Going Smart | Nathaniel Read

Going Smart

Recently I decided that we needed to have a location tracking system for our household for two reasons;

  • We never know where each other are
  • Presence detection if we choose to get more active in the Internet of Things in the future.


After looking at proprietary systems like Find my Friends, I decided the best solution for us would be OwnTracks. It’s a FOSS project and it’s locally hosted (so we own our data), it has an active community (so more features coming) and it’s open source (so I can read through all the code and self-compile if I wish). The only downside of it is that it’s a bit slow to work out changes in location (due to Apple imposed background restrictions I think) but I hope this is addressed in the future.

It was a challenge to set up in its Docker container as I was slightly confused by the manual and ended up cooking up a docker run command from a page on the forum with a whole host of variables attached, it’s now running well though with an uptime of 10 days so far. The OwnTracks community were awesome though and gave me some great pointers to get going.

In terms of adopting the IoT itself I chose to install home-assistant.io, I chose it over OpenHAB due to its use of Python over Java and the relative simplicity to get started with, installing in just a few seconds with few dependencies. I thought about platforms like SmartThings/nCube that are pre-designed but I decided something that’s open and ‘hackable’ would suit me much better.

It was simple to set up home assistant and connect it to the MQTT broker (which OwnTracks uses to send over its data) and now and whether people are at home is shown at the top of the page. I also added a MJPEG camera for monitoring my dog’s crate and the Chromecasts to see what’s playing control or restart them).

Things are coming together in our IoT set-up, one of my summer projects is to make a python script to open/close the garage door as well as some magnetic contacts to tell whether the door is in the open or closed position. Also I’ve been looking at smart light switches too (but I can’t find anything apart from lightwaveRF which costs an arm and a leg at £30 a switch).