Ever wanted been away from home and wanted to check that the heating was off, or the lights switched on? Or wished you could switch on the kettle from the warmth of your bed when the morning alarm goes? All these things have been possible for a while now – but at a price. Now, with the software to automate home products becoming open source, the field has opened up for all kinds of innovative – and low cost – applications to make life easier, safer or just plain cosier.
Here at Dev8D, after attending just one iPhone development workshop, David Tarrant has created an iPhone app, based on open source software, to control a light using your phone, wherever you are in the world. He explains how.
“The Z-Wave protocol for home automation products has only just become open source after being closed for a number of years. It has sparked an online community outside of academia with quite a few UK and US developers developing an open source library to talk to Z-Wave products.
We have created a Windows, Linux and OSX version of the library where before there had only been a Windows one. That library was finished on Sunday night, and I built a simple REST api for this library so that I can switch a device on and off, such as a light. Yesterday I could do it through a web browser and, thanks to the iPhone workshop, I’ve now created an iPhone app to control it.
This is a simple example of home automation, just like the products that are already available to do things such as control heating, turn on and off appliances and monitor your house. It is even possible to set up profiles for rooms so that you can put a room into different modes and use a combination of devices within it, all controlled by just one switch.
The difference now is that you can do all this without having to buy expensive, locked-down proprietory software or hardware controllers. The library is available under an LGPL licence. The kind of automation I’ve done here would previously have cost £400-£600 to buy – I’ve done this for about £120 and we expect the cost to come down as more open source developers get on board and have a go and want to buy more of the products.”
Fresh from teaching the non-coders at dev8D how to make mash ups, Tony Hirst agreed to be dev8D’s first Five Minute Interviewee.
Who are you?
Tony Hirst, lecturer in ICT at the Open University
What are your areas of interest?
What’s possible on the web. Democratisation of technology. Trouble-making.
What idea are you working on here?
I’ve just come to see what people are doing – I’m here to learn.
What’s the major challenge in education software right now?
Confidence and capabilities of the users and also our expectations of them. Sometimes we are in danger of having too low expectations of our users and at other times we expect too much so there’s also a misalignment of expectations. There is also a huge difference between what is available in learning systems and what’s available on the web. The relationship between users and our systems and the relationship between what they choose to use in their own lives.
What are the most exciting developments in education software?
The opening up of data and increased availability of data. More powerful and easier to use visualisation tools. It’s getting easier to do more.
What have you learnt so far / interesting things have you heard?
I’ve only just got here! But I have already learnt how to do a couple of things, from feedback in my talk, and I’ve possibly got someone to build me a tool that I want.
UKOLN at the University of Bath
My idea is called JISC Conferenceator. I came up with it yesterday as this week everyone has been aggregating all these different feeds together and having a conference backchannel using Twitter and creating friend graphs so, inspired by that, the JISC Conferenceator is a toolkit which would bring all this together on one site. You would create your conference on this site and bring together all the facilities like built-in support for surveys, an email address and do automatic RSVping and connect to open social networking sites and Flickr so users can connect to that, and all the data would be brought back into the JC site. It will also make it easy to capture delegate feedback – much better than having a long form. All the data will be in one place so after the event you can zip it up into one file to keep.
Dev8D’s Developer Decathlon is all about developers talking to each other, talking to users and coming up with great software ideas that they can rapidly prototype. We’ve been been roaming the classrooms and bars here at Happiness Days and finding out what kinds of ideas are floating in the air.
Ross McFarlane, University of Liverpool
I was thinking that in a bricks and mortar library, when you’re looking at content in a particular section you have the opportunity to chat to people who are browsing similar materials as related materials are located together. So my idea is to try to find a way to connect related materials by what people look at online and take out of the library and use that to connect users so that as someone is looking at an item online they can speak to people who have got similar interests as they are looking at similar materials. It’s about creating short term social networks based on the content they are looking at.
Peter Sefton, University of Southern Queensland
My idea comes from a lecturer who wants to be able to assemble powerpoints from resources he has found around the place – rich powerpoints including video and so forth. My idea is to have an add-on for your browser where if you’re looking at a resource you want to include on your course you can click a button and it will remember what you’re looking at and it will store those as tags in Delicious. Then, if you want to make a presentation for your course it will look at the things you’ve bookmarked and build them into a content package that you can extend, annotate, explain, reorder and publish to the virtual learning environment or the web.