The Cheapest Control System In The World

Every once in awhile I run into a customer who has a few rooms without a control system. They say, “There is only a projector in there, we’ll just use the hand held remote that comes with it”. That remote eventually gets lost resulting in frustration and downtime.

We could figure out exactly how much that downtime will cost and try to justify a full blown control system. But if the budget isn’t there, it ain’t gonna happen. Which leaves us with two options – accept the downtime or find a cheap control solution.

The goal of a control system is to make the technology easy to use, so it doesn’t have to be that complicated. You basically need three things. A user interface, a logic processor and an infrastructure that lets all the devices in the system talk to each other. Let’s design one that won’t break the bank.

Infrastructure

In many cases, a simple network is all the infrastructure you need. Just make sure all the devices in your system have a documented network control protocol. Some manufacturers turn off the network port when the device is in standby – so make sure your devices can be also be powered on over the network.

You’ll need a converter for devices that only support control with infrared or serial commands. That makes things a little less cheap, but affordable network converters are available. Selecting products that support network control is the first step in planning a low cost control system.

Logic Processor

The logic processor accepts commands from a user interface and tells the other devices in the system to do stuff. With the press of a button, a video projector can be powered on, the screen can be brought down and the correct input on the projector can be selected.

For less than $100 on Amazon, a Raspberry Pi perfectly meets our requirements. The Raspberry Pi comes pre-installed with a drag and drop programming language called Node-RED, so programming the system is straight forward. You can even host a web page from Node-RED, which brings us to the last part of the cheapest control system in the world – the user interface.

User Interface

Touchpanels are expensive. Even an iPad might break the budget. Wouldn’t it make sense to let users control the system from their own mobile devices? All they need to do is open a web browser and go to the page hosted on the local control processor. Totally do-able, but typing in a URL is not exactly “easy to use”.

qr code control

A simple piece of paper with a QR code and the words “Scan to control the room” makes it easy to browse to the user interface. The QR code could even include directions for connecting to the wireless network. Go ahead and laminate it and put it in a frame if you want to get fancy – there should be some budget left over for that.

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