inexpensive wireless buttons in my house?
June 16, 2015 1:39 PM   Subscribe

What's the least expensive way to set up half a dozen to a dozen wireless buttons around my house, that when pressed make a request to an url?

They should have very long battery life (or it is actually fine if they use a power supply if it is small). They should be mechanical buttons with tactile feedback, so that it is very obvious they have been pressed. An optional but very desirable feature would be that they display a counter of how many times they have been pressed, but only if it's quite small. Another optional but desirable feature is a small, not too bright LED so they can be found in the dark.

They should also either look nice or discreet -- or my budget needs to include some sort of nice/discreet cases.

When pressed they should make a request to an url with a unique identifier via my home's wireless network. There needs to be a convenient way to give them the network credentials.

I'm an experienced programmer and learning a language/framework is no problem, but I haven't soldered anything in 25 years. If soldering is required, the cost of a soldering iron would have to be factored in to the total :)

Is there anything out there that would make it possible for me to set up a dozen such buttons for under $150 & 4-6 hours work?
posted by lastobelus to Technology (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think Amazon has given this some thought?
posted by Dashy at 1:50 PM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't believe you're going to find anything in that price range just yet. You're asking for a price of $13/button.

There are a boatload of indiegogo/kickstarter projects out there but I don't believe any of them are shipping in any quantity just yet.

looked the most promising, but just like all the others their ship date keeps slipping. They're asking $149 for 6 at pre-order. I believe it's also BluetoothLE so you probably need a phone or some hub nearby to get those gadgets talking to the network.

On the DIY-side, the Particle (nee Spark) Photon is $19 and has the processor and wifi module on it. You'd need to add a battery and a few days' worth of code to make it do what you want and not kill the battery in a day. Personally this is what I would do, although there's no enclosure that comes with it. And no physical button.

There are also others waiting to hack on the Amazon Dash buttons, but I don't know how you would secure a dozen of them without knowing someone on the inside right now. Their provisioning scheme is also non-standard and has yet to be figured out.

Trust me, I'm waiting for someone to make these affordable as well. We're just not there yet.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

The cheapest wifi enabled device I've seen is Oak by digistump - they had a previous successful kickstarter for the Digispark which I received, so I think they are reputable. At $10 per device you'll have to supply the button and case and battery to keep under budget.

A better idea may be to just get a bunch of Amazon Dash buttons, and use a proxy like Squid to redirect the HTTP request when the button is pressed from Amazon to whatever URL you want.

I got 3 of them when they were offered to prime members for $1/each but haven't gotten around to messing around with them yet.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:18 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Particle Button immediately comes to mind. But it still costs $49 each. I'm sure the price will come down rapidly though.

Particle makes a wifi-enabled Arduino-like board for $19. I've seen cheap Chinese knockoffs for as little as $3 (yes, really). But I've done a lot of experimentation with this stuff and you're talking about significantly more than 4-6 hours to make something that really works reliably.
posted by miyabo at 2:18 PM on June 16, 2015

You could get some ultra-cheap Android smartphones with chargers and add a headphone jack button as a way to give it tactile feedback. That still leaves you some money to devise a nice case for it.

(The price on those smartphones is slightly unbelievable, but I looked through the listing and didn't see any obvious gotchas. If those didn't work out you could look for something like this lot of smartphones with bad ESNs.)
posted by fermion at 3:18 PM on June 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

ESP8266 + a button
posted by Monochrome at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe I was too hasty. The ESP8266 is perfect as the brains of the operation but it's just a bare board. You couldn't get it built into a product in just 4to 6 hours.
posted by Monochrome at 3:32 PM on June 16, 2015

...and a battery.
posted by pompomtom at 3:33 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ah yeah... 4-6 hours: arduino uno + wifi shield + button + battery, but that'd be over the budget unless you can group the buttons to have fewer uno's.
posted by pompomtom at 3:36 PM on June 16, 2015

Thanks everyone!

It really seems that the cheapest & least amount of work is to buy bad-esn phones and add those headphone buttons, which I hadn't seen before.

Flic does look promising -- if I haven't done my project by the time it ships, I might go with that.
posted by lastobelus at 1:28 AM on June 17, 2015

In theory you don't need the AVR--just the ESP8266 (ESP-02 breakout) with the Lua-based firmware (NodeMCU). It has provisions for DIO access. Then you need a button, mount it in a box with a battery or power supply, and.. Yeah. But that's more of a tinkery hobby project, and you have to write some code, go through troubleshooting...almost certainly the cheapest way to go WRT to material cost, though.
posted by ostranenie at 5:03 AM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just spent the day playing with Texas Instruments Sensortag. Amongst the many sensors and inputs on it there is a little button. 30 quid, programmable in a few minutes with JavaScript and has low energy Bluetooth so the battery lasts a year.
posted by Iteki at 1:05 PM on June 17, 2015

Just curious, where are you opening the url , in your computer or phone?
posted by radsqd at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2015

Also another one, does it have to be wireless and independent switches)?

otherwise multiple pushbuttons could be sent as a wired input to arduino on the cheap
posted by radsqd at 1:32 PM on June 17, 2015

"Just curious, where are you opening the url , in your computer or phone?"

I would actually prefer if the device itself could do http via wireless.

"Also another one, does it have to be wireless and independent switches)?"

Yeah, I want to put buttons at a bunch of independent places in my house.
posted by lastobelus at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2015

Would this work? (LittleBits)
posted by Parsnip at 6:44 AM on June 18, 2015

Another option might be to get a bunch of keyless entry fob kits meant for cars and wire the receivers to an Arduino or other GPIOful device.
posted by contraption at 3:47 PM on June 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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