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Home Automation – Part 1 – The Brain

So let us begin this crazy series of projects that I laid out in my previous post… Today’s topic, the Home Automation brain.

I started by listing out my requirements for this particular project… They were:

  • Ideally very low power, but at a minimum able to run 24/7 for extended periods of time.
  • Running Linux, or something I can talk to directly (SSH). I wanted it to be able to run Apache, Php, and at least connect to a MySQL database (if not run one).
  • Network support – Ideally both wired and wifi.

My first glances online for something that fit the bill lead me in the direction of the Raspberry Pi. I still may head that way, after all it’s a $25/$35 dollar devices to run my network from, not to mention it could possibly serve as a home theatre front end for me as well.

However, I ended up going another direction. Back in 2008 I made the mistake of buying a CherryPal. It did eventually arrive, but it was a pretty poorly built device. That said, it was running Ubuntu, and it was relatively low power (2W to 6W). I had put it in storage shortly after getting it, as I had no real use for it as it was originally intended (not to mention that the video card seemed to crap out after about an hour of use).

I decided last weekended to pull the thing out of storage and see if I couldn’t get my favorite tools set up and running on it to meet my requirements above. The machine is a ~200mghz freescale PPC processor… Translated: it’s basically the power of last years mobile phones, with a language set that isn’t *that* widely supported anymore.  Add to it that this particular processor seems to have some issues with certain types of threading (from what I’ve read and experienced), and you’ve got yourself a bit of a compiling challenge.

At first, I simply tried to install Apache and PHP the classic way… simply using “apt-get install”… After much coaxing I did get apt to install the two apps, but they kept seg-faulting before even a page request was made. I tried to tweak the settings and install, but to no avail.

So I went a little old school and compiled Apache and Php manually… Which of course first getting all the proper dev tools installed (and in some cases, compiled as well). After what was about 10, 2 hour build attempts, I finally got a setup that was fully functional Apache2, Php5.4, and a Mysql client to boot (I decided to skip the server for now in favor of using a remote Mysql server).

That said, this little 6W device will hopefully be the home server that eventually monitors everything, and keeps them all moving in the right direction… We shall see.

Parts have been ordered for the first monitoring project (3 temperature sensors), but more on that once they arrive and I get them behaving…

So in summary: Lower power LAMP server in place and ready for home automation monitoring and automation.


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