Create Custom IR remote w/ Home Assistant & ESPHome

I had several nagging reasons to create a single universal remote that was controllable from an app on our phones:

  • I was looking for a cool Home Assistant project, plus a project to use up some of the extra ESP8266’s I had
  • We had way too many IR remotes in our living room
  • We only ever pressed one or two button per remotes
  • Setting up for the evening using said remotes, was a juggle
  • Remotes were always stashed high and far from kids, or lost in couch cushions
  • Related to above, many of the batteries in the remotes are dangerous to small kids if somehow broken/opened
  • We always had our phones on us, but remotes were always out of reach or forgotten, always after getting comfy

Here’s what I did to build a custom universal remote that replaced all my IR remotes including my AppleTV touch remote:

Requirements

  1. HomeAssistant setup & running (mines on a rpi3b)
  2. HomeAssistant mobile App
  3. ESP8266 (or ESP32) w/ micro usb cable
  4. IR LED and IR Receiver
  5. NPN transistor (BC337)
  6. Jumper cables, or wire + soldering stuff
  7. Heat shrink
  8. Optionally for installation: long micro-usb to usb A cable, 3d printed case, Velcro to stick case to wall

Optional: Setup Apple TV to use IR

Not totally sure what interface the Apple Remote uses, but if looking to Replace Apple TV: you can map the Apple TV to listen to some arbitrary button presses from any unused remote following this doc.

Build an IR Receiver to Capture Codes

First step is to capture all the IR codes. I set up a receiver as follows:

The nice part about this layout for the IR receiver I had is I was able to just slip it into a breadboard, no wiring:

In the ESPHome section of Home Assistant:

  1. Click the big “+” add button in bottom
  2. Fill out the wizard
  3. Once created, edit the module and append to the bottom of the config:
remote_receiver:
  #D5
  pin: 
    number: GPIO14
    inverted: True
    mode: INPUT_PULLUP
  dump: raw
  idle: 25ms

For reference, mine in full looks like:

esphome:
  name: ir_receiver
  platform: ESP8266
  board: nodemcuv2
wifi:
  ssid: !secret wifi_name
  password: !secret wifi_pass
  ap:
    ssid: "Ir Receiver Fallback Hotspot"
    password: !secret irfallback
captive_portal:
logger:
api:
  password: !secret ota_pass
ota:
  password: !secret ota_pass

remote_receiver:
  #D5
  pin: 
    number: GPIO14
    inverted: True
    mode: INPUT_PULLUP
  dump: raw
  idle: 25ms

Then validate, and upload through the USB port if this is the first chunk of code being sent, after that, no need to be plugged in and Over The Air works fine. Home Assistants Notification panel should alert of a new device detected, and you can add in the device and the entity.

Once uploaded, the logs should continue to show in the modal window. Try pointing an IR remote at it and smashing some buttons. If it yells a bunch of crazy number strings at you: it’s working!

There’s some important notes while looking to record a single button:

  • if the “Received Raw” starts with a negative number, you pin may not be inverted and may need to be. IR signals are a positive number (length of high value), followed by a negative number (length of low value).
  • A single press resulted for me in 3 lines. I needed to manually merge the first two and ignore the third. Why? I have no idea. For example, here’s the power button for my TV:
[20:13:30][D][remote.raw:028]: Received Raw: 8992, -4452, 619, -541, 598, -1639, 621, -1663, 598, -540, 598, -540, 597, -541, 598, -541, 597, -1641, 620, -1640, 620, -541, 596, -1640, 621, -541, 597, -541, 597, -541, 598, -540, 598, -541, 597, -1639, 621, -1640, 620, -1640, 620, 
[20:13:30][D][remote.raw:041]:   -1641, 620, -541, 597, -541, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -541, 597, -541, 597, -1640, 620, -1640, 621, -1641, 619, -1640, 621
[20:13:30][D][remote.raw:041]: Received Raw: 8993, -2205, 621

I combine the first and second lines, and remove the last line. The need to remove the third comes from line 2 ending in a positive, and line 3 starting in a positive, IR patterns must be positive negative. I don’t know why that third line is there, but removing it everything still worked in the end. From the above, my IR signal for the TV power button ended up being:

8992, -4452, 619, -541, 598, -1639, 621, -1663, 598, -540, 598, -540, 597, -541, 598, -541, 597, -1641, 620, -1640, 620, -541, 596, -1640, 621, -541, 597, -541, 597, -541, 598, -540, 598, -541, 597, -1639, 621, -1640, 620, -1640, 620, -1641, 620, -541, 597, -541, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -540, 598, -541, 597, -541, 597, -1640, 620, -1640, 621, -1641, 619, -1640, 621

Creating the IR Blaster

With the codes captured, next step is to build a transmitter. I think it’s best to use a dedicated board for sending, instead of adding the blaster to the receiver. I originally tried to setup just one board that would both receive and sent the codes, but found the boards lacked the brains to push and get at the same time successfully, which made debugging nearly impossible. I found it far easier to dedicate one device to just receiving and another to sending.

I read that ESP8266’s weren’t that great at sending the blasts and ESP32’s were a better choice due to some improved chips onboard, however I had success with ESP8266.

I wired the blaster like so:

The just like before, created a new ESPHome entry with the following appended to the config, adding the in the buttons and their codes:

remote_transmitter:
  # D2
  pin: 
    number: GPIO4
  carrier_duty_percent: 50%
  
switch:
  - platform: template
    id: tv_power_btn
    name: TV Power Button
    turn_on_action:
      - remote_transmitter.transmit_raw:
          carrier_frequency: 38kHz
          code: [8995, -4449, 623......-1638, 622, -1639, 622]
        
  - platform: template
    name: TV Up Button
    id: tv_up_button
    turn_on_action:
      - remote_transmitter.transmit_raw:
          carrier_frequency: 38kHz
          code: [8995, -4447, 625......-1637, 623, -1637, 624]
          
  - platform: template
    name: TV Left Button
    id: tv_left_button
    turn_on_action:
      - remote_transmitter.transmit_raw:
          carrier_frequency: 38kHz
          code: [8937, -4506, 566......-1671, 590, -1693, 567]

...ect

LoveLace Remote Interface

I saw some articles about using a tiles plugin for remote, but I reckoned I could get away using Button cards in a Vertical and Horizontal cards to create a table for button cards. To do this, I:

  1. Created a vertical group for the remote
  2. Created a horizontal group for a row of buttons
  3. Created more adjacent horizontal groups for the following rows
  4. I created the buttons by selecting a Button Card
    1. selecting the entity
    2. Getting a cool icon from materialdesignicons.com
    3. Setting “show name” to off
    4. Setting Icon Height to 50

Here’s a peak at my setup in it’s .yaml form:

type: vertical-stack
cards:
  - type: horizontal-stack
    cards:
      - type: button
        tap_action:
          action: toggle
        entity: switch.insignia_tv_power_button
        name: TV
        icon: 'mdi:power-standby'
        icon_height: 50px
        show_name: false
      - type: button
        tap_action:
          action: toggle
        entity: switch.tv_nothing_button
        show_name: false
        show_icon: false
      - type: button
        ...
  - type: horizontal-stack
    cards:
      - type: button
      ...

Which I laid out to look like:

An important one here is the tv_nothing_button , it is what is says, it’s a button that just like all the others is registered on the esphome setup, however, it sends a invalid value, triggering nothing, but allows the UI to house proper spacing and a consistent look.

Update: looks like the grid card was just released in 0.118 to make this even easier!

Installation

All our devices and lights to control with IR are on a single wall, so mounting the on the opposite wall, higher up towards the roof gave the blaster direct line of sight to all devices, and kept it out of the way. Before mounting I tested all functionality, walking around with the ESP8266 connected to a battery pack to find just the right spot, and quicker debugging. I used Velcro to mount this device so I can swap out the case when I got around to designing one, as well if I ever need to replace the ESP8266, I can easily take it down from the wall.

It’s not pretty, but it works. I’ll eventually get around to designing and printing a case for it.

Everything Together

Considering for each button press, the flow data is Home Assistant App on Phone > Wifi > Home Assistant > Wifi > ESP8266 blaster > Target Device, it actually works really fast. No noticeable latency or delays connecting. Additionally, I just used the normal HA ESPHome API, not MQTT. Every time I open the app, the module is already connected and ready to press a button (no load or unavailability).

Our families use case for the buttons we needed, is simple and straight forward, so this solution of just firing up the Home Assistant App on our phones was the perfect fit.

Automation & Shortcuts

With all the button entities added into Home Assistant, scripts and automations can be made with ease. For example, I created a “boom button” script that toggles all the power buttons.

Additionally, the Shortcuts app on iOS with the Home Assistant app allows you to turn entities on and off, or run scripts. The title of these shortcuts are pre-wired into Siri, so “Turn TV On” voice commands can be wired up in just a few minutes. More about this here.

I did not store the state (“on/off”) of a button in Home Assistant. Though the button entity can, doing so raised risk of state being incorrect if any of the devices are toggled manually or via the real remotes. I opted it was best to treat the buttons just like an IR remote that are unaware of a device being on or off. This limited automation (eg: turn on if not on), however I’m okay with that.

ESP8266 NodeMCU LED Busy Server

I built a Slack status light because it looked awesome and simple, and at that time I knew nothing about DIY electronics. As I learned more, I outlined how to build a cheaper one on a Raspberry Pi. Then my friend then informed me that you can do it even cheaper with an ESP32 NodeMCU board. He was right. Here’s how I built a IoT busy light for around $5.

For this example, I opted for the older ESP8266 ESP12-E NodeMCU board, it is only $2.65 + 1.73 shipping and has everything needed. Pair that with a cheap RGB shared cathode LED $0.50-$2.00, and a few cents for resistors, for a grand total of around $5* in parts.

I won’t go into the details on the boards, but if unfamiliar it, the tl;dr is you write some C/Lua code using the Ardunio IDE, include WIFI for ESP8266 and Web Server libraries (here’s hello world example code and a great setup video) and add some handlers to toggle the GPIO pins on certain requests, then flash that code onto the board over USB. If never used before, I assure you it’s not as hard or complicated as it may sound or appear. When the board is plugged in, it fires up, the code executes, connecting to WIFI, and this tiny board becomes a server in your local network.

Here’s the wiring I did:

& here’s the code I flashed onto it (note you will need to add your WIFI credentials):

From there, I added a simple CURL request into my app that’s currently handling the updating of my other busy light based on a polling of Slack status.

I placed this downstairs in my kitchen as a sort of satellite Slack Busy Light, so my family could check in on my status while not in our upstairs hallway:

If you have a common anode RGB LED, be aware the mixing of colours (on startup and when ‘away’) probably won’t work out of the box. Mixing colours on a common anode RGB requires some sort of pulsing frequency – can probably Google for more info on this or a library. Also the script will need to be edited, changing LOWs to HIGHs and OUTPUTs to INPUTs, and vice versa. I’ve updated the script to use a library to get the mixed colours more accurate for both common anode and common cathode.

* despite this low cost, I personally didn’t want to wait for shipping overseas, so instead I went with a Canadian supplier and bought a pre-wired no soldering RGB LED for $3.95 and the board for $9.98 (on sale). There was a $12 shipping fee, but I order a lot from them so that cost is hardly noticed. Even so, that’s just $14 (+ $12 shipping). Amazon and many other stores also has low prices for these parts.

A Cheaper DIY Status Light

Building that thing I just built, but cheaper.

I recognize that my last post about a DIY Status Light the project had a total cost over $100 (and that wasn’t evening including SD cards, power supply, shipping & taxes). And that high cost wasn’t for core functionality, it was for aesthetics.

I wondered if I over did it, and how much it would cost and what we be involved, to build a status light for as cheap as possible. I quickly found the answer (from the store I frequent):

Raspiberry Pi Zero WH$20.95
4GB SD Card$5.95
Squid RGB LED$3.95
Total$30.85

Building this out, you’ll notice in the images on this post, I’m using a breadboard instead of the Squid. I did this because I had all the parts of the Squid already from separate kits just not assembled. Note everything in the pictures used is the exact same as the Squid, the Squids just pre-assembled and the cheapest way to get exactly what is needed and nothing more.

Because there is no big led matrix panel, I found a normal phone charger or laptop can be used to power the Pi and light instead of a proper >2 amp power supply. This saved about $5-10.

This is a solder-less approach, so there’s some extra cost in getting the Zero WH instead of just the Zero W and the pre-wired RGB LED, if you know how to solder and have the equipment and can shop around for cheaper parts or cheaper shipping, you may further shave a few bucks off.

Of course you’d need to get creative on a way to mount this at a place appropriate for your use case. Thinking back to when I used to work in an office setting, this would of been great to have stuck the Pi to the rear of my monitor and put this LED at the top corner of my monitor.


Never using GPIO pins before, the code to control this light was way easier than I thought it would be. I had a bit of a curve ball as it took me a while to realize my LED used a shared anode, not a shared cathode (like the Squid is) as both kinds exist, but the code changes to toggle the two is minor. Here’s the script for both and the wiring mentioned inline to test it out (I used $ pinout on my Pi to get the pin labelling):

Common anode (left), common cathode (right)

Edit this script if you’re using a common anode, set commonCath = False. This script can be run by passing the status as a single arg: python3 rgb-led-status.py <avaliable|busy|offline>. Example: $ python3 rgb-led-status.py busy

Forking the busy server, or setting up a new Flask server to run the code for adjusting this light as shown in the code snippet wouldn’t be a big lift at all (though you’ll have to take my word as I’m too pinched for time to prove that).

This was a fun 30 minute project – and a good way to save $60+ if function is greater than form to you.

(Case used in images is Zebra Zero GPIO Case by C4Labs).

UPDATE: My good friend, after reading this post, informed me there’s much much cheaper ways to do this using a $2 ESP32 board. I can’t wait to try that out.