Home automation hubs have emerged as the tech startup product of choice in 2014, and most run on embedded Linux. The category has been re-energized with the dropping costs of wireless radios and embedded processors, as well as the ubiquity of readymade touchscreen interfaces in the form of Android and iOS devices. This slide show presentation covers 10 Linux-based and two Android-based home automation systems starting at under $300.
Home automation systems have been around for more than a decade, but were usually affordable only to a few. Early Linux-based products include the circa-2002 CorAccess Companion, as well as later tuxified products from Control4, such as the Control4 Home Controller HC-500. While the HC-500's $1,500 was a price breakthrough back in 2008, Control4's entry level system is now an HC-250 model selling for under $500 plus licensing. You'll find most of the systems listed here starting at under $200, with some hubs selling for as little as $49. Of course, you'll likely spend much more than that on compatible smart devices, and equipping a large home could easily push you over the $1,000 mark.
The price competition has been led by retailer-sold systems such as Staples Connect as well as Quirky's new Home Depot backed newcomer, Wink, each of which sells $49 hubs. Lowe's Linux-based Iris is a bit pricier, but is still affordable, starting at $179, including several sensor devices. Retail-driven vendors like these can afford to lose a bit of money on the hub hardware, with the assumption that customers will buy a stream of compatible connected devices available at their stores.
Staples has not responded to our request for OS identification, so we'll leave the Connect off our list, despite the fact that it likely runs Linux. The Staples Connect hub is based on Linksys technology, which has long used Linux for its routers, as well as a firmware platform designed by Zonoff, which specializes in Linux-based home automation.
Another major home automation competitor -- SmartThings -- runs on a proprietary OS, but will likely move to Linux in the next version, according to an email from a SmartThings rep. There were widespread reports last month that Samsung was in talks to acquire the company in order to keep up with Google, which earlier this year acquired Linux automation vendor Nest Labs. Samsung has also been building smart "Internet of Things" devices based on the Linux-based Tizen OS.
We have excluded a variety of hobbyist gizmos based on the Raspberry Pi and other platforms, and we're also omitting some Linux-based wireless speaker systems with some home automation hooks. These include systems such as the Sonos, as well as the upcoming Q Station and Musaic devices.
The 12 Linux-based platforms in our slide show are either shipping or have achieved crowd funding goals, with promises to ship this year. Most of these systems offer standard or optional wireless sensor devices that work with the hubs, such as smart LEDs, motion detectors, and thermostats, while others are designed to work with third-party smart devices and ecosystems. Most offer a bit of both, with more compatible products promised for the future.
The following home automation platforms, including links to company websites, are further described and illustrated in the slide show (select Gallery below). Aside from the first two Android-based systems -- ALYT and HIO -- they all run on embedded Linux. Additional resources on home automation include LinuxGizmos.com, which has covered all of these systems over the last year and a half, and for a more hands-on, how-to approach, LifeHacker.
12 Linux-based home automation systems for under $300
ALYT -- ALYT
HIO Wallpad -- Habey, HIO project
Iris -- Lowe's
Ivee Sleek -- Ivee
Nest Learning Thermostat -- Nest Labs (Google)
Ninja Block/Ninja Sphere -- Ninja Blocks
Piper -- iControl
Revolv -- Revolv
Wattio -- Wattio
WeMo -- Belkin
WigWag -- WigWag
Wink -- Wink/Qwirky