Kai Kreuzer

Software Architect and IoT Professional.
Founder and project lead of openHAB.

openHAB 1.5 - Release Highlights

Another 4 months have passed since the openHAB 1.4 release and we are happy to announce the release of version 1.5!

This is in any respect a very special release - I am proud to say that the community has really fully embraced the project. Not only has the rate of binding contributions further increased (we are now counting more than one new binding every single week), there are also many enhancements and fixes for existing functionality - see the 1.5 release notes for the impressively long list. The increase of contributions can be nicely seen on the contribution chart on GitHub - 2014 is indeed the year of the smart home!

Let me mention some highlights of the release:

First of all, we finally have a new iOS application available in the AppStore that is fully iOS7 compatible and supports the latest openHAB runtime features. It is now very performant, can be used remotely (also through my.openHAB) and support push notifications. This is a huge step forward for all openHAB users on iOS!

Previous versions of openHAB were already able to send notifications to XBMC, now there is a full integration with XBMC - you can now receive realtime updates about the player state and you can take control of XBMC. What is now possible with this new binding is nicely demonstrated in this video:

A whole new world opens to openHAB through the IRTrans binding - the world of infrared signals! The cool thing about IRTrans is that it works both ways - you can not only receive signals from your various remote controls and thus use these as controllers for your home, you can also send out infrared telegrams and hence use openHAB as your One-4-all - your home cinema can be fully prepared through openHAB.

For many German openHAB users it might be worth to know that release 1.5 includes a completely overhauled Homematic binding with many new features. There is now support for wired devices and CCU variables and programs. The communication between openHAB and the CCU has been much improved by using binary instead of XML communication, metadata synchronization through scripts and new caching strategies. It now even comes with an action to send text messages to the 19-button remote control. The list of supported and successfully tested Homematic devices is huge.

There are many many more very helpful bindings - from calculating astro times to support for Freeswitch. It is interesting to see that there are bindings for so many different categories - it shows the versatility of openHAB as a central integration hub. It will be thrilling to see what more will come up. If you are interested in the further evolution of the core openHAB itself, you should also have a look at this blogpost.


Privacy in the Smart Home - Why we need an Intranet of Things

Classical home automation used to be easy: You installed your devices at home (or probably rather had them installed by an electrician), wired things up and started using it at home. But then came the smartphone era: The consumer got used to the fact that everything is controllable through an app from anywhere in the world. This expectation did not stop at Smart Home products either, through which a new product category - the "IoT gadgets" - was born.

A very common scheme of how these products work is the following:
  • You hook the device(s) up to your local network, either through wifi or ethernet cable.
  • The device(s) use your permanent Internet connection and create a connection to a specific cloud server to which it sends all its data and listens for commands.
  • A free smartphone app connects to the cloud service, lets you configure and control your device(s) and displays you nice colorful charts and diagrams.
There are some obvious drawbacks of such products:
  • They only work when your Internet connection is available.
  • There is an app per product, you cannot easily achieve over-arching integration.
  • You depend on the availability of the cloud server - if this is shut down (e.g. because the company went out of business), you cannot use your device anymore.
These points alone should be reason enough to consider such products as nice gadgets, but not as a serious (meaning permanent and reliable) part of your house.

But there are even many more subtle drawbacks:

  • You are not the owner of your data; everything is sent to the cloud server, if you wish it or not. What happens with the data is not decided by yourself, but by the cloud service. You will only receive results of the data mining processes, be it as "smart" actions being triggered or as a colorful time series chart. I always thought of this as a no-go and wondered that other people did not mind this fact. With the acquisition of Nest by Google the public awareness seems to have increased a lot, though. Google is now seen as Big Brother in the smart home, people consider not buying Nest products anymore and even the tabloid press contemplates about privacy in the smart home.
  • Even if you have full trust the cloud service company, the NSA affair should have shown you that your data is sniffed and stored in dubious places around the world. People who say that they do not care about being spied on as it is done by "the good ones" should definitely read "1984" - after all, in this novel the surveillance is also only done by the "good ones"...
  • Every device that creates a connection to a cloud service is a potential security risk. Most of these devices are embedded systems and many lack the possibility of receiving firmware updates for vulnerabilities. There are already many examples where such systems have been hacked - e.g. for heating systems or IP cameras. Bruce Schneier sees this as one of the major challenges for the Internet of Things in the coming years.
Now what is the solution to all these problems? Well, I like to call it the INTRANET OF THINGS - all your devices should be in your LAN, hidden behind a firewall and locally controlled. All data needs to stay in the local network in the first place and only the user should decide whether it should be shared with somebody else. For remote access, there should be a single channel into your house, not one per device.
An Intranet of Things protects your privacy and reduces vulnerability risks

A solution that allows you to create such an Intranet of Things is openHAB - the open Home Automation Bus. When starting this project 6 years ago, I took the perspective of an end user and not of a company - this is why data privacy is one of the top priorities since its beginning. It is good to see that this discussion is gaining momentum now.

The latest version openHAB 1.4 has just been released - it can now integrate more than 60 different smart Home technologies and protocols into a single solution. Just to name a few, this new release brings support for INSTEON, Netatmo, Pioneer AV receivers and MAX!. New native apps for Android and iOS are available as well. To cater for secure remote access, we have furthermore just started a private beta of a new service: my.openHAB will provide you the ability to connect to your openHAB over the Internet, securely, through commercial SSL certificates, without a need for making any holes in your home router and without a need for a static IP or dynamic DNS service. It does not store any data, but simply acts as a proxy that blindly forwards the communication.

The Eclipse SmartHome framework, which is derived from openHAB, is also a perfect fit for building smart home solutions that follow the "Intranet of Things" idea. We are close to having the first binary builds available of Eclipse SmartHome and work on openHAB 2.0 will start shortly after (as it will be based on Eclipse SmartHome).

So if you are considering to invest in a smart home solution, I hope that this post has brought some important aspects to your attention - let's hope that the IoT does NOT bring the loss of all privacy, but that we will in future see smart homes that fully respect your privacy! If you like the idea of an Intranet of Things, start building one yourself and spread the word!


"Leaping" Edge Home Automation at JavaOne

The JavaOne conference in San Francisco is over - it was my first JavaOne and I enjoyed it a lot. Not necessarily because of the sessions, but because of the venue and all the gifted people that I had the chance and pleasure to meet.

Our week started with being announced as a winner of the Duke's Choice Award which is given by Oracle and the Java community to innovative organizations and developers. It was a great honor receiving this award!

In order to prove that we have deserved it, we prepared a live demo of openHAB for our talk at JavaOne that showed absolutely leading edge home automation using a Leap Motion sensor. If you do not know about this yet, check out our video of what it allows you to do (when being integrated with openHAB):

That's cool, isn't it? And this is just the tip of the iceberg; hacked together by Thomas in the kitchen of an A380 (yeah, the kitchen was the only place with a socket...) on the flight to San Francisco. The Leap Motion sensor can recognize many more gestures and its API is continuously improved. At first I thought that this is only a neat toy for live demos. But having used it a few times now, I am convinced that this technology is capable of completely changing the way we think about switches and controls in our home - exciting times are ahead of us!

As Duke's Choice Award winners we were also invited to Oracle's TV show, the Oracle OpenWorld 2013 Live. It was thrilling to be on this show talking about openHAB and smart homes to the Editor in Chief of the Java Magazine, Caroline Kvitka. The recording of this live interview is available now:

As you might already know, we have proposed the Eclipse SmartHome project to further drive innovation for smart homes. JavaOne was the first conference to mention this and we even had our brand new logo just in time:

We really hope that we can get many players from the industry and from the academics behind this project to make sure that the Intranet of Things does not become a bulk of silos, but that the smart home future is truly connected.


openHAB 1.3 - Release Highlights

It is really incredible how the amount of contributions to openHAB increases: Up to our last release in April, we had a new binding about every two weeks. With the current release 1.3, we are almost up to a new binding every single week! In total we have now reached 47 different bindings for very diverse systems and devices. Let me give you a few examples:

The Z-Wave Binding: Especially in the US, Z-Wave is a very widespread radio-based home automation technology, but it is also common in all other parts of the world. Z-Wave offers a mesh topology with security features and low-power modes for battery operated devices. You can add Z-Wave support to openHAB either by using a USB stick or by using a RaZberry. There is a huge amount of interesting devices available on the market - from heating valves and sensors to plugs and alarm systems.

The EnOcean Binding: Just like Z-Wave, EnOcean is a radio technology for home automation purposes. It speciality is a feature called "energy harvesting" - this means that some EnOcean devices are capable to get their required energy from other sources than mains power or batteries. This is pretty cool as it means that you can have wall-mounted switches without any cables and without having to regularly replace batteries. Is there anything more flexible? This especially perfectly complements a system like Philips Hue: With openHAB you can finally use physical switches to control your Hue bulbs - check out the example video.

The Fritz AHA Binding: In case you use an AVM Fritz!Box as your router, you might be interested in this binding - it allows you to directly integrate the new AVM Home Automation (AHA) devices such as Fritz!DECT 200 in openHAB. As you do not need any additional gateway besides the Fritz!Box, this is a great way to start with home automation experiments. Another useful feature of these AHA devices is that they are not only remotely switchable, but that they are also power meters - this can be nicely used in automation rules for certain use cases, e.g. for noticing that your washing is done.

The digitalSTROM Binding: If you want to retrofit a classical electric installation, the powerline-communication (PLC) based digitalSTROM is a fascinating technology. You simply "pimp" your electrical cabinet with a digitalSTROM Server and digitalSTROM Meters and then you put the small switches directly in your lamps or devices. Besides simple switching and dimming, you can also monitor the energy consumption. The integration with openHAB brings ditigalSTROM users flexible user interfaces and powerful automation rules on top of the extraordinary integration possibilities with other home automation systems.

The Tinkerforge Binding: This is pretty cool for the DIY home automation. Tinkerforge is a system of open source hardware building blocks that allows to combine sensor and actor blocks by plug and play. There are for example blocks for temperature, humidity or air pressure measurement and blocks for I/O, LCDs and motor control available. The complete List is available here. You can create your individual hardware system by choosing the necessary building blocks for your project and combine it with other home automation products.

The MiLight Binding: If you think that Philips Hue is too expensive, the MiLight bulbs might be an option for you. These are also sold as "EasyBulb" or "LimitlessLED" bulbs and come with a Wifi gateway. You can choose between white bulbs which allow dimming and changing the color temperature and RGB bulbs, which have bright dimmable colors, but no saturation option - so they cannot be used for "normal" white light.
Nonetheless, these are very affordable devices which can give you a nice jump start in the the world of lighting automation!

Besides these examples, there are many more specific bindings, e.g. for Epson projectors, Onkyo AV receivers, the OpenSprinklerPi, certain heatpumps etc. Other new features include the possibility to stream your webcams through a proxy without having to expose them directly and new optional rule actions, such as an XBMC notification. Not to mention a long list of smaller improvements and bug fixes. Check out the release notes to see all the details.

So what is up next? Well, the next big event will be our talk at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco on September 26. Furthermore, we plan many organisational changes; the biggest ones being the move to GitHub and EPL and contributing the core openHAB framework to the Eclipse Foundation as a basis for the new Eclipse Smart Home project. Learn more about this at our talk at EclipseCon Europe in Ludwigsburg end of October.

These are really exciting times and it is thrilling to see how openHAB is embraced by the community!


Eclipse Technologies for the Internet of Things and the Smart Home

The Internet of Things (IoT) is one of the big hypes at the moment - and as usual with such a buzzword, it does not mean much at all (or rather it means something different, depending on who you talk to).

IoT is often used synonymously with M2M (machine-to-machine). From my point of view, this is not a valid equation - the IoT is trifold, M2M just being one part of it. M2M was coined by the telco operators and thus it usually meant in the past to stick a SIM-card on a remote device and have it communicate through the GSM network. Work was usually done in customer projects which had the goal to remotely administrate and monitor distributed devices, be it solar panels, trucks or coffee machines. None of these solutions actually wanted to connect anything to the Internet, they were usually proprietary and closed - or if you want to formulate it positively: they were targeting vertical markets.

A step towards more openness of M2M is the Open Source M2M initiative at Eclipse led by Benjamin Cabé. This will hopefully help on standardizing the used communication protocols and make it much easier for many people to program embedded devices and make them connected. Nonetheless, the focus here is still on connecting proprietary devices through unreliable and low-bandwidth networks (like GSM), so it is a good match for the classical M2M use cases mentioned above.

Another "movement" that likes using the term IoT is all the cloud-enabled gadgets ( I call them Cloudy Things) that are popping up here and there. Think of things like NestKoubachi, Withings, Fitbit, WeMo etc - each of these gadgets comes with its own cloud service, for which you need to register a user account, install a separate app and let all your data flow to some cloud service. Ok, these gadgets are connected to the Internet, but effectively they are totally disconnected from each other. The user serves as the point of integration, using his smartphone, switching from one app to another. Is this really the ultimate answer?

No, there is one more thing to it - a big part of what is the Internet to all of us is actually the private part that is under our own control: The Intranet! Nobody wants to make his printer, scanner, VoIP telephone etc. publicly available on the Internet - and yet they are part of the Internet, merely behind the firewall of the local router.

And here we enter the space of the Smart Home - Smart Home technologies again are a part of the Internet of Things, but they are neither M2M nor Cloudy Things - they are the Intranet of Things. There are two simple reasons: Firstly, you don't want your house become unusable just because your DSL connection is down - things still have to work when you are offline! Secondly, you want to be in control of the data and process it the way you need. It shouldn't be a dozen of cloud services that grab your data exclusively and then decide, what you will at all see of it and how you are allowed to use it.

Actually the three parts (M2M - Cloudy Things - Intranet of Things) are not disjunct, but also clearly overlap. Yet, the intention behind them is quite different.

Let me give you an example that everybody should be familiar with: The Smart Meter. In the European Union Smart Meters are aggressively pushed to the households. But what is the intention?
M2M: Smart Meters are a mandatory part of the smart grids through which the utility companies want to move towards a distributed system of power generation, driven by the renewable energies. A possible way of connecting the meters is via GSM using a SIM-card. This is clearly M2M: The companies need the data from these distributed remote devices for their own purpose, the customer does not have any benefit.
Cloudy Thing: As the customer does not have any benefit from the original M2M use case, the utility companies try to offer him at least something - they visualize the gathered consumption data in a nice chart that the customer can view after login at the companies cloud service, right next to his invoices. How this is presented and with which granularity is completely up to the company. The raw data is not available to the customer.
Intranet of Things: A Smart Meter is only really interesting for the customer, if he himself can get hold of the data. Unfortunately this is not really in the focus of the utility companies. Otherwise, you could have use cases like: Is the "idle" consumption a few hundred watts higher than usual? -> possibly something was not turned off! Is the current consumption higher than what the photovoltaics produce? -> maybe a bad time to start the washing machine. Is my average daily consumption lower than last month? The investment in the new fridge might pay off.

You may wonder, how you can avoid relying on Cloudy Things for your Smart Home - well, this is what I founded openHAB for! It is the missing part of your Intranet to give you (and not the cloud services) full control of your devices and your data. It already supports a long list of devices, like KNX, Homematic, Philips Hue and many more. Others are currently under development like digitalSTROM, EnOcean, AVM Fritz DECT ULE, Z-Wave etc.), so soon there should hardly be anything missing what is currently hip in the Smart Home market.

Having mentioned Eclipse M2M above: openHAB is not a competition, but a perfect complement to it - while the Eclipse M2M projects allow building devices, openHAB brings them (and many others) together and introduces the user to the network of "machines". openHAB itself is built on Eclipse technologies: Equinox, Jetty, EMF, RCP, Xtend, Xtext, Xbase,... Once the openHAB MQTT binding is ready, this can be a really cool combination!

If you have read up to here, I am convinced that you share my enthusiasm that openHAB is the missing piece to make the IoT really useful to the end user - please therefore support us and vote for openHAB at the IOT challenge, where we participate - it is just a simply click. I count on you!