SmartHome Makes School Mornings Easier

One thing all parents can agree on is that anything that can help to get our kids out the door to school on time is a good thing. 

Anyone who’s done any reading on parenting is familiar with the idea that a routine is the best thing you can do for your kids. So I decided to put together a smart home routine to give my kids some visual cues to get out the door on time. 

In an effort to make getting out the door just a little bit easier in the morning, I’ve setup a home automation trigger that causes the living room lights in my house to go to a specific color at 7:20am.  I then told the kids that when the lights go purple, it’s time to brush teeth and get their school bags ready because it’s almost time to go. 

It’s such a simple thing, just a light changing colours and yet I’ve already seen a difference my kids behaviour in the first week. I can’t promise it will work for your kids, but hey, it’s worth a shot right?

The Pieces

You’ll need the following pieces to get this working. 

  • AppleTV gen4
  • Philipps Hue color bulb

To be honest, you could probably pull this off with just IFTT and the Philipps Hue Light bulb, but I’ve got the AppleTV and this IS a HomeKit focused blog right?

Setting HomeKit Automation

I’m assuming you’ve already got the Philipps Hue coloured light bulb and the Philipps Hue bridge already available as an accessory in your Apple Home app. 

The Scene

The first thing we’re going to do is to setup the desired scene that we want to trigger upon our condition. In Apple HomeKit speak, that means setting up a scene.

We’re going to open up our Apple Home app and click on the + sign in the top right corner. Then we’re going to tap on the Add Scene button.

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We’re now going to name our new scene Time for School. Making it clear and  descriptive is always going to be helpful not just when we select it during the add automation step below, but also in the future when you decide you want to modify the colors. Next we’re going to tap on the accessories button.

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Now we’re going to scroll through the available HomeKit accessories to fine the specific lights we’re looking for. Remember, we want to use the coloured lights so I’m going to select the three coloured lights I have in my living room.

You have assigned all your HomeKit accessories to Rooms right? 

Once you’ve picked the lights you want, you tap on the Done button.

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We can see that the three accessories are now selected and assigned to the Time for School scene.We need to make sure they are selected so that when the scene is activated the lights will turn on. Looking good! But we’re not quite finished yet. Remember we want these lights turn to a specific colour, right?  So for that, we’re going to tap and hold each of the lights to set the colour.

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You’ll be presented with the accessory page where you’ll be looking for the color button. Of course, you’re going to want to tap on this button.

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You can now select from one of the options shown, or you can tap on the edit button in the middle to select your own custom colour. When I discussed this with my kids, they wanted purple as the heads-up colour. So I’m going to tap on the edit button to bring up the colour wheel and select the appropriate color.

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This might not be obvious from the picture, but this is as easy as just dragging your finger to the specific color that you want your lights to appear. Then you click the Done button. Repeat the colour steps for the lights that you’d like to use for this scenario.

Hint: You’ll want to test this out while watching your lights. The color on the app is not always the color of the bulbs. Make sure you’re happy with it. The good news is you can always come back and change it later!

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Once you’re done, you can select the Test this Scene button to make the scene is what you want it to be. Once you’re happy, select the Done button.

Hint: I usually don’t select the Show in Favourites selector for scenes which I’m going to automate. I want to set it and forget it. No point in taking up valuable screen space on a scene which I’m automatically triggering, right?

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The Automation

 

Now that we’ve setup the scene, we need to add the automation. For this, we’re gong to tap on the Automation icon at the bottom of the Apple Home app. We’re then going to scroll to the bottom of the list and tap on the Create new Automation button.

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Next we’re gong to select the A Time of Day Occurs trigger option. 

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We need to leave at 7:30am in the morning, so I’m going to give my kids a 10 minute warning. So we’ll set up the time of day trigger to occur at 7:20am only on weekday mornings. Once you’re happy, tap on the Next button.

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Now we’re going to scroll through the list and select the Time for School scene that we created above. See how helpful it is when we use good descriptive names?  Once the Time for School scene is selected, tap on the Next button.

Hint: We could have skipped the scene step above completely and just assigned the accessories directly to the automation. In my experience, this makes it hard in the future to figure out why things are happening in your house. I’ve found it much more useful to add the scene with a descriptive name which I can then edit and change in the future as my heart desires. 

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Now is the last step, we simply verify that the automation is happening at the right time and that the right scene is assigned. As you can see, the Time for School scene will activate weekday mornings at 7:30am. If you’re happy tap on the Done button.

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People tend to meet your expectations

I’m a firm believer that people, even little people, tend to meet your expectations. As long as they understand what those expectations are. In my house, the lights go purple and the kids understand that I expect them to start getting ready to get out the door.  We’ve only had this going on for a week, but I can tell you that we’ve certainly had better mornings since I put this in place.

Interested in trying this yourself? Reach out and let me know how it goes!

Introduction to HomeKit Home Automation

Apple HomeKit was the logical place for me to start. I’m sure the other systems are great and I might investigate more in time. But HomeKit is where I started looking.

Starting a new blog is always an interesting moment. My other blog is still moving along, but I’ve decided that I want to keep my homekit adventures mostly separated from my normal tech related posts.  Hopefully there will be people who find both interesting and will have enough patience to add me twice to their RSS feeds.

So let’s start with some of the simple things, all of these could definitely use a deep dive, but we’ll dip our toe in the pool and get to the details later, ok?

Why HomeKit

There were other options out there such as SmartThings, GoogleHome, and others, but I’m already deep into the Apple ecosystem. I’ve got Apple computers, laptops, iPads, iPhones, AppleTvs.  No Apple Watch yet. So Apple HomeKit was the logical place for me to start. I’m sure the other systems are great and I might investigate more in time. But HomeKit is where I started looking.

When it comes to things happening automatically in my house; security is top of mind for me and Apple has a pretty good track record here. Knowing Apple has taken the burden of ensuring that whole system is encrypted ( hidden ) and that the security of the  communication between the devices from the various ecosystem vendors meets a high-standard.

To go through the Apple certification process, it’s pretty strict and they also provide a hardware chip that needs to be put into the hardware device. This adds cost and time for vendors to bring it to market, but it makes me sleep better at night knowing my automated lock is a little harder to hack than the competitors.

What is HomeKit

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HomeKit is the home automation framework that apple released back in iOS 8. I knew it existed at the time, but honestly didn’t really pay attention too much as there wasn’t an ecosystem of products or applications that gave me a reason to be excited. Even Apple didn’t have an application that allowed you to work with HomeKit enabled accessories. It was, at best, a hobby project for Apple, at least from my perspective at the time.

From the iOS 8 wiki

HomeKit serves as a software framework that lets users set up their iPhone to configure, communicate with, and control smart-home appliances. By designing rooms, items and actions in the HomeKit service, users can enable automatic actions in the house through a simple voice dictation to Siri or through apps.[61]

Manufacturers of HomeKit-enabled devices are required to purchase a license,[62] and all HomeKit products are required to have an encryption co-processor.[63] Equipment manufactured without HomeKit-support can be enabled for use through a “gateway” product, such as a hub that connects between those devices and the HomeKit service.[64]

Why now

There are a a few reasons that I decided to take the jump.

Accessories

The big reason is that there are actually accessories available now. There just wasn’t enough available for me to bother historically. Now there are plugs, sensors, locks, cameras, thermostats, lightbulbs and ceiling fans already in the market not to mention the various other devices such as humidifiers and air conditioners and others we can only imagine that are hitting the market in 2017. The market is starting to offer enough choices in products and vendors for it to get interesting, but also for the prices to start coming down to a somewhat reasonable level.

iOS 10

Fast forward a couple of years to the release of iOS 10 and suddenly things got interesting enough to dip my feet in the pool. Apple actually included a native iOS app that allowed you to control your homekit accessories. Shocking I know. But this was the first sign that apple was actually somewhat serious about this home automation thing. As well, the ecosystem was able to mature a bit and start offering more options. Players like Philipps Hue, iHome, Lutron and others released equipment which was HomeKit certified. There were actually options and choice which means that these accessories all started to become *affordable*. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no cheap. But it’s not impossible for a middle-class house hold to start off with a plug or a couple of lightbulbs and start getting value today.  I also sincerely believe that the prices are going to come down quickly in the near future, so now’s the time to start building some skills and expertise before the market explodes with options and it becomes impossible to choose.

AppleTV gen4

I have owned pretty much every generation of the AppleTV.  The first gen was a decent media server, as long as you were in the apple ecosystem. Canada had it really bad as the applications were extremely limited. I upgrade to the ATV3 which was, again, an OK box, but still with a lot of well documented limitations. It’s really the AppleTV Gen4 where things started to get interesting. The AppStore becomes available. Siri is available right on the remote. Oh… and the Siri remote can also act as your voice gateway to your house. Pretty cool.

Support for hardware accessories to allow it to become a potential gaming platform.  But one really interesting hidden gem is that the AppleTV 4 is capable of operating as your HomeKit bridge.

What is a HomeKit Bridge?

A HomeKit bridge is the device that allows the magic to happen. The HomeKit bridge functionality, which is actually available in both the iPad and the AppleTV Gen4 does a couple of things which we need to get the most out of our home automation.

Remote Gateway

First, it acts as a remote gateway for HomeKit actions. By logging in with your iCloud account on multiple devices, Apple’s cloud service allows those devices to create a connection through “the cloud”. This means that if you’ve got the same account logged into your iPhone and your AppleTV, you can take control of your house from a distance. This is pretty handy for times with you want to be able to turn the temperature down in your house while you’re away, but make sure it’s toasty warm when you walk in the house after a long trip.

Home Automation Orchestrator

Home automation is cool and all, but the real difference becomes apparent when you can start to orchestrate, or chain your devices together through different triggers. Triggers could be a time based trigger, a sensor based trigger, or any combination of both kinds of triggers. What do I mean? Let’s start with a really simple example that most people have seen which is the simple motion detector and build from there.

Examples of Different HomeKit Orchestration.

Motion Sensor + Light

At it’s simplest this takes a light and a motion detector.  When the motion detector “sees” someone move in it’s range it then turns the light on.

This is something most of us have had outside our houses for years, right?  So how is HomeKit and home automation different from the example above? Well let’s add in a the AppleTV acting as the HomeKit bridge and replace the motion sensor and light with HomeKit compatible versions.

With just these three components we can start to do some interesting things. Let’s look at a couple of different combinations to give you an idea of how these might fit together.

Light + HomeKit Bridge

With a HomeKit light and the HomeKit bridge, you can now automatically have the light turn on when the sun goes down.

“ But I’ve had timers on my lights for years!”

Sure, there have been timers available for years. But generally, they are set for one specific time. I live in a nothern climate, so the sunset can vary pretty drastically from one point in the year to another. If I used a traditional light timer I would be having to touch it at least 12 times a year just to keep up with the differences in Sunsets. That seems like a lot of work for minimal convenience. I just don’t have time for that.

Because the AppleTV is connected to the internet through my home router; the HomeKit bridge is able to access the internet and check exactly what time today the sun is going to set, and once the clock reaches that time. “Let there be light!”  I don’t do anything. I just say “Turn the lights on at sunset and it happens regardless of the time of year. Let’s be honest, we all just want to set it and forget it right?

HomeKit + Light + Motion Sensor

So imagine if you move the motion sensor inside your house and install it in a hallway. Now you have the ability to turn on the light whenever anyone walks down the hall, which is useful, until you have a little one who needs to use the bathroom at night and suddenly there have a shining bright light confronting them from nowhere when they are half asleep. If you have kids, you can imagine how this goes down….

When we add the HomeKit bridge into this situation, now we can use Time of Day to modify this slightly and instead of turning on the lights full blast, you can say “hey, I want you to turn on the lights when you sense motion, but turn them on the dimmest possible, ok?”  This is much less intense on the kids not to mention the adults.

HomeKit + Motion Sensor

Anyone with a smart phone are aware of the notifications that we get on our phones. With the combination of a motion sensor and the homekit bridge, you can now have the system send you a notification if it detects motion when there shouldn’t be anyone home. For those of us who travel, it’s a bit of peace of mind and you can see how this could easily be extended with a video camera to take pictures of the culprets in the act. Maybe it’s relatives with a key, maybe you can call the police directly and catch them in the act.

Closing 

Hopefully this short introduction gives you an idea of what HomeKit is all about, why you might chose to explorer this particular ecosystem and a couple of small ideas of how home automation might make your life just a little bit easier. This is just a few small examples to get you starting to think about the possibilities. I’ve been on this journey for about a year now and I’m at the point where I think I know enough to at least have something worth sharing. Come back for some product reviews. App reviews, Apple HomeKit related news and other things that I just find amusing.

I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, but I’m happy to help with the knowledge I have.

If you find this useful please share. If you have questions or comments, please post them.

@netmanchris