap a relay into action to lock the door. Read More .

Approximate cost: Free, with IFTTT and your existing smartphone. 

Home Cinema and Tablet Interface

mr robot home cinema

The home cinema then kicks into action with some anti-capitalist news show, and she pulls out a tablet (deliberately disguised in an oversized white case to hide the brand) to deactivate the errant projector and screen.


mr robot tablet remote

Nearly all of the current generation of smart home systems have a smartphone or tablet app, so this isn’t anything unique. Apple’s HomeKit is notably absent from this list, with a stock Home app promised for inclusion in the next major OS update this year.

The list of compatible devices is small, but Apple's Home app promises to be the most beautiful tablet interface we've seen yet.
The list of compatible devices is small, but Apple’s Home app promises to be the most beautiful tablet interface we’ve seen yet.

You needn’t own a “Smart TV” just to have it integrated into a smart home system either: the Harmony line of all-in-one remotes and hub can control a huge range of “dumb” AV devices through standard infrared codes, just like the original remote that came with them (see my review of 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 ).


You can buy just the hub, but you probably want the Elite model, which comes with a physical touchscreen remote too.

Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control, Hub and App Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control, Hub and App Buy Now On Amazon $179.99

Approximate cost: $350 for each entertainment room

Once your Harmony is setup, you can further integrate it with DIY solutions like OpenHAB, or Samsung SmartThings, and more!


Automated projection screens are a little more difficult to find, and there don’t appear to be any off-the-shelf smart home solutions. If your motorized screen has a RF remote though, my DIY guide How to Control Cheap RF Power Sockets from OpenHAB Have some cheap RF based power sockets but discovered that no smart home hubs work with those? You can link them into your DIY smart home system with only around $10 in parts. Read More will allow you to integrate this to a system like OpenHAB; or for a more beginner friendly solution, the Hook hub offers Amazon Alexa and IFTTT to RF bridging capabilities for $50. This one’s a bargain:

Homegear 110” HD Motorized 16:9 Projector Screen W/ Remote Control Homegear 110” HD Motorized 16:9 Projector Screen W/ Remote Control Buy Now On Amazon

Whole House Audio

Classical music erupts loudly as Susan emerges from her indoor pool. There’s many whole-house audio systems out there, but my personal favorite is Sonos (our review of the Sonos Play:1 Sonos PLAY:1 Review and Giveaway Read More ) – which sounds stunning and has a robust remote control system.

It’s quite “hackable” too, but in a good way: I’ve previously shown you how to use a Raspberry Pi and Sonos speaker to play custom voice notifications How to Send Voice Notifications to Sonos Speakers Today, I'll show you how to set up voice notifications on your Sonos system, using IFTTT recipes, OpenHAB integrations, and more. Read More .

If you want to start a Sonos system, perhaps with a speaker in your office or home cinema, I’d suggest the Play:5 model, which is the only one with a standard line-in socket for connecting your PC or existing audio device. The other devices in the range are currently for streaming only.

Sonos Play: 5 - Ultimate Wireless Smart Speaker - Black Sonos Play: 5 - Ultimate Wireless Smart Speaker - Black Buy Now On Amazon $559.99

If $500 for a single speaker seems a little pricey, or if you already have speakers everywhere and just want the ability to stream music to them, Chromecast Audio is a $35 device that plugs into a standard 3.5mm stereo jack. You can cast to multiple devices at the same time, and there have even been some custom integrations for OpenHAB.

Approximate cost: $35 to $500 per room.

Heating and Water Temperature

Showering off after a swim, her shower temperature gradually increases, trying to scald her. This is (fortunately, depending on how you look at it) a little TV magic. Digital shower controllers do exist – check out the the Kohler DTV and Moen ioDigital – but nothing on the market is currently web connected.

After being scalded, Susan finds the house is abnormally cold: someone has hacked the thermostat, and it refuses to warm up.

mr robot heating

We’re big fans of the Nest thermostat and HVAC controller here, but it’s not your only option Looking to Buy a Smart Thermostat? 5 Nest Alternatives When it comes to controlling the temperature of your home, the Nest smart thermostat is king, but there are plenty of options out there. Here are 5 you should consider if you're looking to buy. Read More . If you choose a Nest, we’ve got lots of tips 13 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With a Nest Thermostat You may be surprised just how many little tricks you can accomplish with your new Nest thermostat! Read More  and tricks 7 Nest Automation Tricks to Cut Your Heating Bill in Half If there were a Nest thermostat in every home, it would have the biggest single impact on energy consumption in history; and it could save you more money than you might imagine. Here's how. Read More for you.

Approximate cost: $250 for a Nest Generation 3. 

Wall Mounted Dashboard Control

The Dashboard is the center of this smart home, providing a polymorphic interface which controls every aspect of the home. It’s clear that this all feeds into a single hub – Susan doesn’t need to open up several different apps for each smart device – so what’s on the market that can offer such a neat interface?

mr robot dashboard

Samsung SmartThings is one such hub that connects to a multitude of devices, compatible with both their own brand of sensors, as well as hundreds of existing ZWave devices. In terms of a neat interface, SmartTiles is a fully customizable dashboard with a variety of styles to choose from.

For DIY solutions, Dashing.io offers similar functionality. You’ll need to deploy it to Heroku, or understand how to run Ruby applications on your local server.

For OpenHAB specifically, which is my personal DIY smart home controller Getting Started with OpenHAB Home Automation on Raspberry Pi OpenHAB is a mature, open source home automation platform that runs on a variety of hardware and is protocol agnostic, meaning it can connect to nearly any home automation hardware on the market today. Read More of choice (running on a Raspberry Pi), community user Smar outlined how he coded up his version of the Dashing.io dashboard, which displays on wall-mounted Nexus 7 tablets. We can all agree it looks gorgeous, but even cooler is that they’ve set up the Nexus’ to run Tasker Tasker For Android: A Mobile App That Caters to Your Every Whim When it comes to device automation, there's just one 900-lb gorilla in the Android space, and that's Tasker. True, Llama is an awesome free automation app, but it doesn't aim for Tasker's full power. Tasker... Read More and Motion Detector, such that the dashboard automatically opens up when they walk in view of the front facing camera, then turns off after a short while.

dashingio png

HomeSeer is another alternative Is a HomeSeer Home Automation Controller Right For You? You could get a smart home hub to control your smart devices, or you could get a HomeSeer Smart Controller, or "HomeTroller". Let's look at some of the advantages of doing so. Read More which offers a design tool to create your own mobile app and dashboard interfaces – but it’s pricey, at around $600 for the software alone (you need to supply your own PC to run it on).

Approximate cost: $250 – $600 for a central hub or software controller, assuming you have one or more tablets already to use as a dashboard.

Connected Lighting

The lights flash on and off in this climactic scene, as the music begins again, the phone rings, the burglar alarm can’t be turned off, and TV just won’t shut up. Oh dear.

mr roboto connected lighting

Connected bulbs are probably the easiest smart home kit to get started with, and there’s a huge range of options – but we’d recommend sticking with the big brands like Philips Hue and LiFX. They’re priced similarly, at around $60 per color bulb or half that for dimmable white only. LiFX operates over your existing Wi-Fi network, while Hue requires the use of a Zigbee hub (included in the starter package) to create it’s own mesh network. Both are widely supported with IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, OpenHAB, and other smart home systems.

Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance 2nd Generation Smart Bulb Starter Kit (Older Model 3 A19 Bulbs and 1 Hub Compatible with Amazon Alexa Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant) Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance 2nd Generation Smart Bulb Starter Kit (Older Model 3 A19 Bulbs and 1 Hub Compatible with Amazon Alexa Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant) Buy Now On Amazon

Approximate cost: $30-60 per bulb, depending on whether you want RGB color bulbs or just white.

After a phone call to technical support (probably intercepted by the fsociety), poor Susan is forced to leave and stay at her second home.

Is this your dream smart home? As you can see, it’s all perfectly achievable without breaking the bank. Or do you already have something similar? Tell us about the devices you use in the comments!

Image Credits:Smart home by Macrovector via Shutterstock

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  1. G. Johnson
    August 4, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    I have lights, door locks, t-stats, distributed audio, security cams and Digital Media in my house, my house makes her house seem "dumb". I'm a Crestron programmer so I get to play with and install/program these devices for a living.

    The technology is really fun and (with Crestron) it's rock solid reliable, I predict that within 15 years, most homes will be "smart homes" on some type of scale.

    • James Bruce
      August 5, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      I'm guessing a Crestron system costs rather a lot though ;)

  2. Lina
    July 31, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I must admit that the list of the devices needed for enabling smart home option frightens me a bit. Sounds same outdated as streaming media via cables. Nowadays there are so many apps that allows using your home devices remotely just need to know if the appliances you want to make work remotely support the technology the app requires. Me, I am using MyAudioStream for streaming music from my ipad to Xbox. I am totally satisfied with it! no delays, no distractions while streaming.

    • James Bruce
      August 1, 2016 at 8:22 am

      I mean, sure, for your one specific purpose a little dedicated app can work fine - but once you want to control the volume from anywhere, hook the TV audio into that system, and make your lights dim when the movie starts playing, the app just isn't good enough.

  3. Gary Ip
    July 30, 2016 at 1:59 am

    I am testing Home assistant.

    • James Bruce
      August 1, 2016 at 8:20 am

      Good luck! I spent weeks trying to get it work with my ZWave devices, but the OpenZWave system is horribly unreliable. Half the time my Hue lights just disappeared too. It looks nice, but I'm waiting until it's in a much more stable state, and have gone back to OpenHAB for now.

  4. me
    July 29, 2016 at 8:18 pm

    Except Zigbee and Zwave have known hacks. So I get any device with that and I will be her with a hacker driving me from my house. Or at least disabling the gadgets.

  5. Leo
    July 29, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    What about home media control and streaming I have it with ArkMC app on my iPhone to share music with different devices in rooms and to control movies playback on my TV. The only problem it works only with DLNA devices, but today most of home digital has this feature.
    I don't know why you need so long list of devices to make the same feature.

    • James Bruce
      September 7, 2016 at 11:11 am

      This seems like a neat application for one specific purpose, but hardly compares to a whole home automation system.