I’m in the process of automating a large number of things around my house using the OpenHAB home automation software and I’ll be posting more on this in the coming months, however, there is one part of the system that I’d like to talk about early in the process before I dive into installing and configuring OpenHAB because it’s already causing me some pain.

There has been a lot written about WiFi lightbulbs, especially around how to hack the protocol and some of the security risks associated with running devices that connect to your wireless network without a huge amount of security in place around them, yet the primary issue I’ve discovered with these devices is actually the entire point of their existence.

The “MiLight” bulbs that I’ve fitted to my kid’s bedrooms simply plug into your existing light fittings.  You then leave the light “on” at the wall and use a mobile device and the associated app to turn the lights on and off, change the brightness and put them into Disco Mode (something that my kids love to do!).  The problem is that if you turn the switch off at the wall then you can’t control the light anymore, and if you turn the light off via the app, you need to find a mobile device with the app installed and configured if you want to change the colour, brightness or even turn them off.

This causes a major issue when OpenHAB dims the lights at 2100hrs each night in my kid’s rooms to tell them it’s time to go to sleep but doesn’t turn them back on again in the morning or if they need to get up in the middle of the night.

There is a phrase that floats around many of the home automation forums that, whilst I don’t really like the wording, sums up reasonably well the issue that I’m facing.  The phrase is “Wife Acceptance Factor” (WAF for short) and was coined somewhere in the 1950’s.  The idea is that things should be athestically pleasing and useable by people who aren’t interested in jumping through hoops to get things working but just “want it to work”.

When I first got these bulbs, there was  a lot of excitement in the house and my eldest two even worked out how to turn each others lights on and off which led to a couple of hours of amusement/annoyance depending on which of them was controlling and which one was trying to read. We are all now fed up with having to hunt for a phone to control the lights (it doesn’t “just work”) and I have settled on a completely different solution for the master bedroom and our front room (more on this in a later post).

These bulbs are cheap, they are designed to be “fun” and are a good place to start when experimenting with home automation (especially as you can control them via OpenHAB), however if you do choose to embark on whole house automation, I suspect that you may end up migrating away from these bulbs relatively quickly.

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