Birth of the DomoTab project
The idea of creating a free smart home brain didn’t come out of thin air.
I had been looking around every now and then for a way to build a smart home system for several years, as part of a (unfortunately still) future project to build myself a house. In the course of 2010, people also started asking me advice on the different existing solutions to this smart home technologies dilemma I was still pondering.
There are many options to create an autonomous system: cheap ARM boards, from about a hundred Euros for the simplest models with a few hundred MB memory and a few MHz to recent beagleboardTM or pandaboardTM, other similar boards, plug computers, and up to “sticks” based on the Raspberry PiTM model. But all these solutions come with new problems: too few connections, no box, no screen, no handling of smart home protocols, expensive, and usually more than one of these. And I wasn’t impressed with the alternative of using a PC (expensive, noisy, power hungry) with a USB key per protocol (expensive as well) either.
A few month before, I had bought a (well, 10 actually) plug computer and a USB touch screen. This seemed like a good starting point, especially since I had been able to easily run my favourite Linux distribution on it, the one I was planning to use as a basis for my smart home platform.
But problems crept up soon enough.
Out of the ten plug computers I originally bought (bulk buy to save on P&P and import duty), two died out really quick and the others suffer from serious heat dissipation issues. Specifically, they restart every time they overheat, and they overheat every time both their Gigabyte Ethernet interfaces are used…
Moreover, connecting the screen through USB uses up both USB ports… no more room for a USB key, a hard drive or a smart home USB key.
This is when I started to envision a custom made aluminium case. I happened to know someone (the creator of Langear) who made compact PC boxes. We could have integrated in one of those neat cases a plug computer, heat dissipator, a USB hub to get a few extra USB ports and a screen modified to use only one USB port and be powered by the internal power suply.
After some pondering about the general specifications, we hit a wall: the availability of parts to integrate. The selected touch screen was already out of production. This had already happened to me a few months before on another project, stopping it dead in its tracks. I wasn’t getting myself in a situation like that again.
Around that time, I was making a sizeable contribution to the creation of a system for a client and I started to realize that creating a product from scratch wasn’t as daunting as I thought.
This prompted me to start the project (then called DomoPlug) in August 2010 to create a product on my own terms instead of having to work on creating some industrialist’s product. This allowed me to design an open, community focused product, an give free smart home technologies a breath of fresh air.