Home Automation : The Kira128

I’ve been interested in home automation in various flavours for almost as long as I can remember – I guess it’s the combination of being a bit lazy, and tech for the sake of tech.

One of my favourite toys is the Kira128, from Keene Electronics which is basically a little box that sits on the end of an ethernet connection and responds to UDP packets by sending out infra-red (IR) commands to your TV/Cable/Satellite/DVD/PVR/etc. A universal remote that responds to your network.

The unit is intended to be hidden away somewhere near your A/V rack, so it’s visually a little uninspiring (a cream box, with a few LEDs, an ethernet socket and so on) – but that’s ok. I’ll probably paint mine black at some point.

The functionality, however, is very impressive for a unit at this price. Some software is provided to enable you to set it up and record codes from your existing remotes – this is probably the weakest part of the product; I’ve spent much of my career working in embedded systems development, and this “feels” like something that’s been written by an engineer to test something in the workshop, rather than an end-user tool. (Since I’ve been that engineer, I rather like the fact that it exposes all sorts of functionality, but most users aren’t going to care much about some of it – and it could be a bit easier to use). Fortunately, you don’t have to spend much time with this – just record codes from your existing remotes, and forget about it – so it’s less of a problem than it might be. I keep thinking about writing something a bit more user-friendly, but I use this so rarely that it’s a low priority.

Once it’s all set up, it includes a simple webserver which provides a perfectly workable UI that will let you drive all the functions from your smartphone/tablet/PC/etc.

Importantly (for me, anyhow), the network protocol is fully documented – which allows you to do all the configuration and control over a network without using the provided software. I wrote a very simple iOS application which will allow you to drive this unit from your iPhone (and, very probably, your iPad – although I’ve not tested tha) – you can find the code on github. (It’s not actually any improvement over the built-in web interface, but it was fun to write, and I figured out some stuff about iPhone development along the way). I’ve also written a simple webapp that runs on my NAS which gives me a nicer feeling web UI. I plan to publish that on GitHub at some point, but currently it’s horribly hard-coded to work with my particular setup, so that’ll have to wait.

A note about Keene, the manufacturer: I’ve been very impressed with their customer service. I had a problem with the first unit I received, so I fired off an email; next morning, I had a phone call from Keene, and a replacement unit arrived at my home the next day (along with a pre-paid jiffy to return the faulty one). The new unit has worked flawlessly ever since. They’ve also been very forthcoming with information about programming and configuring the units, so top marks to them.

This is a topic I’m likely to write more on – but if you’re interested in a solution to IR control over IP, I’d thoroughly recommend the Kira128.

(And yes, it wouldn’t be difficult to do something like this with a Rasberry Pi or Arduino and some external components – but that’s a column for another time…)

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