Home Automation Project


For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought the idea of having automated controls was pretty cool. This became especially pronounced after watching the Iron Man movies. The idea of have something like Jarvis in control things was really cool and I really wanted to create something like it.

In 2011, I started watching a guy on YouTube who had taken a MacMini and wrote a bunch of AppleScripts to create what he was calling Jarvis. He was sharing his ideas and features and for the first time I thought it might be possible to create such a thing without needing to spend a ton of money to buy it.

I originally borrowed his Library.scpt file and used many of it’s pre-defined functions in my code. This worked well until many of things it used were disconnected by their vendor, like Google Latitude, and Yahoo Weather’s API. I spent a long time writing AppleScript to do stuff like, answer questions using Wolfram Alpha and check my Calendar for events, which was cool. But it wasn’t “useful” to me as much as I wanted it to be. I stopped writing AppleScript somewhere around 2015 and the project sat idle for the next 5 years, occasionally I would poke at it.

Fast forward to 2019, when I started learning Python. I had known about Python for a long time but was hesitant to learn it because of the learning curve. My learning style is very different than other peoples, I learn by doing. My first foray into Python was a project for work, a utility that would read over files from one of our products and build a database of objects and cross-reference several data points (both dynamically and statically). After a year of working on that project, it had received many positive reviews and was adopted into a new product. Not bad for a first go, eh?

With this new found Python knowledge, it reignited the idea of “Jarvis”. Could I create such a thing with Python? There are so many videos on YouTube where people have created really simple single function “bots” and have called them “Jarvis”, stuff like, “Call me Dan” and the bot responds, “Hi, Dan”. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never written code before, that’s a big accomplishment. I wanted something much more advanced.

I started writing a bunch of different functions to do stuff like collect weather data and send tweets, which again were somewhat useful in the grand scheme of things. After sometime I decided I’d use those as parts of a bigger picture, and started focusing on what I needed/wanted this thing to do when done.

I knew it needed to:

  • Be aware of external temperature data
  • Be able to detect temperature data from multiple rooms in the house
  • Be able to adjust both the thermostat and the various dampers in the house to better balance temperature
  • Notify me of things like unusually high humidity in a room, or room temperature that will not adjust.
  • Automatically control lights (both internal and external), either by voice command or time of day.

Now, much of this is already possible with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Siri, but I don’t want to be bound by what the limitations are for those. I want to be able to build in fail-overs for things. Like, if a room temperature won’t adjust, close all other dampers by some small percentage for a set time and turn the fan on, forcing more air into that room, and thus more air out of that room. I don’t know that I could have that kind of custom workflow with the others.

With all that being said, how will this work?
I’ve built a docker container that will run Python + Flask for the front-end. This way, I can have a TV with system data displayed, room temperatures, damper percentage, outdoor temperature, thermostat schedule and some other bits of data. Within this docker container will be several pieces, the first being a scheduler. The scheduler will automatically trigger several operations, like collecting all temperature data once an hour, or doing a systems check and sending me a push notification if somethings wrong.

Second, will be the vocal side, I haven’t yet decided how I want to go about communicating by voice, but there is code to handle that. I’ve thought about having a bluetooth that I wear, but that seems tedious. I’ll revisit that a bit more in the future.

Third, a Rest API. Why have a Rest API on this? Integrations. One of the things I thought about was the ability to have “outside” things integrate into my system. Things like purpose built Raspberry Pi’s that can either be collecting data or pulling data from the system and doing something. The primary purpose here is HVAC damper control. There will be a couple of Raspberry Pi’s around the house with equipment wired to dampers in our HVAC ducting, when the main system I’ve written needs to check temperatures in a room and adjust the damper, it will send a POST command to the appropriate Pi to adjust the damper, and the damper will make the change and return data points about damper position among other things. The main system can then note the change and it will now have in a database, the damper value.
Another piece to this is having this entire system on its own private network that is on battery backup.

Thanks for reading.. More to come.

-Dan

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