I had been thinking of building an Arduino, Photon or Pi device to power on/off a mains powered cooling fan. This would be fairly straight forward with the device + a relay connected to it. I then took a quick look around and found that Belkin’s WeMo switched plugs might be able to what I need for less money and in a productised form. I then found they did some that allowed energy usage to be monitored too in the WeMo Insight range, I’ve a use for this information too. So I purchased a couple of Belkin WeMo insight Home Automation Switch from Amazon.co.uk.
The units were well packaged, look OK, a little bulky I suppose, but not massive. They are certainly smaller and neater then any home-brew solution would have been. Plugging one in it took several minutes before it would respond to the power switch mounted on top, not ideal.
When first powered on they will advertise their own open Wireless network, which I connected to and then ran the WeMo App on my iPhone. The device is recognised and you go through the initial configuration. One you enter details of your own wireless network I found that it rarely managed for the app to handle this cleanly and often the App crashed. If I recall it actually took several attempts to get the devices though the initial configuration and for them to move to my network. This may be due to firmware.
The WeMo Insights out of the box were running on old firmware. The WeMo app will guide you through the firmware upgrade process which (for me at least) appeared to need to go through 2 or 3 firmware update loops to get to the latest version. Once again this wasn’t seamless, the App crashed in one instance, another update and the App reported the upgrade was in progress and to wait, and it was still showing this state after 30mins, with the WeMo still flashing its light. So I risked power cycling the WeMo and when it started it had completed the update and all seemed well.
In the WeMo App I was able to set the price of energy, configure it to email me weekly usage logs, and register it with IFTTT. As you’d expect I was also able to turn the plug on and off in the house, and whilst away too, via 3G.
WiFi Problems and Resolution
Within a day of having everything setup I found I couldn’t control the devices from my Phone. I power cycled the device and it re-appeared. This kept happening, checking around the forums it appears to be a common issue. A problem which appears to stem from running in an environment with multiple Access Points (AP) broadcasting the name network SSID. Some forum posts suggest that even with multiple SSID that if the App isn’t on the same network (and AP) as the WeMo’s that it won’t work. That’s not my experience, and just as well as that made very little sense.
Now WeMo is sort of a geeky gadget, which I imagine is purchased by people not all that different to me. Please who don’t like areas of poor reception so may just have more than one AP and to make it seamless use the same SSID and allocate out different channels. So I struggle to see why the product shipped in this way and still has this issue several firmware revisions later.
To workaround the problem I logged on to one of my AP and changed the SSID for the 2.4Ghz range to a new name. Fired up the WeMo app on my phone and reconfigured them for this new wireless network. Since then they appear to be running just fine and my iPhone app can always see the devices now even though my phone is roaming around the various AP on my original WiFi network.
With so many things on the go right now, the WeMo insights are just running and sending me weekly usage information on energy usage of my wife’s ironing business. I’ve also connected them up to OctoBlu via my RaspberryPi GateBlu. Update 9 Sept 2016: Octoblu have deprecated GateBlu and have a new connector based approach, see: https://meshblu-connectors.readme.io/docs/getting-started. I just now need to work on a bunch of other things before I’ll be ready to use them in the way I intended.