Inspiration

We are two college students renting a house by ourselves with a high energy bill due to heating during Canada’s winter. The current solutions in the market are expensive AND permanent. We cannot make permanent changes to a house we rent, and we couldn’t afford them to begin with.

What it does

Kafa is a thermostat enhancer with an easy installation that lets you remove it at any time with no assistance. There’s no need to get handy playing with electrical wires and screwdrivers. Just simply take Kafa out from the box, clip over your existing thermostat, and slide in the battery. If you switch apartments, offices, or dorm rooms, take Kafa with you. Simply clip off!

Kafa saves you money in installation fees, acquisition of hardware, and power bill. It keeps track of your usage patterns and even allows you to set up power saving mode.

How we built it

The Kafa body was modelled using Fusion 360. The CAD models for the electronic components were sourced from Grab CAD. Everything else was modelled from scratch.

For the electronics we used an SG 90 servo that we hacked, an analog to digital converter, Raspberry pi Zero, a buck converter, temperature sensor, RGB LED, a potentiometer, and a battery we took from a camera light. We 3D printed the body of Kafa so that it would hold the individual components together in a compact manner. We then wired it all up together.

On the software side, Kafa is built using docker containers, which makes it highly portable, modular, secure and scalable. These containers run flask web apps that serve as controllers and actuators easily accessible by any browser enabled device; to store data we use a container running a MySQL database.

Challenges we ran into

The most challenging aspect of the physical design was staying true to the premise of “easy installation” by coming up with non-permanent methods of attachment to the thermostats at our home. We wanted to design something that didn’t use screws, bolts, glue, tape, etc. Designing the case to be compact whilst planning for cable management was also hard.

The most challenging part of the software development was the servo calibration which allows it to adapt to any thermostat dial. To accomplish this, we had to 'hack' the servo and solder a cable to the variable resistor in order to read its position.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The most rewarding aspect of the physical design was accurately predicting the behaviour of the physical components and how they would fit once inside the compact case. Foreseeing and accounting for all possible issues that would come up in manufacturing whilst still in the CAD program made for the construction of our project to run much more smoothly (mostly).

The accomplishment, with regards to software, that we are most proud of is that everything is containerized. This means that in order to replicate our setup you just need to run the docker images in the destination devices.

What we learned

One of the most important lessons we learned is effectively communicating technical information to each other regarding our respective engineering disciplines (mechanical and computer). We also learned about the potential of IoT devices to be applied in the most simple and unforeseen ways.

What's next for Kafa - Thermostat Enhancer

To improve Kafa in future iterations we would like to:

  • Optimize circuitry to use low power, Wi-Fi enabled MCU so that battery life lasts months instead of hours
  • Implement a learning algorithm so that Kafa can infer your active hours and save even more electricity
  • Develop universal attachment mechanisms to fit any brand and shape of thermostat.

Acknowledgments

Share this project:

Updates