While shopping for a new Mac, someone suggested I build a Rasberry Pi. To be honest I had no idea what that meant or really was so I started doing reasarch. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had several Rasberry Pi’s or something based on the technology in my home.
If you read my thoughts on smart homes v connected homes, you might recognize a few Pi based devices. I am pretty sure my super cool new UDI Eisy is based on the Pi. As I did more research I thought about several places in my home a super cool touch screen would be great. It turned out the Rasberry Pi had its own free operating system. It could also run Home Assistant, a competitor to the Universal Eisy. I decided to go for it and see if the Rasberry Pi running Home Assistant would be as cool as my current ISY or my new eisy.
Finding the basic Rasberry Pi online for under $150 meant that it was half the price of my new eisy. After it arrived I downloaded the Home Assistant OS and loaded it onto the cute little box. I then realized it didn’t do anything on its own. I needed something else to talk to it and see what it was doing. So I downloaded the Home Assitant App. This is where I realized the nerds don’t want everyone to have their toys. They don’t want to lose bragging rights I guess.
At this point I was about 4 hours worth of work into the project and had loaded the Home Assistant App on my iPhone and iPad. This would be a good three way comparison becuase I had both Mobilinc and Universal Devices own UD mobile apps to work with my ISY. I have yet to get the eisy to work because I need a specific cable. UDI was sold out so I ordered something I thought would do the job from Amazon. It didn’t work but I’ll come back to that.
Once I got everything going I realized a couple of things. Both UDI and Home Assistant brag about a more secure platform than connected systems like Amazon, Google or Apple Deliver. What I found odd is that in order to make this stuff work they both also required a monthly subcription to a cloud service. How is that any different than paying Google or Amazon or Apple? We all know that Amazon listens in so they can market to you. I don’t care what they say, I am sure it happens.
The MyISY app that runs the managment of the ISY and the eisy isn’t really a standalone app. It is Java script, and the easiest way to start it is to use an applet that makes a call to the UDI servers. This bugs me becuase what if UDI shuts down or I lose internet access? I watched companies tumble like dominies in 2006-2010 in the home automation business. I’ll be the first to admit I am just a bit skiddish.
It turned out the same thing was true of Home Assistant. No internet, no real control unless I made my own program. Yes I am sure there are ways around this issue, but I try to evaluate every product as a CoolToy from the view of an 8 year old that doesn’t have a lot of patience. So all of you super nerds can flame me all you want, I want stuff that is easy and works. Running a “docker” or “hypervisor” on top of your OS isn’t “easy” if you aren’t a programming nerd. I have degrees in this and have been programming off an on for 25 years. Building my new app in xCode was easier.
Looking at the Home Assistant OS on the Rasberry Pi, I realized I needed another Pi with a touch screen. That was about $250. I thought this would be cool to run a window for my Lorex security camera system and another for the home assistant. My home can tell me where people are in the house without a camera. Those signals are blocked by my firewall from leaving the house so no one can spy on us. Oddly to use mobilinc or UD mobile remotely I needed very expensive VPN connections or thier monthly plan. I caved and paid UDI.
My home is a mix of connected and standalone technologies. The more I look at the “standalone” the more I realize they aren’t as autonomous as I would like. Honeslty, why do I need any service other than a good VPN to manage my home? Why can’t I own my equipment and my data?
It didn’t take long to realize the Home Assistant app on the Rasberry Pi with the touch screen wouldn’t be anywhere near as robust as the UD Mobile or Mobilinc apps. I already forgot why I stopped using Mobilinc and switched to UD Mobile. Honeslty the interface is a bit nerdy.
Thats when I realized what the problem is. Being essentially open sourced, the people that made these toys only want to let people use them who can offer something back. The nerds want to keep control of nerdville.
For me the issue was alway two fold. First and foremost, I want to own my gear and my data and be able to make changes as I please. This fits right up nerd alley. The tough part is the second issue. I also want my spouse, friends and family to be able to use the technology.
The problem is that all of the tech my family likes and will use is built by companies like Crestron and Control 4. They don’t like my Insteon/Lorex/Alexa/Apple/UDI hybrid solutions. I chose the later simply for economic reasons. I couldn’t stomach paying retail for the big names. I also want to insure I am not tied to someone else if there is a problem. Insteon switches become plain old lights and dimmers if I unplug my ISY. I know because my family did that several times at our vacation home.
The Mobilinc interface was clean, simple and it worked. The UD Mobile interface is simple. The Home Assistant interface is a mess when you have as many devices and scenes as I have. When I hit the point where my time was more valuable than continuing my experiment, I stopped. Instead of trying to find a way to make the Home Assistant Gui work on the Rasberry Pi and get the Lorex player to work I gave up, bought a used iPad for $175 and set it up with UD Mobile and Lorex Home. Those two apps are all I needed for my wife to use the tablet.
It isn’t everything I wanted but it was a quick, reliable and affordable solution to my desire for a cool looking touchscreen in a wall mount that my wife would use. I couldn’t do this with older iPads because they didn’t offer a kiosk battery saver mode.
Realizing that I needed to get away from my computer to move my life forward, I gave my two Rasberry Pi’s to my neighbor and moved on with my other projects. UDI had a perfectly usable solution that worked out of the box for about $150 more than the “free” Home Assistant and Rasberry Pi setup.
I have a good friend who makes a living building apps. He has a hybrid of the eisy and Home Assistant running his house. We both agree Lutron is the better lighting system but since the loss of HAI it is more difficult to do a DIY integration. ELK has some options and it itegrates with both Home Assistant and eisy so who knows where it will go.
The one feature the big integration companies offer is solid reliable remotes. After the loss of Universal Remote and more recently Harmony, building a great easy to use DIY home remote isn’t easy. Thankfully everything in my entertainment unit is working. If one thing dies, my Harmony becomes e-waste. Until then I’ll keep digging for CoolToys.