//OpenMotics, sense or nonsense?

Ask most people that built or renovated their house about home automation and they’ll tell you one of three things (or all of them): “way too expensive”, “too complicated” or simply “not for me”. Unfortunately they’re probably right, as most professional systems will break the bank be it in installation costs or service fees.

That’s a shame really: home automation has a lot to offer when it comes to smart features, comfort functions, task automation, monitoring and management of your house; there’s really very little that can’t be done nowadays. Now, what would happen when a new platform is introduced that aims to mitigate the traditional pitfalls of cost & complexity? A platform that empowers the users and offers virtually unlimited possibilities?

OpenMotics began years ago when we started building a home automation platform to suit our own needs. Endless tweaks, changes and improvements later we had made it into what we believed to be the best system out there. One evening we were sitting together with a beer and pizza, fantasizing about getting our system out into the world: “Will people be interested in yet another system? Is it even useful?”, “Affordable professional home automation systems are few and far between” “Maybe we can turn it into an open source platform, driven by the community?” “We already eliminated the 2 biggest hurdles: cost and complexity; and on top of that we offer transparency.”

Once the decision was made to share our creation with the world, we needed to make sure it would be a system that would not only fit our own needs, but that it could meet the requirements for a lot, if not all people.
So what if we made it highly reliable, professional, simple to use, affordable to everyone and fully open source? Would that even be feasible? Would we be able to gather interest from the vast community of fellow programmers and engineers to create a vibrant community?

Right from the start we had some minimum requirements for our new venture. First we needed to put the ideology into words: a reliable and affordable technology founded on open source principles. Additionally, we also wanted to integrate detailed energy measurement, add cloud based features and make it future proof. And then there’s the human aspect: to keep having fun 🙂

Several years and a lot of hard work later, we’ve succeeded in turning our home-brew system into a full blown open source home automation platform being installed in homes and offices.

That leaves us with the following question: how did we make a system that’s both reliable and low cost at the same time? Reliability is directly linked to many aspects and choices made by the manufacturer:

  1. Power consumption: You may think this is strange but designing a system that has a low power consumption has a high influence on the Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of electronic components. This can be easily explained by a simple law in electronics: every 10°C increase in temperature will divide the MTBF by 2 !
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    Now add the fact that power consumption is directly linked to heat production and it’s easy to understand that focussing on having a system with very low power consumption is key.
  2. Design: The schematic layout and the choice of components directly influences the stability of the individual circuit boards. Additionally, all necessary protective measures must be taken to protect against external influences: radiation, high voltage peaks, etc.
  3. Software: There’s always the moment where you have to choose whether or not to use an existing Operating System (OS). Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
    Having an OS makes development much easier, many very reliable libraries exist and higher programming languages can be used that make complex features much easier to develop. Disadvantage is that instability can be introduced by the OS and that many of the functions and features available will never be used creating unwanted overhead.In other words, using an OS has many advantages but it’s inefficient and doesn’t allow you to have full control over the hardware components.

    Embedding the code directly into a microcontroller has the advantage of high efficiency & stability, low power consumption and you retain full control over the complete processor including the lowest level (its pins and registers). Using the correct design methodology this results in an extremely reliable environment that’s very difficult to break. An embedded design does however require more time to get working and is more difficult to work on.
    The arguments above heavily influenced the design of our Gateway module and resulted in a combination of both. An embedded microcontroller to manage the actual home automation part of the installation combined with an additional processor (BeagleBone Black) running a Linux instance to handle all communication with the outside world.

The price of goods purchased is typically defined by the cost to produce them and the margin applied; both influenced by the choices of the manufacturer. At OpenMotics we’ve chosen to use high quality components and a professional design combined with reasonable profit margins on the finished product. This way we can guarantee both high quality products to our customers and enabling anyone to afford professional home automation.

We definitely believe it makes sense!

By | 2017-11-17T16:26:33+00:00 November 12th, 2014|Categories: general|4,303 Comments

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