Home automation – easily and cheaply

I've been playing with some of B&Q's HomeEasy range of automation devices - switches and dimmers. These nicely designed pieces of kit are inexpensive - £20 will get you a remote and 3 on/off mains plugs. The remote controls and switches have a range of about 30metres - yes this is all RF stuff not your old world of X10 powerline comms.

There are several different product lines in the range - each with a different type of controller, but as you go up the line the controllers are able to control everything beneath them.

I first started with a middle of the range remote and two dimmer sockets. The remote is pretty cool because it has a built in scheduling function which enables you to setup events. For example, currently the Foster household Christmas lights are being driven by my on/off switches which run to several scheduled events during the day; namely sun rise and sun set.

Because the remote RF range is so big (30metres remember) I can have the one remote with scheduler placed in a central location able to control all the devices around my house. However, I was disappointed to discover that the range isn't long enough to pre-heat my log cabin office in the mornings :-(.

So the hardware is cool and cheap. The next good thing is that several good souls have already created the automation bits you need for Windows so your beloved computer can actually control your devices - rather than just the remote. Note this is a an AND situation. You can have several computer controllers and several remotes working with different mixes of your switches.

XPLMonkey has done most of the specific work for these devices. Based on the open source xplHub project - these is a simple little .Net assembly you can use. XPLMonkey has created an xpl service for the RFXCom RF controllers. These provide USB or network connected transmitters and receivers of RF automation protocols. The RFXCom devices are particularly cool because they support almost every RF automation frequency out there - enabling you to pick and choose which automation devices you want to use.

XPLMonkey has a several examples and well written instructions to get you going quickly. However, the xplMCE client - a client for Windows Media Centre enabling automation actions to be triggered by Media Centre events (think DVD play causing lights to be dimmed, curtains drawn, projector and screen descend from the ceiling...) is stuck on the MCE 2005 (XP) platform. There seem to be some install issues under Windows Vista. Cough. I haven't had time to help resolve these  - yet!


Using the RFXCom device via the XPL infrastructure is SOOOO simple. You just create a message type, populate it and fire it off. And bang your lights go out. Or on depending on your action of course 🙂

For example:

XplMsg x = new XplMsg();
x.SourceVendor = "xpl";
x.SourceDevice = "xplhal";
x.SourceInstance = "paulfox2001";
x.MsgType = XplMsg.xPLMsgType.cmnd;
x.TargetVendor = "mal";
x.TargetDevice = "rfxcom";
x.TargetInstance = "rfxcom1";
x.Class = "homeeasy";
x.Type = "basic";
x.AddKeyValuePair("unit", "1");
x.AddKeyValuePair("level", "15");
x.AddKeyValuePair("address", "DimmerOne");
x.AddKeyValuePair("command", "on");

This piece of code sets a dimmer controller to a level. The SourceInstance is my PC, the rfxcom1 is my RFXCom USB transmitter connected to the PC. Unit 1, in the message, is my first dimmer controller. You can name/pair off devices with controllers by putting the controllers into their configure state and sending an On command message to them via your transmitter.

So lots of fun to be had over the Christmas hols with automation - did I mention B&Q have their HomeEasy products discounted right now?

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