A UPnP Home

May 6th, 2010 § 5 comments

Since Zhaan made it into extras-devel I have gotten several feature requests for new functionality.  Many of them have made sense and I have gone ahead implemented them in the latest version.  For example, Zhaan 0.1-8 implements vastly improved playlist support.  Zhaan is now at the point where I have found myself actually using it enough to entirely replace my standard Sonos controller and actually ENJOY the experience.  (I also installed Zhaan on my ‘stable’ N900, not just my development device, and have witnessed no ill effects.  I think it’s probably safe for anybody to use at this point)

Since (in my opinion anyway) I have succeeded at building an application to solve in-home media problems with UPnP I now turn to other problems that UPnP can solve (since it’s so much fun to hack around with).  Zeeshan Ali wrote a GUPnP-light application which shows an image of a lightbulb which goes “on” and “off” based on another test control point application. That seems like an interesting idea, using UPnP to control my lights.  And why not, right?  Who really wants to get out of bed at night to turn off the wall-mount light switch when my phone is on my night stand within arms reach and could be used to control those lights.  (clappers be damned).

Herein lies a rather common problem in computer science.  Writing software to do fun things in simulations is easy.  Applying it to solve real world problems by designing, manufacturing, marketing and selling a real physical product is hard.  Thus for the first 2 days of my search I could not find any devices to allow me to control my lights via UPnP.

During the first two days of searching I did learn a lot.  Here is a quick summary/FAQ of how modern “Smart Homes” work: (Smart meaning networked and remotely controllable)

  • Smart devices in the home do not often connect to the WLAN, let alone expose themselves as UPnP devices.
  • Instead, they use mesh networking.
  • There are several common mesh network protocols.   Z-Wave, X10, Insteon to name a few.
  • Once you deploy a bunch of Z-Wave (or other) mesh devices you need to deploy a “base station” of sorts which can control all of the devices and which MAY connect/bridge to the LAN.
  • Most base stations come with their own software to interact with via a browser or other proprietary mechanism.

Last night at about 3AM, on the verge of giving up my search, I found micasaverde.com.  They have a device, called the Vera, which looks to do exactly what I want!  I posted a quick question on their forums confirming that the device does what I had hoped (exposing each Z-Wave device as its own UPnP discoverable device). Turns out it does!   Here is a response from Javier, an “administrator” of the micasaverde forums.

Yep, that’s the main point.

Every device attached to Vera gets a full UPnP description and identification. Even for internal programming, everything is done using UPnP references.

In fact, writing device plugins (to get new devices attached to Vera) is mostly writing Lua code to join UPnP actions and state variables with the real-world device control interface.

To boot it looks like Vera is low power and designed for energy savings.  It also runs on a (mostly, from what I can tell) open source Linux stack.  Rock on!

Looks like I’ll be getting myself a Vera for my birthday (next week) and, with any luck, a week or two later posting another application to Maemo extras-devel that can control Z-Wave devices via a Vera!

Update: Turns out you can SSH into your Vera too.  I’m starting to build a collection of embedded Linux/OpenSSH servers around my house :) (Chumby, Vera, N900 etc.)