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Thread: Help with getting started

  1. #1
    Automated Home Lurker
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    Question Help with getting started

    I am looking at taking my first steps into home automation. I plan to move house in the next 18 months so want to be skilled up so I can automate my new home.

    I want to control the system from a computer, have wired components (my air-space is precious to me for other things) and be easily self-installable/configurable without having to get "professionals" to mess it up for a silly cost. This suggests idratek as a good technology to sink into - but I'm open to looking at others.

    As a place to start I want to be able to achieve:
    - More intelligent central heating control (i.e. switch on different thresholds)
    - Automatic secondary lighting based on presence and ambient light
    - All controlled from a computer

    Please could somebody assist me in what I would need to buy? From looking through their catalogue it seems:
    - Cortex Trial
    - PCU-001 USB interface
    - PLH-001 light/humidity/motion sensor

    I'm a little unclear on powering the system - to start with I'm going to want to be running this isolated to see what I can do with it and if it's worth me investing any more. The guides and terminology seem a little confusing for me.

    One final question - is protocol documentation available? I appreciate that Cortex has an API, but I would like to interface directly with the system as the rest of my home runs off Linux - documentation is always preferable to reverse engineering.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Automated Home Legend chris_j_hunter's Avatar
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    there's a starter kit, which could be just what you are looking-for ...

    guide-book for it is here :

    http://www.idratek.com/support/guidelines/

  3. #3
    Automated Home Legend Karam's Avatar
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    Well from what you've described you've certainly come to the right place . To set up a simple physical network, as you have correctly deduced, you will need a PC/IDRANet interface module (presently just the USB based PCU-001), a module or more to work with (yes a PLH or BRS have quite a number of functions in one local lump). The network also requires a regulated 12-15Vdc power source (to power the modules) and some passive bus loads. I can provide details of these if you want to lash up yourself or alternatively there is the relatively low cost MPD which provides these and some passive protection as well as a convenient way to connect up a small network and to plug in a suitable power source. IDRATEK can source the power supply in the form of the PSU-001 or you may already have one (note: 2.1mm centre +ve plug).

    Obviously you will also need the Cortex software and this can be downloaded from our website. You will need to e-mail us for an install key and using this you can then install Cortex on a MS windows XP or 7 platform and run a network with pretty much all options available for the trial period of 30 days. Beyond that you can still run Cortex but not a network.

    Sundry items, some of which you may also have to hand but our codes provided here: PCU to PC connecting leads (CBU-001), IDRANet 6way 3.5mm terminal block plugs (CON-001), Network cable. If you are literally just setting up a bench test then you can use pretty much any cable such as alarm cable, but for a proper install we'd recommend shielded CAT5 or similar. The stranded variety tends to break less easily especially when stressed in the confines of small pattress box enclosures but it tends to be more expensive.

    The protocol question ... I'll suggest that you first download Cortex and play with it and read its help files before returning to this. More often than not when people (particularly those with a technical inclination ) first approach home automation they tend to think about it in terms of writing their own logic to do various things, so its sometimes a bit of a conceptual gear shift to digest the philosophy of the IDRATEK system and the intricacies involved when you go beyond the first exciting steps of being able to control a number of devices remotely or via simple if/then logic.

    Integrating a complex home system with numerous interacting devices, functions and decisions to give a sensible holistic result is quite a bit beyond those early steps and is what the IDRATEK system and Cortex are about. It does not mean that you can't program your own logic and that you lose control but what you might discover is that trying to re-write your own system as opposed to using Cortex may not make sense, even if Cortex just acts as an intermediary 'box' to hold things together whilst you add missing items at a higher level via the API.
    Last edited by Karam; 11th January 2013 at 12:32 PM.

  4. #4
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    Thanks for the pointers Karam, it looks like it should be fairly easy to get the basics together and start exploring what I potentially want to do with it.

    One of the things I'd like to do is more intelligent switching of heating. Am I right in thinking that the digital out connections on some of these modules would be all that is required to simulate the on/off mechanism of a standard room thermostat - and that based on Cortex I could get it to either use the connected temperature sensor, or whatever other conditions I fancy to do this?

    Thanks.

  5. #5
    Automated Home Ninja Viv's Avatar
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    You would use a relay module to simulate the switching of the thermostat. Indeed both could be operational. Turn the thermostat right down so in effect, inactive. Then allow Cortex and Idranet to switch the heating. This does not allow for zones etc though.

    Viv

  6. #6
    Automated Home Legend Karam's Avatar
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    I'm not sure I understood the question so clearly, but anyway Cortex already has sophisticated heating and cooling controllers (HVAC) within it so you wouldn't ordinarily have to create your own logic. But indeed lets say you had a simple heating arrangement where normally there would have been some kind of thermostat + timer controlling the heating. Then you could wire an IDRATEK relay output in place of (or even in parallel with) the existing thermostat 'call for heat' terminals such that when the IDRATEK control algorithms called for heat a physical signal could be sent to the heating system. If you still had the old thermostat in place and in parallel you would then essentially turn that to a low temperature setting (so that it would not ordinarily call for heat) and you would set the timer controls to 'always on'.

    The latter point sometimes confuses/worries people who may have been accustomed to timed switching of their heating. In our system we have a somewhat different philosphy and that is that the heating for any given zone is controlled to a 24/7 set point profile (well actually two). So if you have been accustomed to switching off heating say overnight then that would translate to setting a lower temperature target in the overnight hours of the profile. In effect the heating will then generally not come on overnight but the point is that it is always under control. I mentioned two profiles because in fact there is one for when a zone is occupied and another for when it is not - again so that the transition between occupied and non occupied conditions are under control and not simply in freefall.

    Having said all this you are at liberty to create logic which directly controls a digital output based on connected temperature sensor thresholds and/or any other signals.

    Oops, just found that Viv had already replied to this - never mind, I'll leave my lengthy waffle incase it helps
    Last edited by Karam; 24th January 2013 at 01:00 AM. Reason: oops

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