iPad home automation


Admittedly I'm a first class dork, and I have been writing about home automation for many years. From climate control, to music, to hard core energy savings (vampire devices not allowed), I use automation to make my life a little better. For example I'll be heading out on vacation in July and while I'm gone, lights will turn on randomly at night, outside motion detectors will make people think someone is home, plants will get watered, chicken coop doors will go up and down, cameras will keep an eye out for the pet sitter, water mains will be watched, and I'll be able to login remotely and check that all is well and the house hasn't burned down.

The one hitch in my system for years is that since I've been building my own UI's for controlling the house, I've been limited because touch screen devices were either too expensive or limited by functionality and screen size. I've had a touch monitor, Nokia N800, and even an iPhone mounted to my walls. However as soon as I got my iPad home, I knew that I'd found the perfect touch device and started to rebuild my UI from scratch.

First I found some metal framing material at Lowes and built a mount for the wall. Then I embedded a rare earth magnet in the wall and spackled it in place so you couldn't see it. I cut a strip of tin, flattened it, and mounted it to the back of the iPad behind some velvet. This way when you place the iPad in the mount, it clicks and sticks to the wall (no velcro for me). With that done I moved on to a new UI. Here's a description of what I have so far:


All Lights Off: Basically this will shut all lights off in the house.

Everything Off: Everything non-critical (light/appliance) will turn off.

Television: No vampire plasma TVs. This shuts the TV off at the outlet.

Fireplace: Gas fireplace. Turning it on via automation puts it on a 45 minute timer. Saves energy.

Coffee Grinder: 6:30 every morning, freshly ground coffee. Not going to be home? This turns it off.

Grinder Times: You can run the grinder at any time, and select how long to run it. Coffee pot or espresso shot?

Living Room Lights: All lights in the house are controlled. These control just the living room lights.

Percentages: Set what level you want the lights at.

Outside Lights: These are all the house lights and landscape lighting, which are on a timer as well.

Patio Lights: turn on all the accent lighting, and even set the brightness.

Kitchen Motion: The kitchen lights (like many lights in the house) operate on a motion detector. Sometimes you want to disable that.

Vacation Settings: Leaving? Clicking this button sets everything in motion. When you return, everything is back to normal.

Sonos Settings: While my Sonos already has a controller, this let's me quickly jump to my favorite music, pause, or mute. Coming soon, a Pandora page.

Thermostat: My Ecobee smart thermostat is web enabled, so this jumps to that page. Plus, I can login from my iPhone to control my thermostat with their app.

Timers: Need to set a reminder that the laundry will be done in 45 minutes? Baking something? This tells the kitchen iMac (VESA mounted) to announce the timer is set and when it is done. Using Growl and Applescript I also get notifications on my laptop, my wife's laptop, and a text message to my phone.

Watch Movie: Turns on the TV, sets the audio to the right input, turns on the TV, and sets the TV input to the Mac Mini Media Center. I could even script this to open either Front Row, Hulu, or Netflix on demand.

Bedtime: Turns on the the Hall Lights, Bedroom and Master Bath lights, and puts all other lights on a 10 minute timer.

Entertain: Sets all the lighting to a certain ambiance and turns the Sonos on with a party playlist.

More Controls: Eventually I'll have another page of controls for irrigation, music, and the security system.

So far the iPad is an outstanding touch screen solution, and I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing all sorts of people using it as a kiosk. I'm in the process of writing an ebook about automation so I'm excited to see what other ideas I come up with during that project.