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NOAHCube

The NOAHCube is the next chapter in my Network of Automated Hardware for home automation. A new centralized and portable automation hub

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The Problem:
After my previous endeavors related to Home Automation (see Project Noah V0.2) I first want to make it clear to anyone reading this: Home Automation projects are really, really difficult. Its almost always impractical and 99% never get finished. You spend a couple of months building the hardware and can spend a lifetime finishing the software. The system is usually highly customized for the individual building it and can rarely be implemented by someone else without immense frustration.

The NOAHCube:
Hence my grandiose idea… Imagine having a standardized hardware platform (think Arduino, Raspberry PI) for Home Automation. A simple base (the cube’s back plane and standardized form factor) with support for community or user designed add in cards and software. Why a cube, think of it as something you can personalize and fill with your personality to make it uniquely yours... or maybe because 120mm MDF cubes are universal and cheap.

NOAHCube

The cube is designed to be an automation platform. In this case a center piece that can be placed on your desk. It will be the control hub for your home automation but also a development platform for testing automation ideas.

The NOAHCube will be up-gradable, allowing you to slot in a combination of pre-designed add-on cards or, with the complete hardware specs in hand, allow you to design your own. Being completely Open Source I intend this to be something that will help anyone interested in automation.

So far there are 4 add-on cards planned:

1. POWERCard - This will have all the voltage regulation and control needed to power the cube

2. IOCard - This will come in combinations of 4-Out/4-In, 8-Out and 8-In for Input/Output control

3. RFCard - This will contain all RF goodness, 433Mhz RF radio, WiFI and so on

4. CPUCard - This will contain a beefy CPU as well as an Raspberry PI for completed control.

Why have a card with WiFI and a CPU card with a Raspberry PI that also has WiFi you ask... Well this is so you have the ability to isolate your home/office WiFi with internet access from your sensor WiFi network with no network connection between the two.

  • 3 × Atmel ATMEGA 328P-AU The Arduino compatible micro will be a jelly bean addition to the BOM to allow programming with the Arduino IDE or with AVR Sudio
  • 2 × LM2596S DC-DC converters A cheap way of getting the 15-19V input down to usable levels without breaking the bank or adding to global warming
  • 1 × Displaytech 162B LCD Gosh darn off course we need a display
  • 10 × Lots of LED's Because, because....it needs LED's
  • 4 × LM7805 Power Management ICs / Linear Voltage Regulators and LDOs

  • Engineers Log: 03-03/06/2018

    Dewet06/03/2018 at 19:42 0 comments

     *Quick disclaimer, I am not an EE and this is my first ever backplane design so bear with me on this.

    The Backplane

    As mentioned in the first log the backplane will be the most important part of this design. It forms the base onto which the other add-on cards will plug into as well as define the future upgrades on the platform.

    One mistake here and I will have to work around it for the rest of the projects lifetime. After some late nights, lots of caffeine and a final design sprint, I finally have a design I think will work well. The beauty of the REV: A design is that it is "Arduino compatible", this means you can program it with the Arduino IDE (though you will need to have another Arduino acting as an ISP programmer) or directly with AVR Studio in C/C++. Designing it like this will allow access to the hardware for a larger subset of people that might be interested in building the NOAHCube.

    Due to the way I wanted the NOAHCube to operate/be upgraded I designed the backplane to be an active component in the system. I will eventually have an CPU card that will do the heavy lifting but until then the backplane will run the other add-on cards. Speaking of add-on cards, I have the following 4 cards in mind that will eventually plug into the backplane:

    1. POWERCard

    2. IOCard

    3. RFCard

    4. CPUCard

    * And no I have not given any thought to the naming convention for the cards OK. This will come in time when I have everything up and running and can spare a few brain cycles to think up something creative.

    Moving on...

    Off course I had to design the POWERCard in conjunction with the backplane as I would need it to power everything up during the initial testing. So currently I have the REV: A hardware for both the backplane and the POWERCard and will add some pictures below. The REV: A hardware has been powered up and initial testing for power and communication on I2C have been completed. I needed to confirm this was working so I could begin with the IOCard next and get this puppy to start controlling some real world stuff. Once the IOCard is done and tested the CPUCard is up next, but I fully expect that to be at least a couple of months off. So in the meantime I get to control a couple of relays.

    Excuse all the LED’s and extra pin’s on these boards. They are for testing purposes and will be removed in the final design:

  • Engineers Log: 02-24/03/2018

    Dewet03/24/2018 at 12:07 0 comments

      Meet the Enclosure

      It is a well-known fact that engineers work at their best when we have a set of realistic constraints. So without further ado meet constraint number one, the enclosure. I have thought long and hard about what type of enclosure would suite something that sat quietly on a desk somewhere controlling much of your home.

      We all want nice looking enclosures for our smart things. If you take enclosures for smart speakers as an example most of the market is fascinated with rounded enclosures, (think Amazon Echo, Google Home). Now these are great when you have an industrial design team and access to fabrication facilities, but most of us cannot buy these types of enclosures so we must re-purpose something we can find locally or 3D print an enclosure. Since I do not have access to a 3D printer or could not be bothered to design a enclosure in CAD for now, we are sticking to finding something off the shelf.

      Based on the above, here are my requirements for the enclosure:

      1. It should be easily obtained.
      2. It should be easy to work with. (prototyping requires allot of iteration)
      3. It should be easy to make yourself in case it cannot be bought.
      4. It should support the idea of slot in cards/upgradability.
      5. Did I mention I like cubes, yes a cube shape it will be!
      6. But most of all it should be cheap.

      Using the above criteria, I stumbled onto these hobby craft MDF cubes pictured below. You should be able to find them anywhere and if not you can easily make them using a variety of ways. The ones I get are available in multiple sizes but 120x120x125mm seem so be the sweet spot. This allows for (given a wall thickness of 6mm +-) an inner diameter of 108x108x113mm.

      For now, this inner diameter is perfect because it will give us space to mount a PCB at the back and with all the support installed, a nice 100x105mm slot in card size.

  • Engineers Log: 01-02/03/2018

    Dewet03/02/2018 at 13:41 0 comments

      With the project page open it's almost like the first page in a new notebook. You never quite exactly know where or how to start. So the first thing to do is scribble something (really anything) down to ruin the first page so it's easier to start on the next page. This is my first scribble on this project log. 

      I have the basic idea down for what I want to build and I have a rough idea how. First I need to do some paper work to get the project goals down as well as some specs. Apparently designing back planes for enclosures is an art in itself, see https://blog.lamsimenterprises.com/2011/01/14/backplane-architecture-and-design/ as proof.

      First Goals:

      My idea for the back plane (a very critical part of this) is nothing too elaborate. We just need the following available to the 4 slot in cards that should fit this design. Nothing high speed here.

      1. 12V +
      2. 5V +
      3. GND
      4. I2C
      5. SPI
      6. SS 1-4
      7. Serial (RX, TX)
      8. System Reset
      9. Optional lines (Spares for future use)

      I also need to decide if the back plane should be dumb (no active components) or contain some smarts allowing you to run some of the basics without a CPU card inserted. Important is also to determine what type of connector will work for the back plane.

View all 3 project logs

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