Buy enough technology and you won’t be able to escape the siren call of the smart home. Amazon is practically throwing Echo Dots at you. Google will put the Nest Mini in the box with almost anything you buy in its store. Good luck purchasing a new kitchen appliance that doesn’t require an Internet connection. All of these platforms come with closed, cloud-based platforms, requiring you to submit to the company’s wishes in using them.
But for the past decade, Home Assistant has been the software of choice for privacy-focused geeks who want all the benefits offered by Apple, Google, and Amazon products with infinitely better flexibility and fewer security risks. Now, for the show’s 10th anniversary, the folks behind Home Assistant are introducing a new product in hopes of expanding it beyond the realm of geeks: Home Assistant Green.
“Our ideal future, long-term, is that we want people to have a privacy-focused smart home, which isn’t just something that the rich or the nerds have access to,” Home Assistant founder and Nabu Casa CEO Paulus Schoutsen told me in an interview. .
“We want people to have a privacy-focused smart home… not just the rich or the nerds.”
Like a lot of people, I originally ended up finding Home Assistant because I had too many devices that didn’t work well or at all with each other: Hue lights, smart speakers, NAS, and air conditioner, not to mention Random switches, motion sensors, and other inconvenient dongles you bought on AliExpress. While major companies are embracing Thread in an attempt to make everything work well together, the interoperability around it has been a mess. Obviously, general dissatisfaction with the state of things and the need for distressing privacy is a common path for a home helper.
But there were many roadblocks. While the process of setting up Home Assistant isn’t too difficult for someone who regularly tinkers with Raspberry Pis, it’s still not an experience for the faint of heart. It is, at this point, still enthusiast software, and setting things up is still a very intentional process by design. But there is a large segment of people who want to participate without fiddling with devices. Home Assistant Green is a convenient little package and an attempt to make the setup process easier for everyone.
A box for everyone
Priced at $99 and planned as a permanent item alongside Yellow home helperWhat makes Home Assistant Green novel is not that it has powerful and advanced hardware, although the RK3566 quad-core CPU is fast enough to run the program without a problem. What makes the device unique is the 32GB eMMC storage capacity that is pre-loaded with the Home Assistant platform. It’s a much less expensive and easier entry for people who want to dip their feet in the water without having to charge a memory card from another computer. The unit also comes with 4GB of LDDR4x RAM, a few USB 2.0 slots, an HDMI output, and a microSD slot for expansion.
The device is explicitly designed to run the Home Assistant operating system only, and is not intended to be a multi-purpose computer like the Raspberry Pi. It’s also not a piece of hardware you can give to your technophobic relative, but rather something for the person who knows Home Assistant but doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of operating it all.
To get started, simply plug it into the included power adapter, connect it to your router via Ethernet (the Green doesn’t have Wi-Fi “because the backbone of your smart home has to use Ethernet,” explains Schutzen), and then go through Setup process using your phone or another computer. The system will automatically detect devices on your network that can work with it. If you don’t have a Hue hub or an existing way to connect to Zigbee devices (and… The subject is experimental), you can add a Skyconnect dongle later. There are countless devices that Home Assistant already runs on, but for Home Assistant Green, simplicity is the goal.
I received an early sample of the device to test, which came in a nice frosted plastic case with a metal base and easy-to-follow instructions. This is a much nicer looking setup than what I currently have, which is a Raspberry Pi 4 Model B just kind of relaxing on my bookshelf with the cables sticking out at different angles.
After connecting everything and visiting Green’s address in your computer browser (http://homeassistant.local:8123/) or Home Assistant mobile app, you’re greeted by a quick installation screen asking if you want to start a new smart home project Or restore an old house. Since I was already running Home Assistant, I made sure to make a full backup of my instance and download it to my computer before disconnecting it from my router. From there, I downloaded the backup and waited for about 20 minutes for everything to fall into place. It doesn’t currently let you know when it’s done, so you just have to refresh your browser window, but sure enough, all my stuff was exactly where I left it, all the UI tweaks and painstaking integrations were there, and my Skyconnect is working. Everything just works.
If simplicity was the goal, the team achieved it.
“Right now, we’re targeting an audience that we call the ‘outdoor farmer,'” Schutzen explained via Discord. “It’s the company that uses Amazon/Apple, etc., faces limitations, and wants more. Searches the web and finds Home Assistant. At this point, users already know they want a smart home and are looking for solutions to their problems, which Home Assistant can generally solve. We believe that with the need for a Raspberry Pi to get started or the relatively high price of Yellow (don’t know if your problems will be solved for $200), we have lost a large portion of independent farmers. So, with Green, we’re trying to provide a way for anyone to start using Home Assistant.
10 years Home Assistant
Home Assistant, which celebrates its 10th anniversary today, has grown a lot in the past 10 years. Like me, Schoutsen got into the game after getting an expensive set of Philips Hue bulbs and hitting a wall with what they allowed him to do.
“I didn’t start creating Home Assistant because I wanted to create a smart home platform,” he explained. “Hugh was released, and I bought him. I was at that point a visiting scholar at UC San Diego finishing my master’s thesis and was doing a bunch of Python stuff, so I wrote some code to talk to Hugh.
Since then the project and the team Expanded to 28 people. The development of Home Assistant is funded through subscriptions to the company’s cloud service Cloud Home Assistantas well as selling devices such as yellowlimited edition blue, the SkyConnect dongle, and now the Green hub, allowing the company to develop without outside investors poking its neck. Outside of the core team itself, there are countless people adding schematics and contributing to the code in their spare time. According to Schoutsen, Home Assistant is the second most active open source project on GitHub.
When I inquired about the possibility of expanding the project beyond the home, Schutzen said he was not interested. “Any time you expand focus, you need to add features that fit one use case well, and the other not so well,” he explained. “I don’t want to go after hotels or offices. When talking to companies, people always thought we would go there, where there is money but not fun 🙂. And we don’t have any investors to take us away from our focus on the home,” Schutzen said. Office construction will also require oversight Too strict on access, which can slow down the process of adding features.This is a more realistic vision for a product than you typically see coming from founders, and one that was further exacerbated when I inquired about where they see the home assistant compared to Google’s or Apple’s offerings.
“I don’t see us competing directly with Google/Amazon/Apple anytime soon for the segment of users who need to learn about smart home because the point is that anyone with a smartphone has access to Google Home and Apple Home. However, we don’t claim That these users have a smart home. Even having multiple connected devices does not make a home smart. A home is only considered “smart” when people start to care about making their connected devices have unified control or work together.
“A home is only labeled as ‘smart’ when people start to care about making their connected devices have unified control or work together.”
Having used both HomeKit and Home Assistant, I’m inclined to agree. The main market for Home Assistant will always be people who want an intentionally smart home, something that does exactly what they tell it to do, not an overly landscaped enclosed garden. And while there’s still a lot of work to do to make it more attractive to beginners (Schutzen admits that user-created blueprints should be easier to find), the core of what makes it work remains the same: Thousands of users are getting devices for their homes, saying “this doesn’t… It works as I want it to, find a workaround and share their progress.
“It takes some effort to keep the machine moving,” he said.
While I’m naturally someone who loves to mess around, I also live my life with the understanding that most people aren’t like that. You can pique your curiosity with Raspberry Pis, but many people want something that will actually get them most of the way. Many IoT devices are sold on being easy and attractive at the expense of being closed, insecure and invasive. Looking at the semi-opaque plastic case of the Home Assistant Green, I hope Schoutsen is right. I hope more people get on board with running Home Assistant, with open source software, and eventually with full control of a truly “smart” home.
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