Do It Yourself with the Best Single Board Computers
Anything they can do, you can do better.
There are many appliances and devices, which have successfully been made smart, and some cunning integrations with IFTTT, but that isn't the limit of possibilities.
Fancy putting that revolutionary smart tech idea you had last week into action? Here's how...
RASPBERRY Pi STARTER KIT
You may remember the era of the BBC Micro, a computer designed to introduce a whole generation to computing - possibilities, which at the time were mostly understood by a few interested students in the corner of the classroom playing space-adventure game 'Elite.'
Now there is no need to introduce computing to children, but there is always the need to encourage involvement - learning by doing.
The computer company chosen by the BBC to build its computer was Cambridge based Acorn, which went on to design the ARM processor.
Although Acorn no longer exists, the ARM processor is now ubiquitous: the technical basis of virtually every mobile phone processor.
Fittingly, it is also the processor of the Raspberry Pi, a tiny computer - also hailing from Cambridge - designed for education but popular among enthusiasts.
It, and a few other similar devices, would have been considered powerful computers just a few years ago, and are still very capable, but cost less than $50.
The Raspberry Pi can run a number or different operating systems - typically variants of Linux.
If you're not familiar with it, don't worry - Linux is just another operating system like Mac OS or Windows.
To get started with a Raspberry Pi you will need to familiarize yourself with one or other of the operating systems available.
The officially supported one is called Raspberry Pi OS (previously Raspbian). You can download it from a Mac or PC to a memory card and then install it - instructions can be found at raspberrypi.org/downloads/raspberry-pi-os
ARDUINO SINGLE BOARD COMPUTER KIT
The Arduino is a bit like the Raspberry Pi, a mini computer designed to be cheap and flexible. It has served as the basis for many a start-up's prototype.
If you're interested in getting to know what you can do with electronics you can get the Arduino starter kit with a 'breadboard' (a grid of sockets to build circuits with) and an array of sensors, LEDs and other useful components, including a servomotor and a piezo buzzer.
This is a piece of Open Source software. Open Source means that the code - which is relatively easy to read and understand for humans in the know - is available to view by anyone and, by extension, be rewritten to suit your own purposes. The alternative is software like Windows or Adobe Photoshop, which is proprietary and sold for a profit.
OpenHAB eschews the user-friendly but limited approach of one gadget for one purpose, but aims to provide enthusiasts with the power to do anything.
If openHAB is able to work with any one gadget (and it can with over 1,000), it is able to access all the available data so you can create more complicated integrations.
Big brands are supported (including some you might not expect) - Hue, Lifx, LaMetric, Minecraft, Tesla, Home Kit, Nest and more via add-ons.
It is not for the faint-hearted - technical skill is required - but that's true with any kind of hack, and the openhab.org website aims to make the process as easy as possible, especially for Raspberry Pi users for whom a pre-configured operating system can be downloaded to an SD card and placed straight in the mini computer.
WHAT CAN I MAKE?
You can find some great projects and detailed instructions online - both YouTube and the respective resource sites for Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Both platforms are also the focus of organised events for enthusiasts of all levels. Some ideas you might search for include:
Build a smart home hub - Mozilla's Things Gateway can connect to ZigBee compatible devices like Hue lights.
Build a relay - To switch devices on and off you'll need to be able to switch powerful electronics using low-energy computing circuits. This is what a relay does.
Fridge door alarm - One of the possibilities of the LittleBits Smart Home Kit, which includes LEDs, temperature sensors and other components for building simple connected devices.
Smart camera - Raspberry Pi offers an official camera accessory and you can get hold of MotionPie software which includes some features seen in high-end cameras.
Nixie Tubes Kit - You'll find a number of Nixie Tube projects online if you want to build a clock, smart thermostat or other smart home device with some retro chic. The example below is just something you could build.
Smart mirror - Bit of building required here - box an LCD screen behind a mirror and frame it to fit your decor for the data of your choice to be displayed through the glass (only the white words show up). You can even find instructions to add a microphone and LED light strips to build in Alexa functionality.