Every once in a while someone asks me why I'm doing this. Ok ok... EVERYONE
asks me why I'm doing this. Do I find it fun? Am I bored? Got too much
free time on my hands? No life? The answer, probably all of the above and
then some. I'll tell you a story.
I set up the webcam back in 1997. Why? it was the cool thing to do. People liked setting webcams up on the Internet. So nothing was terribly out of place about my cam. It was just me.
Then one merry day, I was surfing around, and I stumbled upon This Site which seems to no longer be operational. Back then it was significantly less flamboyant than it is now, but it was still cool. There was one feature of that site that got my attention. He had doorbell logs online. I don't know why, but I just HAD to have MY doorbell logs online for the world to see. Not that anyone ever came over, but that's not really the point. So one hot summer night, I drank about 12 Dr. Peppers and over a period of about 8 hours I managed to get my doorbell on the internet. Of course, the first thing someone asked me about it is how do they ring it. Sadly that feature didn't exist and their disappointment continues to this day, but even more sadly, the assumption that they can ring it continues as well.
So now I have my doorbell on the internet. Perfectly useless in every way. But it got me thinking. What ELSE could I have on the internet? I looked around the house. And I kept looking. And suddenly the thought hit me. Well, not suddenly, it was 6 months later. But it still hit me. A lamp. A simple everyday household lamp. What if, from hundreds or thousands of miles away, people could turn my lamp on and off. In view of the webcam so they could see it happen. It was revolutionary!! Well, not really. It had been done before. This link seems to be dead now, but who knows. There's even a chance that this site somewhat influenced the idea. But who cares about that. I was on a roll. I was going to get this lamp on the internet. And I did. And it was pretty easy. A computer, lots of wires, a relay and a new program containing poorly written code. And, of course, A LAMP! And there it was. People were turning it on and off. Life was good.
A few days later, I was thinking. People kept asking what else was in my office. They could only see a small part of it at any one time, and positioning the cam so that it could see me AND the lamp severely limited the possibilities. So I came up with the great idea of attaching a stepper motor to the cam using such high tech devices like superglue. Wiring the motor to the computer wasn't much tougher than the lamp, and by the end of 1998 I had a cam you could move around. Over the internet. Life continued to rule!
So now I'm thinking again. Dangerous pasttime, I know. There was this webpage called Khep on the Web. It's gone now, or I'd link to it. Anyway, there was a little robot in a maze, with a cam. This robot was controlled via a tether and over the internet you could drive the little robot around in a maze. So I figured, this is a cool idea, but its constrained. The tether will always get in the way. What if it were completely wireless? Then it could travel around a much larger area. Like... my house. So I started thinking about various robot projects I could adapt. Then inspiration struck me. The perfect mobile platform. An RC Car. Its already wireless. If I were to connect the remote to the computer, it can drive the car around. So I ran down to rat shack, found the cheapest car I could, and brought it home. I played with it for 5 minutes, then proceeded to void the warranty. In a couple days, I had the car moving. Computer controlled, then web controlled. It worked. It worked great. Now I just needed a camera.
Well, it just so happens, that this site. sells small cameras AND video transmitter/receivers. Everything I needed. Only had to scrape together $200 and I was set. So I got it. Brought it home. Taped it to the car, and released it to the world. Life was going PERFECTLY!
Of course, there were problems. The car could only hold so much weight, so battry power ran down pretty quickly. 3 hours max that the car could run at any one time. This meant that it was usually offline. And whenever someone wanted to play with it, they'd always give up and leave before I had a chance to get the batteries in. In fact, most of the people visiting never even figured out the car existed, due to a bad page design. So I revamped the page to look quite like what I have right now.
I still have the problem with the batteries though, so I bought a new car. In the process of moving over the video equipment, I fried the transmitter, and I've been unable to buy a new one due to the fact that I'm perpetually broke. But that's besides the point.
After much time with no changes, I finally got around to adding more lamps. Using X10 was easy, so I just kept adding more and more. And then a spinkler. At some point, a radio station stumbled upon the site and decided it was worth discussing on the air for a few minutes. The audio from that show (and others) is available on the downloads page. While they half enjoyed it and half made fun of me, one of the DJ's after listening to all the things you could control, asked the fateful question "What is this? Drive me insane dot com?". After listening to the show and checking to see if it was actualy available, I decided that domain sounded as good as any other, since I didn't actually have a domain at the time.
Time passes... then I have to move out of my house, and having temporary limited access to the necessary resources, I start having other people add cams and devices such that I don't have to carry the full burden myself. This in and of itself has expanded the site into more of a cam portal, and less the automation themed site that it was in the beginning, although I plan to get it back to that soon.
So where am I going with all this? Why would I want to subject myself to all this? Partially, its just the entertainment factor. Yours AND mine. Its lots of fun. However, I've always looked at this home automation project as something that others might find useful in the future. Home automation is still mostly a hobby because people don't really feel the need to control all their appliances by computer when its just as easy to do so manually. There's no advantage there. But how many times were you away from home and you wish you could turn on some lights because you'll be home late? How many times were you about to cook something then realized you didn't have what you needed. Leave the oven on? Want to start the AC 30 minutes before you get home? Need to record something on TV? Want to see who came by while you were away? These are real world advantages to a home automation system and don't in any way limit the typical uses.
You CAN control your lights. If online grocery stores exist in your area, groceries can be ordered automatically. You'll always have what you need. As long as you're near a computer with internet access, you'll have control of your house. No matter where you are in the world. This website is here to provide a demonstration of those capabilities. And sure, its fun to screw around with someone else's stuff, but remember, you could do the very same things with your own stuff. Perhaps this isn't useful. But you never know. Someday, it might be.