Part 1: Using Google to Interact with the Tiny House

Marc Bilodeau/ Automating, Smart Sensors, Tiny House

With 99% of the tiny house construction complete, work lately is focused on adding smart sensors that collect data from the plumbing, environment, and electrical use. Without data, there is no sense of what’s normal and abnormal in the tiny house. If there is something wrong, alerts are currently sent to my smartphone, and real-time data is available on the magicmirror.

At some point, the tiny house will announce when there are issues, or that things aren’t quite normal. But before that dream can be realized, there needs to be a way to interact with the tiny house.

Hey Google!

There are several smart speakers with voice interactive assistants. Although there are controversies surrounding data collection and eavesdropping, these technologies are useful enough to make one’s life easier.

I chose Google over other available assistants due to the flexibility of developer tools, number of compatible devices, and that the Google Assistant is available on command or from my smartphone. However, I will develop much of the software myself, since I do not want to be dependent on Google technologies.

A Google Home Mini is small enough to hide behind the webcam in the storage loft. It neatly attaches to the ceiling outlet with a USB Cover Plate Mount. An advantage of a tiny house is that Google still responds to voice commands anywhere without yelling. Furthermore, it can be a bluetooth speaker for a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to listen to music or watch a movie.

However, the real magic is using the Google Home Mini to interact with the tiny house to have it perform some kind of action.

Hey Google, Turn on …

By itself, the Google Home Mini is useful to remind me of appointments, or ask general questions while working on something else. Although, it is most helpful when other smart devices can interact with it.

One major convenience of smart devices is the ability to turn the lights on and off. Since I have dimmable LED lights throughout the tiny house, I had to find a smart switch compatible with dimmable lights.

Currently, each light switch in the tiny house uses a Leviton Decora Smart Wi-Fi Dimmer Switch. Thankfully, the Leviton dimmer switch is compatible with Google Home and capable of dimming lights. The great room, loft, kitchen, ceiling fan, and outside lights are available to turn on, off, or dim using voice commands.

More than Just the Lights

Although turning the lights on and off is cool, there is more you can do with the Google Home. For example, I can turn an appliance on or off with a voice command using a smart plug.

At the moment, I am using an Etekcity Smart Plug to turn on and off the Envi Heater. If I need to turn on the heat, I can say “Hey Google, turn on the Envi Heater“. However, controlling an appliance could reach beyond simple voice commands.

What’s Next?

There is more work to do on the software level to allow a greater interaction within the tiny house. Ideally, certain events will trigger an action automatically. For example, turn on the HVAC to lower the temperature if the temperature or humidity are too high.

Additionally, Google can announce to the occupants to take action when problems occur. For example, Google may announce “There is a leak underneath the sink“. First, this will prompt an expletive. Then, a quick jaunt to the sink to fix the problem. This awareness will certainly help minimize the damage.

Furthermore, the occupants should be able to interact with the smart sensors and ask questions like what is the current temperature, or how much water was used in the last 24 hours.

TL;DR

Collecting important metrics about what’s happening in the tiny house is helpful. However, it’s also important to be able to interact with the tiny house to help convey important information through spoken language.

The voice interactivity project is only partially complete. However, it’s a first step to interact with the tiny house using voice commands. Although the tiny house uses Google technologies, it’s possible to utilize a different assistant. The next step in this project is to have the assistant interact with the sensors and the metrics they provide.