Why I quit using MySensors for actuators

  • It's been a while since I started with MySensors and had quite some troubles and eventually figured everything out. In the meantime I have a lot of sensors all over the place but I am a bit biased about the results.

    One one side, all the sensors (door, window, temp, sun, water, humitdity etc) they work flawless. I have some very low power sensors on batteries which run "forever" and they update quite frequent and once started they just do what they need to do: send sensor data to my gateway. Perfect!
    As a sensor platform, I am very happy with the results.
    On the other side, I also have a few actuators. Mainly rollershutters, a few LED-dimmers and light switches.
    As the light and dimmers (mostly) work, the results with the rollershutters are bad. First the good part: I do have two window motors in quite remote places, they work. Built with relays for up/down movement. No troubles.
    Then a few other rollershutters which are actually quite close to the gateway, they fail. every now and then the signal from gateway fails. I do not know why. I have changed everything in the meantime: Antennas, radios, power supplys, relais, arduinos, new circuits, other electronic parts (first a bunch of Nanos, then proMini) nothing gives reliable results. I tried to tweak the software as best as it goes, added sensors to send "alive" messages like temperature but then again after one day or one week or two weeks, it fails again. sometimes I only need to trigger a manual switch to get it back, then I have to power cycle.
    So after more than one year, I am done with testing. I need to get something stable now. Moving on...

    Some facts:
    I use NRF24 radios, maybe others would deliver better results. But I am not willing to waste another year.
    I am on latest stable release.
    My gateway has been changed as well. Currently an "official" arduino Uno with amplified radio and external 10A power supply to have enough juice.
    I am doing electronics since many years, but no expert but think I know mostly what I am doing.

    Thank you for all your help, will stick around for additional sensor only devices, as this seems to work (for me).


  • Mod

    @parachutesj Thanks for your feedback. It would be great if you could share your experience of the new technology when you have moved on and gotten some experience with it (whatever technology you may choose). Maybe there can be some lessons to learn and solutions to be inspired by.

  • I have the exact same problem with actuators. I tried my best to resolve the issue just like parachutesj but finally gave up mysensors for actuators and replaced them with wifi connected esp8266s. MySensors is still great for sensors, especially battery powered ones.

  • How are you connecting these actuators? What type of actuator is it? Maybe you need some kind of different coupling to your actuator circuit. Motor type actuators can create a lot of noise and if not properly filtered can cause issues.

  • Hardware Contributor


    maybe a stupid question, but are they not too close to the gateway using a PA LNA ?
    Did you try a second gateway on a different channel with a non amplified module to connect those failing roller shutters ?

  • @erangaj that's the way I want to try... as the actuators are connected to the mains anyway the power consumption is not the major issue here. Thanks for your feedback

  • @Nca78 that could be an issue, I totally agree. However when I started I did not use the amplified radio and my first 3 nodes which are in fact the closer ones (4-8m from gateway) showed similar behaviour why I got the PA radio.
    Not sure if this would explain that it works for a while and then stops.
    So it might be an issue, but then again I tried so much already and if it is so sensitive in the end, it is not the right and failure proof thing I want. I am not out of MySensors, just for actuators.

  • @dbemowsk that could also be an issue. The relays are used to drive rollershutters. They are not connected directly to the I/O pins, always via transistors. Self-designed circuits and China-boards like below. (btw: Power does not seem to be an issue)
    But why do some locations work and others don't? The relay boards, the arduinos, power supplies etc seem not to be the issue as I have exchanged them over time. Even one lamp with a relay which is connected directly and in fact was just a proof of concept works flawless since over a year.

    Don't get me wrong, I've learned a lot and it is fun building things. I will continue with sensors, maybe return for actuators. But as I (with my limited skills and measure equipment) got to a point where I am not getting the reliable results I would had hoped, I look into another technology which might be better (simpler) for me (hopefully).

    Aliexpress relay

  • My communication problems vanished by exchanging the amplified version by a normal NRF24.

  • I used relays. Most commands sent to actuators resulted in NACKs. But sensors were fine. I have tested different Arduinos, nrfs, circuits with an RPi gateway as well as a serial Arduino gateway with no luck. Problem temporary goes away when the gateway is restarted. This is true for both RPi and serial gateways.

  • In the days of analog tv/radio dead spots and multipath were easy to detect. Digital isnt as susceptable to multipath, but isn't completely immune either. An rf field meter might help. Directional antennas probably will help. If these nrf devices can measure rssi it may be good to hook up and led as a signal quality indicator of some sort. It sounds like you have a strong signal near the problem, could be overloading the receiver, could be IM ( intermodulation, not instant messaging). It could be an rf shield on all but the antenna may help.

    My sensors may have some of this already, if so ignore me, Im using rs485.

    Note to self, check if "myactuators.org" is available.

    Filter caps on the actuators? I think someone mentioned this, they can be a source of noise in the power, or rf hashing.

    An rtl_sdr sort of device might be a cheap rf signal analyser.

  • @wallyllama I appreciate your help and also the help from the others on this thread, I really do.
    And I also still hope to find the root cause some day. However as you mentioned it is no straight forward and there are so many components and variables I might never been able to have a stable environment even after so many tests I did (see above).
    For the moment I stopped building new actuators based on MySensors, I switched to ESP. There are challenges but not so much on the radio side. I actually wanted to avoid having them in my WLAN why I started with MyS in first place but for the moment it looks like they just work. It is only a few days so need to wait to come to a result.

    For sensors, I am still building on MyS, have recently deployed a few more temp/hum sensors with coin cells. Still impressed with the low power consumption.

  • @parachutesj
    nrf24 radios share the same frequencies of wifi spot.
    Did you check the presence of any WiFi spot, repeater or any other source of signal that could interfer with nrf24 modules?
    You could check the Wifi spectrum with your smartphone. There are a lot of apps that analyze the frequencies.
    Just an example: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=cz.webprovider.wifianalyzer

  • @parachutesj so I mostly just spewed random thoughts, And looking at them again I came up with some more focused, probably not original, ideas.

    Some kind of watchdog/debug output is needed on actuator type nodes(may already exist)

    Rtl_sdr dongles are cheap and some signal analysis tools exist. Someone that knows what they are doing (not me, I just have a big mouth) could probably cook up some useful tutorial that would shed light on what looks to me like the biggest issue in mysensors, signal reliability.

  • @msmacs did that, changed channels a few times, even the ones which are not so legal here to test but haven't seen any positive effects.

  • @parachutesj I can see why you chose to move away. RF will always be in the "black magic" realm. Unable to see, hear or feel it's presence. Of course with the proper tools, and knowledge of the correct use of aforementioned tools a lot can be unveiled, but those are out of reach for the average hobbyist.

    I have stopped working on actuators as a safety precaution. Most lights I want to operate are fixed lights, and the in-wall-boxes where I'd have to put the actuators are just too small to be able to fit both my own design MySensors actuator and a momentary switch. One must in my system is the ability to switch the light locally for whenever the controller or network fails.
    The final push for me to walk away was a fire at a family members house caused by a cheap china power supply. No one was hurt, but it took 4 weeks before the family could move back in. I just felt I was not capable of designing a safe power supply to power the node, that would fit inside the wall box.
    So Z-wave it is. With a lot of compatibility issues. But I use it just for communications, not the think-work.

    So I will also stay here for the input part. Sensors galore.... And there will be an actuator later. A low voltage dimmer. Max 30V DC input. Let other people worry about the mains side of things. I just cant bear the thought of putting my family in jeopardy because I wanted a hobby so hard.

  • Hero Member

    I wonder if there might be some source of interference that's affecting the actuators? Have you tried a quieter channel to see if it makes any difference?

  • @NeverDie I do not have the tools to analyze this. I checked the information from the router and there was a sketch scanning the frequencies which I tried and picked a channel which seems to be ok. After a while I changed is to 2 or 3 different values with similar results. Changing it again will be painful.

  • Admin

    I realize this thread is getting old but I'm behind in my reading... 🙂

    I just wanted to say that I have been using actuators (irrigation, lighting, motors, etc) for years and I have had nearly flawless results (at least as good as my z-wave stuff, if not better). I don't want to start any arguments but just wanted to let everyone know that it is possible to use MySensors for actuators in case you haven't tried it. I'm actually pretty surprised that people seem to be having issues with actuators as mine have been working well.
    I did find that modifying the NRF antennas as well as using repeaters has helped in some of the devices that are far away from my gateway.
    Hopefully this doesn't come across the wrong way, just wanted to give some encouragement to not give up 🙂

  • Hero Member

    The real question is: why would there be any difference in reliability between a sensor and an actuator? In both cases, it's just a radio link, right? Unless maybe the actuator might do something (voltage spike from a motor maybe?) to put the radio/mcu into some undefined state. In that case, would doing a hard reset on the radio after each actuation keep it in line?

    Or is it more the case that we're more likely to notice an actuator fault than a sensor fault? e.g. If you miss a particular temperature measurement, odds are there will be another one coming along shortly--and you have the measurement you took a few minutes earlier to fall back on. But if you want to roll up the shades, and it doesn't happen when you command it, then that's admittedly more irritating.