Control Everything ACOM Arduino Shield Review

2016-10-20-21-50-35Today we are looking at the ACOM, the Arduino Shield for easy RF control and I2C expansion by ControlEverything.com. It’s fitting that we are looking at this module a week after our review of the 1Sheeld because of the similarities. Both units plug directly into an Arduino Uno and give wireless connectivity and expanded output options. I would even say their key customer demographics are the same: creative types with mild Arduino experience willing to pay a little more for convince. While it’s true that a beginner could pick either of these up and, with a little reading, get them working it would not be the best introduction.  I can also see these shields as a viable option for an advanced user doing a lot of prototyping. Simply put both shields would save a lot of time over several projects.  The main difference in these shields can be seen in the focus of their respective companies. First Integreight seems to currently be all in with the 1Sheeld. They have made the hardware, the app, the website, and even the support- completely focused on making the most useful and diverse Arduino shield on the market. ControlEverything.com has gone in the opposite direction. They are developing hardware to integrate with just about any popular platform. They have accessories for everything from the Photon, R Pi, Onion, Banana Pi, Bluez, BeagleBone, Wipy, and more. Instead of focusing on one platform, they are focusing on doing several things really well on any platform.  These are RF integration, clean I2C connections, easy relay control, and current monitoring. This means using ControlEverything.com products you can have professional looking installations of Remote Control and Smart Home projects that are easy to implement.

The ACOM Arduino Shield has the Key Fob receiver and I2C bus connection port that most of the ControlEverything.com line carries and also features the following: user-programmable buzzer, an XBee Socket, I²C programmable 3-Digit Hexidecimal LED display, and a 12V 100ma Open Collector Output. The buzzer is great for testing but a pain at first because it will ring if the Arduino is running a blank Sketch. For this reason and others this isn’t something I would give to a true beginner. ControlEverything.com does not offer sample code and unless you know how to turn off that pin you will go nuts. The XBee port is nice if you are familiar with it and don’t mind being tied to that system. I wouldn’t want to use multiple ACOM shields in one project so the typical ZigBee application is out, but they do make a Wifi Board in the same form factor that could be useful depending on the need. The 12V output is a nice touch and would give you the ability to drive one relay output without the need for additional hardware. The 3 Digit Display is a great tool for troubleshooting something as you could program it to output codes based on device state and not need an additional LCD screen.

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But none of those things are game changing. What is truly unique (at least from what we’ve seen in the hobby space) is their approach to I2C. ControlEverything.com wants I2C to be seen and used like it was intended- as a Bus. Most places use I2C as a point to point communication or use it for a string of the same addressable sensor or LED. ControlEverything.com offers a whole line of devices that connect to their I2C cables which make for simple builds but it’s the development of the 4 channel or 8 channel multiplexer and signal booster that really makes this useful. Instead of facing the limits of daisy chaining the devices together you could use a multiplexer and get more modules with better signal propagation.

The other main feature is the inclusion of a Key Fob RF receiver. With nothing more than the following pin out:

Key Fob Button 0 is Connected to Arduino D2
Key Fob Button 1 is Connected to Arduino D3
Key Fob Button 2 is Connected to Arduino D4
Key Fob Button 3 is Connected to Arduino D5
Key Fob Button 4 is Connected to Arduino D6
Key Fob Button 5 is Connected to Arduino D7
Key Fob Button 6 is Connected to Arduino D8
Key Fob Button 7 is Connected to Arduino D9

Open Collector Output is controlled by Arduio D12
Buzzer is controlled by Arduio D13.

Designing and building a remote buzzer was as easy as plugging the shield into an Arduino and running this Sketch:


//www.BreakoutBros.com
void setup() {
 pinMode(13, OUTPUT);  // initialize the pin connected to the buzzer
}
void loop() {
    if (digitalRead(6) == HIGH)  //check for remote press (single button fob or #5) 
      {
      digitalWrite(13, HIGH);    //turn buzzer ON for as long as the button is held
      }
    else
      {
      digitalWrite(13, LOW);     //turn OFF the buzzer 
      }
}

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This is the fastest system I’ve found to get an RF controller up and running with whatever project you want. I went from parts to finished device (including writing the code) for the Remote Controlled Pumpkin in 30 mins.



And the range on this thing is awesome. I was super skeptical of the stock rubber ducky antenna but this worked everywhere on my property- way past the point where Wifi gave up. And the 418 MHz is actually very close to the UHF 70cm Amateur Radio Band and would have very similar propagation.  This means line of site with fair building penetration and would work great in Urban and neighborhood settings. ControlEverything.com advertises 1000 feet. You could do even better than this by attaching the receiver to a UHF antenna (I’d recommend a homemade 5/8 wave ground plane antenna) mounted on the roof or in an attic. This would most likely pick up their advanced range Key Fob from a mile or more. I’m going to need to do some more testing.

While it is pricey for an Arduino shield I could really see this being used by people that value fast startup and clean installations. This would be great for an artist or set designer that just wants something to work. The other demographics would be beginners in home automation that want to remotely control something in the house without hooking it up to an internet connection or makers that want to spend more time building and less time figuring out wireless protocols. At BreakoutBros we already have more uses for this than we have shields so you may have to keep an eye out for the other ControlEverything.com platform solutions we’re sure to try.

One thought on “Control Everything ACOM Arduino Shield Review

  1. Ryan Sheldon says:

    Thank you for the review, we really appreciated it! CE is about to turn 1 year old, what a nice gift! Ryan/ceo ControlEverything.com

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