Making Life Easier With Automation

Automation for the Disabled

As a disabled user whose condition has deteriorated steadily over the last few years making life as easy as possible has been my number one objective for quite a while now.. My problem? I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome which means I have hyper-flexible joints and suffer recurring dislocations which cause pain 24/7/365. At the time (mid 80's) they didn't know what was causing my dislocation. So after five hip operations in the hope of stabilising the dislocations it did result in being able to use elbow crutches instead of the wheelchair but also bought about severe nerve damage in my legs which has made overall pain worsen. Specialists only diagnosed EDS in 2005 and it turned out that the recommendations are NOT to have any operations... they apparently only make the condition worse over time as it weakens the joints. It only took them 20+ years to find out what was wrong with me and do all the wrong things beforehand. That's the UK National Health Service for you. I now have to take morphine and other pain meds daily to manage the pain from the EDS and the nerve damage from the operations.

So several years back I decided to offset my mobility problems by creating a home automation and entertainment system that would hopefully improve my quality of life. One of the things I hated was struggling from room to another and sit down only to realised I had left a light on. For normal people returning to the light and turning it off is easy. For people with EDS it's a right pain (pun intended ;) ). The first stage to rectify this was to buy a USB-UIRT and a copy of Girder 3 to handle my IR needs. Some IR light switches came next. I also bought a couple of sets of IR senders to enable me to control Girder from nearly anywhere in my flat. This allowed me to control my home including lights, home entertainment and various other stuff... This was definitely a step towards my ideal set-up but wasn't quite there yet. If I was out of sight of a IR sensor I couldn't control anything. Add to that a cat that kept knocking the IR receiver off of the TV in the living room because it was where he wanted to sit and you can see improvements were definitely needed.

Version two used wired relays set behind light switches and was controlled by a IR remote switch system. This enabled me to turn the lights off in areas where I didn't have IR senders or areas like the bathroom where it wasn't safe to put them. Unfortunately this meant wires in ugly trunking everywhere. Unfortunatly it died on me after two years and the company I bought the IR switch system weren't selling them any more. The next version should be a more aesthetic solution.

Version three uses a Velleman K8055 USB experimentation board that enables me to control stuff directly from the PC. As girder is on that machine it enabled my current IR system to control it too. Great. 2005 rolls around and the decision to start work hiding as much of the wiring as possible. Work is slow (but getting there) going because I want to do as much as possible myself... did I mention I'm a stubborn so and so. The other reason the going is slow is paying for materials as I am only on disability benefits. All the wiring is going under the floor or in the walls. Cat5 cable is going through the whole flat for the LAN and other functions.

Come forward to 2007 (and yeah the living room still isn't done due to several redesign ideas)... Now the UK this year has been tormented by horrendous quantities of rain (where last year was the opposite... hose pipe bans were in effect). In fact it's been the worst May to July for rain in the UK since 1766. Unfortunately one of the side effects has been that bad weather causes my pain to sky-rocket. For days and even weeks at a time I was stuck in bed and my control system wasn't really user friendly any more as at times the IR system just didn't respond (someone else near me must have radio transmitters that are interfering with my radio signal). I needed something more... something more reliable. Maybe send the control signal over my home LAN?.. control Girder via a web page maybe? Something needed sorting asap.

Enter NetRemote 2

I asked in the Promixis forums about my needs and some nice person pointed me in the direction of NetRemote 2... Wow is all I can say!.. It was just what I was looking for and to make it even better it isn't a hard coded system... i.e. you can make it EXACTLY work how you want it and even how it appears. It's kind of like Winamp skinning on steroids. It not just handles home media like music, photos and video but can handle nearly anything you can think to throw at it... Weather info... no problem, wake up another pc?... ditto. Fully control Girder... absolutely. There are even users who have Caller ID, Voice Control and RSS feeds on their NetRemote screens.

At the time when I found out about NetRemote I was in the middle of another bed marathon and had downloaded the trial version of the program. One of the side effects of being on Morphine 24/7 is that it dulls the brain. Trying to understand new methodologies and computer languages used in NetRemote Designer was tough for me... (I had never done any Lua programming even though I was a programmer/analyst before my condition necessitated the painkillers which resulted in my not being able to work.). Enter the Promixis forums... Thanks to users and Promixis staff they pointed me the right way through my learning process. I think I will never ever learn everything NetRemote can do... it's that powerful!

Eventually I will have a monitor station set up in the living room with a touch screen that will control my air-conditioning, heating, music and home security etc. I will also have another instance of NetRemote on my PDA which I can carry around with me (especially if I eventually end up back in a wheelchair like my specialist forecasted I will... it's all down to muscle wastage unfortunately). What is excellent about NetRemote is that enables you to do so much more than a programmable remote like I used to have. Several times I have forgotten what I had set-up on the remote and ended up pressing the wrong buttons. It also didn't work right when the programmable remote wasn't pointed directly at the DVD recorder. NetRemote improves on being able to program buttons... it also allows you to name tag all the buttons so you know what each button does, have multiple pages of buttons and doesn't need to be directly aimed at things like the DVD recorder.For example I can now select what music I want playing, turn on the amplifier in the living room, redirect the output to the bedroom and set the volume. All done from a single PDA. Frikkin' Awesome!

Yes you can say I am one happy bunny!

John Hanton
Worcestershire, UK
2007

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