The Connected Cottage: Testing Out the Connected Cottage (Part 5)

Welcome to the fifth post The Connected Cottage series, leading up to Maria’s panel chair at The CSI Converging Home Summit on the 8th of May, 2014.

Each article in the Connected Cottage series includes a look at a Connected Home device and includes a practical description on how to install it and configure it and what works and what the issues are.

Thanks to Sigma Designs, one of the initiators of Z-Wave, for being the first to send me a test kit. This includes a Mi Casa Verde Vera3 smart controller and an Everspring AD142 Lamp Module amongst other things. (Mi Casa Verde means My Green House for those of you who don’t speak Spanish.)

They also sent me a Wi-Fi camera, but the lamp module is a good example to discuss the basics of configuration. Look out for setting up surveillance in the next issue.

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION COST
Mi Casa Verde Vera3
(Smart Controller)
http://micasaverde.com
Includes:

  • Wi-Fi: 802.11n
  • Z-Wave: with internal antennae
  • LAN ports: 4
  • WAN ports: 1
  • USB ports: 2
  • CPU: 500MHz MIPS SoC
  • Flash Memory: NAND 32 MB
  • DDR2 Memory: 128 MB
  • Power Input: AC 100~240v, 50-60Hz
  • Power Output: DC 12V/2A
  • Batter pack external, rechargeable
  • That extra memory is to run apps and preserve scenes
  • Can be used to set up universal IR control of your entertainment system
  • Can bridge to almost any control platform (Z-Wave, Insteon, Serial, X-10, etc.)
  • Manages up to 200 devices
  • Email and text alerts
$249.95
(Can order North American, European or Australian/New Zealand versions)
Everspring AD142 Lamp Module – Wireless Dimmer Plug
(Smart Light)
www.everspring.com
Includes:

  • Protocol: Z-Wave
  • Each module acts as a repeater
  • Frequency 868.42 MHz (EU)
  • Code Type Learning: Yes
  • Transceiver: Yes
  • Operating Range: Up to 100 feet
  • LED indication: Yes
  • Max Load: 400W
  • Power: AC220-240V / 50Hz
  • Operating Temperature: 0°C- 40°C (32°F-104°F)
  • Protection Degree: Indoor use
£24.99 + VAT (£29.99)
Similar products would be available in other territories.

Table: Test product details

I had previously controlled my lamp with a Europasonic ES113 digital plug-in programmable timer socket. Three cost just under £20 and are configured through buttons and an LCD display on the plug. Different times can be set for days of the week and a random offset can also be added. This takes between 5 and 30 minutes to configure depending on the detail required. It’s easy and cheap but not remotely accessible or programmable.

So what more do we get from a smart controller and smart light?

In size it looks similar to the existing timer albeit a little smaller and sleeker. It is still visible, however, and not something that can be hidden inside a wall socket.

A Plug-in Dimmer Receiver: The Everspring AD142 Lamp Module

The Connected Cottage: Lamp Module

The Lamp Module (and a 1950s Strand Light)

1) Plug the module in
2) Plug the lamp (< 400W) into the Lamp Module
3) Turn the lamp on

Nothing happens. To turn it on manually:

4) Press and release the button on the Lamp Module.

The button glows red when the light is on and goes dark when the light is off. Pressing it toggles between on and off and holding it gradually dims or brightens the light. Releasing it holds it at the desired light level.

While that’s useful, I have to go the wall socket every time I want to do something with the light.

Enter Z-Wave. This Lamp Module also acts as a repeater for the Z-Wave to retransmit the RF signal around the house when I start adding in other devices.

The Z-Wave Smart Controller

The Connected Cottage: Mi Casa Verde Vera 3 smart controller

Mi Casa Verde Vera 3 smart controller

In the box is a Mi Casa Verde Vera3 smart controller, an Ethernet cable and two power sources. One plugs the Vera3 into mains power. The other is a battery pack that allows the Vera3 carried to within a 3 foot (1 metre) range of the device for pairing (inclusion or exclusion).

I can attach the Vera3 to my existing router or set it up as my main one. As I’d rather not reconfigure everything at this moment, I connect it to my existing router provided by Virgin Media cable.

After I plug in the Vera3 and connect the Ethernet cable from the WAN port on the Vera3 to a spare port on my router I visit the online set-up wizard on Mi Casa Verde website.

It recognises the Vera3 and says I need to update my firmware. To my pleasant surprise that goes smoothly and I’m given a link to go to the Vera3 setup page with an IP address dynamically allocated by my router’s DHCP.

The Connected Cottage: Vera3 location configuration

Vera3 location configuration

I set up the time and location, so that it knows my latitude and longitude to correctly calculate sunrise and sunset – something I’ll use to automate my newly installed light. It also asks me for my KWH (kilowatt hour usage) price for my electricity. It works fine for a basic configuration but British Gas has two price tiers (it gets cheaper with significant usage) which this doesn’t capture.

The Connected Cottage: Light recognised by Vera3

Light recognised by Vera3

The next step is to get it to recognise my light.

Including and Excluding

I unplug the Vera3 and plug it into its roaming battery pack. When I’m within 3 feet of the lamp module I press the Vera3’s Z-Wave button to put it into low power inclusion mode, and push the button on the Lamp Module to identify the device. The Vera3’s Z-Wave light flutters for a couple of seconds to let me know it’s done it. When I press the Vera3’s Z-Wave button again it returns the router to normal mode. I create a Living Room “room” which can be used to compartmentalise the devices into zones.

Remote Controlling from an iPhone App

The Connected Cottage: Vera3 iPhone App

Vera3 iPhone App

I can now turn my light on and off and dim it from my computer. I’ll admit I was hoping for more than this by now. On the website I find a link to the app for my iPhone. I download it and am asked to create an account. I do this online then log on using the iPhone app. I can now dim it from my iPhone and turn it on and off. That’ll be fun messing with my houseguests. But how do I automate it?

Automating the Light

An Automation tab with subsections on Scenes, Triggers, Schedules and a New Scene looks promising.

Add a New Scene

The Connected Cottage: New Scene

New Scene

I first have to add a New Scene. This doesn’t go entirely smoothly the first time as you can’t just add the light and automate it, you have to add the light in a state, e.g. light on and then automate it.

I select “New Scene”. Under Living Room is my “_Dimmable Light”. Clicking the “On” button under the light simulates the action. I name the scene “Light On”, leave it as Immediate (i.e. without any delayed actions such as auto-turn off 1 minute later) and select it in the Living Room. Then I “Confirm changes”.

Add the Trigger

Now I can add the trigger to turn the light on.

The Connected Cottage: Add Trigger

Add Trigger

All of the available actions for the device are listed and with a light I’ve only got two options: turn it on or turn it off. Easy! Remember to map the right button to the right action.

I can also set up a notification to myself when an action, such as the light turning on is activated. This may be useful if the light is triggered by a motion sensor as part of an alarm, for example. In this instance I decide not to send myself a notification, as my existing surveillance camera already sends me notifications when lights turn on and off.

To turn the light off, I do all the same set of actions. Add a New Scene called “Light Off” and click the “Off” button under the light. Then add the trigger to turn the light off.

Set the Schedule

The Connected Cottage: Create Schedule

Create Schedule

Once I’ve added the trigger to turn the light or off on I can schedule the trigger. I choose to turn it on at sunset.

As for turning off I choose different times for every day of the week. It does mean my weeks will be regular but my days won’t.

As a note, selecting “Run” activates the trigger at that moment so you can test that the trigger works, but you’ll need to wait for the scheduled time to test the schedule.

How Was the Experience?

It took me a couple of hours to configure the light. Unfortunately the documentation on the install isn’t quite as good as the documentation on the website and none of it makes it clear that there’s an iPhone app. The consumer needs to be a little tech savvy to configure this, more-so certainly than setting the times on a programmable lamp timer. The up-side is a light that is remotely controllable. I also understand the basics now so presumably setting up the Z-Wave surveillance camera should be easier. It will be interesting to compare that to the setup of the Wi-Fi surveillance camera as well.

As this article was first written in the summer of 2013 it’s possible that the process has gotten a bit smoother by now!

How Does the Home Connect in the Future?

I’ve also had a browse around the Mi Casa Verde site – there are over 100 apps available for the Vera3 and you can programme your own. These enable everything from connecting the Vera3 to a Phillips Hue bridge to a wake up light program. Most of the apps seem to help connect the Vera to other modules or ways to make some of the scheduling easier.

But that makes it quite clear that if I want those lovely Philips Hue light bulbs (and I do) I also need a Hue Bridge. I can see the shelf under my TV getting crowded with routers, smart controllers and bridges between every system.

According to IHS over 300M Smart Home nodes will have shipped between 2010 and 2017. And between 2010 and 2018 35% of that total global Smart Home Market will be ZigBee and 12% will be Z-Wave. That said, IHS also say that between 2010 and 2018 Z-Wave will take 30% of that market in the home security sector, but ZigBee still dominate that sector with a 32% share.

With those two as the biggest players that still leaves a lot of fragmentation for other devices and protocols. And a lot of stuff on the shelf. Let’s see if the Multimedia Home Gateways can solve that.

Find Out More

To find out more about the Connected Home and meet Maria, come to The CSI Converging Home Summit on the 8th of May, 2014.  Maria is chairing the Future Smart Home Opportunities and IoT panel.

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