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Home Automation Level: Jedi

November 25, 2016

We've been teaming the Amazon Echo with building automation solutions for a while now to provide clients with the ultimate in convenience and bragging rights.  With Echo clients can control just about any aspect of your building automation solution with spoken commands.

 

Echo is inexpensive and amazingly accurate.  It's also extensible, meaning we can create 'recipes' to do just about anything.

Imagine, for example, that it's time for bed and you want to turn off all of the lights and lock all the doors.  Forget walking around the house and doing so - that's so 2010!  Simply say 'Alexa' to wake Echo up and then tell it 'Night Mode' and that's it!

 

More about Echo and how we use it to provide smart building automation solutions in a later post.  For now here's something that's even cooler - controlling your home or office using nothing but your Jedi powers.

 

Sphero, makers of the truly excellent Sphero robot (my kids have the Sphero SPRK+, which is fun and educational), have just added support for IFTTT to their Force Band product (pictured left), which means we can now use the Force Band to control just about anything around your home.

 

First let's look at some of the cool things we can do with Force Band, then we'll explain what some of the components are.

 

In our testing we found the ability to control our SmartBuildings with Force Band too cool for words.  I don't know if we'll ever get tired of closing the curtains using force push, but I doubt it.  As cool as it is, however, Force Band is a toy and not only will you have to fight your kids for it, you'll also find it's only worthwhile for fun and novelty value when it comes to building automation.  But fun it is indeed!

 

Force Band Gestures

Force Band supports a wide range of gestures with BB8, allowing you to drive forward or in reverse, steer and control velocity.  With IFTTT Force Band provides just three gestures for you to work with, these are:

  1. Force Push - Jedi push away from your body

  2. Force Pull - pull it in like a Jedi master

  3. Force Stop - only works when 'push' or 'pull' have been activated.  We didn't find 'stop' very useful, but we'll find more uses for it with a bit of practice.

Recipes

Each of the Force Band gestures above are used to trigger IFTTT recipes that you write, meaning there is a practically limitless number of actions that you can perform in response to your push, pull or stop gestures.

IFTTT not only works with a huge number of platforms, it also allows you to write recipes that are as long or as short as you like. 

 

Here are just a few of the recipes that we tried out with Force Band and the Samsung SmartThings controller:

  • Change building mode from 'Day' to 'Night' and from 'Occupied' to 'Secure'.  It was pretty cool watching the lights turn off, the doors lock, motion sensors turn on and cameras spring into action as a result of a simple force push.

  • Close and open the curtains.  Simply the best Jedi experience these nerds have had yet.  There is a wee lag between the force push and the curtains starting to move, but it was still the coolest.

  • Silence the devices!  Well, silence Spotify to be exact.  Ok, we can't lie, we liked to pretend we were Vader strangling Admiral Motti into silence!

You can even use Force Band to perform automated actions with your Tesla, although we haven't managed to get a new Tesla past the funding committee yet, so we haven't been able to test this ourselves yet.

 

IFTTT

IF This Then That is the glue that we use to combine different products (such as your SmartThings hub and various home automation devices) to automate them and make them work together.  IFTTT isn't just for home automation - it works with hundreds of devices and applications and can be used in millions of different ways.

Today we're going to look at how it works with Force Band, but we'll cover IFTTT in more detail in a future column.

 

Sphero Force Band

Force Band was released by Sphero in 2015 to control the Sphero BB8, which has to be the all-time coolest Star Wars toy of all time.

 

Like BB8 and all of the other Sphero products mentioned in this article, Force Band pairs with your smartphone via Bluetooth, allowing it to communicate with BB8 (and now IFTTT) via your smartphone.

 

This does mean that your smartphone has to be within Bluetooth proximity of Force Band at all times, but we found the connection between phone and Force Band to be responsive and reliable.

 

Being a toy, you will struggle to fit the Force Band on most adult wrists, so we had to improvise a little (little miss 10 lent us her scrunchy for this scientific endeavour), but this is a good thing.  As much as we enjoyed geeking out over the Force Band (and living out a few of our Jedi fantasies), we were glad to not have the temptation to leave it on permanently.

 

The Verdict

Like other Sphero products, the Force Band, is innovative and fun for kids and adults alike.  Like other Sphero products, however, the Force Band is only good for the fun and novelty value, so the Echo doesn't have to worry about it's position as king of the building automation hill just yet.

 

The Force Band is just so much fun though.  With Christmas coming up we'd definitely consider buying the kids a BB8 with Force Band 'for the kids' so we can live out some more of our Jedi fantasies. 

 

 

 

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