My Love and Hate Relationship with Audrey

I want my damn robot.

About 15 years ago, I seriously started to want my own personal robot. Throughout my childhood, I was bombarded with science fiction movies and TV shows that always talked about “artificial intelligence” and robots that would take care of your every whim. For a techie guy like me, how am I supposed to protect myself from the onslaught of a wondrous future where everything is just done for you? So like I said, about 15 years ago I started looking at ways to automate my condo. The state-of-the-art technology at that time was something called X10 which were basically switches, plugs, and modules that can talk to each other over the power lines. It wasn’t the most reliable technology but it was cheap, it was plentiful, and best of all it was actually being sold in stores. So I bit the bullet and replaced a few light switches and outlets with the smart gizmos so that I can start doing some really smart stuff around the house.

Enter Audrey

At this point, the house wasn’t that smart. Light switches could talk to each other but there was no one “pulling the strings” you might say. After looking around tirelessly for something to fill my need, I finally came across a product called Homeseer. It was a fledgling product at the time but had a lot of potential since they built it on web technologies and languages like VBScript. Audrey (think hot British nanny) was born. She would take care the house with things like turning on and off lights based on motion, setting the mood by setting a scene, and letting me know the weather forecast. I wanted to teach Audrey did do more things like manage the thermostats, watch over the house with cameras (creepy), even let me know when somebody is in the house and not supposed to (creepier) but most of the things were all around watching the house.

Project Jarvis

I have haphazardly came across a guy named Chad Barraford that built what he calls Project Jarvis. He says at the Jarvis character in the Iron Man movies inspired him to write a system that integrates into many portions of his life. He says it does things like track packages, tracks is Netflix queue, and monitors his Facebook account in addition to controlling lights in his house. I have to say, this kid inspired me to take Audrey to the next level. Up until now, Audrey has really only been doing things around the house and mostly just with lights and lighting scenes. I was now energized to have Audrey become a digital personal assistant taking care of things that a human assistant would do for me normally. So yes of course she will take care of the house, making sure things are done like they should be but also may be tracking the status of packages, notifying me when I should check my mailbox, checking on my complementary first class upgrade on my next flight, and helping me monitor my social networks. The idea is to have her do all the mundane things that I have to do day in and day out. And of course I want her to do this without my prompting, all automatically… like a good assistant should.

All sounds cool on paper…

But we all know how technology works. She won’t always know what to do or she may get a little bug that will stop her from working at her best. I do have to say, this is the most irritating thing about technology is when it just doesn’t work right. But time heals all so I hope the more that I work with her the smarter she’ll become and a better my life will be.

On the roadmap

On my current list of things I like Audrey do for me include:

  • First class flight upgrades
  • Package tracking
  • Garage door automation
  • House occupancy
  • House value tracking
  • House sitter monitoring
  • Climate control
  • Pool monitoring
  • Landscape dripper system
  • Tracking my location (and making decisions based on that)

So, if you have (or want to have) a robot doing work for you, what would it be? Anything I missed on my list? Let me know in the comments below.

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Details for the Geeks

Here is the tech on how I did it. First the basic ingredients:

I have currently have Homeseer installed on a Windows XP machine with the serial PLM installed to a dedicated circuit.  I plugged in the Insteon Access Points, installed the Insteon plugin, and added the SwitchLincs and OutletLincs according to the plug in instructions.  I life to group the devices by room in the “Location” field (like “Family Room”) and then group them by type in the “Location 2” field (like “Fans”) which allows me to filter devices by room or function pretty easily in the interface or in Homeseer scripts.

If you want more details how how the installation works or about individual configuration advice, ask in the comments.  Bon Appetit!

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