Automating the Obvious - when is enough “enough” in automation routines?

So I have a number of advanced home automations running, all controlled by Apilio and designed to minimise energy use while provide an intelligent, “hands-off” environment at home.

Automating my kitchen lights without using voice control

I don’t want to keep using voice control (getting boring now) or switching lights on when it’s obvious they’re needed (i.e. it’s dark and someone’s in the room). I also don’t want lights left on unnecessarily - and the kids can’t be trusted to turn them off - so another obvious requirement. 

Automating these requirements seems a good idea and straightforward. The hardware technology is available, and reasonably priced, plus there’s some great control software out there. But it turns out that real-life intervenes and automating the obvious leads to some interesting conundrums and perhaps the odd unintended consequence.

Keeping the lights on when someone is very still

Whilst “if there’s no movement in the kitchen for 2 minutes then the lights should turn off” sounds a simple and sensible routine, there are times when someone is sitting quietly in the kitchen, perhaps reading and therefore not moving enough to activate the PIR sensors, and they do not want the lights to keep turning off. So what to do? This one is easy: add a web hooks override button on one of my phone home screens! That will enable a still reader to pause the light time-out for an hour.

But there’s the issue: whilst I am happy to setup the web hook button on my phone, none of the rest of the family is interested in using that technology. They just want an “easy” and “accessible” over-ride capability.

OK so I tried using a voice command to start and stop the timeout over-ride but nobody (except me) can ever remember the voice command so a physical button is easiest. And whilst the button works for starting the override, using the same button to stop the override becomes over-complicated.

What I ended up doing was adding a single button, to provide an override for 1hr only, with the override being removed automagically 60 minutes later. And that’s worked brilliantly - thank you Apilio! 

Photo of a kitchen at night, with a welcoming light on by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Keeping the lights soft if it’s the middle of the night

Or at least it did until last Friday when I woke up in a sweat after having my Covid vaccine shot and couldn’t get back to sleep. I thought I would go downstairs to avoid waking up the family but oh my goodness the auto lights on routine kicked in and I’m surrounded by bright light at 4am that was really NOT required. So now I need another late-night over-ride, for the very odd occasion when someone can’t sleep, to keep the lights coming on at night, but just at rather low levels of luminosity.

This has turned out to be straightforward as well as I just set the lights to a different scene depending on the time window. So from midnight to sunrise, any automated lighting is operated at the lowest luminosity levels available.

Oh and I have also added a permanently-disable presence sensing webhooks button to my phone just in case I want to sit downstairs in the dark, staring at the stars and contemplating the universe at 4am. Turns out I’m the only one that seems to need this particular feature and so, luckily, the web hooks button works just fine : )

April 14, 2021
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