Integrating Home Automation & Alarm

I have been thinking lately about improving my approach to home automation, and particularly in making better use of the various technologies I’ve got. I think one of the mistakes made in home automation generally is neglecting the ‘automation’ part. I’ve seen plenty of approaches which really just substitute one set of switches for another (albeit electronic). I can’t see much point in in switching lights on and off using a phone or remote when it’s much easier to do so using the light switch! So really what you want is a largely automatic system which anticipates your needs and does what you want without user intervention.

So far as I have written about before I already have a mixture of systems with MAX for heating (currently controlled using FHEM) and Z-Wave for which I have been using a Vera Lite. I have been using a 3rd party plugin which provided an interface between the Texecom panel and the Vera, but in spite of this I’ve never been that happy with it as a controller. The interface is rather old fashioned, the newer updates (so called UI7) have had a decidedly mixed reception and I’ve never really felt I understood how to program it properly. Whilst the UI looks pretty it was also rather clunky when you tried to use it.

I’ve written before about FHEM and whilst I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I have really got to like it because although it looks unappealing it gives you a huge amount of information and lets you do pretty much anything you want with a few command lines. I also think that it helps you understand a lot more about the devices you are using. So the obvious thing to do was to bring all my Z-Wave devices into FHEM and try to integrate heating and lighting and also build integration with the Texecom panel.

The key to all this is a USB Z-Wave adapter for my main server. These don’t come cheap and there is some choice. I eventually bought an Aeotec Z-Stick Gen5, which came recommended but pretty expensive at about £40.

aeotec-z-wave-usb-z-stick-526

 

There are others available, including the Z-Wave.Me UZB which seems rather cheaper. This should also work with FHEM and other software although the Aeotec seems slightly better established. The other and much cheaper option is to use an experimental method whereby CULFW devices can be set up as Z-Wave controllers. However this lacks some of the benefits of the proper controllers (including battery back up etc) and probably is not for ‘production’ systems just yet.

So far all has gone well. FHEM recognised the controller and configured it correctly. I had to ‘exclude’ all the devices from the Vera to reset them and then ‘include’ to the Z-Stick. You can do this either by physically taking the stick to the device and pressing the button on the stick, or else simply setting the Z-Stick into ‘inclusion mode’ from FHEM and then doing whatever is needed on the device.

I would recommend doing the latter, as then FHEM will automatically pick up and configure the devices for you. I now have a variety of Fibaro devices and a Minimote which are all available as devices in FHEM with a lot of detail about them. I have recreated a few scenes which I was using before (such as one which turns on a few table lamps in the front room).

Now I need to find a better way of integrating with the alarm. I am using an Arduino with one of the outputs from the panel to report whether the alarm is set or unset and therefore whether the house is occupied or not. I’m using this at the moment to trigger a ‘notify’ event in FHEM which sets the heating into low power mode and now sends Z-Wave events which turns off all the lights. What I would really like is to get FHEM to interface directly with the panel to read out the status of the sensors etc directly. I have been able to get some information about this so I am going to see if I can learn how to do this.

As always I’d be very interested to hear from anyone else who is exploring this kind of thing.

Ricochet Firmware Update

I’ve just had a product bulletin from Texecom which has left me scratching my head a bit:

new firmware

This is obviously something to do with the forthcoming v4.0 firmware version for the Elite panels, and Texecom have already announced that they are releasing a range of other home automation devices which will form part of the Ricochet network. However this suggests that you won’t be able to use at least some of them unless you have the latest version of the Ricochet firmware.

The bulletin then says ominously “wireless expanders are not field-programmable” and so this would suggest that you will need a new expander if you are going to use the new gear. This is a pain, as they are quite expensive and presumably the hardware is exactly the same.

What isn’t clear is what happens if you have the panels which have the built in Ricochet (Premier Elite 48-W etc) – perhaps the wireless upgrade will be rolled in to the panel firmware?

It’s a pain for me as I have the 8XP-W expander and I don’t really fancy buying a new one. However I am hoping that this announcement means that we will see the v4 panel firmware released soon.

UPDATE

I’ve now got clarity on this – the expander firmware is not upgradeable and the -W panels with the integrated expander are the same. So unfortunately this will mean replacing either the expander or the whole panel if you want the new version. It appears that some of the new devices may still work with the older expanders but that remains to be seen.

Rounding up a few updates

There have been loads of interesting comments and I’m grateful to everyone who has contributed. A couple of things to highlight:

You can get cheap and compatible tags on ebay which are much cheaper than the genuine proximity ones.

capture

I’m reliably informed that these ones and I imagine others like them work fine with the panel. They are pretty cheap too so well worth a look. I’ve not tried them before but I’ll get some in to play with. I’ve always been a little unsure about them though, someone said to me once “well you wouldn’t write your alarm code on your keys” and this is a similar idea. However I think there is value for example if you want to give a tradesmen access for a few days and don’t want to have to set up a new code etc.

You can get much better voltage regulators than the one I bought. There’s been a lot of discussion in the comments but this one has been popular:

capture

It is very hard to argue with the price, and it’s much smaller and neater than the one I  used. I still find it incredible that you can get anything delivered direct from China for less than a dollar all in.

Thanks again for all your contributions, please keep them coming!

Repairing a (fake) PS3 Dualshock 3 controller

I’ve had a PlayStation 3 for a few years and although I don’t play it much it is a fun thing to have around. I got it second hand from CEX some years ago. The controller that came with it was a bit shabby but worked OK and has done for a while. I bought another one along the way.

Just recently one of them stopped charging. Reading around a bit it at first seemed like a battery fault so I ordered a new one. I consulted various guides (including ifixit) and it seemed a simple matter to replace. However, once I got it to bits I was surprised to find it looked rather different inside than the photos.It looked a lot more basic and quite a few bits were missing. Something like this:

I’ve borrowed this picture from another blog, but mine is exactly like the one on the left versus the other one I have which I think is a real one, which looks like the one on the right:

Image result for fake ps3 controller

It is obviously a fake and much more cheaply made that the real one. It seems that there is now a huge industry in faking these controllers, and given the PS3 is now discontinued it seems to be increasingly hard to buy one which is genuine. The packaging etc is all very closely copied and umpteen ebay or Amazon sellers say that they are ‘Official Genuine’ but it seems very likely that they aren’t.

Having said all this, in use the fake controller is (to me anyway) almost indistinguishable from the real one. Also I didn’t really want to have to pay out for a new one so I investigated further. Once I changed the battery, the fault remained. On plugging it in, the four red lights would flash for a few seconds and then go out. I had read elsewhere that the controllers do need a ‘proper’ USB connection to charge, and so I wondered whether the problem lay in the USB connection itself.

The USB socket on the fake controller had been damaged for ages although it didn’t seem to affect it in use. However, it was very loose and looked bad, so the next thing to do was replace it. These controllers use the once-common mini-USB connector, but they are still easy to find on eBay:

usb

The only problem I could see is that it is quite awkward to solder given the very small pins. However I thought it worth a try. I used my combined solder sucker / iron to remove the old socket and clean up the holes:

img_20161110_204439-copy

I’ve taken the board completely out of the casing here and you can see the vibration motors at the bottom.

The new connector fitted well and it proved easier than I thought to solder it in again. The key was to use very small amounts of solder and get the joint heated up properly. The pins were so small that they wicked the solder off the end of the iron and on to the pad with relatively little effort.

Putting it all back together I did some have problem with the ribbon cables connecting some of the buttons together, but after a bit of wiggling it all went back together and now works fine again. The connection is positive and firm as it should be now and it charges from the PS3.

So even a fake controller is worth repairing… and it looks like if I need any more controllers I will have to put up with fakes. Having said that for my purposes they are probably good enough!

Repairing a Dynamode SW240010-R switch

At church we have a combination of computer and audio gear which I am loosely responsible for maintaining, and I’ve written about some of this before. A couple of years ago we rationalised the racks by the computer and as part of this I put in a rack-mounted switch. I was on a budget so ended buying as new from ebay a ‘Dynamode SW240010-R‘.

This was inexpensive (which is why I bought it) and ‘as new’ from ebay. I was a bit wary of it because I wasn’t familiar with the brand but it looked OK and worked fine when installed.

However, a couple of weeks ago it became clear that the network wasn’t working, and one glance at the switch showed that it had failed. The main power light was flashing on and off weakly and none of the individal port lights were working. There wasn’t much time to consider a fix as it was important to get it going, so we bought a new one (TP Link this time). However I wanted to see if the Dynamode could be reapired. From recent experience, I have found that a lot of these failures are due to power supply problems – and specifically capacitors. Particularly in cheap equipment like this the capacitors are of poor quality and deform when they get warm over time. The actual solid state stuff is pretty robust these days and much less likely to fail. The voltages from the power supply wander all over the place and this causes very strange behaviour.

Opening up the unit as expected there was a small power supply board and quite a lot of fresh air:

psu

What was immediately obvious was that one of the capacitors was obviously bulging (circled in red above). It is a 10V 2200uF part, as is the other one on the right hand side. I removed the board, desoldered and replaced both of the capacitors, plugged it back in and held my breath…

Success! The switch now lights up properly and works fine again. Very pleasing to be able to get it going again. It is now surplus to requirements for church so will either keep as a spare or sell on. I am confident now that the replacement capacitors are much better quality than those I removed so hopefully the fault should not recur.

Texecom ComWifi – DIY

As outlined in previous posts I’m very interested in coming up with DIY or low-cost alternatives to the various Texecom communicators and accessories. I’ve been quite happy with my ComIP solution and my panel is connected to the wired network in the house. Since I bought mine Texecom have brought out a Wifi module, unsurprisingly named ‘ComWifi’:

comwifi

This is sold significantly cheaper than the ComIP for some reason (about £50) even though it looks rather more complicated. Also, I do wonder slightly about the wisdom of mountinga Wifi module inside a metal box. Some enterprising ebayers have picked up on this as well and are selling custom enclosures:

comwifibox

I have heard from someone who has succeeded in building their own version of this, taking a big hint from the labelling on the official product – ‘USR-WIFI232-G2 UART to WiFi’. Sure enough this part can be obtained from the usual sources (Chinese sellers via eBay or other places) for little cost (about £7 although there do seem to be different versions out there).

schematic

The schematic above shows the G2 variant although there are others (including S and T) but I’m not quite sure what the differences are.

My correspondent has made this up into a board and installed it in the housing:

There is a certain amount of work needed to configure the module, which is done via a web interface:

Overall a very nice job!

There are similar such interfaces for wired ethernet as well, so you could do the ComIP DIY interface using one of these if you didn’t have a computer to hand to run ser2net on.

I’d be interested to hear of any other experiences.

Premier Elite Firmware v3.02

As noted by ComTexeStarter there has recently been a new firmware release of v3.02

Consulting the release notes shows no major changes other than a carbon monoxide sensor is now supported, plus some unspecified changes to resolve COM port malfunctions.

All sounds good… but hopefully v4 won’t be far off. I’m not quite sure whether to go to the effort of upgrading but probably will in due course.

More details on the Texecom site here:

http://www.texe.com/uk/news/#premier-elite-v302-firmware-release