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 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.
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.
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.