My teen years are long gone, but one of the memories still buzzes at the back of my head like a wicked mechanical drone. A luring voice of a parent lounging comfortably on a sofa, the sound that promises a reward if the call is answered in a timely manner. Guided by the perspective of sweets/goodies/etc I’d leave my room to find out why my name had been called upon. It was a trap – a sweet and innocent voice would speak once again to “turn the light off/on, since you’re already here” killing the illusion of instant gratification, leaving me with an image of a grinning parent burned into my retina. SwitchBot in principle is a mechanical personification of a child, created to press the button when called upon. And unlike the childhood drama, it’s pretty fun to use!
An army of SwitchBots
I’m glad the makers of SwitchBot reached out to me, as I would hesitate myself. Why add a robot to turn a light on or off when you could install a bulb or a smart switch instead? That was precisely my thinking up until I got one in my hands.
SwichBots are freedom. Renting a flat? No problem, just stick it next to a switch, and automation is set. Needing to press a button remotely? Sure, just place a SwitchBot next to it and you control it from the app or link it to your favourite smart assistant. Ever since I got my micro platoon of small mechanical creatures – wall light switches were the last thing I wanted to automate. I wanted a challenge, a ridiculous idea that will justify deploying a miniature robotic army.
I wasn’t too keen on having yet another hub present to enable extra automation but it seems that SwitchBot has you covered. The hub isn’t just a useless but mandatory bridge between Bluetooth enabled microrobots and the wide web but comes armed with an IR blaster shooting infrared in all directions. That’s another automation I will be taking advantage of.
The kit I got my hands on consist:
- 2 x Black SwitchBots
- 2 x White SwitchBots
- 1 x Temp and Humidity sensor with LCD display
- 1 x SwitchBot Hub
The Hub is controlled via the app with Alexa, Google Home and IFTTT support. Speaking of cloud support, each device can be enabled individually. If you don’t need all bots to be present in Alexa/GoogleAssistant environment, simply don’t enable the cloud for that device – a very neat option.
The ecosystem is Bluetooth based, therefore it needs the hub to speak to the internet. Instead of being just a hub, SwitchBot takes the MiHome Hub approach to hubs and gives the hub extra features. An array of IR diodes sends signals in each direction. The app is fantastically equipped to record and mimic IR controllers and comes with baked-in control for 100s of devices. I think the biggest gripe I have with it – is microUSB for power instead of the USB-C connector.
Perhaps “robot” isn’t the best way to describe a single servo, set of dears and a Bluetooth enabled controller, but I’m going to call it that way. Powered by a CR2 3V battery should last for some time.
The movable arm extends beyond the SwichBot’s case reaching out buttons of all shapes and sizes and 3M pad at the bottom of the robot keeps it in place. Each bot is capable of 2 switching actions push, with a up to 60 sec delay, and the ON/OFF toggle.
To compliment the rage, Sensor delivers and displays the information about the temperature and humidity. Powered by 2 x AAA batteries, it should last a very long time. I’d love to see more temperature sensors with display (perhaps e-ink?). The sensor itself can store up to 30 day data.
It’s an interesting concept – but the device didn’t make it to my kit. It moves the curtain around by traversing the rails. To my surprise, the CurtainBot supports a variety of fittings including poles!
It’s not great for the UK, the majority of folks around here use pole based curtains. It would require 2 bots which are not cost-effective. I went with motorized rail for the bedroom instead.
Dark Side vs Light Side
Wall light switches in the UK are louder than anything in the house. The average “click” sounds like someone had been slapped on the face with a tuna (Hello, Uncharted players!), and it’s probably equally loud. I jokingly said that safety hammers should be hung next to the light switches just in case you can’t toggle the light in a finger.
I found the most clicky switch I could find in my house and put it to a test. A mechanical tug of war. Two SitchBots fight to bright the Light or the Darkness to the room. The struggle was real but the effect pretty funny.
I already mentioned the predicament with the UK wall switches. These require miner’s fingers to be switched, and SwitchBot wasn’t powerful enough to toggle it both ways. Perhaps I’m a cheapskate and I have the cheapest and most crude ones installed.
Just like a tiny bot, I did not give up, and decided to “fix” the switch first. The “fix” will depend on the mechanism used, but you can lessen the pressure needed to toggle it. In my case I had to straighten up the bottom pins a little which are responsible for the switch’s resistance.
Once the operation had been completed, SwitchBot was toggling the lights like a solider in both directions. Test the switch first, to see if adjustments are needed. Press and hold it firmly against the toggle, trigger it and see if SwitchBot can apply enough pressure to toggle it.
In the UK, mains sockets come with toggles to turn the power ON/OFF – these are even harder to toggle (basic ones) and it’s unlikely that SwitchBot would manage that. My test socket was a bitch to toggle, diddn’t have enough space to add the bot without 3D printing a bracket, and rivets inside prevented me from adjusting the springs.
In other words… SwitchBot and I failed.
There can be only one
Obviously, you don’t need 2 bots to toggle the light! I felt particularly funny given multiple bots to play with. The PROPER installation requires a single SwitchBot per switch. There is a small hook with 3M adhesive to pull the switch back to a “primed” position. SwitchBot has a tiny hook on its arm to catch the loop and pull the toggle up.
The light requires ON/OFF operation, so I changed the behaviour of the bot in the app. The arm will helpfully remain in “out” position making the “hooking” process much easier.
Highly specialised KettleBot
Smart kettles are a thing now, but you have to be addicted to tea to actually spend money on it. It runs a risk of bringing ridicule at house parties – as who automates kettles! C’mon. Having a personal robot to get the water ready for your next brew while you are still in bed – now that’s another story!
It has all the traits of the viral story in making:
- insanely silly idea
- 3D Printing
- DIY finish
- geekiness that only the Internet would love
Most of the kettles are very similar in operation, a press up/down the lever that needs to be pushed to make the water hot. After a couple of experiments, I found the correct height the SwitchBot must be at to toggle my kettle. I put the Creality Ender 3 (review) 3D printer to work and 4h later, my house featured the 1st IoT enabled kettle!
At this point, if you not going to share this article with your friends, I will assume you have no heart. Just like KettleBot.
My bedroom had been transformed into a home theatre thanks to Xiaomi DLP Projector (review) and Roth&Meyer AMP (review). I used NodeRED to turn off the lights when the movie starts, but each time I fired up a film, I had to turn the sound on manually. As much as I love the amp, it cannot be turned on via network command.
Destiny has it, the bedroom is the best place for SwitchBot Hub to reside as well. A couple of minutes, one Alexa skill later, the MuteBot was ready to toggle the sound at will (or when the projector comes online!).
Learning IR signals was a blast! I used a custom option for remote learning. Follow the on screen steps to record the signal, then saved the remote action as a scene. You have to create a scene, so it could be used in Alexa/GoogleAssistant ecosystems. Within minutes I had another automation-ready!
To play the scene automatically, I used AlexaRemote2 (I have a video in making) and linked the node to my projector detection trigger in the smarter switch tutorial.
SwitchBot could use more torque. If you rent your place, chances are your switches are as cheap as they can, which kills the best SwitchBot feature – the ability to be deployed without electrical work. It’s an ultimate goal of mine to find 4 unique uses to each SwitchBot I have. The more bizarre the better. These little creatures are fun and bring joy to automation, as there is nothing more absurd and joyful at the same time to build a connected robot to tap on the switch. I’m really keen to listen to your creative ideas? Got hard to automate switches?
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