How do I hack my appliances?
August 15, 2012 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in the Internet of Things and would like to learn how to make machines, specifically appliances and the like, respond to sensor data, price signals, etc. Where do I start? Arduino? Zigbee? Is it even possible to augment a toaster or refrigerator or washing machine in this way? Specific book and/or website recommendations are appreciated. Thanks.
posted by theexpgen to Technology (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Making Things Talk is definitely a book you want to check out, although it expects you to already know how to program your Arudino and so on. So you may want to start with some really basic stuff first. Perhaps you should pick up an Arduino starter kit (there's many different ones, that's just one) and get the hang of it.
posted by griphus at 10:20 AM on August 15, 2012

The Internet of Things conference is in Wuxi China in a couple of months. You could browse through the program to look for ideas and information. You can also skim through some IOT FPPs from the last couple of years. Also add a internetofthings tag to your post.
posted by cashman at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2012

There's also X10, older and less interesting but perhaps more approachable to start with? Although maybe best not to waste money on that if you're more interested in Arduino and Zigbee. Here's a personal page discussing an X10 setup...and here's a video from the author of that page of an Atom mini ITX box running an instance of VMware to host the control software.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:29 AM on August 15, 2012

(The price sensitivity aspect most approachable w/X10 is turning various things on/off depending on the price of power at various times, which can be determined by the computer running the control software.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2012

I think this paper by Neil Gershenfeld (PDF) is like ground 0 for this sort of thing.
posted by carsonb at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Making Things Talk. I also like The Arduino Cookbook and Arduino: A Quick Start Guide for all things Arduino.

You're also going to need to know a little bit about electronics so that you know how to generate the kind of control signals your circuits are looking for (as opposed to the kind that make them spontaneously self destruct). Practical Electronics for Inventors is a pretty thorough but non-ponderous introduction to the subject.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:41 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You want Arduino; it's got the big communities. You also want Make Magazine.
posted by Nelson at 1:16 PM on August 15, 2012

Arduino is attractive for this. So is Twine.

There are issues with some sensors useful for remote sensing. Strain gauges, which measure strain and therefore provide stress information, in particular take a lot of power. On the other hand there are IMU systems that take only one or two chips, draw really small current and will definitely show things moving or buzzing.

An entire industry has formed around sensing moisture in the ground to optimize crop watering. These are mesh networks because of the areas involved and that is where the Zigbee or Echelon networks become interesting. As a starter in-the-home sensor, dealing with mesh networks might be over the top.
posted by jet_silver at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2012

Just a note: Arduino and other 5v (or less) stuff is fun, easy, and relatively safe to play with. MAINS VOLTAGES ARE NOT. Do not mess around with the internals of toasters, fridges, etc, until you have an enormous level of understanding. I have an EE degree (but am not a practicing engineer) and I won't mess with that stuff.

Sparkfun and Adafruit are places that both sell related parts as well as have plentiful tutorials. Check them out.

Also, don't be afraid to just parrot other people's designs and tweak parts until you understand what is going on.
posted by joshu at 11:53 PM on August 15, 2012

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