Home Automation

 

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What can an automated home do?

Please watch this short video of our house in action using the best Home Automation Software.

How it started...

I can remember the first time I walked through Sears and saw this new system to control lights remotely. It was called X-10 and I was probably 12 years old. Over the years I have installed many of these switches throughout the house to turn on lights and appliances from a small console on my nightstand.

Eight years ago I was introduced to a product that turned my hobby into an obsession. That is Home Automated Living’s HAL 2000. HAL is an operating system for your house. This software works with many "off-the-shelf" home automation products including all of those X-10 devices I already had installed. HAL has many unique features however, the most impressive is its ability to control all of these devices by voice. It does this by use of a very powerful (Speaker Independent) speech recognition engine designed by Lernout & Hauspie. "Speaker Independent" means you do not have to train it. Right out of the box it is able to accept your voice commands.

 

Whole House Control

In order to command HAL from different rooms in the house, I set up a Open air microphone system. This consists of installing microphones and speakers in 8 different locations throughout the house so the computer can hear you, and you can hear the computer. In order to command HAL you need to select a single phrase that will get HAL’s attention. I picked "Yo Superman!" as my attention phrase. This phrase was selected since it does not normally come up in general conversation and it consists of two words. When you say, "Yo Superman" Hal Responds, "How may I help you?" From here HAL listens for a wide range of commands. When you are done addressing HAL you simply say, "Thank you, that’s all, or goodbye" and HAL will go back to listening only for his attention word.  HAL's status screen actually shows your speech commands when your interacting with the software.

Of course you don’t need to install microphones and speakers in your home for voice control. HAL was designed so you can pick up any phone in the house, press #, and then tell HAL what you want her to do. In fact, you also have 100% control over HAL when you are away by calling your house from a telephone. For instance, I routinely call HAL from my cell phone to check email, voice mail messages or set the temperature, all by simple voice commands.

I was surprised how easy it was to install the software and set up all of the devices. You simply name all of your devices like, "Master Bedroom Lights" or "Reading Room Lamp" and associate the X-10 house code and unit number. When you want to control these devices you simply say, "Turn on the reading room lamp", or "shut off the master bedroom lights". You can actually schedule these devices by voice. For example you can tell HAL, "Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 PM, turn on the driveway lights, for two hours." HAL will respond by confirming your commands then automatically schedule the events. Of course you can also say, "Turn on the living room light for 5 minutes" and HAL will do just that.

Update: Because X-10 technology is old and unreliable, over time I replaced most of my X-10 light switches with Insteon switches from Smarthome. When I first started purchasing the Insteon switches they were very reasonably priced (about $20 each), however Smarthome has raised the prices substantially (about $45 each). The hardware quality of the switches is pretty poor. I have had about 30% of the switches go bad. Most of the problems are related to the switch not operating locally because the momentary micro-switch inside goes bad. As an alternative you may want to use UPB switches. The most recent HAL software version (4.0) supports both UPB and Insteon protocols fairly well.

 

 

Security System Control

Controlling lights is all good and fun, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. HAL can connect to a compatible alarm system via an RS-232 port on your computer. Now you can control your alarm system by voice. You can arm and disarm your security system from anywhere in the world.  The best part is that any door, window or motion sensor that is monitored by your alarm is now a sensor in HAL. HAL uses sensors to trigger events or act as a condition in a rule. For instance, when I come home and DISARM the security system, HAL runs a series of rules that I have set up:

bulletHAL announces, "Crap it's you again, I was hoping it was Cindy!" or "Hi there Cindy, nice to have you home." (Depending who just came home)
bulletThen reads the stock price of AT&T Wireless. L
bulletThen plays any new voice mail messages over the downstairs speakers.
bulletPuts the house in "Normal" mode.
bulletHAL Checks the temperature and if it is greater than 80 degrees announces, "I noticed it is damn hot in here, I will turn on the air conditioner and cool down the house" then carries out the action.  If it is colder then 70 degrees then HAL turns on the heat.

Of course when I leave the house HAL can jump into action when I ARM the security system:

bulletIf it is during the week, Monday through Friday, and between 7am and 10am HAL will shut down all the lights (Delayed 10 minutes so I can exit safely) then shut down the air conditioner.
bulletWhen I arm the security system HAL checks to see if the garage door is open. If it is open HAL will announce, "I noticed you left the garage door open, I will close it for you now" then HAL shuts the garage door.
bulletHAL waits 10 minutes then turns off the power to the garage door opener.  This is just in case someone breaks into a car and gets the garage door opener.  
bulletOnce the garage door is actually closed HAL announces, "The Garage door is shut" for further confirmation by an independent rule triggered by contacts on the garage door.
bulletHAL unlocks the car doors on my Honda Accord.

By now you have probably figured out that you can make HAL say anything you want to by adding a "text to speech" action in a rule. This is fun since you can make HAL say anything in a male or female voice! What’s really cool is having HAL play windows wave files based on actions in rules. Remember every door in the house is a sensor. In fact an opening door can fire one rule while the same door closing can fire another rule. You follow me yet? The Internet is filled with tons of windows wave files that can really animate your home. My front door plays a creaking door opening when it is opened, and a creaky door slamming shut when it is closed. The sliding glass door plays the elevator door sound effect from Star Trek when it is opened or closed. During Halloween we associated many scary sounds to doors, motion sensors and even the phone ringing. I have a set of stereo speakers, mounted in the eves of the attic in the front yard so I can listen to music on the weekends. Those speakers came in quite handy. Many small children did not approach our house that night.

I modified our bathroom scale with a wireless X-10 transmitter so whenever someone steps on the scale a humorous wave file is played throughout the house. This was recently mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal.

 

Controlling the temperature

Playing wave files with HAL definitely opened up the opportunities for fun, but next I wanted to add some practicality. I bought two bi-directional X-10 Thermostats, one for the heating and air and the other for our hot tub. Since these are X-10 thermostats I did not need to connect them directly to the computer. I simple replaced the existing thermostats with these RCS X-10 Thermostats then HAL had complete control over the air conditioner. Now I have the ability to control the air conditioner by voice. For instance I can ask HAL, "What is the house temperature" or "What is the spa temperature" and HAL will respond, "The temperature in the house is 78 degrees. You can set the temperature with voice commands or in rules. I also wanted to be able to control the hot tub pump, jets, blower and light so I purchased an RCS X-10 relay controller.  I set this up in HAL and now all I have to do is say, "Turn on the hot tub light" and HAL carries out my request.

Update: I recently replaced my RCS X-10 thermostat with a more reliable hard-wired RCS RS-485 thermostat. (I needed to use a RS-485 to RS-232 converter). I also now control the SPA with a Jandy AquaLink RS-232 interface.

 

 

Controlling Audio and video equipment

Now that I had control over the thermostats it was time to attack the audio and video devices. I wanted to be able to control every TV, Radio, VCR, and Replay TV with HAL. Not a problem. HAL can easily control any audio video equipment that supports IR (Infra Red) communications. With the use of an IR Controller (I strongly recommend Applied Digital's Ocelot) HAL can learn every button of every remote control in your house. Then you can control these devices by voice or by rules or macros. The tricky part of this is distributing the IR commands from the controller to the devices in your house. I came up with a pretty inexpensive way to distribute the IR to every TV in my house by using an Adicon SECU-16IR. This is a device that can send out IR to 16 independent zones. I used the existing cable TV lines in the house to carry the signal to the televisions. To learn how it was done click here. Now that I had the IR Distribution set up and had complete control over all of the TV’s and radios in the house, I needed an inexpensive way to tell when a TV was on or off. This is important since most remote controls send a "toggle" command to power on or off a TV. It is useful to know which state it is in before you send the command. To learn how to build an inexpensive X-10 TV Power Sensor click here.

These TV power sensors come in very handy because now HAL can tell if a TV is turned on or off. I have set up some rules in HAL where:

bulletWhen a phone rings HAL checks, which TV’s are on, and mutes the audio on those TV’s.
bulletWhen the phone rings HAL will pause the CD or DVD player then resume it when you hang up.
bulletWhen the doorbell rings, and we are home, (alarm is off) HAL plays a knocking door sound over the whole house audio system.
bulletWhen the doorbell rings and we are not home (alarm is on) HAL plays a growling dog sound over the whole house audio system.
bulletWhen the doorbell rings, and we are home, HAL changes any turned on TV to channel 88 (which is the front door camera) for 1 minute then JUMPS back to the channel you were previously watching automatically.
bulletWhen the doorbell rings and we are not home HAL powers on a VCR, changes it to channel 88 (Front Door Camera) and records 1.5 minutes of video and audio then stops and turns off the VCR and notifies me by e-mailing my wireless phone.

 

Play that funky music

The guys at Home Automated Living are always adding features to the software.  With the popularity of digital music on the rise they developed the DMC (Digital Music Center) for HAL.  The DMC allows you to record all your CD's to your computers hard-drive and play it all by voice!  That's right I can get HAL's attention then say, "Play Pink Floyd in the master bedroom." or "Play my eighties music in the downstairs."   You can even play music by genre like, "Play my hard rock music in the living room".  Once you rip your music or use your existing MP3's HAL automatically voice activates all your songs.  The best part is that you have complete control of you music via automation.  The HAL guys added a ton of automation controls so you can play music and control the DMC based on just about any event in the house.  Lets say you are listing to music and the phone rings, no problem... I created a rule that pauses the music when the phone rings and resumes the music when you hand up.  If you want to be able to specify a location to play the music.  (i.e. "Play Pink Floyd in the master bedroom.") you will need to give HAL the ability to control the speakers in each room.  I developed a low cost way to do this.  You can learn how to do this by reading the "whole house audio" section of this web site.

Update: Using my new 2-way Insteon light switches I made a few rules in HAL that will start, advance and stop the DMC music player from the light switch in the bathroom.

 

Who is home

HAL can even keep track of which car is home or away with a smart car sensor that I installed in each of our vehicles.  This gives the house the intelligence to adjust to our lifestyle depending on who is home. Here are some examples of what HAL can do: 

bulletHAL greets each of us by name when we come home.
bulletHAL turns on inside and outside lights at night, before we even get out of the car.
bulletHAL sets the answering machine to answer on 2 rings when both cars are not home.
bulletHAL announces who is arriving or leaving the house.
bulletHAL plays my favorite music on the DMC when I arrive home.
bulletHAL sends an e-mail (text message) to our cell phones indicating the other has just arrived home, but only when the other is not home.
bulletHAL Plays only Jim's or Cindy's voice mail messages depending who just got home.

 

MACROS

By now you are likely seeing the power of this incredible software. HAL is an operating system for your house. One of the best features of this software is the ability to create a macro that can be activated with a natural voice phrase. A macro can send a series of commands to all of the devices in your house. For instance, since HAL has complete control over the alarm, air conditioner, lights and televisions, it is only natural to create a macro like

 

> It's bed time.

bulletHal responds, "I will arm the security system."
bulletHAL bypasses the motion sensor and arms the security system.
bulletHAL Says, "I will lock the cars just in case you forgot."
bulletHAL locks the car doors.
bulletHAL says, "I will turn off all the lights in the house."
bulletHAL shuts off all the lights (Except designated outdoor lights).
bulletHAL says, "One Moment while I set the mood, who knows you might get lucky."
bulletHAL dims the master bedroom lights to 30%
bulletHAL Says, "I will set the temperature to a comfortable 76 degrees."
bulletHAL sets the house thermostat to 76 degrees.
bulletHAL turns on the bedroom ceiling fan for 20 minutes.
bulletHAL says, "Sleep tight my little angles."
bulletHAL Shuts off the master bedroom lights 10 minutes later.

 

> Get the hot tub ready

bulletHAL says, "I wish I could go in the hot tub! I will get the hot tub ready for you."
bulletHAL sets the hot tub temperature to 99 degrees.
bulletHAL turns on the hot tub light.
bulletHAL turns on the patio light.
bulletHAL turns on the hot tub pump.
bulletHAL turns on the hot tub jets. (Delayed 10 minutes).
bulletHAL Says, "I will let you know when the hot tub is ready.
bulletHAL then checks the hot tub temperature every 5 minutes to see if it is 99 degrees.
bulletWhen it reaches 99 degrees:
bulletHAL turns on the patio TV.
bulletHAL turns off the hot tub jets.
bulletHAL says, "The hot tub is up to temperature, enjoy the water."

 

> Lets listen to some music

bulletHAL Evaluates which microphone is being addressed then turns on one of three stereos.
bulletHAL Responds, "I will put on some CD’s on living room stereo."
bulletHAL Powers on the living room receiver.
bulletHAL Changes the input to CD.
bulletHAL Powers on the CD player.
bulletHAL puts the CD player to shuffle mode.
bulletHAL plays the CD’s

 

> Lets watch TV

bulletHAL Evaluates which microphone is being addressed and turns on one of four TV’s.
bulletHAL Responds, "I will turn on the family room TV an tune to CNN."
bulletHAL powers the family room TV.
bulletHAL changes the channel to CNN (3 second delay after power command.)

 

> Lets watch a movie

bulletHAL responds, "I love watching movies! I will prepare the house for a movie."
bulletHAL turns off all the lights in the house.
bulletHAL Dims the living room lights to 50%.
bulletHAL turns on the living room receiver and sets the input to DVD.
bulletHAL turns on the projection TV, which lowers the 10-foot screen.
bulletHAL opens the tray on the DVD player.
bulletHAL says, "Place the DVD in the tray. In 30 seconds I will start the movie."
bulletHAL then closes the tray and starts the DVD.
bulletHAL then dims the living room lights to 20%.
bulletHAL turns on the living room LAVA LAMP.
bulletHAL says, "Enjoy your movie."
bulletHAL sets a flag called, "movie time"
bulletHAL exits listening mode. Since the loud audio in the house is loud.

When the family room motion sensor is tripped and the "DAY" flag is false and the MOVIE TIME flag is true; a light turns on which leads the way to the bathroom. This is for when you get up to use the bathroom during a movie.

When the living room receiver is turned off from the normal remote…

bulletHAL notices the MOVIE TIME flag is true and turns on the lights.
bulletHAL says, "I hope you enjoyed the movie."
bulletHAL sets the MOVIE TIME flag false.
bulletHAL turns off the TV, which raises the screen.
bulletHAL turns off the LAVA LAMP.
bulletHAL turns on the bedroom lights.
bulletHAL enters listening mode.
bulletHAL shuts off the down stairs lights after 10 minutes.

 

Some macros are set up for pure entertainment purposes. Here are a few that I have available:

 

> What’s up?

bulletHAL Plays this wave file.

 

> Who is the president of the United States?

bulletHAL Says, "That’s easy, George W Bush"

 

> Who let the dogs out?

bulletHAL Plays this wave file.

 

> Go away!

bulletHAL plays this wave file as a response.
bulletHAL exits listening mode, an alternative to ‘goodbye’ or ‘thank you’.

 

Don’t think I'm obsessed. Some of these are just for the entertainment factor. You can program responses to macros that lead people to believe you are speaking with an actual assistant.

 

Schedules

Hal also has a powerful schedule feature that allows you to create reminders. For instance, I can call the house from my wireless phone and have HAL schedule a voice reminder to be played at a date and time in the future. When the time comes the recording is played throughout the house reminding me of the task. This is especially useful for repetitive tasks that need to be carried out on certain days. I have scheduled a reoccurring reminder that is played on Tuesdays and Sundays that reminds me to take out the trash. It is very specific as HAL announces, "Tonight is garbage night, please take all house trash and lawn clippings to the curb." Reminders can also be subtle and discreet. Every night at 10:30 I play a single wave file as a reminder for my wife to take her birth control pill. It’s so effective that some nights she takes two!

 

Occupancy Sensors

For the most part this is just one big educational hobby. But there are times where all this automation starts to make sense by taking over many repetitive daily tasks. If you follow your weekly routine you will find yourself doing the same thing day in and day out, usually at the same time of the day. These routine tasks are perfect opportunities for HAL to automate. Many of my macros and rules attempt to do just that. However it is a real triumph to not have to raise a finger in order to start a series of events. I have installed an occupancy sensor (motion detector) in our bathroom. This sensor is used to trigger many different rules depending on the time of day.

If the occupancy sensor is tripped between 6:45 and 8:45 AM

bullet
The bathroom lights turn on.
bullet
The thermostat is set back to 78 Degrees (So the AC doesn’t blow on you when your wet from the shower.)
bullet
The bathroom TV is turned on and set to NBC (Good Morning America)
bullet
The house is taken out of SLEEP mode and put into NORMAL mode.

If the occupancy sensor it tripped during the evening:

bullet
The bathroom lights turn on.
         - however if the house is in "SLEEP MODE" then
bullet
The bathroom lights turn on at 10% brightness for 4 minutes.

I installed these same occupancy sensors in just about every room in the house.  Walking into an unoccupied room, after sunset, causes HAL to turn on the lights.  I purchased some nice 2-way X-10 Switchlinc switches that fade to bright when turned on.  This gives a very cool effect as you walk into the room.  In addition, since these are 2-way switches they can report their status to HAL.  When the room is unoccupied for a preset duration HAL checks to see if the lights are on by polling the switches status.  If the light was left on then HAL announces throughout the entire house, "I see you left the lights on in the master bedroom but are no longer there.  I will turn off that light to conserve power and save money."  Then HAL turns off the lights in that room.  Here's the cool part: If you happened to be in the room but were simply motionless for a while, say reading a book, and you wave your arm (15 seconds after HAL made the announcement) HAL will turn the light back on and say, "Sorry I didn't see you there."  Of course he only says that over the speaker in that room.

For fun, I have a sound-effects mode that I can enable by voice.  For example, when the sound-effects mode is on and you walk into the guest bedroom HAL says, "Welcome to the guest bedroom, now take off your clothes and lets' get down to business."

 

Voice Controlled telephone book

HAL has a directory feature that can hold all of the names, addresses and phone numbers of your contacts. In fact if you use Microsoft Outlook HAL can use your existing phone book. Since we were recently married I took the wedding list that contained the names and numbers of more than 100 friends and relatives and imported them into HAL. This is extremely useful as all I need do to ask for someone’s home address is say, "What is the home address for Elizabeth kidder and HAL will rattle off that home address. The best part is that HAL can actually call them at home, work or their wireless phone. I was surprised how accurately it recognizes subtle differences in names. Since there are many different "Lipsits" in the directory I can ask HAL to call Dan Lipsit at CELL and HAL never misses. I can hear the call over the speakers in the house then pick up an extension when the calling party picks up. At this time I have not interfaced the microphones in the house to the input on the modem.

HAL also works great with caller-id. When a call comes in, HAL announces the caller ID name and number throughout the house. You can also leave custom greetings for your callers based on the caller ID. For instance I can open the phone book (all by voice) and ask HAL to leave a custom greeting for Dan Lipsit at CELL. If Dan calls from his wireless phone and HAL answers the custom greeting is played just for Dan. This adds a great level of personalization for your callers. Of course you can route those caller-id "private" calls to a special voice mailbox, which can contain a personal message just for telemarketers!

The HAL engineers are constantly adding features to the software.  In the latest 2.0 update they added a host of cool telephony features.  You can now associate a wave file to a entry in your phone book.  So you can get your friends and family to record custom caller-id announcements that will be played over the speakers in your house when they call.  They also added an option where you can instruct HAL to intercept calls from unknown or private callers or individuals you just don't like.  HAL then plays a custom greeting just for them and either hangs-up or takes a message.

 

Internet Information

HAL also downloads information from the Internet and makes it available by voice control. You select how often HAL goes to the Internet to update the following information:

1. Up to 40 different stock quotes

2. 10 current news events.

3. Your personal email.

4. TV Listings.

5. Weather conditions for your area for each day of the week.

6. Traffic information for a limited number of cities.

7. Sports scores for Football, Baseball, Soccer, Basketball and Hockey.

 

Expand the capabilities of HAL with Tell Me

I wrote a Add-On program to HAL that will retrieve information from the internet.  You can now ask HAL to tell you a joke or a poem.  You may want HAL to find the cheapest gas prices in your neighborhood.  With Tell Me, HAL can tell you what new movies are coming out and what he thought of them!  There are over 50 new internet download capabilities.  Best of all it's a free program; check it out here.

I’m sure you can tell that I’m pretty impressed with the HAL 2000 software. I could go on and on with additional capabilities. I hope to be adding to this web site as new products are introduced. I’m always looking for additional items to automate, if you have any ideals you did not see on this web site, please send me an email.

If you are interested in trying the HAL 2000 software Home Automated Living does allow you to use an unrestricted version of HAL for 30 days. In fact you can go download the software right now from their web site.

Be sure to check out the HAL add-on called My Servant!

 

Take Care,

Jim Lipsit

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