From toy to tool: How I used Ninja Blocks for something useful

ninja_block_new_largeOne of the hazards of being a geek is that you have a burning desire to try out new things even if they are not immediately useful. So it was with Ninja Blocks; I’ve had them for months and have been playing with them but hadn’t found a really useful application – until the last few weeks when I’ve been in New Zealand on holiday.

So for the last few weeks my Block has been reporting on the temperature and humidity in my house, I’ve been able to look at a live photo of the living room and I’ve been able to turn on a light or a fan if I wanted to, and my block would have sent me an email if it sensed any motion in the room. Now individually there are other ways I could have gone about achieving the same end. The great thing about using Ninja Blocks was that I could do everything in one place and it was ridiculously easy to do.

The temperature and humidity came via built-in sensors on the block. The motion sensor is wireless so I could set it up where I wanted it. I wrote a rule so that if it sensed motion it would send me an email and put a photo into my Google Drive account. Thankfully, I didn’t get to test this for real but it worked fine when I tried it out with my children standing in as surrogate burglars. The camera was a mild annoyance. I only have a wired camera and Ninja Blocks requires this to be plugged into the port that I would otherwise use for the 802.11 wireless dongle. That meant I had to have the block plugged in physically to the router – not the end of the World by any means, but, as I say, mildly annoying. The light and fan were connected up to wireless switches so I could, and did, activate them from anywhere in the world.

So would I rely on this set-up for my security needs? No, not quite yet. Ninja Blocks are wonderful but there’s still that beta edge to things that would make relying on them for the security of my house a step too far right now. As it was, however, the whole set-up worked seamlessly and faultlessly. When the temperature was peaking in the house I could turn on a fan, I also turned on a light occasionally to give the house that lived-in feel. And just because I could.

I could have written a rule to turn on the fan automatically, but again I wasn’t fully trusting of the Blocks and didn’t want the fan going endlessly if something went wrong or even if, as happened, record temperatures pushed the temperature beyond what I would have otherwise expected for significant periods of time. One of the things the Ninja Block developers will need to work on is some way of telling the current state of wireless devices – without that the fear of not knowing where you stand will be a persistent issue for remote control of significant devices.

Overall the Ninja Blocks paid for themselves in peace of mind over the last few weeks. They also showed me the real potential in being able to remotely monitor and control the house. And they did it more cheaply, easily and seamlessly than any other alternative I’m aware of. There’s still more growing up for them to do, but the Blocks are developing from toy to tool very nicely.

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