My Automated Home: Open Source Automation

Ever since I was a kid and saw my first remote controlled light, I got it in my head that this was something that I had to have.  I have always been fascinated by computers, robotics and all things electronic, and home automation fits perfectly in the middle of all of that.  So here I am going to outline my home automation setup from how I started with just a few controllers and remotes, to the setup I am running today using an open source automation software package ironically named Open Source Automation (OSA).

To me, a good automation setup is one that you barely know is there. The system should work with little interaction from the user. It should be in place to not only make the users life easier, but to help save money.

I currently have a 3 bedroom 1 1/2 bath ranch home and my goal since I bought it was to automate as much of it as I could.  My aim was to have the house work for me.  Before buying the house I had dabbled a bit in X10 stuff, so I had a few things laying around in my parts boxes. Starting out in my old house that I rented, I didn’t have the need for the big computer controller, so I started small with a firecracker module and a few X10 remotes. Now that I had my own house though, I knew I wanted to do a lot more.  I figured that this would be something that I would build on over time.

So to start with the little bit of hardware I had,  I purchased the X10 ActiveHome Pro bundle and started working on some lighting.  I had a few lights in the house that I had set some schedules for, which was cool and all, but I knew I wanted to do more.  I bought a bit more gear and hooked up my garage door.  I had a motion sensor that would at certain times close the garage door for me automatically, like when I would leave for work.

Open Source Automation RCS ThermostatThen I decided that I wanted a computer controlled thermostat.  I figured what is an automation system if you cannot regulate your thermostat.  I scoured ebay and found one made by a company called Residential Control Systems (RCS).  The RCS TR40 is a serial RS485 controlled thermostat that looked like it had a lot of features.  I placed the bid and won the auction at $56.00.

After getting the thing home, I got to thinking, how am I going to make this work with my X10 hardware?  ActiveHome Pro certainly didn’t have any way of operating a serial thermostat.  That stirred up the question of software.  Do I keep using ActiveHome Pro, and find some external software or script for controlling the thermostat?  How then do I get the two talking together?  Having a bit of programming knowledge of PHP, I decided to try writing some web enabled code to allow me to mesh the two together.  I called it RemoteWatch X10.  I was able to put up a floor plan of my house with the ability to click on objects and control things.  Trying to keep up with the programming myself was a challenge, so I checked the web to see what else was out there.

I then stumbled on a piece of software called vCrib.  Viewing a Youtube video of it’s capabilities, I knew I wanted it. A bit more searching on vCrib told me that the name of the software had changed. The new name for the software was Open Source Automation (OSA).  Seeing the videos and reading about the capabilities the software had, I was hooked.

It was plugin driven making it expandable which made it a perfect choice. Not to mention it already had the plugin suport for my X10 hardware. Though OSA did not necessarily have a plugin for running my thermostat, they did have an open API. Being that I have a programming background and that I already had some knowledge of the programming necessary to control the thermostat, I set out to write a plugin for it. Within a couple weeks I had the plugin developed and working. Now I had all of my current hardware working through a single piece of software.

After using the software for a bit I recognised its flexibility. OSA had plugins for the major Home Automation brands on the market, such as X10, Insteon, Z-wave, and a whole slew of other types of hardware. OSA is essentially the bridge that brings nearly any type of home automation gear together in one piece of software.

Open Source AutomationOn top of my RCS thermostat plugin I have written 2 other plugins for OSA. The first is the Lightswitch server plugin which works with the Android and iOS Lightswitch apps written by a company called Melloware. It allows you to control your automation setup from your smart phone. The other plugin I wrote was for using my computer’s old parallel printer port as an input for reading closed contact switch sensors.

My current automation setup consists of a number of different technologies such as X10, RS485, parallel port control, and 1-Wire. Everything runs on an older Compaq computer running Windows XP. My X10 hardware controls the lights and ceiling fans in my house, my garage door opener and the lighting for my outdoor pond/water garden. I also have a few X10 motion sensors around the house. The RS485 serial connection is used to control my RCS thermostat/HVAC setup. The parallel port interface is used for reading a number of different magnetic door switches including my garage door. I have a 1-Wire bus that currently reads temperature from 6 different temperature sensors in my house and one outdoors. The outdoor temp sensor is integrated into my RCS thermostat plugin for OSA to give it the outdoor temperature that displays on the wall keypad mounted in my living room.

In my automation setup, I occasionally build my own pieces of hardware to get the functionality that I need. Here are a few examples of my custom built pieces used in my setup.

Open Source Automation parallel port interface
Parallel port interface board
Open Source Automation 1 wire power injector
1-Wire power injector
Open Source Automation 1 wire temperature sensor
1-wire temp sensor set up.


Some future plans that I have for the system are:

  • Installing microphones in the house to implement voice control of the system. I have started preparing for this by purchasing a Shure SCM-810 automixer for handling the microphones that will be placed throughout the house.
  • Implementing a system to detect whether my wife’s and my cars are home or gone. This will be a step towards better occupancy sensing.
  • integrating some sort of bed occupancy sensors. The idea is to use it to place the house in sleep mode when we both have gone to bed for the night.
  • Implementing some way of monitoring my outdoor solar panel setup that will be used to control various things in my outdoor water garden.
  • Integration of OSA to my home theater setup.
  • Possibly setting up RFID readers for automating door locks.

My setup, in my opinion, will never be totally complete. I will always find new things to automate and different ways to better utilize the equipment that I currently have in place. OSA is a big part of my HA setup now, and it will be for years to come.   :   More Smart Home Software Articles

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