Buy enough technology and you won’t be able to escape the siren call of a smart home. Amazon practically throws Echo Dots at you. Google will include a Nest Mini in the box with almost everything you buy in its store. Good luck purchasing a new kitchen appliance that doesn’t require an Internet connection. They all come with platforms that are locked and cloud-dependent, requiring you to bend to their corporate wishes to use them.
But for the past decade, Home Assistant has been the software of choice for privacy-focused nerds who want all the benefits that products from Apple, Google, and Amazon provide with infinitely better flexibility and fewer security risks. And now, for the software’s 10th birthday, the people behind Home Assistant are introducing a new product in hopes of extending it beyond the realm of nerds: Home Assistant Green.
“Our ideal future, long term, is that we want people to get a privacy-focused smart home that’s not something that only the rich or the nerds have access to,” the Home Assistant founder told me in an interview. and CEO of Nabu Casa, Paulus Schoutsen. .
“We want people to have a smart home focused on privacy… not just the rich or the nerds”
Like a lot of people, I originally ended up looking into Home Assistant because I had too many devices that didn’t work well or at all with each other: Hue lights, smart speakers, a NAS, an air conditioner, not to mention random switches. , motion presence sensors and other misfit dongles that I bought on AliExpress. And while larger companies are adopting Thread in an attempt to make everything work well together, even interoperability in that sense has been a disaster. A general dissatisfaction with the state of things and a painful need for specificity is apparently a common path to Home Assistant.
But there have been many obstacles. While the Home Assistant setup process isn’t tremendously difficult for the type of person who plays with Raspberry Pis regularly, it’s still not an experience for the faint of heart. At this point, it’s still enthusiast software and setup is still a very intentional process by design. But there is a large segment of people who want to jump in without having to tinker with the hardware. Home Assistant Green is a convenient little package and an attempt to make the onboarding part easier for everyone.
A box for everyone
Priced at $99 and planned as a permanent item along with the Yellow Home AssistantWhat makes the Home Assistant Green novel is not that it has powerful, high-end hardware, although the RK3566 quad-core CPU is fast enough to run the software without problems. What makes the device unique is the 32GB eMMC storage preloaded with the Home Assistant platform. It’s a more affordable and much simpler entry for people who want to dip their toes in the water without having to flash a memory card from another PC. The unit also comes with 4GB of LDDR4x RAM, some 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; It is not intended to be a multi-purpose computer like a Raspberry Pi. It’s also not a piece of hardware you can give to a tech-phobic relative, but rather something for the person who knows Home Assistant but hasn’t wanted to deal with the hassle of getting it to work.
To get started, simply plug it in with 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 should use Ethernet,” explains Schoutsen), and you’re done. through the setup process using your phone or other 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 experimentally thread), you can add a Skyconnect dongle later. There are countless devices that Home Assistant already works with, but for Home Assistant Green, simplicity is the goal.
I received an initial sample of the device to test, which came in a nice frosted plastic box with a metal base and easy-to-follow instructions. This is a much nicer setup than the one I currently have, which is a naked Raspberry Pi 4 Model B just relaxing on my bookshelf with cables sticking out at various angles.
After you connect everything and visit the Green address in your computer browser (http://homeassistant.local:8123/) or the Home Assistant mobile app, a quick setup screen will appear asking if you want to start a new home smart or restore an old one. Since I was already running Home Assistant, I made sure to take a full backup of my instance and downloaded it to my PC before disconnecting it from my router. From there, I loaded the backup and waited about 20 minutes while I put everything in place. It doesn’t currently let you know when it’s finished, so you just have to refresh your browser window, but sure enough, all my stuff was exactly where I’d left it, all my painstaking UI adjustments and integrations were there, and My Skyconnect worked. Everything just worked.
If simplicity is the goal, the team achieved it.
“We are currently targeting the audience we call ‘the outgrower,'” Schoutsen explained via Discord. “He is the one who uses Amazon / Apple, etc., he runs into limitations and wants more. He searches the web and finds Home Assistant. At that point, users already know they want a smart home and are looking for solutions to their problems, which Home Assistant can usually solve. We felt that by requiring a Raspberry Pi to get started or the relatively high price of the Yellow (you don’t know if your problems will be solved for $200), we were missing out on a good chunk of outsourced producers. So with Green, we’re trying to offer a way for anyone to get started with Home Assistant.”
10 years as a Home Assistant
Home Assistant, which celebrates its 10th birthday today, has grown a lot in the last 10 years. Like me, Schoutsen got into the game after getting an expensive set of Philips Hue light bulbs and hitting a wall with what they allowed him to do.
“I didn’t start Home Assistant because I wanted to create a platform for the smart home,” he explained. “Hue came on the market and I bought it. At the time I was a visiting scholar at UCSD finishing my master’s thesis and I was doing a lot of stuff with Python, so I wrote some code to talk to Hue.”
Since then, the project and the team They have expanded to 28 people. The development of Home Assistant is funded through subscriptions to the company’s cloud service. Cloud Startup Assistantas well as the sale of hardware such as Yellowlimited edition Blue, the SkyConnect dongle and now the green center, allowing the company to develop without external investors breathing down its neck. Outside of the core team, there are countless people who add blueprints and contribute to code in their spare time. According to Schoutsen, Home Assistant is the second most active open source project on GitHub.
When I asked him about the possibility of expanding the project beyond the house, Schoutsen said he wasn’t interested. “Any time you broaden your focus, you need to add features that fit one use case well and the other not so well,” he explained. “I wouldn’t want to go after hotels or offices. When we talked to companies, people always thought we would go there, since that’s where the money is but not the fun 🙂. And we don’t have investors to divert us from our focus on housing.” Building offices would also require very strict access control, Schoutsen said, which would slow down the process by which they add features. This is a more sober view of a product than you usually see coming from the founders, one that was further compounded when I asked them where they see the Home Assistant in relation to the offering from Google or Apple.
“I don’t see us competing directly with Google/Amazon/Apple in the short term for the segment of users who need to learn about a smart home because the point is that anyone with a smartphone has access to Google Home and Apple Home. However, we do not claim that those users have a smart home. Even having multiple connected devices does not constitute a smart home. “A home is only considered ‘smart’ when people start to care about having their devices connected with unified control or working together.”
“A home is only considered ‘smart’ when people start to care about having their devices connected with unified control or working together.”
Having used both HomeKit and Home Assistant, I’m inclined to agree. Home Assistant’s main market will always be people who want an intentional smart home, something that does exactly what they ask it to, not an overly manicured walled garden. And while there’s still a lot of work to be done to make it more appealing to newbies (finding user-created blueprints should be easier, Schoutsen admits), the core of what makes it tick remains the same: Thousands of users get devices to your home, saying “This isn’t working the way I want,” finding an alternative solution, and sharing your progress.
“It takes quite a bit of effort to keep the machine moving,” he said.
While I am, by nature, a person who loves to play, I also live my life understanding that most people are not like that. You can invite curiosity with Raspberry Pis, but many people want something that already allows them to get there. Much IoT hardware is sold as being seductively easy and attractive at the cost of being closed, insecure and invasive. Looking at the semi-opaque plastic casing of the Home Assistant Green, I hope Schoutsen is right. I hope more people use Home Assistant, open source software, and ultimately have full control over a truly “smart” home.