IRKit: An open source device for hacking your home

IRKit: An open source device for hacking your home

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I spoke to Masakazu Ohtsuka (aka Mash) about his open source infrared remote controller device back in January. At the time, I was really eager to tell our readers about another very cool Japanese hardware project, this one letting you use your smartphone an a controller for devices around your home, such as air conditioners. The project is called IRKit, and you can learn more about it in the video above.

The only problem was that back in January when I spoke to Ohtsuka, there were no more IRKits left in stock. I figured I’d wait a while and tell our readers about it at a time when they’d actually have a chance to buy them. When 100 more units became available this past Sunday night, I thought Monday morning would be a nice time to write something. But surprisingly, those units completely sold out before I had a chance.

As I write this now, you may or may not be able to buy IRKit on Amazon. It’s a very cool product, and the high demand has demonstrated that it’s one that people want as well.

So with all that said, let me explain a little bit about how IRKit came into being, and where Ohtsuka plans to take it in the future. When we initially spoke, he outlined some of his own ideals as an engineer, which shed light on his aspirations for IRKit:

Many engineers want to hack or optimize processes in daily life, they don’t want to repeat something twice. Remote controls have a downside – there are batteries, or kids try to take them. They don’t look cool. So I wanted to first make something for myself. But eventually I realized that it would be more of a challenge, that it would be more fun, to make something for everyone.

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What he ended up creating is a wi-fi enabled device (pictured above) that lets you use a smartphone to control things like air conditioners, lights, and TV. Essentially you can control anything that uses an infrared remote. He has made an accompanying iOS app that lets anyone use the device with ease, and an SDK for developers who want to hack it further. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking that a developer could in theory create an app that tells your air conditioner to cool your house more as the temperature outside good up.

Ohtsuka has funded this project entirely out of pocket, and he explains that it’s an operation that he can run almost solely by himself, but with occasional help from some collaborators. I wondered if he might try Kickstarter (as many others here in Japan recently have) to help promote his project. But he says that such an endeavor would require much time, and as an engineer, he just wants to code. Considering that he has managed to sell to many units already just through his own network, and without any significant marketing, it’s hard not to be impressed.

In the future, he hopes to be able to build in location-based functions, which could then trigger devices when you arrive at home or leave, for example.

Ohtsuka previously worked with Kamakura-based Kayac, but is planning to soon move to the US, so it will be interesting to see where he focuses his efforts from here. His English is pretty fluent, so collaborating with hardware hackers and fabricators stateside should be a productive endeavor for him. If his work interests you, I encourage you to follow him on Twitter, or check out more information on GetIRKit.com.

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