Author: Darhan Saami
With 2021 in full swing, it is almost inevitable for us to have heard of “smart homes” or “automated homes.” The idea behind these fancy terms is quite exciting and straightforward: you should be able to communicate and control devices around in your house through the internet. Think of it in this way. You are having your friends over for brunch and do not have time to attend to your precious plants. Imagine a device that senses the humidity, temperature, soil, etc., and starts watering your plants whenever needed. Similarly, the lights of your room turn on or off as you leave or enter the room. In 2021, all of this is possible through accessible and inexpensive DIY projects. In this blog, we shall learn how to automate our home sweet homes using Raspberry Pi boards.
WHAT IS A RASPBERRY PI?
Raspberry Pi devices are single-board microcomputers (SBCs). It is essentially a computer as small as a credit card that plugs into a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Since its launch in 2012, Raspberry Pi has gained traction from the tech-savvy community of DIY tech projects enthusiasts. Being an all-in-one computer, Raspberry Pi has been applied to various fields of work. Home automation is only one of the many successful applications of this little monster.
For home automation purposes, we suggest buyers purchase the latest board from the company, Raspberry Pi 4. The Raspberry Pi 4 comes with better processing speed, multimedia performance, memory, and connectivity than its predecessors. It is available in 1GB, 2GB, or 4GB onboard ram versions, a 64-bit quad-core processor, dual display 4K HDMI output, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, and USB support.
With the highest processing speed, performance, and connectivity scores in the SBC market, Raspberry Pi 4 starts at only thirty-five dollars. The complete desktop kit costs around $130 and includes the 4GB Raspberry Pi 4 with a power supply, mini mouse, and keyboard. In case you are on a strict tight budget, you can go for used Pi 4s or older models.
Home automation using a Raspberry Pi 4 is an excellent choice for those informed with or who do not mind studying the technical side of computer setup and coding. In case you are neither familiar with coding nor can you learn the technicalities, home automation using the Raspberry Pi might not be the best option for you.
You can get your Raspberry Pi 4 Starter Kit here.
THE KEY INGREDIENTS
A Raspberry Pi board is only one block to the puzzle of home automation. Let us look at what else we need to get started.
Smart Home Products:
These are the devices you want to use to automate the various physical tasks around the house. Without the smart home devices, your Raspberry Pi will have nothing to control. We recommend you make sure the devices you buy are compatible with Raspberry Pi.
A relay module is crucial to any home automation project. Think of this piece of technology as the middleman between you and your home devices. A relay module allows you to communicate with the control system of your smart home products. An excellent option for home automation is the JBtek 4 Channel DC 5V Relay Module. This 4-channel relay module is equipped with a high-current relay of AC250V 10A and DC30V 10A and is specially dedicated to smart home control. You can buy an 8-channel relay module too. In case this is not available near you, choose any model from the market as long as it is 5V 1A.
Female-to-Female Jumper Wires:
These wires will be used to connect the relay module to the Raspberry Pi. Get the ones you find the cheapest.
Like any other device, you will need to supply your Raspberry Pi with stable power to keep running. We suggest you opt for “Raspberry Pi 4 5V 3A USB Type C Power Supply with ON/OFF Switch.” You can find this one easily on any reputable online store.
A microSD card is needed to store the software that you will be running on your Raspberry Pi. Get the SanDisk Ultra 128GB. It is reliable and sufficient for all sorts of extensive purposes.
Home Automation Software:
Think of the home automation software as the architect of your dream smart home setup. The ideal software should be mainstream with an extensive range of easy-to-understand online guides. The software should be compatible with Raspberry Pi. Fortunately for us smart home enthusiasts, we have endless options to choose from. The ones most popular include Hass.io, MisterHouse, MyPi, Mycroft, and Calaos. Research on all these and select the one that you find the most suitable. The installation and running procedure varies slightly for each software, so make sure you get your hands on a manual or guide on their website.
Technical Coding Knowledge:
Before we get to the setup procedure, we need to have some general technical understanding of the entire computing environment. The bare minimum level of understanding required would include essential coding skills using Python and comprehensive knowledge of Raspberry Pi syntax. If you have no idea what these words mean, do not worry. The internet is packed with free resources to help you become as tech-savvy as you may like.
Now that we have assembled our arsenal, it is time to get our hands dirty.
The first step will be to boot up your Raspberry Pi after connecting it to a power source using your power supply. Connect the Raspberry Pi to the internet once the operating system loads up. To use the GUI for Raspberry Pi, type the command “startx” in the terminal. For Wi-Fi connectivity, use the Wi-Fi config application on your Raspberry Pi desktop to scan and connect to the Wi-Fi network.
Chances are you might be using a brand-new Raspberry Pi. In that case, you will have to install the Raspberry Pi OS (previously known as Raspbian) from www.raspberrypi.org. Install the Raspberry Pi OS onto your microSD card. Choose the option of controlling your Raspberry Pi with a standard UI and monitor. At this stage, you can also go for Secure Shell (SSH) to manage your Raspberry Pi without a monitor using a personal computer (PC) on the same home network. Nevertheless, a monitor is suggested to avoid unnecessary hassle during the setup.
Once the foundation is in order, make sure to configure and assign your Raspberry Pi with a static IP address. You can find the IP address using “ifconfig” command on your Raspberry Pi. This IP address should fall within your household network’s IP address. Usually, networks are connected to an IP address between 192.168.1.1 and 192.168.1.255. Pick whichever IP address free and assign it to your Raspberry Pi device. This configuration will help you avoid problems and seamlessly connect with your devices from a place in the world. Once the IP address is edited, reboot your Raspberry Pi to save the changes.
The next step is to set up the relay module connection using the GPIO pins. Most relay modules, including the one suggested above, come with an instruction manual. Follow the instructions properly to get your Raspberry Pi and relay module connected. Usually, you will need to connect GPIO pins five and six to the relay module. However, it is essential to note that if GPIO pins five and six are shorted together, the Raspberry Pi enters into safe mode. It is suggested to use any other pin in place of GPIO pin five to prevent your device to unnecessarily enter into safe mode.
Now comes the exciting part for the setup: booting up the home automation software. Choose one of the home automation software or application mentioned above and install them onto your microSD. Boot up the software after it is installed and start setting it up. At this stage, a monitor will be significantly helpful. The setup procedure of each software will be different, depending on the home automation software you choose. Follow the instructions on your software to get through the further stages, including selecting a port, securing a password, assigning GPIO pins, etc. Nevertheless, you will be required to enter the Raspberry Pi’s static IP address you worked on earlier, regardless of which software you choose.
Once all the software configuration is completed, we are only a few final baby steps away from completion. Most home automation software, like MyPi, has a mobile version application that you can easily download on any portable device. Using these apps, you can find the innovative home products available and connect with them.
HOME SMART HOME
With these final steps, our setup procedure is finally over. Connect your devices to your mobile application. Once that is done, you will be able to control those devices remotely and comfortably. The best part is there are no limitations to this setup. As long as the Raspberry Pi device is powered on and connected to the internet, your home sweet home will be as smart and responsive as you want it to be.
You can get started with a Raspberry Pi Starter Kit from Amazon here.
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