Using open source modules, a start-up in Utah is trying to simplify home automation systems that save energy and make life awesome. The DIY Home Automation project is designed to help developers easily build DIY automation projects with Hero Kits equipped with Silicon Labs’ EFM32 microcontrollers (MCUs). We interviewed Joe George, the founder of Engimusing, about his Kickstarter project and why his team picked Silicon Labs’ MCU for the Hero Kits.
View the DIY Home Automation kickster project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/964752754/diy-home-automation-open-modules-for-your-smart-ho
Q. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about Engimusing?
We are a start-up company in Salt Lake City, Utah. 18 months ago we started designing tiny Arduino compatible modules to help put together projects more quickly and easily. We designed the modules to stack with rugged connectors that snap together easily. The connector system chosen also has snap-in wires so it is easy to connect modules together. The EFM32 Gecko Microcontroller family was chosen for its performance, size, cost, and low power consumption.
‘Smart homes’ have interested me since I did the electrical wiring of my new home built in 1985 and used low-voltage switches; not the traditional lighting system. This allowed for master control panels and smart switches.
On relocating to Salt Lake City, I bought a classic home built over 100 years ago. Despite its ‘good bones’, it was severely lacking in some areas. During the remodel of the house, I started thinking about home automation – specifically how the modules we were developing could be used. Soon, we made home automation our primary focus. We found the openHAB project. It is a great open source home automation framework that runs on just about any computer (such as the Raspberry Pi) and already has Android and iOS apps.
Q. What are the key differentiators of your Kickstarter project compared to other home automation solutions on the market?
There are many home automation solutions out there, but we wanted to create a solution special for the maker and DIY community. This group doesn’t just want a home automation system, they want their home automation system; they want to be in control of the details. This group is currently building home automation projects with Arduinos and breakout boards. Engimusing modules allow them to use the free openHAB software and control their system with smart phones. These modules are easy to snap together, allowing customization without soldering or much hardware skill.
Q. Many of your sensors like the carbon monoxide gas sensor, tilt sensor and reflective object sensor use the EFM32ZG108 Gecko low power microcontroller. Are there any specific reasons for that?
We want to have a large number of easy to use sensors that connect together. The EFM32ZG108 is small (5mm x 5mm), needs low power, and is inexpensive. A lot of intelligence can be added to sensors without increasing the product cost significantly. It also has enough interfaces and I/O pads that we can use it on most of our sensors. One of the great things about the EFM32 Gecko Microcontrollers is that consistent peripherals across the family means not having to learn new interfaces each time a different part is chosen.
Q. One of the key features of your modules is their small size which aids their versatility. How has using the Silicon Labs EFM32 Gecko microcontroller used in them helped with this?
The broad range of package sizes with great lower-end options makes our module size possible. Additionally, the minimal number of external support components required by the Gecko microcontrollers allows us to drive to smaller footprints. I also really like that only 3 pins are needed for programming, it saves a lot of space.
Q. Can you elaborate on plans you have for further development once the Kickstarter deadline has been reached?
We will keep developing more sensors and controllers to enable more exciting home automation projects. We also plan to leverage our module ecosystem for other hobbyist and professional applications. In the near future our focus will be on battery and energy harvesting based products.