Meet the smart home on wheels: Interview with Ben Willmore

Our latest use-case example is definitely also our coolest one. With the perfect mixture of old and new, Ben & Karen are setting a new standard for smart living with their fully automated home on wheels.

1963 Flxible Starliner bus was originally owned by a high school in Nevada to transport their band and sports teams. Now, Lived on full-time by Ben and Karen who travel all 48 states in the contiguous USA.

Ben teaches Photoshop, Lightroom and digital photography through his business at The entire bus was designed by him including general layout, material choices, plumbing, electrical, appliance choices as well as home automation selection and programming.

Ben was kind enough to tell us more about his journey and the process of restoring this wonderful vintage vehicle.

1. The bus is beyond cool. What was the idea? What motivated you to restore it?

I lived on a much more “modern” and large bus for seven years before moving onto this vintage one. I found that something that was designed by someone else for the generic use of any customer just didn’t excite me. As a photographer, I concentrate on capturing images of great examples of vintage design from 1930-1960 and I loved the idea of living in something that reflected what attracts me to vintage design. But, at the same time, I wanted the best of today, which is where all the technology comes in. I guess I just wanted to build my dream vehicle and then live in it full-time.

2. This is not just a cool RV it is a Smart cool RV. What kind of systems you used to create an automated home on wheels?

My primary home automation system is from Loxone. It controls all lighting (via DMX), shading, HVAC and replaces all but one of the usual RV-related controls panels in a vehicle like this (thermostats, tank monitors, generator start/stop, etc.). The whole system can be controlled via any web browser, an iPhone app and a wireless remote in the car even allows us to change the lighting or unlock the door when we return home in our car.

The only RV-related panel that can be found in this project is a Color Control GX from Victron that shows me on a single screen how much energy I’m consuming from both shore power, solar and battery power. To make that work, I have used Victron gear for energy management such as my solar charge controller, inverter/chargers and battery monitor for our home-built 540Ah 24V lithium-ion (LiFePO4) house battery bank.

On the roof I have a special antenna cluster that features dual GPS, dual LTE and dual wifi antennas with a dedicated, always on LTE connection. That is wired to a Raspberry Pi 3 running Voxior (now 1Home) software to allow voice control via Amazon Alexa-based devices in the bus.

A 40TB NAS (network attached storage) system stores all our music and movies, is connected to our Mobotix 180° exterior cameras and backs up all our systems on the hour.

All of the above was done using systems that have tech support departments to help me along the way. I am now embarking on the self learning needed to get my Victron gear to talk to the Loxone gear via Modbus and hope to eventually create a custom user interface via OpenHAB.

3. How did you connect your Loxone Miniserver and A/V devices to create this unified experience?

I have an Loxone IR Extension that is used to control my Denon AV Receiver, Oppo Blu-ray player and one roof-mounted vent fan, I also have a Loxone IR Air hidden behind our Advantium oven that controls the TV and a second roof-mounted vent fan. But, what really brings everything together is the combination of Loxone hardware and Alexa voice control via Voxior (now 1Home) software. That allows me to simply say “Alexa, turn Blu-ray on”, which causes all of the following to happen automatically:
1) Television is electronically lowered from it’s hidden spot in the ceiling
2) Television is turned on after a delay to ensure that is has been fully lowered
3) AV Receiver is turned on and switched to the Blu-ray source
4) Blu-ray player is powered up
5) Loxone determines if it is bright or dark outside and only lowers the window shades if it is too bright for comfortable viewing
6) The lighting changes to reduce reflection on the screen and give just the right amount of light for moving around the space.

When we’re done watching, I simply say “Alexa, turn TV off” and it proceeds to intelligently reverse its previous actions and ends up with interior lighting appropriate for whatever time of day we finish watching TV.

Similar things happen when I say “Alexa, turn on Shower”, where the light turns on, the hot water is recirculated to ensure it is hot at the fixture, the vent fan is turned on to keep humidity in check and a in-wall heater is started if the room is cool. I don’t have to do anything after leaving the shower since the light will go out after a predefined length of time and the vent and heater will turn off when the humidity sensor indicates it is sufficiently dry.

4. What is the people's' reaction once they see this combination of old and new being controlled with the ultimate interface - your voice?

Voice is our newest addition to the system, so we don’t really know how people will react. We loved that it was something that could easily be retrofitted to an existing Loxone system and I’m sure it will blow the minds of most people who see our bus. They’re already crazy about the quality of our bus conversion and they love all the vintage elements combined with modern day conveniences.

This combination of an inspiring life-story with an inspiring usage of new technology did have its challenges along the way. Ben’s dream home on wheels for instance has to use  a LTE connection with an external IP which is constantly changing when moving and sometimes makes it impossible to have a stable inbound connection.

With 1Home Remote Access service which creates a fixed and secure HTTPS connection to his Loxone Miniserver. He is now able to control his Smart Home on wheels from anywhere.

To learn more about Ben’s bus project and follow his exciting ride of the future check his facebook page:

To see our other users' stories, click HERE.

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