Smart Devices for 2021 and Beyond

As most of you will know there are a large number of Smart devices out there today -for example – smartplugs which can be run over Zigbee or WiFi – I’ll concentrate only on WiFi in here.

smartplugs

Smartplugs vary from 10A capacity which are good for lighting but only useful for heaters well under 2KW), up to typically 16A capacity which will (in the EU and UK anyway where we have 220v) handle up to, say 3KW MAXIMUM. Sometimes but not always, these smartplugs have “power monitoring” which can be handy.

Then there are smart lights – and therein lies an even BIGGER story. The simplest of these are WiFi controlled white lights, some of which allow selection between warm and cold light – others have no such selection (best to avoid them). Then there are RGB smart lights – the worst of which use ONLY combinations of red, green and blue to give out any colour including white of any shade – but beware, the white produced by these is AWFUL. Next up we have RGBW light which give true, much brighter white – but you may take pot luck as to what SHADE of white.

smart lights

At the top of the chain are RGBWW lights which typically allow selection of any colour AND much brighter white – which can select from cold (6400K) to warm (typically 2700K) white. Beware that the stated wattage should be as high as possible – because typically each of the RED, GREEN and BLUE LEDS (or LED clusters) will be 3W and then you ALSO need some power for the two WHITE LEDs – do the maths.

There are many other smart devices such as blind controllers, smart switches etc which need little explaining – but the thing ALL of these devices have in common is this… their manufacturer probably want you to control them via an APP, often THEIR APP. REALLY? And THAT means running through the CLOUD – quite often THEIR cloud.

Stop to think about that. We do NOT live in an ideal, peaceful world where a Chinese cloud is guaranteed to work for years with your devices, nor do companies last forever, nor do we live in a world where Internet is perfectly reliable. If any one of those scenarios fails you lose access to your devices. Even if you don’t, there are some who fear for long-term data security using cloud devices.

For a while there, many of these controllers could be made to run LOCALLY thanks to common use of ESP8266 chips and the still brilliant Tasmota free, open-source software. For sockets and switches, a £3 FTDI (serial adaptor) will let you EASILY reprogram said devices to run Tasmota locally. For switches of those users with no electrical capability, a software alternative exists called TUYA-CONVERT.

But all of that is on the cusp of change. Manufacturers for whatever reason are moving away from using the ESP8266 chip and also TUYA-CONVERT in some cases no longer works. It seems we’ve been living in a short-term bubble which is currently bursting.

So, stick to using the cloud if you don’t actually care if your Internet connection works all the time and/or have no cares about possible changes in world politics (security, guaranteed access to servers) or companies going bust.

OR start to put effort into only supporting/buying products which have other modes of operation that the cloud.

Right now, I’m testing Yeelight bulbs which offer cloud AND local options – I’m sure there are more – I just have to find them and I WILL. There is a fledgeling NODE for NODE-RED (on for example a Raspberry Pi) which will talk locally to Yeelights – it needs a bit of work but it is functional.

I’m also aware of at least one company (Athom) who SPECIFICALLY pre-embed Tasmota into their products (and of course you would be able to OTA this – i.e. upgrade Tasmota online). I have samples on the way and will say no more until I actually test this claim.

It is up to the technically inclined to look further into these changes – the general public have no clue and no interest in the inner workings of these devices which increasingly find their way into our homes, offices and factories. If we don’t push the need for the LOCAL NETWORK option, no-one will and we should be doing that NOW for reasons I’ve outlined above.

Node-Red

Let me give you a short example, I have lights, heaters and switches running Tasmota locally and with a local Node-Red installation on Raspberry Pi, all of which works with my own Node-Red timing node BigTimer and all of which can also be externally accessed by VPN (but will run on sensible defaults if that is not available). On my Android phone I run the Node-Red Dashboard. The worst that could happen, in the unlikely event hat Node-Red was no longer freely available, the existing version would continue to run, giving me plenty of time to seek alternatives.

YES I use Amazon Alexa but only as an optional extra – a fun way to control things but not the ONLY way.

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19 thoughts on “Smart Devices for 2021 and Beyond

  1. I note your remarks re Yeeligh but for me there are two problems with these lamps;
    1. They are ridiculously expensive
    2. They only come in ES fitting.

    I see that Shelly also sell lamps with local access, although again only ES, and as far as I can tell only a GU10 variety in RGBW

    Hopefully, this will be resolved because I totally agree with you regards being able to use a local network for control. Until manufacturers get together and agree a common way of controlling these devices (Smart Life not withstanding) so that users can decide for themselves whether they want the bother of local control this issue will remain. (They also need to make connection easier and more reliable. You only have to see the many complaints about being unable to connect to a device to realise that this is an issue)

    However, due to the desire of big business to control our every move I have my doubts that this will happen any time soon.

    As a final comment in this rant, at the moment, until devices & control methods become mainstream & universal, setting up a complete home automation system is going to be a niche activity (and I am talking about standard SOs & light switches as I do not count plug-in devices as mainstream). I am moving house and I have had to go round and remove my control devices because they are all add-ons. (as an aside, my favourites were the Sonoff minis I had attached to the lights so that the wife and visitors could switch a light on with the standard switch – even if I had to mount them in the loft because they don’t fit in the standard back-box or ceiling rose).

    1. In order – you’ve started me off now 🙂

      1. I’m not going to disagree about the price – they are not cheap, I’ve seen brighter for less money – can’t yet talk about longevity but that solid aluminium frame bodes well. The current Node-Red App has been around for a while and could be better – how well that does depends if I get responses from the author.

      2. Personally I find E27 fittings MUCH more useful than the bayonet fittings defaulted to in the UK (unless of course like millions, you get your lights from IKEA in which case they are more than likely to be E14 or E27). For those who travel beyond the UK, the latter fittings are popular throughout much of Europe and beyond. RGBW – NOOOO – RGBW and RGBWW are available in a variety of fittings – I have lots of samples to prove that – ask be to expand on that and I will, happily. I have samples of E27, E14, GU10, bayonet, mini bayonet and more. The large UK bayonet is the least supported as far as I can tell.

      I don’t see a single standard for cloud control coming for a LONG time – what Chinese company would want to support an American standard for example?

      Granted, local access success does tend to need a certain inquisitive nature but then my blog is geared to those who are inquisitive.

      Your point about big business – thankfully even today there is still not ONE big business – there are many non-interacting big businesses – when that changes, we are all screwed.

      Niche – again we agree. I have very little patience for those who cannot be bothered to find out more – hence this blog – every reader in here is looking in to impart information or to gain information. I’ve moved house (and had to remove custom technology in case the new owners blew themselves to bits and tried to sue) and mywife and I have also provided long term and holiday rental – I cannot leave smart devices except the totally automated ones in the rental property (mostly out of sight in the loft) because of the unbelivably wide range of intellectual ability in those who visit, including those who are sharp enough to want to tinker, to those too dense to figure out how to use any TV that has anything more than landline channel selection and volume control.

      Wew havea book that states the TV should be left on HDMI1 as the smart box did the channel selection – we’ve had more than one visitor with no idea what HDMI is, never mind a “smart box”.

      We could keep up this conversation for months: Thankfully after much work and without me realising it, my wife recently announce she was turning the lights off – I was about to launch into “please don’t mess with the wall switch” which she completed the sentence with “on my phone” as it it was completely natural. While in Spain I routinely get the job of checking or changing the UK thermostat I developed but I suspect she’s about to get the hang of that too.

      If we were to sell, no doubt I’d have to replace my very flexible controls with something a bit more idiot-proof like NEST or even more idiot proof and even less flexible like an old wall-mount “heat” -“cool” control with a nice certificate to show that it came with a “CE certificate” and was fitted by a “competent electrician”.

      As a total aside – light switches – I had one where the switch cable failed somewhere in our 200-year-old SOLID stone house – flat roof section – no way to find out where the wiring leads without dismantling the ceiling – I found and blogged about a great kinetic switch – no wires, no battery… in the roof end where the lights get their power, I fitted a mating RF module that mounts in the ceiling. MARVELLOUS – and no battery to run down either… not yet figured out how to get Node-RED talking to the radio module but I’m sure that would work – as for range, not as good as WiFi but got me out of a jam. Were we to sell, no-one would ever know it wasn’t a normal wall switch.

  2. Hi Pete,

    You might want to point people directly to Athom Tech as google returns an Athom home hub developed in the Netherlands.

    Also, it looks like Athom Tech are early in the global view of a post EU UK in deeming UK sockets too niche to worry about – what do they know about our future?

    Simon

    1. I just wrote a huge rant about post-EU Britain (might be equally important to include post-Britain England) and deleted the lot – back to your suggestion – Athom Tech – I like to go from personal experience – if/once I have their products and can honestly recommend them, I’ll supply all the info anyone could need.Erm, no guarantees of course at this point but here;s the link – https://www.athom.tech/ – just got an email to say something is on the way from China… could be after Xmas now.

  3. Regarding the Athom sockets: they’re great, I have 4 of them running well. They came with a rebranded/modified older version of Tasmota so I upgraded them to latest official which runs perfectly on them.

    One note when upgrading (important): DO NOT use the ‘minimal’ Tasmota version as intermediate, use lite.
    The first one put minimal on was soft-bricked and I had to desolder the module to reflash it.

  4. Just saw a thing on unifi modems, to split the IOT stuff to a separate IP range from your normal devices. So 198.162.0.1 main area for phones tablets so on, and 198.162.2.1 for Alexa or Google home stuff. Then 198.162.5.1 for IOT things to stop your network being hacked of stuff around with at home of business.
    What do you think Peter?

    1. I am of course open to all ideas, my own way of doing things, now that easy to used VPNs like PIVPN are freely available is to do all external access via VPN hence minimising the chance of my systems being hacked.

  5. Those Athom devices look very interesting. I’m very tempted to get a few, but I think that delivery times from China could be quite lengthy with the UK ports backed up as they are.

    I found this article from a couple of months ago that mention them, and that the memory size of the devices have been changed. This may explain why certain tasmota images have problems. There are also some upgrade tips for these older devices.

    https://www.digiblur.com/2020/09/tasmota-ready-smart-home-devices-no.html

    1. Trust me Martin, I am with you on deliveries more than you know – I’ve been expecting new and interesting review items due on 10th, 12th and 14th and here we are on 18th, deliveries finished in sleepy Spain for the weekend – and NOTHING from China. Getting new gadgets is one of my daily highlights – and all seems to have ground to a halt this week.

      What I don’t understand as author of ESP-GO (I’m not recommending that today) is why we didn’t a long time ago ditch ESP products that don’t have 4MB of FLASH – life would have ben so much easier. I used R Burton’s OTA scheme and could fully recover from flashing failure without any of this minimal code, a long time ago. Rant over – I’ll give the ATHOM stuff a go with Tasmota and see what happens, if it is any good I’ll write in here.

      As an aside I’ve just started the “Less than totally simple” task of upgrading my ESPs from 9.1.0.2 to 9.2.0.1 – first one done.

      Regards

      pete

      1. Thanks Peter,

        I’ll be very interested to read your views on the Athom kit.

        PS. Sorry for the huge picture of my ugly mug on the posting. In my haste, I thought that that was how I could add a small profile pic to my post (ie next to my name), and not some huge image. Please delete if you wish. Don’t want to scare anyone away.

      2. Just to let you know I am “lurking” and awaiting your news on the Athom devices. I have wasted too much time and money bricking Gosund/Tuya. In desperation I have resorted to Sonoff 8266 based mains switches re-programmed with Tasmota and connected them to 13A flying sockets. Not terrible aesthetic but functional. Am still looking for a “neat” solution that I can use with Node Red/Home Assistant.

        I await news!

        1. Antonio may pipe up in here and confirm – there are issues with Tuya-convert now – we really DO need something like Athom – I’ll push them and write in here with any results.

          1. as always, tuya convert is JUST for tuya devices… or better, it WAS, because tuya is moving from esp to rtl chipsets, and has patched the flaw used by the convert to hack the old esp ones… os, if you’re lucky to get an old model WITH OLD firmware, too, then use tuya convert… otherwise, forget about it, as forget about it if you have xiaomi or itead/ewelink devices…

            back to athom: they’re pretty good till now, i’ve 4 sockets and 2 lamps, all tasmotized… 2 sockets i had to crack/open them with fists as explained on blakadder site, and flash them via serial… after that, no issues, so far, sockets have power monitoring, too…

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