Finishing Touches: Installing Nest w/ Line Voltage

If you haven’t seen the information on how I set it up initially, check out the first post here: http://blog.anthonyngu.com/2016/12/12/bridging-the-gap-between-nest-and-line-voltage-thermostats/

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This is how it was left hanging for about a week before I bought an electrical box at a nearby Home Depot that would fit next to my original electrical box so I could begin mounting it. Steps for the finishing touches were as follows:

  1. Cut out a bigger hole in my drywall (making sure that it was still small enough to fit under the included mounting plate)
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  2. Mount the transformer/relay next to the original electrical box. (Something to keep in mind: Double check to see if your original electrical box is bigger than its opening. If it does, you will most likely not be able to place another box right next to it without have to do some patching of the drywall after)
  3. Paint over any small marks or discrepancies with the mounting so that it would look as good as new!

The bigger hole was still small enough for the face plate to cover (included with the Nest) and I was able to paint over the edges to make it look as good as new!

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Bridging the Gap Between Nest and Line Voltage Thermostats

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I recently decided to switch my old thermostat to a Nest and figured that it should be easy considering my current thermostat just controlled a simple electric wall heater. Unfortunately, it was only after taking my old thermostat off the wall that I realized that it was in fact a line voltage thermostat (Honeywell’s T410AA), which means that it uses high voltage (240 V) and acts as an in-line switch between the electric wall heater and the power supply. The problem with this is that systems like the Nest run off of low voltage (24 V) and can’t be used to switch a high voltage system.

To fix the issue I started researching. Surely I wasn’t the only person who wanted to switch their old school line voltage thermostat with a Nest! Unfortunately, a bunch of the solutions were on Nest’s old community site which had since been taken down. However, I was able to find out about a relay/transformer that according to the reviews should be able to bridge the gap between line voltage (240 V) and the typical low voltage setup used for modern thermostats like the Nest (24 V). The schematic for it shows the method for hooking it up to known thermostat wires.

aube-relay

The Aube Relay RC840T-240 does exactly that. It takes 3 wires carrying the line voltage (connected to Black, Blue, and Red) and then connects them out via 3 wires (R, C, W) carrying low voltage. This works to connect the line voltage wall heater with controls from the Nest system.

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After connecting everything up, I tested the Nest to see if it worked and low and behold! It worked like expected. The only thing left after wiring and testing the setup is to mount it properly. However, the relay/transformer does not fit inside the original electrical box so I will need to devise a workaround to get it to all fit within the wall up to code.

Read the Continuation here: http://blog.anthonyngu.com/2017/01/10/finishing-touches-installing-nest-w-line-voltage/

Creating the Smart Home Universal Remote

It’s been a while since I last made a smart home device, not because my home is fully automated or because there wasn’t a need for another device, but because I still live in a rented unit and didn’t want to to spend the time making and setting up custom devices that would need to be torn down in the future.

Well the other day I realized that I could build another home automation device without a long-term stationary placement requirement! Not too long ago I built voice integration into my smart home system using the Amazon Echo (check out the articles here). While this worked well for moments without ambient noise, it failed to work well during parties, while watching movies, or while listening to music on my sound system. Obviously I needed another way to interact with these smart home devices and the current method of pulling out a phone or tablet, unlocking it, then switching between apps just didn’t appeal to me. What I really wanted was a universal remote that could also talk to my smart home devices.

So I started designing and planning out the features that I would want in my smart home controller and it had to be wireless charged (because replacing batteries or being tethered to a wall is archaic). Here’s the requirements I came up with:

Essentially, the goal is to get it all placed inside of an enclosure like this:

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Here’s a video of the very early prototype’s functionality:

As well as a more in depth Hackster post:

https://www.hackster.io/anthony-ngu/universal-smart-home-remote-wirelessly-powered-896f3c

Starting Development with Amazon Echo

Here’s a simple guide on how to create a Node.js app hosted in Azure that will handle your Amazon Echo‘s API calls.

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  1. You will want to download and install Node.js if you haven’t already.
  2. Download the code from the repository here.
  3. Create an Azure account if you haven’t already and create a new web app.
  4. Using FTP, Git, or whichever method you would like, get the code into the location for your new azure web app.
  5. Join the Amazon Developer program for the Echo and create a new Echo app. (Note: In order to use this while in development on your Echo, the account needs to be the same one that the Echo is linked to)
  6. In your App information tab:
    1. Fill out your “App Name”. This will act as your official app name.
    2. Fill out your “Spoken Name”. You will want this to be short and simple to say in order to give it the easiest time to recognize.
    3. Give your “App Version” which will need to match the info you hand back through the API.
    4. Give your “App Endpoint” which will be your Azure webapp’s URL + the api endpoint. (Example: “https://echotest.azurewebsites.net/api/echo”)
  7. In your Interaction Model:
    1. Fill out your “Intent Schema”. The intent is the name of the function, slots are parameters, and the type when “literal” will give you back the speech-to-text recognized word. More info on this here.
    2. Fill out your “Spoken Utterances”. They should be tab separated between the intent and the sample phrases. Something interesting to note is that they suggest that you provide a sample for every number of literal device phrases from min to max. (In my case from 1-3 words, thus the repetitions.) It also does not like it when you have multiple of the same literals anywhere in the file.. More info on this here.
  8. After this, set your app to be ready for testing and you are on your way!
  9. Call Alexa with your Spoken Name by saying “Alexa, open {YourSpokenAppNameHere}”
  10. Now you can say the commands that you’ve designated in both your Nodejs web app and your Amazon app declarations for your response!

If you want to make it your own, you will need to modify the Node.js back-end to respond according to the requests that you allow while also altering your intent schema and spoken utterances.

 

Amazon Echo: Should I buy?

amazon_echoThe Amazon Echo is a home automation maker’s dream. It provides an easy way to use voice recognition to interact with your devices, but there are a couple things you should know about developing for it before you buy one and start.

  1. Despite it being called an Echo “App”, your development will take place in a web-service hosted in the cloud that can answer it’s calls. What the Echo will do is translate what it hears into text and then hand it off to your service by calling your API with a package that contains the information.
  2. Creating an “app” with Amazon for the Echo requires you to fill out an “Interaction Model” which consists of an “intent schema” and “sample utterances” as well as program your web-service.
    • The “intent schema” is pretty straightforward and you basically create a JSON array of “intent” which contain a name and “slots” which are used like parameters and you must define the type.
    • The “sample utterances” are a list of the “intent name” and potential sample phrases.

Making it talk to a web service hosted in Azure using Node.js turned out to be fairly trivial and I was able to get a basic implementation hooked into the OpenSmartHub that I have been developing in less than a couple hours. I even created a sample in a github repository for those who want simple instructions and an easy place to start.

It really is amazing to see it come together and interact with your voice commands in a custom scenario that you have developed, but still has a long way to go in order to improve it’s voice recognition. It works really well with the pre-programmed functions, but there aren’t that many that I find particularly useful in an every day scenario and it doesn’t do well with brands or non-dictionary words. For example, it recognizes “Pandora” because it’s a vital part of their pre-programmed functionality, but it doesn’t recognize “Yamaha” or “Wemo” well.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that it can sometimes mix up the singular and plural versions of words when converting text-to-speech. (For example, mine would sometimes hear “lights” when I say “light”)

Overall, I think it’s going to only improve from here and I think it’s worthwhile to invest into in order to integrate voice-recognition and voice commands into your homemade projects!

Aeon Labs Z-Stick Series 2 on Mac OSX

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Aeon Labs, the makers of the Z-Stick, a USB dongle for implementing a Z-Wave controller, don’t seem to provide information on how to get it setup on various operating systems and using it for the OpenZWave library on Mac means that you’ll need to be able to access it through the /dev/ directory. In order to do this on Mavericks, you need to install the latest drivers for the USB stick: http://www.silabs.com/products/mcu/Pages/USBtoUARTBridgeVCPDrivers.aspx

After finishing the install, it should now be visible as /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART if you open a console on OSX and type ls /dev/

From here you can begin to use the Z-Stick by calling on the /dev/tty.SLAB_USBtoUART endpoint.