An Industrial Sensor System…In Your Home?

Intro-Temp-Kit

**UPDATE** After seeing this post, Monnit have been kind enough to offer a discount on their systems for readers of Diy HA. If you buy anything from them, just enter coupon code “diyha” at checkout and you’ll get 3% off.**

On this site, I tend to focus on home automation projects that make use of DIY technologies like the Raspberry Pi, Arduino, X10, etc. That makes sense, of course; the title of the site is “Diy Home Automation,” and most of our visitors are hackers looking to build crazy systems which require playing with exposed electrical wires and scary home appliances.

But it recently occurred to me that many of the problems we’re trying to solve are problems you also find in an industrial context. Need to get a text message if your water heater explodes and starts flooding your basement? Guess what; inventory managers need the same kind of info, so if water starts leaking into their stock rooms they don’t lose millions worth of widgets. Want to know the precise humidity or temperature in each room of your house, wirelessly and online? Museums want to know the same thing, so their Rembrants don’t get all mushy.

While our community tends to focus on one-off, custom built circuitry, industry has been quietly building really neat monitoring systems using low-cost, low power sensors and transmitters. The Internet of Things may be receiving lots of hype after deals like Google’s acquisition of Nest, but surprise! The IoT came to your local warehouse ages ago. Just no one bothered to write a New York Times story about it.

If our diy community could integrate some of these industrial solutions into our systems, I think there’s huge potential. Pause for a moment, though. Before we move on, let’s highlight a clear distinction. When I say industrial systems, I’m not referring to commercial home automation offerings, like Honeywell’s drop-in solutions for buildersCommercial systems tend to be heinously marked up for profits, have eye-candy laden interfaces designed for the casual user, and allow very little in the way of modification and hacking.

Industrial systems, on the other hand, are a whole different animal. They tend to be designed for engineers who want to build custom monitoring solutions for very specific applications. Industrial systems often take very powerful basic technologies, connect them together as inexpensively as possible into a solid framework, and then expose all that power to the end user through APIs, direct access to data, etc. Their components are cheap, hackable, very well designed and easy to integrate into custom software. In other words, they’re perfect fodder for a diy home automation community like ours.

To explore hacking industrial automation systems for use in the home, I’m going to start ordering evaluation kits for some of these systems and trying them out. First up: an industrial temperature monitoring solutions from Monnit. The system includes multiple wireless temperature transmitters (which cost about $50 bucks each) that you stick on the wall. They’re powered by a coin cell battery, and they transmit data back to a USB hub. The data is then sent to the internet, where you can download it via a bare-bones API.

Places like data centers use the system to monitor server rooms. I’m going to see if you can use it to graph the temperature in every room of your house in realtime. Let’s see what happens!

 

 

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