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Review: Web Mountain Remote UPB Controller
Earlier this year, I decided to virtualize all of my home automation software in order to lower my utility bill, and make managment of the machines much easier. One of the first things I had to do was IP-enable all of my serial hardware, since I had devices in multiple locations, plus my new server didn't have enough serial ports. Just like with USB-serial adapters, getting IP-serial adapters to work flawlessly with certain hardware can be a bit tricky (just look at the massive Quatech thread on the forums).
The new Web Mountain Remote UPB controller will make this process a little easier. In short, it's basically a device, which acts as an IP-serial adapter, but also has 'brains' to do some basic tasks such as sending an e-mail or control another device/link when certain devices/links change status.
This is still my favorite part of the review process, and first impressions really do matter. Packaging is very solid, it's extremely easy to unbox everything. There are 2 boxes, 1 which contains the RUC + a 5VDC 1A switching power supply, while the other box contains a PIM (Programming Interface Module) and a serial cable. First thing you will notice is that the controller ships with 2 serial ports, not just 1, so future firmware upgrades should add more functionality to this device.
Setting up is extremely easy:
- Plug in the PIM into an outlet, and connect the PIM with the serial cable to the serial port labled COM1 on the controller.
- Connect an Ethernet cable to the network port on the controller.
- Connect the power supply to the controller, and plug it into an outlet.
Minutes later, the controller is up and running, and will by default obtain an IP address from your DHCP server (which most routers have enabled). No need to deal with cross-over Ethernet cables, no need to run any software to configure the IP address of the device! That said, you will have to log in to your router (or whatever device provides DHCP services on your network), and find out what IP address it obtained. Trying to figure out what the IP address is probably the most complicated step for users who aren't network savy, but not sure what else they can do without introducing another tool.
Usually you can find something like 'Connected Devices' in your router status page. Once you have this IP address, you simply go to http://ip.of.device, enter the default credentials, and you are good to go.
The web interface is compatible with most browsers (I tested both Chrome and Internet Explorer), and response time is extremely quick. The interface is very basic, but gets the job done. Most of the setup screens are self explanatory, so take a look at the screenshots to get an idea of what everything looks like.
There are 2 levels of access, a normal user (which can not access the 'Admin' page), and an administrative user. The Admin page allows you to manage the passwords for both users, reboot the device, and record the customer/installer address.
The 'Networking Config' screen allows you to define a static IP address, while also configure the port the webserver listens on.
The 'Device Config' screen is where you set your time zone, latitude and longtitude (I hope this means you can schedule triggers based on time of the day in the near future) and adjust the serial port settings. One really cool idea is that you can map the TCP port to the 2nd COM port, so if a remote user wants to manage another serial device (automation controller, alarm panel, etc.), simply point it to COM2, fire up your software, and you now have remote access to that system!
The RUC also supports dynamic DNS services, making it a great candidate for your 2nd/vacation home (although I still recommend going the VPN route). Currently it supports the popular DynDNS and No-IP services, plus DNS-O-Matic, a service I personally have not heard of before.
The 'UPB Transmission' screen allows you to send out direct commands to the powerline. This is probably not a useful tool for people with little UPB experience, as it requires you to use their internet based UPB Command Wizard in order to generate the command. I hope they will eventually integrate this tool directly into the RUC, since one of the Trigger screens requires this tool as well.
The 'UPB Receive' screen shows a log of the last commands the unit received, which makes it pretty useful for troubleshooting. Currently, they are logging the RAW commands, hopefully they will log the network/device id/command seperately in the near future to make things even easier.
The 'UPB Trigger' screen is probably the most powerful screen. This is where the automation occurs, and I am guessing they will be adding more trigger types in the future. Currently, you can have the RUC control another device/link, or send an e-mail, based on the device/link command it received. You can also specify a delay before a command is execute, which makes it useful in different scenarios such as turning the light off after a certain time once the garage door has been closed.
UPDATE #2: Web Mountain has released a firmware update which adds support for scheduled tasks, based on time of the day, sunrise/sunset, day of the week, home/vacation mode and they also support a 'random' feature, which creates an offset between 0 and 30 minutes. This will allow you to create a schedule which makes it look someone is actually at home.
One major feature which I almost missed is the 'UPB Control Panel'. Basically you get to define 8 'buttons' which can send a UPB command. This gives you basic web control of your UPB devices. What's really cool is that this is also compatible with the popular Chumby/Sony Dash devices. The RUC supports more than 1 'client', so you could have a bunch of Chumby's all over the house. While the RUC control panel only allows you to define up to 8 buttons, you can work around it by sending the UPB command over the network to port 9761. Contact Web Mountain if you want more details, or access to the Chumby application.
I would like to mention that you currently can not configure which SMTP server you are going to be using for sending e-mail. The device has been configured to use Web Mountain's SMTP service, which is not too big of a deal, but a nice disclaimer in the web interface, or the ability to specify your own server would definitely be welcome. Web Mountain explained to me that most users do not like having to (or simply don't know how to) configure an SMTP server in order to make E-mail work.
UPDATE #1: In order to work around the many SMTP problems people run into (just look at the M1XEP SMTP issues), the RUC actually sends a POST command to the Web Mountain server in order to get e-mail messages out. Pretty clever!
The web interface works, but could use a few improvements (such as the ability to edit existing triggers, backing up the configuration, etc.), however Web Mountain told me that they have addressed these issues in their next firmware release. I do hope that if they make the UPB commands easier on the eyes, that they will still allow the 'RAW' commands to be sent as well, since there are some commands (such as the UPB flashing lights command) which most home automation controllers don't even support.
In order to use UPStart with the RUC, you need to install the free available HW VSP software, which creates a serial port on on your computer, and maps it to a remote IP address, since UPStart does not support this device natively. While this isn't a Web Mountain issue, I do hope that the guys behind UPStart will add support for IP based PIMs in the near future.
Once you have downloaded and installed the HW VSP software, you must point it to the IP address of the RUC, and also use the default 9761/TCP port. When ready, create the port, and you can point UPStart to the COM port you just created. From here on, everything should be business as usual, although Web Mountain recommends not to verify the whole network at once in case of network congestion, but I did not run into that issue.
If you are confused about this step, don't worry, the RUC manual does a very good job explaining what to do (it's actually one of the better manuals I have seen in a while), and includes detailed screenshots.
For the installer, this device is probably a no-brainer. The device works, is extremely easy to set up, and would allow the installer to manage UPB networks remotely. Most DIY'ers would enjoy this device as well, but the $280 price tag might be a little too steep (although it does include a PIM, which aren't cheap to begin with). If Web Mountain adds scheduling and more triggers to the device, then it would turn this thing into a full blown home automation controller, making it easier to justify this device if you are on a tight budget.
So can I recommend this device? Definitely! I am also looking forward to see what Web Mountain will do with this device, since it has so much more potential.