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Video Dueling Home Automation Systems at SXSW (Video) 47

Austin has a strong western heritage and more country and western music than you can shake a fiddle bow at. So when Timothy came back from SXSW with video clips from two home automation companies with different approaches to this question: "How can you work with a whole bunch of lights and thermostats and other IoT home automation pieces that all have different OSes and control APIs?" we obviously had to call the resulting video 'Dueling Home Automation Systems.'

The two companies shown in this video are called WigWag and Yonomi. WigWag sells you a "Relay," which they say "is a powerful mini computer that gives you control of your home's smart devices." The minimum pre-order buy-in for WigWag seems to be a $149 WigWag Relay. Their 'products' page his page shows the Relay -- and many other gadgets and kits that could easily run your total tab up to $1000 or more. Yonomi, on the other hand, "resides on your phone and in the Cloud. No need for a hub, controller box or other additional hardware. Yonomi magically finds and enhances your existing connected devices allowing them to interact with one another in ways never before possible."

Yonomi may start with a free Android app (iOS coming soon), but you still need to buy lights, speakers, thermostats, and other things that are Internet-aware, so you're not going to save much (if anything) over buying a WigWag relay and the rest of what you need to create your own, private Internet of Things. And what about good old X10 and other home control systems? They're still out there, still doing their thing in millions of homes even if they aren't getting all the IoT buzz. In any case, it's nice to see new home automation alternatives coming down the pike, even if their cloudness may make them easier to hack than an old-fashioned appliance like this coffeemaker.

Kent: Hi, I’m Kent. I’m from Yonomi.

Ceci: Hi, my name is Ceci Bergstedt. I do social marketing here for Wigwag in Austin, Texas.

Kent: Yonomi is a software that you put on your smartphone that discovers all of your connected devices and makes them work together because we’re all having these connected devices start to show up in our homes, whether it’s Nest or Sonos or Activity Trackers. And they’re great but they don’t work together.

Ceci: So, right now our Wigwag relay is already working with Philips Hue bulbs, both the colorable and Lux bulbs, as well as Belkin Wemo switches, and LIFX colorable bulbs and the Sonos wireless speakers. After that we are working on other Z-Wave and Zigbee products as well as Wi-Fi, so it’s a Nest thermostat, Dropcam other popular devices like that.

Kent: So Yonomi is the glue that makes them work together. When you install the app on your phone it finds all your smart devices and organizes them into simple automated routines so they suddenly work together and make your life a little bit simpler.

Ceci: What we have here today are smart, colorable LEDs called filaments, they are full range RGBs, as well as warm and cool whites, they can be controlled through your mobile phones, mobile tablet or on a desktop interfaces as well. So the bulbs are being controlled by our Wigwag Relay which is the hub for our system, and it runs on open source software called DeviceJS which is built on top of NodeJS. And what is so special about that is it allows third party developers to go in and add their devices into our system so that you can build one ecosystem on one app, so you don’t have to go through your phone and flip through a bunch of apps to turn on your lights and lock your door and all that is in one central location for easy organization and easy control.

Kent: Now, behind the scenes, there is actually a lot of complexity in that, but I think we do a reasonably good job of masking that from the user. So, you don’t have to know that one thing talks to Zigbee, one thing talks to Wi-Fi, one thing talks to Bluetooth, we do sort of make it work together.

Tim: You have a database that acts as a bridge?

Kent: That’s right. The phone itself acts as a bridge and we do a lot of processing in the cloud to make all the magic happen.

Ceci: So, our two co-founders used to work for Lifesize Communications. And so they did a lot of things like videoconferencing and automation for more industrial purposes and what they found was that a lot of people were having trouble with automation, that it was too complex that it wasn’t reliable and so, they created Wigwag to solve those problems.

Kent: We are working on an SDK so we can just open it and let other people build connectors to us rather than the other way around.

Ceci: We want to be able to take all those languages that are out there because there are so many and put them in one so that it’s easier for consumers, easier for industrial purposes to be able to get all your devices to work cohesively.

Kent: We make it as simple as possible. And once you set up those routines, then they just run after that. I write a poem, my temperature adjusts, the music comes on, may be the lights come on. I get a phone call, my Sonos speakers will mute while I’m talking on the phone. I hang up, they come back on.

Ceci: It’ll all be in one app, so you don’t have to worry about how it’s stacking up, or a million different apps on your phone taking up space.

Tim: Is it available?

Kent: It is available on Google Play Store and in Apple App Store in a couple of months.

Ceci: It’ll all be one smart home.

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Dueling Home Automation Systems at SXSW (Video)

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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @05:06PM (#49339333)
    ...to quote the character Penny from The Big Bang Theory, "or we could just have a life."

    I'm sure there are those that disagree with me, but automation for its own sake does not achieve anything. There are lots of things that people fantasize about automating that simply cannot be automated with the current designs of the appliances themselves. The best that you're going to get for laundry will be a notification that it's time to move it from one machine to another for example, and that can be handled with a simple buzzer in the machine. Your refrigerator and pantry aren't going to be able to notify you about bulk goods or other fresh/raw ingredients when their inventories get low since those ingredients don't have means to affix RFID tags or other identifiers to them, even if such gets applied to prepackaged goods.

    We're not really there yet for home automation. We've tried it before; I have a house built in the seventies with a whole-house intercom system; but such technology ends up abandoned even if it's still functional.
    • Re:Or... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @05:37PM (#49339633) Journal
      Let's get this ever-recurring debate out of the way. Why would one want Home Automation at all? Answer: it's a hobby, get over it. It adds some convenience and security, and these days it's reliable and easy enough to use; a well designed system will keep working and keep being used with a minimum of maintenance. But the cost doesn't really justify the expense at the current state of the art... unless you see it as a hobby on which to blow some cash.
      • Convenience I'll give you security is debatable.

        I see it less of a hobby, I see it as lazy asses that can't be fucked to get off the couch and walk 5 feet to a light switch. Seriously aside from turning lights on/off randomly while on vacation which your neighbors still know no ones home, does it take more time to break out your phone or tablet connect to the website and turn your lights on/off vs getting up and walking to the switch?

        I say the hobby is not the reason due to a majority of users probably ha
        • I see it as lazy asses that can't be fucked to get off the couch and walk 5 feet to a light switch.

          People used to say the same thing about television remotes.
          Admittedly, I can't see the need for automating my home, but I wonder if maybe I'm just a grumpy old man.

        • by unrtst ( 777550 )

          I see it less of a hobby, I see it as lazy asses that can't be fucked to get off the couch and walk 5 feet to a light switch.

          This is exactly the kind of laziness that makes for excellent programmers (or at least perl programmers: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?Lazines... [c2.com]). The definition of Laziness from the 2nd edition of the camel book:

          The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it. Hence, the first great virtue of a programmer. Also hence, this book. See also impatience and hubris.

          The example you provide is a great of example of an incomplete, misconfigured, or broken by design system. If the end result is more effort than before, then it wasn't automated. The "clapper" works better than using your smartphone to twiddle light switches manually.

          There are a bunch of parts to a well

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        That's just it though, it's not more secure as Internet-connectivity now provides another vector of attack, and given the interoperability problems it's not really more convenient either, especially when one spends more time servicing the automation system than one would have spent doing things the old-fashioned way.

        That makes it solely an aspect of a hobby, and that's great because hobbies add some entertainment to one's life, but don't pretend that it's making the world a better place.
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        People have gone from wasting money for CLAP ON lights to wasting money to have fucking apps in their refrigerators.

        Let's all stop playing this "they're savvy people experimenting with a hobby" lie. No, they're people who are obsessed with minor materialistic technology, who buy all the latest WiFi enabled tech gadgets. They're gimmicks. They sell for what they are, not the problems they can actually solve. Their boxes of unopened gadgets line the closets, the floor, and the tables--depreciating by the da
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        It's a hobby that makes me $102,000 ish a year. (actually more if you include the company car and benefits)

        I design and install the real stuff and program homes and even freaking hospitals with Lutron,Vantage, Crestron and AMX control systems. using real sensors and systems to do some amazing stuff. A major hospital in michigan has my code running the lighting on all 12 floors using sensors on the roof and each room, hallway, etc and floor for light harvesting and lighting control. I even adjust the col

        • Yeah Crestron has had a stranglehold on the corporate market for a long time and their control systems are a nightmare. Black box controllers with many in many out pay no attention to the circuit behind the curtain subterfuge. I won't even hire a Crestron programmer for our office unless I get it in writing I get the source code once he's done. "Oh! you need the font changed on the shutdown button?" "No problem. Our programmer can whip that out in a couple of minutes and it'll only be $1000.00" and that is
      • It adds some convenience and security

        So I don't meant this confrontationally at all, the geek in me really wants to do some cool home automation, but what are some real life use cases where home automation does add convenience?

        I mean beyond the simple stuff. I already have automated thermostats and universal remotes for my TVs. What else could I do that would make my life easier?

        • A coupe of examples:
          - Light recipes. Especially in the living room where there are many lights all around the room, including some Philips Hue bulbs that can change color. Instead of having to set all of them for dinner, sitting around or movie night or whatever, 1 button does it all. And it works with the media player, put that on pause and the lights dim up a bit
          - Heating in certain rooms is turned off when not in use, and turned on automatically when someone is there. This saves a little on the heatin
  • The problem with these gadgets is that they're too small and proprietary to be taken seriously. Home Depot and Lowes both have competing products with different standards for example. Then there is a host of competing companies that do the same thing. Some use power line communications, some use custom 700MHz, 2.4 or 5GHz spectrum which all may interfere with each other, WiFi and other things.

    There are open standards for this kind of stuff, some may be less open than others but at least they're available. Give me a 'gateway' or hub that I can replace myself with a custom implementation on a computer. I'd trust Linux/Mac, heck even Windows over one of these devices.

  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @05:29PM (#49339557) Journal
    If you don't have a hub, or if you are using your mobile phone as one, then you don't have home automation but integrated remote control only. You need a hub to build some intelligence into the system, and have it work for other members of the household as well as yourself, and have it work when you are not at home. A mobile phone makes for a great way to remotely control your smart home, but a good smart home works without it. I use my phone for remote access, but for day to day stuff when I am at home I prefer dedicated remotes and switches.

    And the cloud? This stuff needs to remain private and has no place in the cloud. Another good reason to do HA using a hub that you own and control.
  • If I have to push buttons to control the lights, systems, etc. myself then that's not "automation", that's being too lazy to walk the 10 feet to the switch. I want things such as for the house to know that if you have 3 people sitting on the couch and the DVD/DVR/whatever is set to play that it should dim the damn lights itself.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Yup none of this is automation. I do real automation with Vantage, AMX and Crestron. Most of this stuff is simply cheezy remote control with a huge flaw of requiring internet connections for them to work.

  • slashdot devs. please, add a volume slider to the video player! you are the only ones without it and sucks having to adjust your system volume because of one website decided a volume slider was too much to ask for!

  • If you put you home on the Internet, you are inviting everybody to hack your house.

    Convenience should not sacrifice your security.

    OT: why the fsk can't you access /. with https?

  • by PhantomHarlock ( 189617 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @06:15PM (#49339961)

    Like another earlier poster, I still consider home automation to be a hobby, especially after trying it enthusiastically for a while. Reason being: It's expensive, it takes a lot of time, it's buggy and it's not necessary. But it can be fun if you're willing to deal with the downsides.

    The big power-user product for home automation control is a very powerful piece of software called homeseer. If you're really serious about it and you want to do a lot with scripted events, that's a good bet, although it's not consumer friendly. It does run locally, you're not surrendering data to a company or the cloud and everything is yours and everything is configurable. I'm curious about the new localized box in the link as an alternative.

    For a while I installed insteon switches and controllers all over the house. One by one they died, I don't think they liked the unreliable power where I lived at the time. Frustrated, I tore it all out and went back to plain old switches; I knew they would just work when I needed them to. I'm open to trying again, especially now that I am in a much larger house and I want to do things like gang-control upstairs and downstairs thermostats in unison to optimize efficiency for the temperature gradient, and control far flung light switches with a master switch or smartphone app. But it's quite an investment to replace all those switches and outlets. Fortunately you don't have to go all in at once, you can just do the things you need the most to start with.

  • It's all meh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday March 25, 2015 @07:41PM (#49340555) Homepage

    If it's cloud based it's crap.

    These companies need to stop with the freaking data harvesting and give us controllers that will work 100% when the internet is down like it is whenever it rains in DSL land.

  • I've been doing home automation stuff on and off for about 10 years now. It seems like every new device in the past few years has to have a connection to the internet and be controlled through a web-connected app. In some ways I kind of understand this: so many people have a smartphone, and they already know how to get it online, so if you connect your "IoT" device to the internet then you kind of get your remote control for free.

    However, the whole idea of broadcasting data from the inside of my house to s

  • As someone who had done HA for over 20 years using mostly X10 I follow this kind of topic quite avidly. And I was quite impressed by the Wigwag kickstarter, which I bought into in 2013. They promised not just hardware but a new programing environment. And despite investing over $200 all I've ever received have been project updates, 46 of them, the last one in January. This is more like the Duke Nukem of HA.
    I have had the opportunity to admin a system running Smarthings. I was appalled to find that everythin

  • Yeah, I want my home automation systems to be dependent on my DSL link so that the furnace can go out if SaskTel hiccoughs.

    I want my refrigerator to be hackable from the internet so all my food can spoil.

    I want someone who is into doxing to be able to flash my house lights randomly for giggles.

    IoT: Just say "No!"

  • If this is /. then shouldn't we at least be mentioning OSS solutions like OpenHAB [openhab.org] in a discussion like this? Which is both open and agnostic.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire