Room automation #1: The lights

You know what the most annoying feeling is? It’s that moment after a bit of comfy reading in bed, you have to leave all the snugness behind to hit the wall light switch and call it a night. There has to be a better way.

A quick google search brought me to all these “smart” bulbs that let you control it from your phone. Being frugal as I am, I looked around for the most affordable option until I found this one by Xiaomi. After setting it up, I could now turn off the lights while still remaining comfy at the cost of being hit by the night sun of my phone screen every time the room went dark.

Xiaomi Yeelight

Still, it was an improvement and I looked the other way (quite literally) for a while until I moved to a different room which had the bed on higher level. To make it look less like a dungeon, I got myself a lamp to ditch the overhead lighting. This fixed the ambience but the cost was dire. I had to now climb down the ladder from my bed to hit the lamp’s foot switch and then climb back up. You can see where this is going.

Given my positive experience with the bulb, I turned to Xiaomi again and they also had a “smart” plug. Add to cart, problem solved… right? Well…, not entirely. As it turns out, Xiaomi never released the smart plug outside of China so when I tried to set it up, the app was like “Nope, I don’t see anything”. On a hunch, I switched the server from Europe to the one in China and voila, I could now setup all of Xiaomi’s products, including “smart” rice cookers and “smart” air purifiers. However, there was a catch. That part of the app was only in Chinese.

Xiaomi smart plug

Xioami app in chinese

After living in the Czech republic for over a year, I had gotten very skilled with google translate and with some screenshots fed through, I finally got past the setup. Now it was quite easy - I mean, there are only two things you can do with a switch and what else can the big button in the centre of the screen do? But now I had two separate apps, one for the bulb and another for the switch which again, was annoying. and from the start, I didn’t like that I need my phone for all this. I’m one who likes to disconnect and seek shelter from notifications so my phone is usually out of sight with airplane mode turned on. There has to be a better way.

And that is how I stumbled on Home Assistant, an open source home automation platform that has integrations for “smart” devices from a variety of manufacturers. I kept thinking that I wanted a remote but a typical IR remote wouldn’t cut it, I would have to point it at the receiver and be in direct line of sight. That is when I remembered those miniature keyboards from back in media centre days before the advent of “smart” TVs. But how would I connect it to Home Assistant? I figured there should be a way and after digging through the integration list, I found an integration that created events based on key presses. Eureka! With all the puzzle pieces thought out, I got to work installing home assistant on my trusty raspberry pi and setting up the integrations for my bulb and plug. With that done, I was able to write a simple automation task to turn my lights on and off with a simple push of a button!

Home assistant webpage

Home assistant yeelight integration

Home assistant smart plug integration

Home assistant keyboard integration

Home assistant automation task

This solution worked perfectly for me. Except for the times when I lost the remote and consequently, lost control of my room. There has to be a better way. So I thought to myself, what if I didn’t need a remote? What if my room can control itself? (More on this coming soon)

Published 5 Apr 2020

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