Google Home and Vera - Jeremy Goodchild, January 2018
Home automation via voice control is getting more popular these days with the Apple’s Home, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home entering the market.
I was inspired by this article and so I wanted to get on-board. I ended up opting for the Google option because of:
Apparently it’s voice control was superior than others to some degree (Siri)
I use Google Calendar and wanted to integrate to this;
Google Home Mini wasn’t a significant investment (around $54);
There seemed to be 3rd party integrations already performed (Vera Concierge)
This article was my own personal experience in setting this up.
After setting up the Google Home Mini (relatively straightforward given you have a Gmail account), I followed the instructions here from RTS. It was also self-explanatory, but the main issue for me was having the Vera Concierge running on a “constantly on” machine on my network.
My first preference for this would have been my Synology NAS which is always on. Brief investigation into this option revealed that this was a bit more involved than I thought and most importantly, no-one seemed to have effectively done it. So I abandoned this option.
The only solution left for me was to run it on a Raspberry Pi (rPi) that is constantly running on my network. It’s primary function is to run my letterbox/doorbell rPi (which will be the topic of a future post/article).
I followed the “Linux Install” instructions here.
Another important point that tripped me up initially (but had a solution to them within the forums) was the use of https://localhost:8989. On the rPi this typically points towards 127.0.0.1. You need to follow the instructions from RTS here and use https://IP.Address.OfComputer.RuningConciergeServer:8989. I set my rPi to have a static IP address so this was straightforward to resolve.
To be able to “magically” turn on the TV/Receiver/PVR/AppleTV, etc, I needed an IR communicator. I already had a Logitech universal remote and have been quite happy with this, so I stayed with that product range and didn’t really research other products that could do the same thing. It also meant the “IR blaster” setup I had was still reactive from the old remote (which I still use for volume control, channel changing, etc). Using voice recognition for volume/channel change is currently far too much effort than its worth.
There was the option to transfer my configuration setup from my Logitech remote to the new remote, but wanted a fresh install so didn’t bother with this. Note this might be an advantage for those with a complex setup already.
To be able to listen to music (Spotify) on my main speakers I needed to be able to stream Spotify straight to my receiver. There was the option to use Google Audio, but given Google Audio wasn’t that much cheaper than Google Chromecast I just dished out to get the direct HDMI connection and the 4K version (Chromecast Ultra), which had the advantage (over regular Chromecast) of an Ethernet connection. I have an Ethernet switch near my entertainment unit so a direct hardwire connection to the Chromecast was a no-brainer. It also meant a bonus advantage that I now had a secondary “cast” device for all A/V content (additional to the AppleTV) and also future-proofed myself for 4K content (don’t have a 4K TV…. yet).
Things I like about Google Home Mini and Vera Integration
The trivia game is fun
Setting reminders is quite easy and useful because you normally think of them randomly and want to easily and effectively get them off your mind (saying them out loud is an way to do this!)
The list of linked servers/apps is growing. I was pleased to discover my irrigation controller had been integrated.
There doesn’t seem to be a way to make voice shortcuts that apply generically, independent of who is saying it. e.g. I made a shortcut for “turn on TV” but this didn’t apply to all users.
Controlling lights whilst lying on the couch is a bit one-dimensional, but I imagine with a growing z-wave network, the list of “things I can do” just by speaking them will also grow. A big advantage I see is where “multiple” actions are to be performed with one single voice command. e.g. “Okay Google, movie time” will equal “Turn down lounge lights, turn on TV backlight, turn off all unnecessary lights, close blinds, turn on TV, turn on receiver to Chromecast, turn on Netflix, start popcorn maker…etc” all in one go.
Things I DON’T like about Google Home Mini and Vera Integration
Linking to Servers is sometimes problematic (e.g. my irrigation controller, Blossom, often UN-links);
Often I still have to pre-empt commands with “tell Vera Concierge to…” despite trying to setup shortcuts in the Google Assistant. Getting back a deflating “NULL” response back from Concierge man is quite irritating;
Volume and channel change is far too clunky compared to using a standard remote;
Time lag talking between servers (e.g. for turning lights on/off) is LONGER than just pressing switch on wall;
When volume is loud, Google can’t hear you when you tell it to turn down!;
The tin foil hat in me is a little nervous about being “listened to”;
The 3rd party integration (although secure) is naturally concerning although RTS spells everything out here. There is a bit of discussions on the forum about it, but too be honest, I’m happy with this as an interim solution until Vera eventually incorporates something natively.