Tell us a little bit about the Open Home Control project.
Open Home Control is an Open Source project that concentrates on the building of home automation devices. The idea is to have an Open Source alternative to proprietary commercial systems.
This project concentrates on hardware devices and their software (firmware), not on user interfaces to control tasks like web interfaces or smartphone apps. Nonetheless this system is designed to be easily integrated into such systems.
What was the reason for you starting up this project?
At the beginning, I only wanted to build a plant humidity sensor and a temperature sensor which send their data to my home server. In parallel, I learned of many home automation solutions for this, but they were either commercial products or were built for controlling specific types of actuators only. The Open Source home automation projects I came across in my search were all meant as a control center, a software with nice user interfaces to allow the user an easy access to their devices. I recognized that there was no Open Source / Open Hardware project for building the hardware devices itself like I had in mind. So I started one.
Are there any specific things to consider for participating in the project creating new devices?
I have come up with a list of what I call the “Golden Rules” for the project. They describe some technical pre-definitions to consider when designing new devices. However this is not set in stone, as the project evolves and more feedback and contributions come in these may change a little.
Is there specific devices you would hope to see developed with this?
Anything that people might need. Of course, I have written down many ideas for devices myself and know some of them will be the next ones to create. But in general, the project should support any devices that users demand the most over time. The system has to be defined or changed to make this possible.
Who is your intended audience for this project?
At first, the majority of users will be hobbyists with some knowledge and enjoyment making electronics devices as well as developers with some skills writing microcontroller code. This is because several things have to be discussed, designed and implemented. Especially the amount of devices (and covered use-cases) has to be increased.
But I'm positive about having several people offering kits with professionally produced PCBs in the next couple of months or even completely built devices after some time. The goal is to allow anyone with knowledge to connect some wires to build up and use his own open soure home automation network.
Open Home Control Base Station (prototype PCB) with Amtel ATMega328
What are some of the differences with products in the Open Home Control project compared to what is already available commercially?
As I read, major commercial products don't encrypt their data or don't have acknowledges, so a lost request to change a state at a device is not recognized. These two key features were always a must have for me. I also implemented it in a way that encrypted packets are never the same, so logging them won't tell how often a specific request or status is sent.
As an open source project, an additional advantage is that the users decide what they build up. It can be changed and improved, and also maintained in the future, whereas commercial systems typically don't support updating the devices. The user depends on the decisions of the company that sells the devices.
What's the border of the focus of the project? What is not covered by it?
Open Home Control only covers the creation of hardware devices and their firmware. As it comes to user front ends or server software to regulate the whole network, Open Home Control devices have to be integrated into them. But I leave the subject building such software to other projects which already spent a great effort for this.
What type of response have you generated early on from this?
I have spent much time on describing my ideas and design rules for creating the Open Home Control website before I went public with the project. I spent one and a half year from the first idea to having the first hardware and firmware implemented and setting up the homepage, forum and wiki. I think it's also needed to start such a project, allowing others to participate and discuss. It payed off, the response was great after I finally went public with the project. It seems that several people had also ideas about home automation devices, but didn't create such a platform. I'm glad to have several good ideas from others now which I have to sort out and try to find a core development team covering all aspects so the project can go on smoothly.
Where do you see the future of this project a few years down the road?
I think that we will have a big amount of devices that anyone can order and build up with some knowledge in electronics if he wants to have an open source home automation system. I don't know if we will reach the average consumer as well by offering completely built and flashed devices. This will depend on the project being widely known and used in the future, so somebody can produce and sell the devices cheaply after some years.
About Uwe Freese
Uwe Freese was born in northern Germany, got a degree in computer science at the university of Karlsruhe in 2004 and is now working in the area of embedded devices in the automotive sector.