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The Best Home Automation Controllers for Beginners and DIY Enthusiasts

Updated on September 5, 2014
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How To Choose the Best Home Automation Controller

The controller is kind of like the head sitting on top of the body of your home automation system. It is composed of both the 'brain' -- the circuit boards which run your automation programs and tell all of the other devices what they are supposed to be doing, and the 'face' -- the part of the system which you actually interact with to see what's happening and to enter commands. In many old systems the controler would be either a remote control handset, for a simple system, or a desktop pc, for more elaborate set ups. Today by far the most common arrangement is to have a little box which connects to your home WIFI and provides an app for your to interact with on any device you choose.

It is probably safe to say that the controller is the most important part of your home automation system. Your choice of controller will determine what devices and products you can add to your system, how many devices you can add and how wide an area you can reliably cover, what automated control programs you can run and of course how easy and convenient your system is to interact with and control yourself.

Here are three of the most important things to consider when choosing which product to purchase:

  • Probably the most important consideration is what protocol or method your controller uses to communicate with other devices. There are thousands upon thousands of different products out there to do all sorts of cool and useful things, but not every product will be able to communicate with every control unit. Some branded systems will only work together with other products in the same range, whilst others are based on open protocols and can communicate effectively with devices from many different manufacturers. Today there are even a few good quality control systems which use multiple open protocols.
  • Most of the time there will be a limit to the number of devices your can add to your system with a single controller, and a set range that is will be able to cover. Often, but not always, you can expand this with additional modules or range extenders, but if you have a large house or are planning to add all the bells and whistles you can fit into your system this is an important consideration as it can make a significant difference to the total cost.
  • You will probably interact with your system through a phone app, so looking into what features that app has, and how easy and convenient it is to use, is quite important. You should also check whether the app is totally free or if there is a monthly fee or upgrade cost to access premium features.

Revolv Smart Home

One of the biggest advantages of the Revolv is the wide range of different products which it is designed to work together with. This wifi enabled hub has separate radios for both Z-Wave and Insteon - two of the most popular protocols which each boast many hundreds of different products you can choose between, and from a wide range of manufacturers so you can shop around and get the best possible price. It is also set up with automatic inclusion for devices from popular branded systems such as Nest, Sonos, and Philips Hue. Not only that, but there are additional radios already built in, which with future software updates will enable the Revolv to communicate using almost all of the most commonly used protocols.

Also, its compact and looks pretty cool. Many of these things just look like a plain plastic box which you would want to hide away from sight, but the Revolv is the kind of product which I would want to leave out for people to see.

The Revolv app is free and seems pretty easy to use. It can monitor your system and tell you the status of all your devices, execute programs based on triggers, or accept manual commands. You can use it to set up 'scenes' which control multiple devices, for example to turn everything off and set your alarm at night or when your go out, set your house to party mode or your living room to movie mode, or to set everything up just how you like it when you arrive home from work. These scenes can be triggered to start at a particular time of day, based on input from sensors (such as when you enter a room or when it gets dark), based on geolocation information from your phone (to turn the heating on when you are nearly home from work, for example) or simply based on a manual command.

The Revolv iPhone App

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Mi Casa Verdee

Mi Casa Verde has long been established as the most popular smart home controller for Z-Wave systems. Z-Wave itself is the most popular protocol for DIY installations so if you go with this option you will have no shortage of options for different sensors and devices to add to your set up.


The Vera3 model has more processing power, more memory and a stronger wifi connection compared to previous models -- making it ideal for larger homes or systems with a lot of different components.

Like any good controller you get a free app which you can use to monitor the status of your devices and set up difference 'scenes' to control multiple devices with a single command from yourself or automatically based on sensor input.

The Ver3 also features energy monitoring and metering to help you reduce your electricity bills, and support for live video streaming from IP cameras. It also comes with a guaranteed that it will be able to find and add any Z-Wave device, so you can be confident that you will not run into issues with compatibility.

SmartThings Hub

SmartThings Hub, 1st Generation
SmartThings Hub, 1st Generation

If you are looking for a low cost option then the SmartThings Hub is a great choice. It is compatible with either Zigbee or Z-Wave products, and comes with a free app.

 

DIY Fans - Make Your Own Home Automation Controller!

If you are a DIY fan and you fancy a but more of a challenge then making your own controller can be very rewarding and can really open up the options for what you can do.

Of course there are any number of different ways that you can go about creating your own system. Amongst hobby electronics hackers and robotics enthusiasts the Arduino microcontroller is a popular choice for building a system from scratch.

If you want to get involved in a bit of DIY but don't want to make the whole thing from scratch using components then there are two popular ways to go:

  1. You can create a surprisingly versatile Z-Wave controller using a Raspberry Pi, Razberry Daughter Card, and the Aeon Labs 'Z-Stick'. This will give you everything you need to get started, including an app for controlling your system, but you can also hack into, modifiy, expand and replace to your heart's content.
  2. You can actually turn any PC into a the centre of a smart home system, and if you have a Microsoft Kinnect system for either your Xbox or your PC you can even give it voice control and other advanced features! CastleOS is a really nice piece of software which helps you to build a system with voice control without having to create all of the software yourself.

CastleOS Apps

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Building an Arduino Home Automation Controller

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Every time I read one of these awesome hubs of yours about all the automation that is available I wish I had the latest automation gadget to make like easier, more efficient, and more streamlined. I may not be getting these things but I enjoy seeing what I'm missing.

    • electronician profile image
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      Dean Walsh 2 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Lol, perhaps one day I will convince you enough to buy yourself a cheap starter kit or something. Until then I'm glad you are enjoying taking a look.

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