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Podcast #733: Home Automation: OpenHAB and OpenRemote

There is this dream we have to be able to automate everything in our homes, but do it ourselves, without hiring an installer, and do it for cheap without breaking the bank. So far we have used a lot of Insteon devices, and tied them into other systems to expand the overall reach of what we could build. Luckily, we aren’t the only ones with this dream and a few open source projects have popped up to help us DIY-ers achieve our dreams.

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OpenHAB and OpenRemote

There is this dream we have to be able to automate everything in our homes, but do it ourselves, without hiring an installer, and do it for cheap without breaking the bank. So far we have used a lot of Insteon devices, and tied them into other systems to expand the overall reach of what we could build. Luckily, we aren’t the only ones with this dream and a few open source projects have popped up to help us DIY-ers achieve our dreams.



OpenHAB is a vendor and technology agnostic open source automation software for your home. Their claim is that you can build your smart home in no time. The name stands for Open Home Automation Bus, and for those familiar with electronics, you know the bus in computer terms is less like a real bus and more like a highway. It is a set of conductors carrying data and control signals within a computer system, to which pieces of equipment are connected and how they communicate with each other.

So OpenHAB is the central nervous system of your home automation environment. It is used to connect all your devices and allows them to communicate, and also allows you to act as the brain to send commands to each of them. They describe it as “a software for integrating different home automation systems and technologies into one single solution that allows over-arching automation rules and that offers uniform user interfaces.” This means openHAB is designed to be absolutely vendor-neutral as well as hardware and protocol agnostic.

Drilling down on that, it is pretty flexible, it can run on any device that is capable of running a JVM (Linux, Mac, Windows). It allows you to integrate a plethora of different home automation technologies into one cohesive system. And also has the brain: it includes a powerful rule engine to fulfill all your automation needs. Out of the box it comes with different web-based UIs as well as native UIs for iOS and Android. It is fully open source, so new devices and protocols can be added at any time. You can even add them if you want to contribute and become a member of the passionate and growing community responsible for maintaining it. If you don’t want to contribute code, it is easily extensible to integrate with new systems and devices and provides APIs for being integrated in other systems.

The openHAB website provides a great description of the core philosophy behind the project:

openHAB does not try to replace existing solutions, but rather wants to enhance them - it can thus be considered as a system of systems. It therefore assumes that the sub-systems are setup and configured independently of openHAB as this is often a very specific and complex matter (including “pairing” processes, direct device links etc.). Instead, openHAB focuses on the “daily use” side of things and abstracts from the devices themselves.

A core concept for openHAB is the notion of an “item”. An item is a data-centric functional atomic building block - you can think of it as an “capability”. openHAB does not care whether an item (e.g. a temperature value) is related to a physical device or some “virtual” source like a web service or an calculation result. All features offered by openHAB are using this “item” abstraction, which means that you will not find any reference to device specific things (like IP addresses, IDs etc.) in automation rules, UI definitions and so on. This makes it perfectly easy to replace one technology by another without doing any changes to rules and UIs.

A very important aspect of openHAB’s architecture is its modular design. It is very easy to add new features (like the integration with yet another system through a “binding”) and you can add and remove such features at runtime. This modular approach has been a huge enabler for the active community around openHAB with many engaged contributors.

OpenHAB has a huge list of supported technologies including: Benq, Epson projectors, Denon, Onkyo and Pioneer receivers, LG and Panasonic TVs, DMX lighting, ecobee and Nest thermostats, Insteon Hub and PLM, Z-Wave devices, Google calendar, Twitter, Logitech Harmony remotes, Plex and XBMC media servers, Sonos devices, and the list goes on. No mention on the website of any support for Amazon Echo or Apple HomeKit. Our gut says someone in the passionate and growing community is working on it, but we have no proof of that.

We haven’t had a chance to toy with openHAB ourselves yet, freetime has been pretty scarce lately. But it looks very promising and we’ve added it to our list of todo items. From the forum and other various internet posts we’ve read, it looks very promising. Yes it is bare-bones. And yes it requires a lot of setup and configuration, but that also means it allows for a very deep level of customization. For those who have the time and the patience, it could be awesome. For those who want something to “just work” out of the box, you’re probably better off going with a commercial solution.



Just like we talked about when we discussed Play-Fi a few episodes ago, there can never be just one protocol or system or methodology for something. Thus in addition to OpenHAB, you have another option in OpenRemote. From the descriptions on the website, they feel almost identical in capabilities and philosophy. OpenRemote has more references to commercial applications, and a few more links for professionals like installers, distributors, integrators, etc. So it feels like OpenRemote’s plans are a bit more grandiose while OpenHAB is targeted more at the DIY-er.

The OpenRemote website describes the project as:

OpenRemote is software integration platform for residential and commercial building automation. OpenRemote platform is automation protocol agnostic, operates on off-the-shelf hardware and is freely available under an Open Source license. OpenRemote's architecture enables fully autonomous and user-independent intelligent buildings. End-user control interfaces are available for iOS and Android devices, and for devices with modern web browsers. User interface design, installation management and configuration can be handled remotely with OpenRemote cloud-based design tools.

Reading through the About page at gives you the distinct impression that the project is aimed at professionals, but can also be used by someone in their home, just instead of deploying the solution to a commercial building, you run it in your house. Because of this the project feels more mature or more feature rich than OpenHAB. It has to support a demanding user group who are supporting demanding customers. It can’t just break when the automation of a commercial or retail establishment are built on it. Several forum posts claim OpenRemote has better support for more devices, but to be fair, most of those were posted at the openRemote website. So they’re already invested.

For example, on the About page they have info about the main components of the system:

OpenRemote Designer is an online software application designed to rapidly and easily create touch-driven control panels. You can create multiple user profiles and customize user interfaces for each one: each user profile can have its individual preferences, branding, favorites and individual set of controls and tailored for panel hardware capabilities.

With OpenRemote Designer you can remotely maintain device configurations and update user interfaces as your customer's preferences evolve. Remotely managed updates, system diagnosis and device discovery means more efficient service and less travel time between office and customer sites.

OpenRemote Controller is deployed on customer site and autonomously manages intelligence in the building. Reacting to schedules, sensor events and user actions, it handles the overall runtime performance after initial design has been created. OpenRemote Controller also provides the device and protocol integration capabilities in the OpenRemote platform. We support deployment of panels on Apple iPhones, Apple iPad, Android phones and tablets and standard desktop web browsers.

OpenRemote will connect and control devices from: AMX, KNX, Lutron, Z-Wave, 1-Wire, EnOcean, xPL, Insteon, X10, Infrared, Russound, GlobalCache, IRTrans, XBMC, VLC, panStamps, Denon AVR, FreeBox, MythTV, and more. No mention of Amazon Echo or HomeKit. The brain of the system allows you to create Intelligent buildings (or homes) with automated rules, scripts and events. And you can install and run it on Windows, Linux, Mac, Raspberry Pi, Alix, Synology, ReadyNAS, QNAP and others.

Like OpenHAB, we haven’t tried OpenRemote. On one hand OpenRemote seems like a great option because of the additional supported devices. On the other hand, it does feel quite a bit heavier, and if we don’t have any of those additional devices, that support is somewhat irrelevant. OpenHAB feels like it was built more for guys like us, the DIY-er who isn’t trying to create automated solutions for commercial or retail environments. We’re just trying to make our homes a little smarter. But we would love your feedback. If you have experience with either, share it with us so we can share it with the other listeners. You might be able to help us set priority for which one we try first.



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