Light My Way…

Now to add some smart-home products! We’ve covered some interesting stuff over the last two blog posts, so now I want to turn our attention to adding the first (of hopefully many!) smart-home devices to Homebridge; my Yeelight bulbs. With seven lights to add, I’m hoping this proves to be relatively straight-forward so, without further ado, let’s get started!

 

A bit of background on these Yeelights first though: I purchased my first bulb a couple of years ago when smart-home technology began to appear on my radar. I’d recently taken delivery of my first Amazon Echo Dot, and I was keen to impress friends and family alike with the ability to control lights (or in this instance a single standing lamp!) just by using my voice. Like many folks, I’d seen and heard much about the Philips Hue eco-system of bulbs, lights, and hubs, but wasn’t prepared for the shock of just how expensive these products were. It was disappointing to see that I’d need a separate hub to control it all too – something I just didn’t want to do (at least at this point). Whilst there was (and still is) no doubt about the absolute quality of these products, it was simply a case of being way out of my budget range. So that’s why I felt so happy to suddenly stumble across Yeelights, a product from the Chinese Xiaomi stable. I’d not heard anything about this company, but it checked the necessary boxes in terms of price and usefulness, including the major bonus that a separate hub wasn’t required to get these setup and running. At a little over £10.00 GBP per bulb, it was also very reasonably priced and could be used with the downloadable Yeelight skill in Alexa, thereby achieving my desire to use voice as a control method. Aside from the annoyance of having to purchase a bulb-fitting adapter (bayonet to screw) separately, I was delighted with my purchase. Now, nearly two years later, that same bulb is still going strong, along with the others I subsequently ordered. They’re incredibly simple to set up too:

1) Download the Yeelight app
2) Click the ‘+’ symbol under ‘Device’
3) Select the type of product you’re adding
4) Follow the simple on-screen instructions.

In a little more than a minute you’ve added your bulb/light into the Yeelight app, and it’s fully controllable.

So what about adding Yeelights into Homebridge via HOOBS? How easy will it be? Is it even possible? Let’s find out by navigating back to http://hoobs.local, and entering our username and password. Hopefully, you’ll be looking at the main page ‘Status’ screen.


With minimal research on the HOOBS website, it becomes clear that adding smart-home devices into Homebridge is done simply by adding ‘plugins’ so, with a single click, I’ve selected the tab right next to the Status page. There are a couple of plugins pre-installed in HOOBS, so it makes sense to steer clear of messing around with them. Instead, I head for the search bar at the top of the screen which suggests I search for plugins to install.

With that, I type in ‘Yeelights’ and I’m almost instantly met with a range of plugins available. From here it is simply a case of reviewing each one by selecting the NPM button on each plugin. This opens a separate page which details the plugin, how it should be configured, and possible variables to the setup.

Initially, I found this to be a bit overwhelming, and I struggled to work out which plugin was needed. Because I own a mixture of white and colour bulbs, along with a set of strip-lights, it wasn’t immediately obvious which option I should choose. A calm head is needed here and, after reviewing each plugin again, it became more apparent which plugin matched well with my products. It’s also really helpful to see the popularity of each plugin on each NPM page, as it shows the number of downloads per week – a useful guide to show which ones other folk used.

It’s important to state right now that because we’re using HOOBS, we don’t need to worry about the installation section of the NPM page – the all-in-one package we’ve installed on to our Raspberry Pi takes care of this for us! How fantastic is that?

I close the NPM tab and now revert back to my HOOBS plugins page. It’s as simple as clicking ‘install’ on the required plugin for it to begin the speedy process of adding it to your Homebridge instance. A window pops up and gives you a visual guide of the installation progress, and a satisfying ‘Succeeded’ message briefly appears to tell you all is done. Then the pop-up screen is gone leaving you with your installed plugins displayed in a neat order for easy viewing.

That’s it then, right? Well, actually not – there’s more work to be done to configure your Yeelight plugin. Firstly we need to ensure that each yeelight bulb/strip has API/LAN enabled which is pointed out clearly on the NPM page, as you can see below. If you’re unsure how to do this, here’s the solution:

1) Open your Yeelight app

2) Select your bulb

3) Select circled option

4) Select LAN control

5) Toggle on

All done! Repeat this process for each Yeelight bulb you have.

Next, we need to configure our plugin. Fortunately, with Yeelight, you’ll discover that it is one of a select few plugins that don’t require much if any, configuration (although you can alter transitions, connection attempts, etc.). The config section sits directly next to the Plugins tab we’ve just come out of. I probably didn’t need to do it, but I opted to include the information in the configuration shown in the image below. It’s another case of keeping a calm head here, as one look at the config section could make you break out into a cold sweat! It did me, to be honest.

You have the main configuration block occupying the very top section, where you can change the name and pin lines if you wish to do so. Just be sure that the new pin that you enter matches the three-two-three number sequence of the original otherwise it won’t work. The two sections below this are ‘Accessories’ and ‘Platforms’. They display a number of open and closed brackets which, being honest, I initially hadn’t the foggiest idea of what they did. It’s now a case of replicating the configuration requirements from the NPM page with any necessary tweaks you need to personalise your setup.

It clearly states that this information (for Yeelights) should be placed under the ‘platforms’ section of the configuration. As I’m the type of guy who’s a little bit OCD when it comes to lining things up I make sure that the brackets I’m inputting into the config line up as well as I can make them do so. I quickly work out that for every open bracket shown in each plugin, a corresponding closed bracket must also be there. If there isn’t, it won’t allow you to save it. This is a really good idea as it forces you to learn quickly what format the configuration needs to be in. It’ll soon tell you if it’s not quite right!

Once you’re confident your input in the config page is correct, select ‘Save’ in the top right-hand side of the screen. A green ‘Success, config saved’ box will momentarily appear to confirm your achievement. Things are going to start getting exciting now! Open your ‘Home’ app on your iOS device, select ‘Rooms’ at the bottom of the screen and, if you’ve not yet created any additional rooms, you should see your bulb(s)/light strip, etc. nestled cosily alongside your Homebridge Hub. It makes sense to test it in its current location, so feel free to toggle the switch for your bulb(s) on and off. If it’s a colour bulb, a long press of the icon will offer up the option to change the colour too. If it’s all working – congrats! It might now be a good idea to start creating rooms in your ‘Home’ app in preparation for additional smart devices being added.

We’ve started our journey towards smart-home nirvana! Hope you’re enjoying coming along for the ride…

Next time: Personalising your Home App and adding Sonoff Tasmota devices

Getting the basics right.

Last time we talked a little about my background, summarising my stance on home technology, and detailing the general impatience I have at getting this sort of futuristic wizardry up and running. In this post I’m going to document my experience of getting started with HOOBS; the all-in-one, user-friendly ‘out of the box’ program put together, it would seem, to assist people just like me.

Let’s dive straight into it.

So we begin here -www.hoobs.org- to download the latest and greatest version of HOOBS (an acronym for Homebridge Out Of The Box System). My first impressions of the site are very positive; bright, but not overcrowded with information. I’m very quickly at the point on-screen where I need to be, and I’ll be using the most recent software version of HOOBS at the time of writing; v.1.1. HOOBS have impressively hit over a thousand downloads of the software already, all in a little over 45 days since they began! The download page helpfully details the key differences between the original version of the software and the new and improved update. It makes it crystal clear that the software image should not be unzipped after downloading so, as I want to get off on the right foot, I comply!

The next part of the procedure is totally routine to me as I’ve done it so many times before during the period I had using Home Assistant. You may recall that I’ve had multiple microSD card failures whilst running Hass.io or Hassbian, so I know how to format and flash an SD card. Muscle memory, you might say. Now there are two options here for you, dear readers – one unfathomably simple and the other fairly easy:

The simple, no worries version is this one: Go back to hoobs.org and scroll down to ‘HOOBS on MicroSD’, click ‘buy now’ and, well, that’s it! At a cost of €13.90 (around £12.08 in UK coinage), you get a pre-loaded 8Gb MicroSD card along with an adapter, plus case to protect both. Once received it’s simply a case of placing the MicroSD in your (compatible) Raspberry Pi and powering it up – it’s that easy. If you’re a ‘Noob’ like me and you want to minimise potential issues in formatting, burning the image, or anything in-between, this is the solution for you.

Alternatively, if you’re a glutton for punishment and you enjoy a bit of learning on the job, you can do all of this part by yourself. In the grand scheme of things, this is admittedly one of the easier elements of setting up Homebridge but do remember that this blog is really reaching out to those folks who, like me, are fascinated with home technology but don’t have the knowledge base to back up that interest. It really is starting from scratch. This second option assumes you have either purchased a suitable brand new MicroSD card or that you’ve formatted an existing card correctly using something like the excellent ‘SD Formatter’ program, which is freely available from the net. We now need to get the downloaded HOOBS image on to our MicroSD card, and we do that by using a really good program called ‘Balena Etcher’. It’s another free to download program from the net. If you’re working with SD/MicroSD cards then you’ll need this program at some point in your life. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve used it since I began using Home Assistant all those months ago, and I love it. It’s a case of simply selecting the image you’ve just downloaded from HOOBS, then choose the drive you wish to add it too (be very careful to select the correct drive here), and then simply clicking the ‘Proceed’ button. I’m using a SanDisk class 10 microSD card for this job, and I’m hoping that it will have some longevity while running HomeBridge in the Raspberry Pi 3B (RPi).

 

With the image successfully burned to the MicroSD card, it’s now time to insert it into my RPi. I already have an ethernet cable connecting it to my router just to keep things as simple as can be, and without the perceived added hassle (whether accurate or not) of having to configure WiFi. So, ethernet cable in – check. Power cable goes in – check. Lights dancing away in a frenzied fashion on the RPi? Sure are. I feel that I must remind you all at this point that my knowledge falls some way short when I’m working with all of this home technology stuff and you’ll, therefore, need to accept the descriptions of procedures, hardware, and software that I give with that firmly in mind. I’m very easily bamboozled with technically slanted terminology so, if you’re reading this as a ‘Noob’ too, I’d hope that you appreciate the simplified nature of some of the language used here. I’m not dumbing down my language specifically to help you – it’s the phrases and words I use to describe what I’m doing already. I’m just glad if it helps someone!

What happens next? Well, that’s simple too; just visit HTTP://hoobs.local and you’ll be greeted with an attractive looking login page. To start with it’s simply a case of entering the default username and password: ‘admin’ and ‘admin.’ That’s it! HOOBS is installed, and you’ll hopefully now be looking at the desktop panel, giving an overview of the Server Status offering the user valuable information, including whether HomeBridge is actually running, along with the uptime of the server. There’s more information displayed further down the Status tab which may or may not be of interest to you, and I shall let all interested parties reading this to work out for themselves which category I fit in!

There are three further tabs that sit alongside the ‘Status’ header; ‘Plugins’, ‘Config’ and ‘Accessories’ – but more on these later. You’ll notice on the ‘Status’ tab that the left-hand side of the screen is dominated by a QR code – the popular two-dimensional barcode invented way back in 1994 but, as far as I am aware, only gaining traction in the mainstream arena over the last 5-6 years or so. This code (or the three-block code directly below it) is fundamental in adding Homebridge into your Home application on your iOS or Mac devices. How you set this next part up is entirely up to you. The easy to understand instructions on the hoobs.org website suggests that you ‘tap the add button’ in the top-right corner…’of your Home app in iOS, selecting ‘add accessory’ and then inputting the three-block of code I mentioned previously. I have to say that I didn’t bother with any of that (here I go again, off-piste!), as I simply tapped on to ‘add accessory’ (after pressing the ‘+’ symbol in my Home app) and then scanned the aforementioned QR code through the scanner window now displaying on my iPhone. It worked instantly and immediately displayed my Homebridge Hub (at least, that’s what I’m calling it.) in a default room. If you’ve followed HOOBS instructions or mine, and you’re seeing the same results I’m describing, congratulations! How easy was that? If you revert to the ‘Status’ page of HOOBS, you’ll see that Homebridge is now running and a satisfying green check mark is displayed to show all is well.

I have to say, I’m loving the simplicity of how this looks and feels. Dare I say that it all seems too easy? Famous last words, I’m sure! So what comes next? You’re probably as eager as I am to get things integrated, right? One step at a time, folks – things are likely to get a bit tougher from here on in. We now turn our attention to all of the shiny smart home gear that I have scattered around my abode and what I hope to integrate with HomeBridge via the brilliant HOOBS. In my next post, I shall be attempting to add my Yeelight smart bulbs. These have served me very well, and I’ll be delighted if I can get them up and running, and most importantly, controlled via my iOS Home app. Over the coming weeks, I’ll also be looking to add my Xiaomi products, Yi Cameras and Sonoff devices, which were all ‘tasmotised’ previously to enable control by Home Assistant. After that, let’s see. I’m very much hoping to take up some of your suggestions for products to install so please do get in touch with your ideas.

Until next time, Happy HOOBing!

The journey begins!

If you were to ask me how I’d describe my love of smart technology I’d probably say ‘unhealthy’. I’m frequently diving headfirst into what I perceive is ‘new’ or ‘cutting edge’ ecosystems – often without any prior research, and usually without a clear view of where I want to end up with it.

What if you then asked me to give a self-appraisal of what I consider to be my level of expertise in this area? That’s a tad more difficult to quantify. If pushed I’d likely state that I have a ‘low to average skill-set’ topped off with a healthy level of a desire to achieve and a general high interest in tech. The thing is I’ve never had a particularly good attention span and I have, in all honesty, a propensity to look for immediate solutions from others, rather than fully (or properly) seeking answers for myself. The thing is though, I don’t believe for one moment that I’m the only one like this. I’ve shared the pain of many folks like me on smart-home forums – those who seek immediate assistance from experts and leave frustrated when they’re given technically complicated responses. I understand it from both sides of the argument; needing help to ensure you don’t completely mess up your smart-home, and the other viewpoint; suggesting people find their own solutions to the problem. The latter point would, in all likelihood, give the user a far better understanding of how the whole system works. Even though I know in my head that this is the best route to travel, I’m unlikely to change my mindset now.

 

My latest dalliance into the cloudy waters of smart-home tech involved trying to bring all of my devices under one roof. I heavily immersed myself in the world of Home Assistant (www.home-assistant.io) for a lengthy period switching often between Hassio and Hassbian (and never quite grasping either fully). There was a lot of upsides to using Home Assistant as my Smart Home Hub, which included:

1) Well over a thousand components compatible with the platform meaning many, if not all, of your smart devices would slide right in and be useable through one single interface.
2) The ability to stamp your own personality on the look and feel of the user interface.
3) The potential to install and run the software on a cheap Raspberry Pi with very little outlay after initial purchase and setup.

But with all of these positives come some negatives. I ran Home Assistant on a Raspberry Pi 3, and I burned my way through 5 micro SD cards in a little over a year – don’t ask me why as I simply don’t know. As a result, the semi-amusing acronym (often used on Smart Home forums), W.A.F. (Wife Approvement Factor), went seriously downhill, and I mean SERIOUSLY downhill. I also envisaged having an iPad mounted into the wall by my front door to help those who would choose button pressing over voice commands to control devices. Through all of the iterations of my Home Assistant, and also looking at other folks’ choice of wall-based UI, I just couldn’t imagine seeing any of those options displayed by my front door. It looked good on a laptop but was just, at least in my eyes, too finicky and cluttered to be considered useable for anyone visiting the house. This applied especially to those who may not have the prerequisite basic understanding of technology such as this.

One of the major positives to come out of using Home Assistant was the discovery of the superb HomeKit component. This little gem allowed your non-compliant devices to be integrated into Apple’s Home app. I don’t understand the wizardry behind this but I love everything about it as, you see, I’m a bit of an Apple fanboy. I’ve used iPhones since the 3GS graced the shelves of the local Apple Store. I’ve used Macs since before that. You can add iPads, AppleTVs, AirPort Extreme and Airport Express amongst some of the other devices I use currently or have used in the past. The tagline associated with Apple’s products of ‘it just works’ is one which, for me, rings true. Everything just works and, invariably, works together – seamlessly.

And that got me thinking…

Why didn’t I look into using HomeBridge as a stand-alone product? I love the look of Apple’s ‘Home’ App and the simple to use icons it displays for each device or component. Having given my customary minimal glance over the complexities of setting it up and adding components I decided to jump in with both feet. How difficult could it be for someone like me? As it turned out, very, as I struggled massively with understanding the process of installation and setup. I hadn’t even got to the point of installing my devices and that worried me. By some fluke, HomeBridge was eventually installed and I turned to the addition of components which is when metaphorically hit a wall. I’ll refer you back to the first few lines of this post regarding my impatience with following the rulebook. I don’t want to spend hours and hours trawling through pages of technical information which mean nothing to me in the vain hope it ‘clicks’ in my head and I then fully understand what I’m doing with it. I’m more of a visual learner in so much that if someone shows me how to do something I’ll generally pick it up pretty quickly. The upshot is that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to – even basic adding of bulbs. I was ready to go back to Home Assistant.

But that’s when I stumbled on HOOBS; a superb all in one solution to installing, setting up, and configuring smart home technology.

 

Once Bobby, the C.E.O. of HOOBS, approached me and suggested that I document my experience of installing and setting up HomeBridge with HOOBS, how could I refuse? This blog will undoubtedly shine a spotlight on some of the trials and tribulations of a ‘noob’ using HOOB, but it’ll also showcase the many success stories, however small, for a novice home-tech fan. If it inspires any of you along the way to click the ‘Download the latest HOOBS’ button then that would be wonderful! I’ll be writing generally on a fortnightly basis with updates on my progress, and I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and opinions on what I’m trying to achieve.

Happy HOOBing!