Archive for category Hardware
$250? Why does cool have to cost so much?
I have been building my own home wireless sensor network for the last 2 years. Temperature, light, hall effect, gas detection, FSRs, the Tweet-a-watt, etc. using XBee modules and a wifi gateway that uses an open source OS (OpenWRT) and Python scripts to send data to web services (like Pachube.com, ThingSpeak, Open.Sen.se). I’ve been studying home energy automation for a couple of years now and I’m beginning to understand the various aspects of what it takes to put together components to collect and communicate meaningful, actionable information.
The Nest Learning Thermostat has some cool features. It learns… and that’s fantastic. As I understand it, you can set the thermostat up or down at different times and it will remember what you set and build a schedule that repeats your preferences. That’s very cool. It has a motion detector to sense the presence of people in the house and turns the system down/off. That’s cool, too. But there are some serious issues that I see over and over in this field.
First off this device costs too much. It should be priced at somewhere below $50 for the thermostat. That would put it at a price point to get it into the homes of many more people. The more consumers use it, the more we can reduce our dependence, as a nation, on foreign sources of energy. That’s a national, heck, a global goal, right?
Next, I don’t see any way to help consumers understand meaningful and detailed results of the savings they create by using the thermostat. They might see an overall drop in their gas or electric bill, but how much can be attributed to the thermostat as opposed to the incandescent bulbs they replaced with CFLs, or by the shading of a porch, or by being more diligent in turning off the entertainment system (including the STB) and vampire loads.
Also, the designers have created a thermostat in a very traditional form. IOW, they’re not “thinking different”. The learning aspect is interesting, but I’d rather just go to my android app, or the web site and just start with a default profile for my region, house size, etc, and adjust to taste. Otherwise, I’ll not look at it again unless there is an exception to the rules, like going on a long weekend vacation.
Similarly, the designers are stuck with the concept that we need a thermostat on the wall and that we would ever want to get up off the couch and go look at it. Why spend the effort in a device that shouldn’t even require a UI. IOW, the phone app or web page should be the preferred UI.
A “think different” approach might have a temperature sensor and a motion detector in each room and these very cheap components can inform the HVAC controls how to adjust for optimum comfort vs cost. The display and controls don’t need to be on a wall in the hallway… That’s as old as the the round Honeywell thermostats people were referencing in the comments on the Wired Magazine article.
I also believe that the display devices that you get with most home automation system, perhaps in the style of elaborate refrigerator magnets with displays, are destined, too soon, for garage sales and Goodwill stores. Let’s extend the devices that we already have for control surfaces, like tablets, smart phones, game consoles. For those who don’t have smart phones in their homes, how about something like a cheap android phone form (w/o the phone functions), music players, remote controls, wifi tether devices; any devices that can support apps.
I believe profit is deserved by all who work but how much is enough? If you look at Chris Anderson’s approach describing how to make a profit on your products (), you would sell at 2.3 times the cost of parts; and that’s a good profit margin. If I did my math right, it looks like the BOM costs about $108.
I suppose they might be adding in some of the costs of running a free web service that stores all the data so clients can see the ongoing history of their thermostat settings correlated to the temperature of their house and the local weather.
Lastly, my impression is that the design isn’t finished. Design doesn’t stop until you’ve optimized the functionality, the design, and the cost. In this era of programmable microcontrollers, arduino shields, MEMS sensors, surface mount components, standard protocols, inexpensive cloud based web services, the Internet of Things… we need to delight consumers by making the products attractive, pervasive, and affiordable… for everybody.
A few weeks ago we had a serious storm here in the SF Bay area and the power went out for about 5 hours. It took a few days for me to realize that the internet connection was running pretty slow, so I started trying to trace it.
I’m using Comcast IP service and right out of the cable modem I was getting 21Mbps (using the Speakeasy speed test). After the first Netgear gigabit switch the bandwidth dropped to about 3.g Mbps and after the second, it dropped less than 1.0 Mbps. Killin’ me!
So after some Google searching I found that the Netgear GS605 v2 was susceptible to power surges which often happen during or after power outages. The problem is apparently in the poor quality capacitors used. Once replaced, they are back to full force with less than $10 worth of parts and about 20 minutes. Here’s how I replaced the capacitors.
- Soldering Iron
- Solder Sucker
- Torx Screwdriver (T8)
- 2 x 1000 uF 10V, 1 x 470 uF 25V capacitors
Open it up:
On the bottom there are some rubber feet that can be peeled back to reveal tiny torx head screws (from my set I used a T8). Unscrew the 4 screws. The PC board is not secured further, so when you remove the back, you can jiggle the PCB and it will come out as a single unit.
Removing the capacitors:
On the PCB you can see 4 capacitors:
- 2 x 1000 uF, 10V
- 1 x 470 uF, 25V
- 1 x 100uF, 16V (looks like part of the power regulator, I did not replace)
To remove the capacitors, I first tried using one of those solder sucker tools but I think my soldering iron it not getting hot enough. I basically put some side pressure on the exposed post oposite the capacitor side of the PCB and when the solder melted, the capacitor slipped out at an angle. Doing the same on the other post released the capacitor. I removed the 2 1000 uF caps and the 470 uF cap.
I went to Radio Shack and purchased:
- 2 x 1000 uF, 35V – $1.79 ea.
- 1 x 470 uF, 35V – $1.49 ea
The replacements from Radio Shack were their generic versions, bigger in size and higher in rated voltage but I wanted to get it done and not wait a few days for an online order.
Because the new capacitors were so large, I had to mount them sideways. on the PCB. This is generally straight forward if you pre-bend the leads. Put the cap in place and with needle nose pliers, pre-bend at the appropriate lengths. The 1000 uF cap closest to the edge needed to be bent with the leads in a slightly overlapping form, but once you get in there it should be obvious. Here’s what it looked like.