Blind control is something that's always been an important area of any Home Automation system - being able to automatically raise and lower blinds in accordance with schedules is a great way of enhancing your homes' security. You can even control them in reaction to changing weather patterns to help protect the interior of your house from harmful UV rays.
At Vesternet we have a number of different ways to bring automation to all manner of blinds, but these methods mostly require replacing the originals. They can also be difficult to retro-fit if you need to bring power or control wiring to the window locations - although of course the Somfy RTS battery powered range goes a long way to ease these installation requirements.
But what if you want to keep your existing blind? Or don't want to go to the hassle of a complete blind replacement? Maybe you think that a Somfy RTS install is too expensive? Even though we personally think that Somfy is well worth the outlay, we can understand that the costs can soon mount up, especially if you want to automate blinds in multiple rooms at the same time.We were certainly intrigued, so we decided to order one to take a closer look. Delivery took just over a month and we've spent the last few weeks testing the device.
After downloading the App to our iOS and Android devices, installation was simply a case of following the Wizard which talks you through the pairing process (your phone or tablet must support Bluetooth LE) and then shows you how to attach the device to your existing blind pull cord.
Once attached we used the sticky pad on the rear to hold it in place against the wall so we could drill fixing holes and using appropriate fixings (not included) we screwed it to the wall. The Wizard takes you through calibrating the device by moving it to the extreme open and close positions from the initial starting point in the middle. All really simple stuff!
In use the device is admittedly quite slow - it's certainly nowhere near as fast as the Somfy RTS blinds that we have in other rooms. We believe that the reason for the slow movement is so that the device can exert a decent amount of torque so that it can pull the cord. I guess you have to remember that in a traditional motorised blind the motor will likely be operating directly on the blind tube itself, whereas the Smart Shades device has to mimic somebody pulling the cord.
One benefit of the slow speed in our opinion is that it enables pretty accurate positioning of the blind from the App - if you move the blind graphic on the UI to 10% the blind will end up pretty much at 10%, very impressive.
The App itself is quite simple, allowing control of the blind and to set scheduled opening and closing times. It also helpfully shows the battery remaining, which means that you don't necessarily need to leave the solar panel or power cord connected permanently - just connect it up for a few days when the battery is getting low. Battery charge is claimed to be a couple of months, but obviously that will depend on usage.
One thing to be aware of is that once installed, you lose the ability to control the blind by pulling the string cord the old fashioned way. SOMA Smart Home have thought of this though and have included a touch sensitive panel on the front of the device that toggles between functions each time you touch it - move - stop - move in the opposite direction. We couldn't get this to work consistently though, so we probably need to work on the technique a bit. To be fair you don't install this type of device just to be able to operate it manually, or even via the App - you install it for the automation possibilities.
Being Bluetooth LE we're hoping that support can be added to the likes of the Vera Plus, Cozify and nCube controllers in the future. For the hardcore HA'er there's already a Python based integration method available here and now that the summer months are upon us, we're planning on taking a closer look at that code in the coming weeks to see how we can use it in our own Smart Home system.
In conclusion, the Smart Shades devices is really good value for your money - no other automated blind solution will come close to this price point. Overall we've been so impressed with it that we've negotiated with SOMA Smart Home to be the exclusive UK distributor too and have added them to the site for pre-order. The first batch is due to arrive mid-July and they will be shipped on a first come first served basis, so get your order in fast!