🌿 The Best Boards for Home Automation

This post is part of a series on the best controllers for DIY electronics.

If you’re building a smart home, your projects probably don’t need to leave that sphere, so they don’t need to be portable. They can be dependent upon available WiFi. And you’ll want boards that can multitask. Here’s what I’ve got for you…

Tech recommendations

Particle’s Photon rocks for small builds. The interface is beginner-friendly. There’s a massive and enthusiastic community, as well as a huge corpus of published projects to draw from. The code is very close to Arduino, so skills will overlap, and a project built on the Photon is easily transferred to the Electron (Particle’s cellular board) or augmented with bluetooth (via Bluz). It’s also got an IFTTT channel, so hooking it up to email, texts, and other tech is trivial. (See my take on the ESP8266 — the other popular mini WiFi board, which is cheaper but limited as a hardware brain.)

For large builds and software pros, Intel Edison or Raspberry Pi: The Edison has an Arduino-compatible breakout board, so it pairs well with the Seeed Grove shield — a plug-and-play system of sensors and actuators — and you can also program it with the Arduino IDE. Its brainpower and WiFi + Bluetooth connectivity are great for high-demand builds. Plus, Intel gives them out like candy :) The Edison’s size and scalability are perfect for makerpreneurs planning to manufacture — though for DIY you’ll usually use this with breakout boards, so no points are awarded for compactness.

The Pi has some cheaper options, and unlike the Edison, it has a readily-available graphical user interface (so you can plug in a monitor, point and click). It also has a sizable community, and is great for people with software experience — the NOOBS operating system is ready to go with Python, JavaScript, and the surprisingly powerful Wolfram Language. Get a Pi Cobbler to easily work with a breadboard.

If you want voice control, check out Amazon’s Alexa. It’s not just for the Echo anymore — you can harness the Alexa Voice Service to your Raspberry Pi and other systems. Plus, like Particle, Alexa has its own IFTTT channel.

The most popular smart home projects

  • 🍚 Smart machines for food and tasks, with custom settings and feedback: coffee, laundry, kegerators, smokers, humidors, sous vide… The Photon is great here. You can wire up and waterproof a little TMP32 temperature sensor—or a DHT11 for temperature and humidity — or connect a commercial one. A relay can remotely toggle power, while a transistor can be used to “push” buttons. And this person had a brilliant solution for reading status lights.
  • 🍂 Automatic sensing/dispensing machines, with data collection: pet feeders and plant water-ers. The Photon can usually handle this, too. Some people pipe the data to a dashboard with Sparkfun Data, Freeboard, or the Artik Cloud (which can also help you control things with other things).
  • 🚪 Access control: Remote-triggered garage door openers, smart door locks, doorbells. IFTTT’s “Do Button” app works great with the Photon for these. You prefer Bluetooth? Consider the Edison, or Particle’s spinoff Bluz. For door-open detectors, look at magnetic reed switches.
  • 📷 Remote camera systems: baby and pet monitors, door cams. The Pi is popular for this; you can use a consumer webcam, or buy a little un-enclosed module to plug in, and serve them to the internet or your home network.
  • 💡 Smart lights and IoT info displays: Hoo boy, how to narrow it down? Of course, you have consumer options like WeMo and Philips Hue. For more custom projects, Adafruit’s NeoPixels and DotStars are easily controlled with the Photon, which has its own NeoPixel ring shield as well as a full-blown Internet Button (with great tutorials for multi-function smart IoT buttons).
  • 🎥 Media centers / notification interfaces: I’d actually recommend the UDOO for this — a tool that integrates UDOObuntu Linux with a fully-functional Arduino, baked together on a single board! There are a couple of cool network-attached storage tutorials.

With any home automation solution, be sure to change the default passwords, guard access tokens, and otherwise secure your devices!

Check out our Home Automation group for tons of useful tutorials, share your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for more recommendations this week.

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her

DIY robots, music, EEG, wearables, languages. FIRST alumna. Hardware Nerd @hacksterio. She/her