Monday, April 13, 2015

Expanding Home Automation

I’ve recently taken steps to expand the range of home automation devices supported by the WebCell web pages. The first new device is the RainBee16 irrigation controller from Smartenit. This is a 16-zone controller commanded wirelessly over ZigBee. At the head end, Smartenit’s ZBPLM (RJ-45 serial version) connects to the WebCell to provide the ZigBee interface. The ZBPLM also provides INSTEON control, so only one interface device is needed for both ZigBee and INSTEON.

I just installed this system, replacing a traditional irrigation controller. It was a real pleasure to be able to walk around the yard, iPhone in hand selecting an irrigation zone to check out. Even out of Wi-Fi range, the iPhone connected via cellular data and kept me in control. (I had to set up remote access with user name and password, as mentioned in my last post, for this to work.)

To get this going there was a fair amount of restructuring of the underlying web services used to communicate between the browser (on the iPhone or whatever) and the WebCell. Now that this is independent of control system, I hope to add more types of devices.

These new abilities have not yet been rolled out as update for WebCell. A little more testing and tweaking is needed.

Update to Self-Sufficiency

As presented on my company web site, the WebCell product line is sold as a programmable module that allows you to add a web interface to some existing project. Much is said about the CellScript Simulator for developing your own interface, while the included home automation interface is mentioned little more than in passing.

Since I myself use this device for home automation, I’ve decided to start shifting the emphasis in that direction. Toward that end, I’ve issued a major update to the WebCell firmware and home automation web pages. Once installed, this update allows the WebCell to be fully managed without the CellScript Simulator. This mainly means that the WebCell is now capable of checking for and installing updates for it’s own firmware and for the web pages. (If you already had a WebCell, installing this update would require the CellScript Simulator.) The bottom line is that from now on, an average end-user of the home automation pages will have no reason to ever use or even install the CellScript Simulator.

Another important feature of this update is that it now supports password-protected remote access. It allows you to create users that can access the WebCell from anywhere on the Internet. It also handles the nitty-gritty steps of opening a connection through your router to the Internet, using Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).

Finally, some of the home automation web pages have been spruced up. Managing and switching between multiple schedules has been greatly simplified. But the major overhaul I’d hoped for has not happened. My last post, over a year ago, talked about having a contractor lined up. That contractor was unable to deliver much, and the next one accomplished even less, so a year has been wasted on that front.