I always wanted a smart home. I don't have a particular use for it, I just think it's cool that I can yell at my living room and it will obey me. And since next month I'll be moving to an empty flat, it is truly now or never.
This is the first post detailing what I hope will be a painless experience and what I know will be a long list of frustrations. Today I will detail my general plan, and in future entries I'll let you know how it all goes.
My aspirations for this first stage are modest: I want to be able to control the lights in key spaces just by talking to a device. Not just turn them on and off, mind you, but also dimming the lights to certain levels. I also would like to have a smart mirror with my morning information (to-do and weather, mostly), but that is more of a stretch goal.
Starting from the top, I need smart light bulbs. Originally I planned on going with Ikea's TRÅDFRI light bulbs for their price, but I decided against them because they don't seem to play too well with open platforms and because they require an extra hub. I settled instead for the middle-priced Philips WiZ because they connect directly over WiFi (unlike it's expensive cousins from the Philips Hue line). I would have loved to use the cheap Hama smart lighting options, but my past experience with this company gives me little hope of their protocols being open or, for that matter, good.
Another factor in favor of WiZ was that they are supported by OpenHab thanks to the heroic work of one volunteer. Once it is properly configured I expect I'll be able to add complex commands like "dim the lights to 60% after 17:00 if it's winter" and stuff like that.
The voice commands will be handled by Mycroft, the privacy-focused alternative to Alexa and friends. I would really like to buy a Mark II, but given their delivery times I fear that I'll have to install my own version first (probably in my old notebook) and eventually migrate. Lucky for me, Mycroft and OpenHab are good friends.
The final part is networking. If you are familiar with my blog you may know how much I care for privacy, which is typically a problem when you want to install hardware that monitors your home 24/7. Therefore, all of the above-mentioned services will run in their own isolated LAN with no connection to the internet. Mycroft may get an exception depending on whether I would like to ask it about the weather, but everything else will stay isolated. This would also guarantee that I don't lose control of my lights when my internet is down. I have long ago flashed my WiFi router with dd-wrt which allows me to have multiple networks and define who can talk to whom.
Progress so far
Given that I already have the light bulbs, I tried to set them up using the Android WiZ app. This did not work: one key step of setting up the light bulbs is to register them on the cloud (for whatever reason), and the closed network made this impossible. I am fine in principle with the light bulbs phoning home once and then never again (combined with a VPN, the information they would expose would be minimal), but for that I would need internet and I still don't have any. I have also decided that two rooms will get "dumb" lights: the kitchen and the bathroom. These rooms are not "chill" rooms but rather "be there with a purpose and then leave" rooms, so there's no point in doing much with them.
And finally, one issue I have not yet decided is what to do about the microphone. Placing a Mycroft in the hallway would mean that I always need to yell at it, but I don't like the idea of my neighbors knowing that I turned on my lights at 3 AM and I doubt my neighbors would like it either. My best alternative so far is a small portable microphone - I read an interview sometime in the 90s about how Bill Gates' mansion was controlled with pins you were supposed to wear, and that seems reasonable enough to me. But I have yet to find something small enough.
If I decide to go for the smart mirror, this guide seems like the way to go: I already have a Raspberry Pi I'm not using (used to be my NAS server) and an old laptop screen, and it's mirror film approavh is cheaper than those using two-way glass. The annoying part would be finding the appropriate control circuits for the screen, which is a can I've been kicking down the road for a couple years now.
I also would like Mycroft to play my music, but that would require me to install a NAS and set all networking correctly, which was not fun with all devices in the same network and will probably not be fun here.
I'll let you know how this all works out.