Archive for the ‘Home Automation’ Category

LinuxMCE Includes Insteon Support (Beta)

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Insteon support from the Linux MCE project has finally arrived. Linux MCE is open source -

"whole-house media solution with pvr + distributed media, and the most advanced smarthome solution available"

- software for linux. LinuxMCE has recently announced beta support for the PLM 2412s module. This Power Linc Modem (PLM) is a simpler version of the, more common, Power Linc Controller (PLC). It has the ability to send both Insteon and X-10 commands, but not as a stand alone unit.

LinuxMCE provides drivers, written in Ruby, for both the PLM and the EZBridge. The EZBridge "bridges" your Insteon controller to your ethernet network. The EZBridge isn't cheap though ($154.99 at the time of this writing). Being that it's an ethernet device, it could potentially allow you to control your devices while you're away from home.

While this doesn't seem like a huge leap for LinuxMCE, it definitely shows that Insteon won't get left in the dark.

Monitor Your Home From Your Cell Phone

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Requirements:
-Broadband Internet Connection
-Router
-Network Camera (About $100)
-Web Enabled Cell Phone

This tutorial shows you how to monitor your home while you're away. Using your cell phone, you can request a "still" shot from your network camera(s). This allows you to see any activity that may be taking place on your property.

You can purchase network cameras from a number of different places. The one I'm using for this example is a D-Link wireless network camera (DCS-900W).

Step 1: Setup your network camera, giving it a static IP address (must be in the same subnet as your router, ie: router-192.168.0.1 -> camera-192.168.0.21). Be sure to set up a user name and password for security purposes.

Step 2: Log into your router, using your favorite web browser. Find the page that allows you to set up "Port Forwarding". Forward port 80 to the new static IP address that you gave your camera.

Step 3: Determine what your internet IP address is. You can do this by visiting http://whatismyip.com/ or a number of other websites. Check this number periodically to see how often it changes. Usually, if you have standard DSL, your IP address will change often. If your internet service is through your cable company, it will usually remain the same. If your address remains the same, you should be able to use it to access your network. If your number periodically changes or you just want to access your network using a domain name (i.e. http://myhouse.dyndns.org), you can sign up for free service through DynDNS.

Step 4: From your cell phone's web browser, navigate to "http://your-internet-ip-address" or your DynDNS address ("http://myhouse.dyndns.org"). You may be able to view a still shot from your camera from here. Most network cameras have hidden pages or methods to view only an image.

- On the D-Link, if you go to http://your-ip/image.jpg, you can view a current shot.

- If you happen to have a fast connection, you can go to http://your-ip/video.cgi to view images that refresh (a video-like effect).

- Lastly, if your cell phone or portable device has Java support, you should be able to stream the standard video from your camera.

If you're using a different brand/model of camera, you should be able to find its hidden links on the web.

*Axis cameras allow you to do this through their API.

Switching From X10 to Insteon

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

I've always been interested in electronics and imagineering what electronics could/can do for me. A few years ago started reading about X10 for home automation. It was (and still is) relatively inexpensive. After I figured out what I needed, I started purchasing module after module. At first, everything appeared to be working as expected, but after a while, an outdoor light would remain on all day long or when it got dark outside, a group of lights would not have gotten turned on. This was happening at least once a week. I wasn't discouraged yet. I began experimenting with transmitter placement, in relation to different circuits and the surge suppressors that were on them. This would only move the problem around. There wasn't one location that would solve all of my problems. I still had hope. SmartHome sells an X10 phase coupler/signal repeater that plugs into your dryer outlet (no wiring required). We happen to have an electric dryer (you can tell by looking at our electric bill), so I ordered one up and couldn't wait for my problems to go away. My problem solver only cost me $90(insert sarcasm here)! Ok...ok, I'll have to admit that it did help. It was just before Christmas when I received it. I had our tree and all of our outdoor Christmas lights connected to X10 modules. The lights on one side of the house wouldn't work until I plugged in the repeater......that's all it fixed. I still had intermittent problems. One day it would all work fine and then the next it wouldn't.

I began doing more research with hopes of finding a better solution. This research lead me to Insteon. I had invested a few hundred dollars into X10, and Insteon would still be able to support the mediocre protocol. Insteon costs more than X10 and is definitely not as "open" either. I was running my X10 transmitter using a Linux box with a combination of Heyu and BlueLava. These packages are both open source and they worked great together! If I were to switch out my X10 transmitter with an Insteon one, I wouldn't have the same freedom. SmartHome has a basic software application that allows you to set up and control the Insteon USB - PowerLinc. Its use is limited to the Windows PC that's physically connected to the PowerLinc (USB cable) though. If you want anything more than that, you have to purchase more software. I decided to go for it. I purchased one of the starter kits and the USB - PowerLinc. My plan was to run the two systems(existing X10 and new Insteon) side-by-side until I got the PowerLinc figured out. The PowerLinc has the ability to store timer functions. I set it up to operate the outdoor lights on a sunrise/sunset schedule. I had also replaced the switches for those lights to Insteon switches. My starter kit came with the wireless SignaLinc RF Signal Extenders. The idea behind these is to couple the Insteon signal from one phase to the other, wirelessly. This new setup worked great. I haven't noticed one missed signal from Insteon to Insteon. Each device is also a repeater(unlike X10), so the more you have, the more solid your system is going to be!

The Insteon devices are a little pricey and there isn't as wide of a selection of them out there as there is X10. I really wish they would open up their USB/Serial signal protocol. You can purchase an Insteon software development kit for $199, last I checked. I've heard that this doesn't give as much information as one would like (only a rumor though). If you're running in a strictly Windows environment and don't mind purchasing some extra software, Insteon is probably worth it. If not, the developers of the Linux MCE are supposedly working on supporting Insteon. This could be what we need to take full advantage of the stable (so far) devices. For now, it'll just be hacking away with Windows and USBSnoop to run the transmitter from my Ubuntu (Linux) server!