Make Your Home Smart with Raspberry Pi Home Automation
The Raspberry Pi is a small, cheap circuit board, called a microcontroller. It is basically a tiny computer on a single circuit board, and has been designed especially with hobbyists and students learning about electronics and programming in mind. It is very low powered compared to a regular computer, meaning that it can be left on all of the time without racking up your electricity bills too much, and it can easily be connected to a range of peripherals and other circuit boards.
All of this makes the Raspberry Pi ideal for DIY home automation projects. It can be used to control your lighting, appliances, security, networked entertainment devices and more. There is a large internet community of hobbyists and DIY enthusiasts out there using the Raspberry Pi for a wide range of ingenious projects which you can copy, and there are several high quality open source projects which you can use to get started.
This article will introduce you to some of the best resources, open source software software projects and other accessories or peripherals that you can use to get started with making your own smart home system. I will also feature some exciting projects which other people have made and shared online to give you some inspirations, and provide a few links to additional resources you may want to take a look at.
Build Your Own DIY Z-Wave Home Automation Controller
Z-Wave is one of the most popular home automation protocols. A protocol is simply a set of rules for electronic devices to communicate with each other, so that they can easily be combined to create a network of devices. This means that there are loads of products out there, such as sensors, lighting switches and dimmers, thermostats and radiator valve actuators, alarms and more which are designed for easy inclusion into a z-wave smart home system.
Because z- wave products are easy to install in your own home, they are very popular with DIY installers. But most people will still buy an off the shelf controller. The controller, by the way, is the 'brain' of your smart home - an electronic box, or mini-computer - which takes input from any sensors and switches you have, and usually a phone app as well, and translates this into commands to control your electrical systems and electronic devices.
But if you want a cheaper and more fun option you can create your own controller using a raspberry pi, a USB stick, and some free, open source software. Although I wouldn't go as far as to describe this as a simple project, you don't need to be an electronics expert to have a go at this. A reasonably intelligent and dedicated beginner should be able to pick up everything they need to know along the way.
The Z-Stick and Razberry Daughter Board
The Z-Stick is a pretty nifty piece of kit, which is able to turn any computer into a z-wave home automation controller. It is pretty cheap to buy, and comes in the form of a self-powered USB dongle. The Z-Stick is able to recognize Z-Wave devices and include them into your network, and then serves as a translator and communication device, bridging the gap between your computer and your home automation network. If you want to, you can use this to convert an old PC into a controller, but personally I don't think that is ideal. Firstly, a PC uses quite a bit of power to leave running permanently. Secondly an old PC is likely to have reliability issues, and a new PC would probably end up being more expensive than just buying an off the shelf controller.
What we are interested in doing is using the Raspberry Pi, and for that there is an excellent product called Razberry. The Razberry is a daughter board for the Raspberry Pi - a second circuit board which can be easily attached to you Pi, and when used with a Z-Stick includes everything you need to turn make your own home automation controller, complete with smartphone app.
The hardware set up is not too difficult either, meaning that most people should be able to get a controller up and running and ready to either use or tinker with in very little time and without encountering too much difficulty.
You can find a global list of Razberry Daughter Board Suppliers here or check out the amazon link to the top right of this section of text.
Raspberry Pi and Raspbmc for Networked Home Entertainment
XMBC is an excellent free and open source software system which you can use to make your own home theatre PC, media server, and to turn your regular TV into a smart TV with your own custom built set top box. It's a great way to build your own advanced, networked home entertainment system without having to spend a fortune to do it.
Most people install XBMC onto a PC, but you can also use a raspberry Pi! One of the most innovative and exciting features of the raspberry pi is its support for high definition video formats, making it a great choice for this kind of project.
Raspbmc is a free distribution of the open source Linux operating system called Debian - the same operating system which is usually used by the raspberry pi. It comes pre-packaged with XBMC optimized for the low power pi board.
Compared to other DIY home theatre / networked home entertainment software like Myth TV, the Raspbmc is really easy to install and get started with - even if you have never used Linux before. And of course it also comes with plenty of advanced features and customization options.
PrivateEyePi Home Monitoring
PrivateEyePi provides free and open source software which you can use to build a range of DIY smart home projects, focussing on 'home monitoring'. If you are interested in using your Pi to create your own home security system then this is an excellent place to start.
In addition to the free software PrivateEyePi has step by step tutorials for a range of projects, and also has a reasonably priced store for you to buy any extra components and devices which you may need.
HomeAidPi follows a similar concept to the Razberry, except that it supports a larger range of systems and is a bit more expensive. HomeAidPi itself is free software which turns your Pi into a smart home controller, which can then be used as the controller for a wide range of home automation devices from popular protocols such as Insteon, X-10 and Zigbee.
The OpenSprinkler Project
AlexK2009 from Edinburgh, Scotland on January 01, 2014:
Thanks. I will check it out
Dean Walsh (author) from Birmingham, England on January 01, 2014:
Hi Alex, please check out this link for an excellent open source project to help you monitor electricity consumption using a Raspberry Pi - http://openenergymonitor.org/emon/emonbase/raspber...
AlexK2009 from Edinburgh, Scotland on January 01, 2014:
Interesting article. What I would like is to be able to monitor electricity usage by various devices and I think setting this up could be dangerous. Apart from that I have the control I need, but being able to switch the heating on using a smartphone while coming home sounds neat.