Roomba!

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Networking

I’m a geek and proud of it, so when my 26 year old canister vacuum’s motor seized up and died and ugly death, it was a choice of which “connected” vacuum to purchase and not a “should I” purchase decision. There were only two to consider, iRobot’s Roomba 980 and a Neato Botvac Connected Vacuum. While Neato’s vacuum was cheaper, iRobot has been in the business a long time, and I ultimately used that plus reviews and am the happy owner of a Roomba 980.

 

roombaThere’s no question that these Wi-Fi controllable robotic vacuums are expensive, but using my (admittedly skewed) justification math, if I value my time at $50 an hour (a low ball as I know my time is worth more than that) and compare to a Dyson, or an Electrolux, the extra $$ don’t seem very large. And I get back a couple of extra hours a week that I don’t have to spend dragging the old canister around my home. And if I didn’t mention it, I loathe vacuuming.

Roomba does an awesome job on my carpeted and linoleum floors, switching transparently from carpet mode to floor mode. And Roomba is actually quieter than my old canister.

Roomba 980 comes with a Home Base Docking Station and this amazing little guy finds his way back to the Home Base when a cleaning job is finished or when it needs to recharge in the middle of a cleaning job if the battery runs low. Once charged, Roomba just picks up where it left off. This vacuum comes with these two battery powered virtual lighthouses that work in two different modes that allow you to “mark” areas off limits. So I don’t have to worry about that tangled mess of cords and wires around my Living Room home theater setup.

While you can operate Roomba from the button controls on the top of the device itself, the real advantage is control from your smartphone. Only iOS and Android are supported (same story for the Neato Botvac), but I’ve become accustomed (sadly) to lack of Windows and Windows device support in the Connected Home arena. Fortunately, I have an iPhone.

And the real joy of owning a Roomba is remote control using the smartphone app.

 

 

The App is Everything

On a basic level, the app displays the battery information and all you have to do is tap Clean and let Roomba do its thing. However, you can tap your way down to more functionality that lets you view Care (what parts need cleaning), a History of cleaning jobs/cycles, Settings and even Help.

clean and chargemorecarejob history

Cleaning the appliance takes maybe all of 5-10 minutes and the Care status screen lets you visually see what might need attention. While the bin needs to be emptied after each job and the HEPA filter banged against the inside of a trash can a few times after every job, other Care tasks can be done weekly or monthly, depending on usage. The app provides all the info needed to perform these tasks, including videos on “how to” do these things.

clean debris extractorshelp videos

If you can’t tell that I’m impressed with this latest addition to my Connected Home.. I can assure you I am.

Insteon and Sonos Happy Together

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Home Automation, Insteon, Sonos

 

 

insteon

I’ve had my Sonos Play 5’s since 2010 and started my Insteon Connected Home in 2012. And now, I’m happy to say that Insteon has made it possible to incorporate Sonos speakers in my little connected world. As announced at CES 2016, Insteon integration makes it possible to incorporate music into your Insteon scenes, control scenes and playback via keypads, mini remotes and more, and use the Insteon App to control speakers.

Supported features are as follows:

Control play, pause, volume, and tracks for a Sonos Player from an Insteon Keypad, Mini Remote or Wall Switch
Trigger a Sonos preset from an Insteon Keypad, Mini Remote or Wall Switch
Use a scene to trigger a Sonos preset

 

Setting it Up for the First Time

 

 

discover sonosIt takes a few steps to get all of the new features this set up, starting with discovering your Sonos speakers. You can add up to four speakers; they all should be discovered, but you will need to go back and add them one at a time (those already added will be greyed out).

If you have trouble setting up your Sonos speakers, check http://www.insteon.com/support-knowledgebase/ for a solution.

Once you’ve added your Sonos speakers, you can immediately use the Sonos transport controls within the iOS app (Play, Pause, skip, volume up or down, next, previous, etc.).

In order to reap the full benefits of Sonos integration with Insteon, you’ll need to setup presets using the Insteon App in combination with the Sonos app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set Up Presets

 

Currently, up to 10 presets are supported (and these are shared among all Sonos speakers controlled by Insteon). Also, only Pandora stations are officially supported at this time. I don’t know if other music services will be added over time.

To get started adding presets, the first step is to open the Sonos App on your iPhone and start playing the station you want to configure in the Insteon app.

1. Open the Sonos App and play the station you want to use as an Insteon preset.

2. Go to Devices, Edit Devices, and select a Sonos player and then select Add a Preset.

3. If the station you want is playing, tap Next when prompted.

4. Change the name if you don’t like what is automatically configured and then tap Done.

 

steps add preset

 

Setup Scenes that Include Sonos

 

 

scheduleThis is a very big deal for me. Previously, I could set Sonos Alarms to wake me to music and separately set some schedules scenes in Insteon to turn on lights at the same time. With this new functionality, I’ve been able to create a scene that turns on lights and wake me to the Doobie Brothers Pandora station and use Insteon to schedule an ON time and and OFF time. Once you’ve configured your presets, if you’re familiar with the Insteon App, it’s very easy to setup a scene that includes Sonos speakers, and then configure a schedule.

I’ve got my two Sonos players grouped, using the Sonos App on my iPhone so I’ve got the same music playing upstairs and downstairs. My home office is a loft room that shares a cathedral ceiling with the master bedroom, and the Office Sonos sits on the railing and fills both the loft and the bedroom with sound.

I don’t think I’ve had a better “wake up and get out of bed” alarm, ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Remotes and Keypads and

 

More to Control Sonos Playback

 

 

In addition to all the above, Insteon devices such as wireless mini remotes, keypads, plug in modules/on off switches, etc. can be used to control Sonos functions. Using an 8 button Insteon mini remote, you can assign a preset to each button and have an arm chair remote for your favorite 8 stations. Or set up a motion sensor to trigger Sonos music.

Bottom line, if you’re an Insteon user with Sonos speakers, all of this is coming your way in the very near future. Watch http://www.insteon.com/sonos/ for news.

HomeKit, Philips Hue Bridge 2.0, and Siri Stops Working

Posted Posted in Connected Home, Home Automation, HomeKit

 

Philips Hue has some awesome lights and devices for decorating your home with light and providing home automation. The original Philips Bridge enabled me to control lights via an iPhone app and a few third party iOS apps let me sync to music and movies. It was cool. Then Philips released Bridge 2.0, a HomeKit enabled device that added Siri voice control from iOS devices and the Apple Watch. I already had Insteon and Lutron HomeKit enabled bridges and products and went rushing around to buy the new bridge.

It sure was great to push a button on my Apple Watch and let Siri turn on some lights, especially from my car as I was pulling up to my front door. I’ve set up some scenes, defined by color and lights, so when I tell Siri to turn on TV time, I get red and blue Hue Bloom lighting turned on.

tv time bloom

I’ve got a daylight and blue light scene for my kitchen. (And I can even tell Siri to set the Kitchen to Pink if that is my current mood).

kitchen

 

And I’ve got a bunch of color scheme scenes for the stairway going from the first floor to the second floor.

 

stairway

Siri can dim individual lights by percent and more. It’s pretty handy. And of course Siri turns on my individual Insteon powered and Lutron powered devices, scenes, rooms, zones and more. Between my iPhone and my Apple Watch, I can use Siri to control everything. (Note: Amazon’s Alexa voice control can turn my Insteon powered lights and some of my Hue devices, excluding Lightstrips for some reason, on and off.)

Except when it all stops working with Siri. https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7275389 and Reddit and elsewhere all have posts from unhappy users.

While bridges from other vendors seem to work without glitches, Hue’s Bridge 2.0 suffers from some kind of bug where there are several conditions that will cause Siri and HomeKit to stop working (only for the Hue devices, the other devices continue to work fine). Resetting HomeKit in certain situations will also not fix the issue as the Hue App reports “Another user already paired the HomeKit enabled bridge. Please ask the user to share his / her home kit settings in order for you to start using Siri voice control“. There’s nothing you can do to fix this. Reset your bridge and it may work for a while, but one to four hours later, bang, stops working. Rinse and repeat. In fact, simply resetting HomeKit may trigger this issue. It’s a mess.

The scenarios that cause this may be related to owning more than one iOS device configured with the SAME iCloud ID.https://discussions.apple.com/message/29148317#29148317 And whether or not having bridges from multiple vendors is part of the recipe for failure is also unknown. I’ve heard of related issues with folks sharing their Home as well https://discussions.apple.com/message/29148317#29148317. Apparently the user you share with has to delete a “Primary Home” and then possibly can control a Shared Home. I haven’t tried myself.

I probably called support 8 times. I kept asking for a replacement bridge. I was turned down multiple times. I was told a fix was coming. Sometimes I was told it was Philips App fix and other times I was told it was a HomeKit/iOS fix. Escalation said that engineering could not reproduce the issues. After a few more calls a week ago, Philips agreed to replace my bridge.

I changed my two other iOS devices to a different iCloud ID and reset HomeKit on those devices. I left the iPhone as it was. I set up the new bridge (had to use the serial number/mac addresses of all my lights) and for a while the Hue App saw both the old and new bridge even though the old bridge was offline and reset. But Siri/HomeKit functionality returned and is still working 5 days later.

HomeKit and My Connected Home

Posted Posted in Connected Home

 

The Internet of Things isn’t arriving fast enough for me, but I’ve managed to jumpstart my Connected Home’s entrance into this brave new world thanks to Apple’s iOS HomeKit.

What I have now using HomeKit is a preview of things to come, and I’m hoping that iOS9 brings some improvements and refinement, as has been rumored by many who more actively follow the iOS ecosystem. And I’m happy to play with what I have today, a somewhat fragile but working system that lets me control HomeKit enabled devices from multiple vendors both from my iPhone 6 and by voice command using Siri over my home network.

Most of the top tier Home Automation and Control vendors like Insteon and Lutron, who already had bridges and addressable devices in the marketplace, are introducing HomeKit enabled bridges or have introduced them. Existing dimmer switches and on/off switches should work with the new bridges, but battery powered devices like motion sensors most likely will not work. There may be support for motion sensors in iOS9, but it’s not known if existing sensors will need to be replaced by a new HomeKit enabled sensor.
HomeKit can control devices, scenes that control multiple devices, rooms, and zones, depending on the iOS app. You need to add/discover a particular vendor’s HomeKit enabled bridge and you’ll need to add devices from a particular vendor using that vendor’s app. Once devices are enabled, you can use any vendor’s app to configure scenes, rooms, and zones, provided that the app supports this.

There are only a few apps in the iTunes Store that work with HomeKit devices. Lutron’s App is sandboxed and only controls Lutron devices. It does recognize Rooms created by other apps. It can create Scenes, but only using Lutron devices as HomeKit devices from other Vendors don’t appear in their app.

lutron scenes

 

 

Insteon’s HomeKit enabled Insteon+ App has full HomeKit integration and no restriction on using other vendor HomeKit devices in scenes. I can include Lutron dimmers in scenes I create in the Insteon+ app.

 

insteon scenes

 

While I don’t have any Elgato devices, I actually like the Elgato Eve app best because it is easier for me to read. The Elgato Eve app also lets me add/edit scenes and rooms.

elgato eve

 

I’ve got Hey Siri enabled on my iPhone 6. And I’ve got a charging cradle in my Bedroom where my iPhone spends the night. Siri integration with HomeKit is not perfect, but it’s pretty cool to tell Siri to run on a light or a scene, as shown in my video.

To control devices over cellular or while away from home, a 3rd generation Apple TV with firmware 7+ is required. I found that I had to move my Apple TV from Ethernet to Wireless for this to work. I also had to sign out and in to iCloud a few times. HomeKit works remotely using iCloud integration. Siri commands over cellular didn’t work, but using the actual Apps on my iPhone worked fine (with a short delay).

All in all, this is great fun for an over the bleeding edge geek.

iCreation i700 cordless phone with Link to Cell

Posted Posted in Connected Home, iPhone

 

My Connected Home now includes an iCreation i700/i700e Cordless with Link to Cell System and I couldn’t be happier!

 

i700_i700e

When I realized my old Uniden 5.8GHz cordless phone system was slowly dying (and the proprietary, even generic replacement batteries for it were $16 each) I started investigating what was going on within the world of cordless phone systems. It became clear to me that what I really needed (or wanted) was a way to use my cell phone from all the extensions in my three-story townhouse style condo as well as my landline. Cordless telephone systems have evolved and changed greatly since I bought my Uniden system around 8 years ago. It was time to move to DECT.    

I did a lot of online research. The major players like Panasonic, Vtech, AT&T, etc. all seemed to have DECT systems that supported cell phones using some kind of link to cell. The nomenclature for this feature varies from vendor to vendor.

Reading through the various reviews on multiple websites and checking some of the forums I realize that some people were having issues linking their cell phones using the systems that were there. Since I have an iPhone, I specifically looked for reviews and forums that mentioned iPhone. What I really wanted to do was be able to link my iPhone to a new cordless system and be able to use the contacts already stored on my iPhone for an address book on the cordless system. Again I spent a lot of time looking and reading and finally decided on the iCreation i700 cordless DECT system. While there weren’t many reviews at all about this phone, the few I found were extremely positive. One of the things that I found particularly reassuring was that this particular system carried the made for iPhone logo designation.

I also noticed was that the Sharper Image was selling this particular system (although at an obscenely higher price than anyone else). Usually, if Sharper Image carries a gadget, that gadget works as advertised (in my experience anyway). This is not an inexpensive system and it’s probably 80% higher in cost than the newest top of the line cordless DECT systems with comparable features from folks like Panasonic etc. that support this link to cell phone technology. The i700 is also not in abundant supply throughout the United States. The official US distributor/vendor appears to be clearsounds.com but I found several companies selling the system at a much lower price and placed my order through Amazon. This is the first time that I purchased an electronic gadget without actually trying it out in the store or seeing it in a friend home.

The i700 proved to be nearly everything I wanted and expected. It does not have a built in answering system for landline phones, but that was not on my list of requirements, since my phone service through Comcast provides cloud based voice messages, etc. And if I decide to give up my landline (a definite possibility at some point) this is also not an issue. It supports up to 5 extension handsets. I had 6 with my old Uniden system, but it was probably overkill to have a phone in the bathroom.

The system supports pairing two different iPhones (well, I only have one and pairing it with the i700 was easy) and in addition to a local contacts/phone list that you can manually create, supports downloading contact from your iPhone via Bluetooth.

icreation4

This worked exactly as advertised (and was incentive to clean up and delete/edit a ton of contacts that were gathering dust). These appear on all registered handsets. Registering additional handsets is a breeze. When you create a list of local contacts, it needs to be done on each handset, fortunately a task that only needs to be done once to get started (and adding anything new to each handset as time goes on). My old Uniden system had a feature to copy the phonebook to other registered handsets, which would have been easier, but this is one of the few negatives for me.

 

icreation2

The handsets allow me to take or place calls from either my landline or my cellular line. There are logs for missed/answer calls, etc. and visual indicators when you miss a call or have a message waiting (landline) if your service supports this. I found the menus very intuitive and easy to navigate. The buttons are nice and large, and oh my, the call quality clarity is superb. I use the speakerphone quite a bit and the sound was crisp and clear. When you pick up the phone at night in a dark room, the lit buttons and display are incredibly readable.

icreationnight

Am I concerned about the new iPhone 5 connector and the old connector style charging dock in the base unit? Nope. I wrote the manufacturer who replied within a few hours that they are producing a cradle adapter (but that I would need to purchase the 30 pin to Lightning adapter from Apple) and that they would arrange for the US distributor to send me one next month. They even sent an image showing what it would look like. If you have ever written a Consumer Electronics manufacturer blindly without having a pre-existing contact person, you know that this is not normal behavior. I’ve had several emails back and forth. I like these guys and I like their product.

iAdapter

Am I concerned about having something OTHER than an iPhone down the road? Nope. I suspect that I would be able to pair any phone which support Bluetooth technology (but would not be able to download the phones contact list).

Anyway, I’m happy with my system, and that’s what counts for me.