making your home smarter use case #14 – prevent fires while charging LiPo batteries

Did you know how dangerous Lithium-Polymer batteries can be? Well, if not treated well they literally burst in flames spontaneously.

So it’s quite important to follow a couple of guidelines to not burn down the house.

Since I am just about to start getting into the hobby of FPV quadcopter racing I’ve tried follow those guidelines and found that the smart house can help me tracking things.

Unfortunately there are not a lot of LiPo chargers available at reasonable price with computer interfaces to be monitored while charging/discharging the batteries. But there are a couple of workarounds I’ve found useful.

  1. a proper case. I’ve got myself one of those “Bat-Safe” boxes that fit a couple of battery packs and help me store them safely. Even if one or many burst into flames the case is going to contain any heat and fire as good as possible and with the air / pressure filter it’ll hopefully get rid of most of the very nasty smoke (I hear). Cables go into it, so the actual charging process takes place with everything closed and latched.
  2. the obvious smoke detector which is on it’s own connected to the overall fire alarm is mounted on top, like literally on top. It’ll send out the alert to all other smoke alarms in the house making them go beep as well as sending out high priority push notifications to everyone.
  3. an actual camera is monitoring the box all the time calling on alerts if something is fishy (like making sound, smoke, movement of any sort). When charging is done the charger will beep – this is being caught by the cameras microphones and alerts are sent out.
  4. the temperature inside the case is monitored all the time. The surrounding temperatures are usually pretty stable as this case is stored in my basement and as the charging goes on the temperatures inside the case will climb up and eventually level out and fall when charging / discharging is done. Now the system basically will look at the temperatures, decide wether it’s rising of falling and alerting appropriately.

There’s a couple more things to it, like keeping track of charging processes in a calendar as you can see in the flowchart behind all the above.

making your home smarter use case #13 – correlations happen

There are a lot of things that happen in the smart house that are connected somehow.

And the smart house knows about those events happening and might suggest, or even act upon the knowledge of them.

A simple example:

In our living room we’ve got a nice big aquarium which, depending on the time of the day and season, it is simulating it’s very own little dusk-till-dawn lightshow for the pleasure of the inhabitants.
Additionally the waterquality is improved by an air-pump generating nice bubbles and enriching the water with oxygen. But that comes a cost: When you are in the room those bubbles and the hissing sound of the inverter for the “sun” produces sounds that are distracting and disturbing to the otherwise quiet room.

Now the smart home comes to the rescue:

It detects that whenever someone is entering the room and staying for longer, or powering up the TV or listening to music. Also it will log that regularly when these things happen also the aquarium air and maybe lights are turned off. Moreso they are turned back on again when the person leaves.

These correlations are what the smart house is using to identify groups of switches, events and actions that are somehow tied together. It’ll prepare a report and will recommend actions which at the push of a button can become a routine task always being executed when certain characteristics are lining up.

And since the smart house is a machine, it can look for correlations in a lot more dimensions a human could: Date, Time, Location, Duration, Sensor and Actor values (power up TV, Temperature in room < 22, Calendar = November, Windows closed => turn on the heating).

“making your home smarter”, use case #11 – money money money

The Internet of Things might as well become your Internet of Money. Some feel the future to be with blockchain related things like BitCoin or Ethereum and they might be right. So long there’s also this huge field of personal finances that impacts our lives allday everyday.

And if you get to think about it money has a lot of touch points throughout all situations of our lifes and so it also impacts the smart home.

Lots of sources of information can be accessed today and can help to stay on top of the things going on as well as make concious decisions and plans for the future. To a large extend the information is even available in realtime.

– cost tracking and reporting
– alerting and goal setting
– consumption and resource management
– like fuel oil (get alerted on price changes, …)
– stock monitoring alerting
– and more advanced even automated trading
– bank account monitoring, in- and outbound transactions
– expectations and planning
– budgetting

After all this is about getting away from lock-in applications and freeing your personal financial data and have a all-over dashboard of transactions, plans and status.

“making your home smarter”, use case #10 – Fire and Water alarm system

Water! Fire! Whenever one of those are released uncontrolled inside the house it might mean danger to life and health.

Having a couple of fish and turtle tanks spread out in the house and in addition a server rack in the basement it’s important to know when there’s a leak of water at moments notice.

As the server-room also is housing some water pumps for a well you got all sorts of dangers mixed in one location: Water and Fire hazard.

To detect water leaks all tanks and the pumps for the well are equipped with water sensors which send out an alerting signal as soon as water is detected. This signal is picked up and pushed to MQTT topics and from there centrally consumed and reacted upon.

Of course the server rack is above the water level so at least there is time to send out alerts while even power is out for the rest of the house (all necessary network and uplink equipment on it’s own batteries).

For alerting when there is smoke or a fire, the same logic applies. But for this some loud-as-hell smoke detectors are used. The smoke detectors interconnect with each other and make up a mesh for alerting. If one goes off. All go off. One of them I’ve connected to it’s very own ESP8266 which sends a detected signal to another MQTT topic effectively alerting for the event of a fire.

In one of the pictures you can see what happened when the basement water detector did detect water while the pump was replaced.

“making your home smarter”, use case #9 – weights about to drop

A lot of things in a household have weight, and knowing it’s weight might be crucial to health and safety.

Some of those weight applications might tie into this:

– your own body weight over a longer timespan
– the weight of your pets, weighed automatically (like on a kitty litter box)
– the weight of food and ingredients for recipes as well as their caloric and nutrition values
– keeping track of fill-levels on the base of weights

All those things are easily done with connected devices measuring weights. Like the kitty-litter box at our house weighing our cat every time. Or the connected kitchen-scale sending it’s gram measurements into an internal MQTT topic which is then displayed and added more smarts through an App on the kitchen-ipad consuming that MQTT messages as well as allowing recipe-weigh-in functions.

It’s not only surveillance but pro-active use. There are beekeepers who monitor the weight of their bee hives to see what’s what. You can monitor all sorts of things in the garden to get more information about it’s wellbeing (any plants, really).

“making your home smarter”, use case #8 – it’s all about the power consumption

Weekend is laundry time! The smart house knows and sends out notifications when the washing machine or the laundry dryer are done with their job and can be cleared.

Of course this can all be extended with more sensory data, like power consumption measurements at the actual sockets to filter out specific devices much more accurate. But for simple notification-alerting it’s apparently sufficient to monitor just at the houses central power distribution rack.

On the sides this kind of monitoring and pattern-matching is also useful to identify devices going bad. Think of monitoring the power consumption of a fridge. When it’s compressor goes bad it’s going to consume an increasing amount of power over time. You would figure out the malfunction before it happens.

Same for all sorts of pumps (water, oil, aquarium,…).

All this monitoring and pattern matching the smart house does so it’s inhabitants don’t have to.

“make your home smarter”, use case #7 – hear that doorbell ringing!

We love music. We love it playing loud across the house. And when we did that in the past we missed some things happening around.

Like that delivery guy ringing the front doorbell and us missing an important delivery.

This happened a lot. UNTIL we retrofitted a little PCB to our doorbell circuit to make the house aware of ringing doorbells.

Now everytime the doorbell rings a couple of things can take place.

– push notifications to all devices, screens, watches – that wakes you up even while doing workouts
– pause all audio and video playback in the house
– take a camera shot of who is in front of the door pushing the doorbell

And: It’s easy to wire up things whatever those may be in the future.

“make your home smarter”, use case #6 – calendars and scheduls

So how do you manage all these sensors and switches, and lights, and displays and speakers…

One way has proven to be very useful and that is by using a standard calendar. 
Yes, the one you got right on your smartphone or desktop.

A calendar is a simple manifestation of events in time and thus it can be used to either protocol or schedule events.

So the smart house uses calendars to:

  • schedule on/off times for switches, alarms, whatever can be switched
  • notes down locations and can react upon locations on schedule or when members of the household arrive/leave those locations based on calendar events
  • reminds members in the house on upcoming events
  • protocols media playback (what song,…) for later search
  • lets members of the house set events through different means like voice, smartphone, …

So what am I using this calendar(s) for? Simple. It’s there to track travelling since I know when I was where by simply searching the calendar (screenshot). It’s easy to make out patterns and times of things happening since a calendar/timeline view feels natural. Setting on/off times and such is just a bliss if you can make it from your phone in an actual calendar rather than a tedious additional app or interface.

And of course: the house can only be smart about things when it has a way to gather and access that data. Reacting to it’s inhabitants upcoming and previous events adds several levels of smartness.

“make your home smarter”, use case #5 – the submarine light (it’s red!)

We all know it: After a long day of work you chilled out on your bean bag and fell asleep early. You gotta get up and into your bed upstairs. So usually light goes on, you go upstairs, into bed. And there you have it: You’re not sleepy anymore.

Partially this is caused by the light you turned on. If that light is bright enough and has the right color it will wake you up no matter what.

To fight this companies like Apple introduced things like “NightShift” into iPhones, iPads and Macs.

“Night Shift uses your computer’s clock and geolocation to determine when it’s sunset in your location. It then automatically shifts the colors in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum.”

Simple, eh?. Now why does your house not do that to prevent you being ripped out of sleepy state while tiptoeing upstairs?

Right! This is where the smart house will be smart.

Nowadays we’ve got all those funky LED bulbs that can be dimmed and even their colours set. Why none of those market offerings come with that simple feature is beyond me:

After sunset, when turned on, default dim to something warmer and not so bright in general.

I did implement and it’s called appropriately the “U-Boot light”. Whenever we roam around the upper floor at night time, the light that follows our steps (it’s smart enough to do that) will not go full-blast but light up dim with redish color to prevent wake-up-calls.

The smart part being that it will take into account:

– movement in the house
– sunset and dawn depending on the current geographic location of the house (more on that later, no it does not fly! (yet))
– it’ll turn on and off the light according to the path you’re walking using the various sensors around anyways

smart home use case #4 – being location aware is important

Now that you got your home entertainment reacting to you making a phone call (use case #1) as well as your current position in the played audiobook (use case #3) you might want to add some more location awareness to your house.

If your house is smart enough to know where you are, outside, inside, in what room, etc. – it might as well react on the spot.

So when you leave/enter the house:

– turn off music playing – pause it and resume when you come back
– shutdown unnecessary equipment to limit power consumption when not used and start-back up to the previous state (tvs, media centers, lights, heating) when back
– arm the cameras and motion sensors 
– start to run bandwidth intense tasks when no people using resources inside the house (like backing up machines, running updates)
– let the roomba do it’s thing
– switch communication coming from the house into different states since it’s different for notifications, managing lists and spoken commands and so on.

There’s a lot of things that that benefit from location awareness.

Bonus points for outside house awareness and representing that like a “Weasly clock”…“xxx is currently at work”.

Bonus points combo breaker for using an open-source service like Miataru (http://miataru.com/#tabr3) for location tracking outside the house.