Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is going on recently with the Quirky Wink hub (rooting, API, home automation, home-assistant)

Many have purchased the Wink hub, which is sold at Home Depot as a controller  for home automation devices.  The nice part about the Wink hub is the low cost and number of radios (supported protocols).  Those two items combined makes a very appealing device to use when getting started with home automation.

But there are some drawbacks.  Firstly, the Wink hub operates through a cloud based service.  This means you can access Wink at home, or away from home, which is nice.  But for those of us who want to take full advantage of the hub, the locking down of the API and cloud requirement are really handicapping the device.

If the hub you purchase is running older firmware, it can be rooted.  Once rooted, the doors are open for getting creative with the hub, adding functionality, integrating into customized HA software, etc.  But this too can be a challenge.  First, the hub has to have a certain version of firmware or earlier else the sql injection vulnerability (allowing one to get root) is patched.  In addition, even if you do gain root, updating the firmware requires much effort to maintain root through the update.

Quirky is only giving API access to those who submit requests via email and so far it is known that they may take a long time to respond with the required information, or they may not respond at all.  This difficulty is preventing those developing HA software from being able to incorporate the Wink hub.  Which means, there are less cool things you can do with the hub due to the software limitations.

I wish that Quirky would change direction with regards to the Wink hub.  Instead of trying to prevent root access, embrace it.  With its low cost, and easy availability (Home Depot), and wide range of support devices, the Wink hub is in a position to be a big seller.  There is already a community developing for the rooted hub and new and exciting features are being added.  If Quirky opened up the hub for root, I think it could turn into a hugely popular device, with a large community of talented people developing for it.  It could be become the most popular hub on the market.

If you are like me and want to find some software that will let you create more advanced scenarios for controlling home automation, fortunately, there is at least one offering for non-rooted Wink hubs.

Home Assistant:

This is still being developed, but it is far enough along to allow one to integrate their Wink hub and many different HA devices are already supported.  In addition, it lends itself to adding custom components, and end user expansion/development.  Home Assistant is open source and free.  I recently set it up and one of the really cool things is you do not have to hope that Quirky will send you the required access tokens to use the API as Home Assistant has a page that lets you put in your Wink user and pass and will generate a token for you.  So you can get started right away.  Setup is pretty simple, especially if you are familiar with Linux and Python.  Even if not, there are clear instructions and a helpful forum to help you get started.

As of this moment. this is the only non-Wink software I am aware of that will let one use the Wink hub (without having to root).

Speaking of software, there is a commercial product called CastleOS that looks promising.  There is still much to be done with CastleOS's development, but one of the really cool features is builtin support for voice recognition using Kinect for PCs.  I have found that the xbox 360 Kinects (with A/C adapters) can be purchased very affordably from places like GameStop ($25) and are easy to setup with CastleOS and work very nicely.

Unfortunately, at this point in time, CastleOS does not provide much documentation, and only supports a limited range of products.  The Wink hub is not supported.  The do offer a 30 day free demo of the software and the purchase price is $199.  Although I am finding the free software Home Assistant to be more valuable to me ATM, CastleOS may be something for you to check out if you want at more turn-key product that is Windows based, and supports Kinects for voice.

Here are some links on rooting the Wink hub and some links to items that can be used with a rooted Wink hub:


Discussion and links to other software like Blink

Finally, I recommend having a look at Home Assistant if you would like to use or become involved with a burgeoning application that offers Wink hub support, customization, and growing support for HA devices through an open model, plus existing cool features with more to come.

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