Skip to “present day” if you don’t want any background:-) As a current Node-Red/MQTT fanatic with some leanings toward HASS, It’s no secret that I’ve been playing with home automation since the mid-80s when a company founded by Aidan Ruff and myself created something called APPCON (for Application Controller). I won’t delve any further into that as it is generally documented elsewhere, other than to say that 7 years ago I wrote about my original work on Appcon along with various articles about the then popular NETIO home automation user interface.
It is fair to say that after that initial intense burst of activity in wired home control, too much of my time from the ’90s through to early this decade was spent on serious but more mundane business subjects. Today I’m free to indulge in what I find truly interesting.
From Arduino to ESP8266
I’ve been through dozens of user interfaces for home automation over the years including my own (and written about most of them in here and on my YouTube channel). For controllers, at around the time I moved from Arduino (with various radio interfaces few of which were any good) to the ESP8266 in 2013, I also shifted from NETIO and similar Apps and started taking an interest in Node-Red which started as a side project by Nick O’Leary and Dave Conway-Jones of IBM’s Emerging Technology Services group.
Look how far we’ve all come since then. For front ends, some of you may recall Imperihome which I got enthusiastic about way back in 2016. I put a lot of work into using that program but ultimately I decided that Blynk was a better solution. The Blynk App for Android and IOS worked a treat but was not that easy to share and there was a cost per “widget” which I ultimately found off-putting particularly as my wife wanted her own mobile controls. I also found lack of a PC version a disadvantage.
Gone in the Blynk of an eye
I still use Node-Red as the underlying controller for my homes in Spain and the UK and I work on improvements to my setup most days when not taking advantage of the wonderful Spanish weather – you’ll see I’ve made my share of contributions to Node-Red including the popular BigTimer which I still regularly update and use massively. Only this week, on the user-interface side, I finally abandoned Blynk (who’s servers have been running since around 2015), partly due to my dislike for the screen-space-consuming “Zergba” but for other reasons including their move away from my core interests. I used Blynk for some years on and off with success but now it is gone. Of course as well as using their cloud-based servers, you can run a local Blynk server on (for example) a Raspberry Pi if you wish (and mine is still sitting running in the background in case I have a change of heart).
Which brings us to today – I use Node-Red Dashboard both on my PCs and mobile phone a LOT and despite having a lack-lustre RGB control, said control can be made to consume VERY little screen space while expanding on demand. I still don’t have anywhere NEAR all my controls on Dashboard – but at least I’m no longer relying on Blynk. Here’s a small sample…
Recently I’ve taken an interest in Home Asisistant (HASS) and am currently running a HASS Docker container alongside my traditional Node-Red/MQTT setup on Raspberry Pi 4. I’m still not entirely convinced about HASS, as not everything works exactly as I’d expect but my friend Antonio (Mr Shark) is doing a grand job of talking me into giving it a fair run. It has the potential to be MUCH prettier than NR Dashboard. #It soes however seem to put a significant load on a Raspberry Pi 4 2G (with SSD) and I have no intention of upgrading the hardware AGAIN just for HASS.
IOT User Interface State of the Art?
At the time of writing, HASS (version 0.117) seems to work well (in a Docker container) with the latest development version of Tasmota (126.96.36.199) -the first of these updates was made available near the end of October 2020 – Tasmota was just updated to 188.8.131.52 in the first week of November 2020 – amazing how tech just keeps improving regardless of Covid (which has struck down so many other areas of life recently – and just keeps coming).
That HASS interface is fantastic but not everything works as well as that spectacular pop-up colour wheel).
As a complete aside I noted yesterday that while AT&T seem to be abandoning rural America en-masse – miraculously, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network is getting ready to fill the gap (sadly USA-centric right now but it’s a start) – good timing given the current circumstances – meanwhile here in rural Spain I look forward to moving to 100Mbps+ downloads with claims of sub-20ms latency next year – the price doesn’t yet sound universally attractive however. I do like the idea of broadband immune to cable damage – something we may have to contend with more and more in a world of climate change.
But I digress – as our experience with HASS improves I’ll write more on the subject but lest my NR Dashboard colour control and simple buttons don’t appeal, remember I wrote about custom buttons some time ago – indeed as far back as 2016. So you don’t like my choice of colours? Easy to change.
But first, I still have a shedload of tech and not quite so tech gadgets to write about.