WeMo fail…

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Home automation has always been something that has fascinated me. With IFTTT and other sites connecting the world through APIs it has made the possibilities almost endless. I keep going back to the Raspberry Pi and drooling over some really cool projects I have seen but I have never made the leap myself. Last week I made my first step into home automation and I bought a WeMo light switch ($44 on Amazon). I figure that this is still pretty spendy but it is the cost of early adoption and I can slowly convert my house into the futuristic masterpiece that I think it should be. MY GOAL: Build a basic Windows Phone app that would turn my living room lights on when I get home and off when I leave… Simple right? I just set up the WeMo, configure a few things on IFTTT or hack something together for a phone app and I’m done! After spending ten minutes trying to explain how awesome this idea was to my wife she still wasn’t convinced. I was still ecstatic so I went ahead and installed it as soon as I could.

Having owned my own house for a little over a year I have only had to pretend to be an electrician a few times. I have basic theoretical knowledge but there is still always the possibility of accidentally killing myself 😉 The installation was super quick and relatively painless (I survived obviously). Then the moment came… I went to turn on my power so I could start wirelessly controlling my living room! The power went on… and… nothing… Well I guess something happened because I had the little WiFi symbol blinking at me. I figured this was to be expected because I had not set it up yet, but after pressing the button manually all I got was the WeMo to look like the pretty advertising picture below… With no lights turning on…

wemo

I went back to my theory that it was a setup issue, so I grabbed my phone to set it up… Next roadblock… WeMo doesn’t have a Windows Store App… Lame… However, there is a third party app that I figured I could use. It has good reviews and setup support. After playing around with it for about 30 minutes I realized that it doesn’t work with the 8.1 dev preview. Out of luck, I called it a day. This was much to the distress of my wife who was left with a newborn without any lights in the living room for 24 hours.

The next day I borrowed my friend’s iPhone. After about 5 minutes I was able to configure the WeMo… Still no luck. However, I was able to turn the little green light on and off with the phone. The fact that I could turn this little green light on and off through my phone via my WiFi was really exciting but sadly this isn’t what I paid the $44 for. So I turned to the internet to find out what was going on…

After searching for a little bit I ran across the product description. Buried in description page was one bullet that says “Not compatible with 3-way (multi-location control) switches.” I somehow missed this piece of advice. I knew my switch was 3-way going into this project but I figured that it wouldn’t be an issue because one of the 3-way switches is in a corner and we don’t use it. I assumed it would still work. Disappointed I scrambled around the house searching for the next coolest place I could install the WeMo… Sadly the only places in my house that aren’t on a 3-way switch are the closets and a few of the bedrooms… Unless I wanted to mess with guests when they stayed with us it was kind of silly. My house is fairly new and I would image that almost all newer houses are in the same boat… It is odd that Belkin does not have a WeMo brand switch that supports 3-way like some of their competitors.

In conclusion, I was sad about the WeMo. However, after Tweeting about it their customer service Twitter account reached out. Knowing the inner workings of customer service I was impressed by the response time and appreciated the acknowledgement. However, Belkin/WeMo still need to do two things:

  • Provide a Windows Store App, this is a growing market and it will continue to be
  • Provide a product that supports a 3-way switch

Alas, I will be returning my WeMo but will explore it again when those two items above are checked off.

I guess my house (or pocket) is not ready for an out of the box home automation solution. I think my next attempt at home automation will be investing in the Raspberry Pi. I have a great project idea using remote controlled wall plugins and controlling the IR with the Pi through my WiFi. This has the power to do essentially what I was looking for at about the same price point (along with some coding elbow grease but it gives me a good excuse to buy a Pi!).

If you have any Pi ideas or have had any success with home automation please comment below! I would love to hear about your experience.

 

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