Controlling lights with Ikea Trådfri, Raspberry Pi and AWS

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A few months back we purchased Ikea Trådfri smart lights to our home. However, after the initial hype, those were almost forgotten as controlling was just too complicated via ready-made tools. For example, the Ikea Home app works only on mobile and it’s only possible to use it when connected to wifi. Luckily, Trådfri offers an API for controlling the lights, so it was possible to build our customized UI.

Connecting to Trådfri

With quick googling, I found a tutorial by Pimoroni that helped me get started. I already had Raspberry Pi running as a home server, so all it took was to download and install the required packages provided by the tutorial. However, at the time of writing this article (and implementing my solution), the Pimoroni tutorial was a bit outdated. Because of that I just couldn’t get the communication working, but after banging my head against the wall for a while I found out that in 2017 Ikea changed the authentication method. I’ve contacted Pimoroni and asked them to update the article.

After getting the communication between Raspberry Pi and Trådfri Gateway working I started writing the middleware server on Raspberry Pi. As I’m a javascript developer I chose to build this with NodeJS. Luckily, there is a node-tradfri-client package available that made the integration simple. Here’s a code example of how I’m connecting to Trådfri and storing the devices in application memory.

I also added ExpressJS to handle requests. With just a few lines of code, I had API endpoints for

  • Listing all devices in our house
  • Toggling a lightbulb or socket
  • Turning lightbulb or socket on
  • Turning lightbulb or socket off
  • Setting brightness of a lightbulb

Writing the client application

As we wanted to control the lights from anywhere with any device, we chose to build a web app that can be used on a laptop, mobile, and tablet without installing. After the first POC, we decided on the most common use cases and Eija designed the UI on Sketch. Actual implementation was done using ReactJS with help of Ant Design and react-draggable.

Source codes for the client app is available in my Github.

Making the app accessible from anywhere

In Finland, we have fast and unlimited data plans on mobile and because of that we rarely have wifi enabled on mobile (nothing is more irritating than bad wifi connection on the yard). To solve this, we chose to publish the app to the public web. As the UI is built as a single-page app, it’s basically free to host it with AWS S3 and Cloudfront. Since Cloudfront domains are random strings, we decided that this is enough security for now. This means that knowing the Cloudfront domain, anyone can control our lights. If this becomes a problem, it’s quite simple to integrate some authentication methods too.

The app is also hosted on the Raspberry Pi on our local network, so guests can control the lights if they are connected to our wifi.

The bridge between physical & digital world is not yet seamless

Even with this accessible application we quickly figured out that we still need physical control buttons for the lights. For example, when going upstairs and not bringing the phone with you, you might end up in a dark room without the possibility to turn on the lights. Luckily Ikea provides physical switches for the Trådfri lights, so we had to make one more Ikea trip to get the extra controller upstairs.

Another way to reduce the need for physical switches would be using a smart speaker with voice recognition. Unfortunately, only Apple Home Pod is the only speaker that currently understands Finnish and it’s a tad out of our budget and probably not possible to integrate into our system either. Once Amazon adds Finnish support for Alexa we’ll definitely try that.

…and while writing the previous chapter, I figured that since Apple supports Finnish, it’s possible to create a Siri Shortcut to control our lights. With few more lines of code in the web app, it now supports anchor links from Shortcut to trigger a preset lighting mode.

Conclusion

It’s great that companies like Ikea provide open access to their smart lights since at least for us the ready-made tooling was not enough. Also with the help of the AWS serverless offering, we can host this solution securely in the cloud for free. If you have any questions about our solution, please feel free to get in touch.

For more tech content follow Arto and Nordcloud Engineering in Medium.

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