Home Automation (Home Theatre, Lights, Alarms, Environmental)

Home Theatre Remote and Home Automation via a Windows Laptop

Introduction

This article will describe how to turn your Windows laptop/all-in-one or desktop PC into a fully featured remote control that can control most devices (TV, DVD, Home Theatre receiver, thermostat, security devices, lights etc.) in your home.
This solution is of interest to anyone who wishes to control ANYhome theatre system in a handsfree fashion with cost effective standard commercial hardware or software.

Why handsfree ? Any user who cannot use their hands because of an injury or due to illness may wish to access a computer or control a home theatre or home automation system in a handsfree fashion.
Anyone who can not use their hands or has limited hand control would be an excellent potential user for this solution. Some examples of potential users are Stroke patients, para and quadriplegics, persons with MS or cerebral palsy etc.
For users with good head control could use a reflective dot on glasses or hat, along with with a headtracker and dwell-and-click software. This works very well as a mouse replacement and this is precisely what we used as the cornerstone of this remote control solution. Please note that the reflective dot can be attached to any functioning body part other than the head such as elbow, foot, forearm etc.
For users who cannot use the reflective dot solution for any reason but have a clear voice, diction etc. would be able to use the Dragon voice controlled solution to select and press buttons or try using the free built in Voice Recognition system which is included with Windows 7 or 8.
The solution that is described in this article utilizes readily available inexpensive components wherever possible.


The computing platform of this particular solution runs on Windows 8.1. There is a strong possibility that this solution could also work on Windows 7, Vista and XP but we cannot attest to that with personal experience.
The PC hardware could be any Windows laptop, all-in-one or desktop computer. Touch screens are nice to have if someone else occasionally uses your computer but it is not essential for this solution.

To enable handsfree movement of a mouse pointer on your screen we highly recommend the use of a headtracker.
The handsfree hardware that was tested with this solution is a headtracker called the Tracker Pro from Ablenet. Cost is roughly $1,000USD.
We would be happy to update why this headtracker was used later if requested.

The handsfree software that actually generates the mouse clicks is a dwell and click solution which works very well under Windows 8.1.
It costs only $9.95 for individuals.
It is called Smartclick from Innovation Management Group.


The key remote control component is the feature rich Logitech Harmony Smart Control.
Why the Harmony ?
The Harmony can control over 270,000 kinds of devices via their vast database. Chances are extremely high that any of the devices that you have in your home theatre system will be in the Harmony database and will allow you to control your home theatre system handsfree with ease.
Why the Harmony Smart control specifically?
The Harmony Smart comes with a basic remote control but it also comes with a free app that can turn your Smartphone into a remote control. (N.B. The more expensive Harmony Ultimate also comes with the same app) This app is an awesome essential key component which was used in this solution.
The app runs on iOS units like iPhones and iPads. However it also runs on Android platforms.
You're probably saying "It's nice that I can use my Smartphone as a remote control but I really need a handsfree solution and my handsfree system runs on a Windows platform."
So how do I get an iOS or Android app to run on Windows? Fortunately there are 2 great contenders:
1) iPadian is an iOS emulator
2) Bluestacks is an Android emulator for Windows
We picked Bluestacks for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article.
Bluestacks is free with one minor caveat. Please contact the author for details.
An added bonus: any games that are available from the Google Play app store can also be used on this handsfree Windows system.

We have been using this solution for two months now.
It works flawlessly and we are extremely pleased with it.
We have tried several different approaches to handsfree home theatre automation in the past but this latest design is by far the most flexible, reliable and easiest to use.

The expansion capabilities of this system into home automation for handsfree lighting and environmental control are very promising.
We are convinced that the Nest wi-fi connected thermostat'sNest Android app should also work with Bluestacks.
This could implement an elegant handsfree way to control the temperature in your house. N.B. - We have not tried this yet but hope to test and write about this as soon as possible.

We would also appreciate hearing from anybody who has tried this or other solutions.

The author would be more than happy to assist anyone who needs help with the implementation of any of this.

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