How to Use Sensors To Automate Your Home

Home automation doesn’t really work without the appropriate sensors. And there are plenty of them around. How to make sure you get the product you need? And how to use it on our platform? Here’s our 101 for beginners.

The Internet of Things Relies on Sensors

The saying “It takes two to tango” also applies to home automation. First, you need smart devices able to turn themselves on and off. And then you need sensors that tell them when to do it. 

Metaphorically speaking, smart sensors are the sense organs of the Internet of Things (IoT). They “hear” noise, “see” motion, “smell” smoke and “feel” heat, humidity, dampness or low air quality. Packed with electronics, they convert chemical and physical quantities into electrical signals and use cloud-computing to forward them to your home automation system that, in turn, takes the  necessary action. This may include switching power or lights on, notifying you of something via email or text message, opening a smart door lock, or turning the central heating down.

Types of Smart Home Sensors

The majority of smart sensors come as standalone products, and are available in a wide variety of forms and sizes. Moreover, these days, most sensors are wireless means no cable routing required. The  most common sensor types are listed below.

 

  • Temperature sensors
  • Hygrometers
  • Wind gauges
  • Rain gauges
  • CO2 detectors
  • Water leak detectors
  • Motion detectors
  • Occupancy detectors
  • Noise detectors
  • Smoke and CO detectors
  • Door and window contacts
Sinnesorgane und das Gehirn
Similar to stimuli through sensory organs that are processed in the brain, smart devices transform stimuli into information that they can continue to use.Image by Christos Georghiou | shutterstock

 

    Sometimes, smart sensors form an intrinsic part of the electronic circuitry of devices designed for an entirely different purpose. This doesn’t mean that you can’t utilise these built-in sensors for home automation though. For instance, room thermostats always come with a temperature sensor. And nothing stops you using this sensor to switch on a fan when the room temperature has reached uncomfortable levels. No need really to cough up hard earned cash for a standalone product. Another example are network cameras. Most brands feature built-in motion and noise detectors. Security aspects aside, there is absolutely no reason not to use these cameras for simply turning the lights on and off.

    Temperaturfühler im Smart Home
    In smart air conditioning and heating systems, a temperature sensor is always integrated, which can be used for home automation. Image by bht2000 | adobestock.com

     

    Also, if you want to set up home automation routines centred around real-time weather information, purchasing the appropriate tech might actually not be necessary at all: there are plenty of cloud-based online service providers out there that collect meteorological data and forward it to their subscribers. One of them are Airvisual who monitor weather and air quality where you live, and convert the readings into a sensor feed that you can tap into when coming up with the respective smart home routines.

    So far, we’ve only been talking about quantities that constitute what is considered pretty much standard readings these days. However, home automation allows you to go beyond that, utilising data not commonly associated with smart home set-ups. For instance, the most recent generation of activity trackers and smart scales gather a shedload of physiological information ready to be put to good use. And what about tapping into data collected by GPS units which are now found basically everywhere, including smart phones and vehicles?

    Heimkommen mit Begrüßung
    When the car approaches the smart home, the smart car adapter notifies the smart home - and the family. Image by Vasyl | stock.adobe.com

    How to Use Smart Sensors on Conrad Connect

    If you want to come up with your own project instead of  importing a ready-to-use template, you will need to choose an appropriate sensor first. In order to do so, log in to your Conrad Connect account, and select “+ new project” from the project menu. Check out the left column, to find out what sensors are available (view the list below the respective option).

    You  can use the weather feed in any of your projects. If you want to incorporate other sensors, you will have to connect at least one product to our platform beforehand. Here are some tips to get you started. However, and depending on the manufacturer, your home automation interface might not support some types of built-in smart sensors, or allow you to access a limited set of functions only.

    After you’ve selected the sensor you want, you need to connect the devices that execute the chosen routines triggered by the sensor. This is why they are also known as actuators. And if your project involves different sensors feeds that, in some circumstances, might contradict each other , employ logic gates to get the proper result.

    Using Sensors in Basic Automation Tasks: Practical Examples

    If you are keen to get into the swing of (the Internet of) things right away, why not import home automation projects created and shared by members of the Conrad Connect community into our Conrad Connect account? For instance, this routine sends a text or email to your smartphone in the case of your basement being flooded by water spilling out of your washing machine, a crack in the pipe that feeds your tankless water heater, or a leaking kitchen sink.

    Wasserschäden durch Feuchtigkeitssensoren vermeiden
    With a water detector you notice a leak in the washing machine earlier. Image by cunaplus | stock.adobe.com

     

     

     

     

    And this project helps you keep an eye on your garden, using your lawn sprinkler system, an outdoor camera and your home intruder alarm as actuators.

    Netatmo NWS01 Funk-Wetterstation Vorhersage
    One way to realize this project is with the Netatmo wireless weather station, which gives 12 to 24 hour forecasting.

     

     

    Whenever a smoke detector goes off, responding quickly is key. Whether it’s about getting to the root of the problem, or about getting out of the building as fast as possible, being able to see where you are going does definitely help. This project turns all the lights on as soon as the smoke detector (in this case, a product supplied by Nest) sets off the alarm. Although Philips Hue smart light bulbs are used as actuators, our rule editor allows you to swap them for the bulb brand you are using.

    Rauchmelder Alarm Hausbeleuchtung

     

     

     

    Smart sensors also come in handy at the workplace. This project helps you smarten up your office, automatically notifying everyone when  humidity, air staleness or office noise are reaching levels that impact staff productivity at work. The routine uses Slack, texts and email messages as a preset.

    Smarte Automatisierungsprojekte im Büro
    Smart automation projects in the office can save energy and time, improve facility management and access control, and increase productivity.

     

    Using Sensors Somewhat Differently: Practical Examples

    Actually, smart sensors are more versatile than most people think. For instance, this project uses CCTV  vehicle recognition to keep motorists from illegally parking their cars in bays reserved for disabled people. And this one involving a window contact tells you that the postie’s been around and dropped today’s mail through the letterbox.

    What about using smart sensors for other than their intended purpose? No prob at all. This project utilises the built-in noise detector of a weather station to notify you that the washing machine down in the basement has done its job. And this one employs a water leak detector as an intruder alarm.

    Sensors with Conrad Connect Compatibility

    Below a list of smart sensors that work on our platform (updated in June 2019). All products are compatible with a wide range of actuators.

    Brand
    Airvisual
    CarConnect
    Devolo

    Dio
    Egardia
    Fitbit
    Garmin
    Gigaset
    Homematic

    Homematic IP


    Innogy
    LineMetrics
    Mobile Alerts

    MyFox (Somfy)
    Mystrom
    Nest

    Netatmo


    Polar
    Silvercrest
    Somfy
    Spotcam

    Tado
    Tellus
    Weatherhub
    Withings
    Zipato

    Readings
    Air quality (online)
    Geofencing, car alarm
    Motion, water leaks, smoke, RH, door/window contact
    Motion, temperature, door/window contact
    Smoke, water leaks, smash detection (acoustic)
    Activity
    Activity
    Motion, door/window contact
    Door/window contact, window handle motion, temperature, RH
    Twilight sensor/motion, occupancy, door/window contact, window handle motion, temperature, RH, water leaks
    Door/window contact, temperature (via TRV)
    Temperature, RH
    Temperature, RH, rainfall, wind, door/window contact
    Door/window contact/motion
    Smart plug electricity meter, temperature sensor
    Smoke, CO2, motion and noise (via Nest Cam Indoor)
    Temperature, RH (via weather station), noise (weather station indoor console), wind rainfall, motion (via CCTV camera), door/window contact
    Activity
    Door/window contact
    Door/window contact, motion (both standalone and via CCTV camera)
    Motion (via CCTV camera)
    Temperature, RH (via TRV)
    Motion (door/window contact)
    Temperature, RH, wind, rainfall
    Activity tracking, body weight, blood pressure
    Motion, noise, occupancy, temperature, light/darkness, door/window contact

    Definitely a selection of IoT sensors that offers something for everyone. Have fun!