Controller Recommendation for Middle and High School

  • I am new to all of this, having only done some small arduino projects although I have a career in Software Development and a long time ago I studied Mechanical Engineering in school However I am having difficulty selecting a controller.

    I have started working with a middle school and a high school. They are both automating their greenhouses and grow beds including aquapoincs. The goal is to help them track environmental properties as well as control lighting and heaters. Each school has slightly different requirements but they both have no money. I am hoping to find 1 system that can work for both. I am looking for any advice anybody is willing to provide.

    Using a VERA with an arduino for cheap sensors is a possibility but I would prefer something cheap and openSource. Some things I am looking for:

    1. Good community support - The teachers and kids using the system will need lots of tutorials and help online
    2. Ease of use - The teachers and kids will have no confidence when they begin. The ability to quickly add sensors and configure them is a big plus.
    3. Low cost sensors - This is why I am on MySensors! There is no money for a bunch of $30 z-wave sensors.
    4. Flexible setup. The middle school may want to run the controller on a windows machine. The high school will want a complete system so if not a vera probably a raspberry pi.
    5. Historical data and charting as an integral part of the solution or easy to send data to or some other online service
    6. Nice web app. When we ask people for donations or apply for grants a nice UI that is accessible by smartphone makes a nice presentation.

    I have looked at all the controllers listed on the Mysensors controllers page and only 3 seem like good possibilities:

    Buying a vera seems like it would be easy but I would rather only do this if there is no good open-source alternative. Plus it would be nice if the webapp can be customized - which I am not sure micasaverde allows.
    Looks great but the website says the main focus is raspberry pi. That sure seems like a mistake especially if you are using java. However as a java developer I know you do not want to spend time making sure the code runs on multiple platforms (ignore the hype about write once, deploy anywhere). Also the project only has an Alpha release!
    It seems like it has a large community and lots of bindings have been written for it. I downloaded it and the text file configuration is not that user friendly. Also the eclipse client is lacking. No teacher or student will understand why they need an eclipse IDE. I see there is another web app HABmin that offers some better control. MySensors also does not have a serial interface for openHAB although I saw some comments that people are working on it. Lastly I found that a new version of openHAB - openHAB2 has an alpha release (why is it not on the mysensors page). It looks very promising with auto discovery and web based configuration as well some optimization for running on raspberry pi. I did not find a roadmap or release schedule for openHAB2 and do not know how long it will take for all the bindings to be implemented but openHAB2 looks extremely promising. Too bad it is not out.

    So these are the 3 that looked most promising and I am leaning toward openHAB only because I think I may want to try openHAB2 when it is released as it seems to address the problems I saw from openHAB. I would like to introduce a solution in the next 2 months.

    Does anybody have any comments? Is anybody using openHAB2. Am I being silly by not just buying a VeraLite?

    thanks for your help,


  • Admin

    Sounds like a excellent and fun project for the students! They get to learn both a bit programming and a little of electronics. I wish I had a teacher like you back in the days 😉

    I can't make any definite recommendation for you but I doubt running java on RPI would be a huge problem with the relatively small amount of data and GUI interaction you would expect from the projects.

  • Plugin Developer

    @bpair said:

    Looks great but the website says the main focus is raspberry pi. That sure seems like a mistake especially if you are using java. However as a java developer I know you do not want to spend time making sure the code runs on multiple platforms (ignore the hype about write once, deploy anywhere). Also the project only has an Alpha release!

    First, thanks! Secondly, Java being slow is kind of an history. Yes the startup of the virtual machine is questionable. But the PiDome server boots below a minute on a raspberry pi B, but within 15 seconds on a Raspberry Pi 2 (this include all subsystems like database, and all SSL and non SSL services, rules, triggers, devices, plugins, etc.). The rule system makes decisions below 3 ms on a Pi B and below a millisecond on a Pi 2 per item used. Remote procedure calls are handled within 75ms average (some 100 and some 20). It ain't slow.

    Yes, there are only alpha releases as the project is quite young, and i add a lot to it and development is quite fast (also it seems slow as there is just one software developer). First beta is expected June the 1st. Releases are updated daily and often multiple times a day. First add all the features, then fine tune them.

    And yes, it is developed for the Raspberry Pi which also means all the binaries (which are recompiled for the pi with optimizations) needed to work with low level access on the PI are included in the package (there are also preparations made to run it on windows, mac and other linux distributions). Write once run everywhere does apply to PiDome as long as the non java (c/c++) binaries are not used, which currently is not the case. Also the base system memory footprint is just between 9.8 and 16MB. P.S. OpenHab is also Java.

    I do agree, PiDome within the current state with so many updates is not feasible to be used within an environment you are looking for, even with the visual editor for mysensors devices and auto discovery. But are in discussion with an interested party to deliver such a web interface which should be able to provide easier use for for example education. Everything is done using JSON-RPC so this is possible. But don't expect this in a couple of months.

    Good look with finding a solution for this, it will be a difficult one as 99% of the controllers are or not mature yet, or can be challenging. But most of them are capable.


  • @John PiDome looks really nice. When I said "mistake" I meant that developing PiDome only for raspberry pi is a mistake, not so much using java. I understand why they must pick and support one platform and why at this time that platform is rasberry pi it just seems like that will be limiting in the future. I could be wrong.

    Of course what would be really great is if PiDome and openHAB combine efforts! I won't be waiting around for that to happen. Anyway, thanks for your feedback.

  • Plugin Developer

    @bpair My apologies for misunderstanding, last couple of months i heard that exact same sentence but with a different meaning you gave it. Limiting possible, all though it has been running with 50+ devices and tests with multiple pi's connected are going well. Especially on the quad core pi2.

    That would certainly be a nice thing! All though i think the roadmaps and primary goals are quite different where the base is the same, connect things.

    It is very difficult to choose a right controller for education as there are an enormous amount of resources. An example would be the Bendoobox (from a dutch company, (i do not know if there is any mysensors support for it)) which is aiming at education. I think aimed at 12, 13, 14 year olds (average). It would be nice if there are more like these solution and hopefully for your goals.

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