After setting up your initial smarthome system, something beyond a thermostat or a couple of switches, one of the drives is to know what is going on with the system. While all of the information can be found in the various apps and websites set up by the device manufactures, it is not all in one place. You have to open the Nest app to review and set your home’s temperature, then the Philips Hue app to know which lights are on, then the Sonos app to know what’s playing where. A dashboard is a single place that gives you all of this information in a single place, be it an app, phone screen or web page.
Do You Really Need a Dashboard?
That’s a bit up to you. If you don’t have a lot of smarthome things in your home, maybe switching back and forth between apps isn’t a big deal. But, for more complex systems, being able to look at a wall mounted display and know that your offspring has left the bathroom vent on in the middle of winter and is actively venting all of your heat out of the house… well, that could be important.
That’s really what this is designed to be: at-a-glance information about your home, like a car dashboard. Only those things that allow you to understand your home’s state are relevant. Or any information that you regularly check on your smartphone that others in your home might also want to know.
At Chez Schmoid, what I want to know quickly is the following:
- Which lights are on. But not the status of all of the lights as that would be too busy. Just the active ones.
- Open Sensors. Which doors are open is an important piece of information. Especially my garage door as I am prone to leaving that open. This could be incorporated into the light portion as I only have three sensors.
- Weather information: inside temp, outside temp, wind speed and direction. I have a connected weather station, so the information can be very specific to my home.
- Energy Produced. I have a solar array on my home and I find myself constantly checking the installer’s app for my production vs usage. I’d like to see that more readily.
- IP Cameras. I really only care about my driveway cam, but there is the potential for the other two to be there as well.
Do You Really Need a Dedicated Dashboard Device?
Maybe. Again, that’s up to you and your environment. The ones that are currently available are based on mounted screens of the 27 inch (68.5 cm) to 40 inch (101.5 cm) variety. Do you have the space to mount something like that in a common area of your home?
Another consideration is whether or not the dashboard will be a one-off device. It often makes more sense to have several around the home: one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, etc. In that case, having each screen pull the information independently is not necessary. Instead, have them display a web page that shows all of that info. The screen is merely a display for a small web server that is constantly pulling the necessary information from your home and posting it to whatever device is looking at the page. That way, even when you are not home, you can still see the information on your phone or work computer.
[NOTE: make sure that you are securing this web server. You only want authorized people seeing this information, not anyone who is trolling your IP address.]
The biggest barrier to creating a dashboard are the various device manufacturers. There is little incentive for them to work together and make the information that their devices create easily accessible to any of the others. Sure, the big guys (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, etc.) have “Works with…” programs so that more niche product can interact with their devices, but there are limits to that interaction. Usually, the information that would be useful on a dashboard is limited, bordering on the why-did-you-bother.
The reason that there is no incentive and the data is kept deliberately restricted is that those big manufacturers want you buying their solution, not somebody else’s. Even if they don’t have a solution. They might, sometime in the future. In the mean time, they want you to be dissatisfied with others’ products so that you’ll switch as soon as their’s is available.
What works for someone else may not work for you. And by ‘may’ I mean ‘won’t’. Everyone has different requirements and priorities for the information that their dashboard might serve up to them. I want to know the wind speed and direction so that I can adjust my morning bike ride. A gardener might want their irrigation controls up front and center. Maybe traffic and commute routing are more important to some people (working from home, I need to know how many pieces of clothing my daughter has strewn upon the stairs).
As a result, it is highly unlikely that any one dashboard system is going to work for a wide variety of people. Maybe not even enough to warrant setting up a production line.
Currently Available Dashboards
There aren’t too many, at least not on the DIY consumer front. This is mostly due to the lack of cross platform functionality from the manufacturers. Each of the hub systems (Wink, SmartThings, Vera, etc) have a dashboard in their app, but they are limited to the devices that work specifically with their systems. That means no weather station info for Schmoid (sad face emoji). Other products that offer dashboard-like functionality include the Harmony Hub system, the Samsung Smart Refrigerator and Amazon’s Echo family of voice activated home assistants.
Let’s talk about that last one for a second (Oh, let’s!). The Echo product will tell you most of what you want to hear, but it won’t display it. It’s up to you whether or not hearing the information is better than seeing it. For me, I tune out of most sonic stimuli after about five seconds (and I wonder why I’m divorced). So, while I love me some Echo, having it tell me which of my smart switches are active isn’t going to work.
Other options include things like the iRule, which can be customized to an intense degree. Of course, the various manufacturers that you want to integrate into it all have to offer control options that will work with the iRule. See “Cross Manufacturers” above.
There is one product that seems to be really trying to make this work. That’s L.U.C.Y., currently in the process of getting funded on Kickstarter. It’s a wall mounted touch screen with a camera for face recognition and all kinds of bells and whistles. Unfortunately it is a Kickstarter, so your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not the final product will offer everything that they offer.
The final option is to make it yourself. There are many versions of the ‘Magic Mirror‘ project out there on the web: a one way mirror that has a screen mounted behind it that displays whatever you can code into a Raspberry Pi or similar project computer. These take a bit (a lot) more work, but if you’re willing to put in the time, then you’ll get exactly what you want.
That’s all the info I can display right now. Schmoid out.