Smart Home tinkering – Using Stringify, Nest Cameras, and TP-Link Plugs to simulate house activity based on camera detections

First of all – Happy New Year, I hope 2019 is already going great for you!

This write up focuses on the use and integration of three things; Nest Cameras, TP-Link Smart Plugs and Lights, and Stringify (a tool that allows the creation of IOT Flows). The combination of all three provides a powerful way to create security routines and outcomes based on various triggers. I should point out, I’m fairly wary of the security implications of IOT devices in general, so for me I like to see them as a way to augment, rather than replace, traditional security products.

In this article I am going to demonstrate an integration routine I have setup recently:

  • When my Nest Camera(s) detect a person between the hours of 2300 and 0600, a Stringify Flow runs, which turns on lights in correct order to simulate a person coming downstairs. The routine then waits for a time period, and turns the lights off in the reverse order, to simulate a person going back upstairs. Finally, a push notification is sent out that provides an alert that the Flow has been run to a mobile phone.

To create this type of setup you need three things:

  • Cameras – I am using the Nest Outdoor Cameras
  • Smart Lighting/Plugs – I am using TP-Link Products, both plugs and bulbs
  • An IOT Tool to link the triggers to actions – I am using Stringify

It’s worth noting that you could use a number of different tools to achieve the same result – for example IFTTT works in a similar way to Stringify, and there are lots of IOT Camera and Lighting products out there.

So – how do we set this up?

To start – we need some cameras, here’s one of my Nest Cameras:

I have a few of these setup around the house – so pretty much anyone near the house is picked up by the cameras. Next, we need some smart lighting to allow for the lighting to come on. For this I have two products in use; TP- Link Smart Plugs and TP-Link Smart Bulbs.

Next, we need to create a Stringify Account – to do this you need to download the app for your device and sign up. Once completed you can create Flows and add Things, which are, in brief:

  • Flows – sequences of events/actions that are run by triggers we define
  • Things – these are the IOT devices we have added to our account

Before we can create a sequence, we need to add Things to our account – which is done by tapping on the + sign:

Next we can add accounts for our various smart devices – this will vary depending on what devices you are using, but for me it was just a case of adding my Nest and TP-Link accounts:

Once this is done, the devices/accounts show up in the home screen within Stringify:

We’re now good to go and can setup our first Flow. To do this, we need to open the Stringify App, and click on “Flows”, and then on the + symbol to create a new flow:

From here, we can start to build out a Flow. Here’s an overview of a completed Flow to give you an idea – we can then drill down into the building blocks that form this Flow:

As you can see – the Flow mainly comprises timers, and light actions (turning a light on or off). We can break this Flow down into 5 main sections:

Essentially the above Flow can be broken down into a few key elements:

  1. A trigger – or in this case, a trigger and a time variable. Both must be met for the sequence to run. In my case, it is that the Nest Camera must detect a person (not just activity – the ability to determine a person or just motion is a feature of the Nest cameras), and the time must be between 2300 and 0600. Unless both conditions are met the sequence won’t progress any further.
  2. The “Person coming down the stairs” sequence – this is just lights and timers that wait for time periods before kicking off the next light. So the first light comes on, then the sequence waits, and then the next light comes on, and waits, and so on…
  3. A wait – purely to act as a waiting time before the next element runs – effectively to simulate a person being downstairs doing something.
  4. The “Person going upstairs” sequence – again this is just lights and timers, so it simulates the lights going off as if someone was going upstairs. Exactly the same as element 2 but in reverse.
  5. This is the final element, AKA letting me know – a push notification, so my phone is alerted that the sequence has been run. This is a useful step as it allows me to be alerted to the fact that the sequence has run (so I have awareness) , and also to see what caused the sequence to run (I can make sure it was a legitimate activation and there is no cause for concern).

Using an automation sequence like this is great way to turn smart home products into a smart security feature. There are loads more possibilities you can create with Stringify too – for example, a few other things you could do with this sequence alone:

  • Integrate this sequence with other smart home products – for example using SmartThings you can connect to Siren/Strobe devices to trigger an alarm. For example if a person is spotted in your garden between a certain time range. All house lights come on and a siren going off is a good deterrent too, and certainly attracts attention!
  • Integrate this sequence with an Amazon Echo – for example “Alexa, I am leaving for work” turns off lights, but should a person be detected outside a radio starts playing inside, and a light comes on – to simulate someone being at home. Or turns lights on and off randomly during darker hours.

Or you could use a sequence like this to trigger smart home items during a danger scenario – for example, if Smoke is detected (via something like Nest Protect) then all house lights come on, regardless of the time of the day, and anything like a TV or Radio connected to a smart plug turns off. (So the only noise heard is the smoke alarm).

Hopefully this has been useful and gives an idea of how powerful the integration of these types of devices can be when linked with the right system to automate them. Until next time – thanks for reading! 🙂


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