Gravio Blog
November 30, 2023

IR Blasters: Integrating IR Controlled Devices into Your IoT Infrastructure using Gravio

Learn about retrofitting with IR Blasters
IR Blasters: Integrating IR Controlled Devices into Your IoT Infrastructure using Gravio

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects devices together, making operations smarter and more innovative. Yet, older, "non-smart" equipment often can't join this network due to a lack of built-in connectivity. This is where IR Blasters come in—they cleverly link the old with the new. (Note, IR Blasters are sometimes also referred to as IR transmitters, Remote control extenders, IR beams, IR senders, IR dongles or IR repeaters).

USB IR Blaster
IR Blaster with case (Remotec Airxed)

These devices emulate the infrared signals of traditional remotes, transforming age-old equipment into IoT-ready devices without the need for extensive modifications or replacements. This cost-effective solution breathes new life into existing infrastructures, enabling them to be controlled remotely and integrated into modern automation workflows. Gravio, an advanced Node Computing platform by Asteria Corporation, alongside Remotec, a company specializing in infrared-enabled devices and home automation, take this a step further by providing an off-the-shelf integration for IR blasters and various connectivity adapters including IoT, APIs and MQTT. With Remotec’s products and Gravio, businesses can easily configure and coordinate their IR-equipped devices, ensuring that everything from office air conditioners to industrial televisions can be woven into the fabric of a smart, responsive IoT ecosystem.

Understanding IR Blasters

IR Blasters are clever devices that serve as universal remote controls for various electronic appliances that operate using infrared signals. Picture an IR Blaster as a multi-lingual translator that sends out commands in the infrared language, which your TV, stereo, or air conditioner can understand and respond to. This means that with an IR Blaster, you can manage all these different gadgets from a single point, even if the original remote is lost or broken.

The magic of IR Blasters lies in their simplicity — they work by emitting a beam of infrared light, which is the same kind of light your regular remote control emits, though invisible to the naked eye. When you trigger a process, for example through an API, on the IR Blaster, it sends out a specific pattern of light that your electronic device recognizes as a command, like "turn on" or "increase volume". This not only makes it possible to control old devices with new technology but also eliminates the clutter of having multiple remotes, making your space tidier and your life a bit less complicated.

There are two ways, an IR Blaster can know about these light signals: Either they are pre-programmed, or they can be “learned” by “recording” a signal first, before storing and triggering it. One of the major challenges in knowing all the light signals is that many, if not all of them are proprietary to the brand of the manufacturers, as there is no standard for IR signals. Also, some are interactive, relying on two directions with questioning/answering, whereas others are just one-directional.


The Need for Retrofitting with IoT

Retrofitting in the context of IoT, or connected systems, refers to the process of adding new technology or features to older systems and equipment that weren't originally designed to have these capabilities. It's like giving an old car a new navigation system; the car can still run on its original parts, but now it has modern functionality. In the realm of IoT, retrofitting means equipping traditional devices with the ability to communicate and be controlled via the internet, making them part of a smart, interconnected ecosystem without the need for complete replacement.

The advantages of this approach are numerous, particularly in terms of cost savings and environmental impact. By keeping existing equipment and updating it with IoT connectivity, businesses and individuals can avoid the significant expenses of buying brand-new smart devices. This not only saves money but also reduces waste, as there's no need to discard equipment that's still functional. Retrofitting extends the life of these devices and ensures they can work alongside the latest technologies, providing a sustainable path to modernization that blends the old with the new seamlessly.

Traditional AC device retrofitted with with Remotec IR blaster ZXT-600


Gravio's Role in IoT Retrofitting

Gravio stands out as a versatile connectivity and Edge IoT platform designed to simplify the integration and management of devices within the Internet of Things. It acts as the central nervous system for your IoT ecosystem, allowing users to connect, monitor, and control a wide array of devices from one central hub. Gravio's platform is engineered to be user-friendly, making it accessible for both tech-savvy individuals and those new to IoT technology, ensuring that anyone can step into the world of smart device management.

With Gravio, managing and controlling retrofitted devices becomes a breeze. Once traditional devices are equipped with IR Blasters, such as for example Remotec’s Airxed, they can be seamlessly integrated into Gravio's platform. For example, an old air conditioning unit, typically limited to manual controls or a basic remote, can now be programmed for smart operation. Users can set schedules, adjust settings on-the-fly, or automate the unit's operation based on environmental triggers such as people count, detected motion or temperature, all through Gravio. Similarly, multimedia devices like projectors and audio systems that are essential in conference rooms but often lack internet connectivity can be upgraded to join the IoT network. With Gravio, these devices can be centrally managed and even remotely operated, adding a layer of convenience and efficiency to what was once standalone equipment.

Guide to Retrofitting with IR Blasters and Gravio

Bringing the convenience of modern technology to your existing devices is straightforward with a step-by-step integration of IR Blasters and Gravio. First, you'll want to start by identifying the legacy equipment you wish to retrofit, such as a TV or stereo system. Then, place the IR Blaster in line of sight to the device's IR receiver, which is usually near the device's control panel. Once positioned, you'll need to connect the IR Blaster to your network, which will be the conduit for Gravio's commands.


Next, you'll integrate the IR Blaster with the Gravio IoT platform. This is achieved using the MQTT protocol either at the edge or via the cloud. This typically involves deploying Gravio in your infrastructure connecting it to an MQTT broker either in the cloud or on-premise. Once the IR Blaster is connected to the same MQTT broker, you can begin configuring actions and controls specific to your device on Gravio and send the various commands to the Airxed device. Whether you're setting up a schedule for your heaters, creating scenes for your lighting, or automating your home entertainment system to power on for movie night, Gravio's intuitive platform lets you tailor each detail to your needs, ensuring that your retrofitted equipment responds just as smartly as any modern IoT device.

Use Cases or Examples

Consider the case of a local library that wanted to enhance the visitor experience by automating its environment without the high costs of replacing its existing infrastructure. By attaching IR Blasters to their old heating system, projectors, and lighting, and connecting these to Gravio, the library could now schedule the perfect ambient temperature, adjust lighting for different times of the day, and control audio-visual equipment for presentations, all from a central point. This retrofitting effort led to significant improvements in operational efficiency as staff no longer needed to manually adjust settings throughout the day, and the library could enjoy a decrease in energy consumption through more precise control over its environment without compromising the visitors’ experiences.

In another example, a small family-run hotel or AirBNBs integrated IR Blasters to upgrade their in-room entertainment systems and air conditioning units. With Gravio, they offered guests a customized app to control these devices directly from their smartphones, a feature usually found in high-end establishments. This integration not only elevated the customer experience but also streamlined maintenance tasks for the hotel staff. As a result, the hotel distinguished itself from competitors, showcasing how retrofitting with IR Blasters can lead to enhanced ease of use and efficient IoT integration, even for businesses with limited initial technology infrastructure. Furthermore, they could automate switching off energy-wasting devices if the hotel guests are not in the room.

Overcoming Challenges

Retrofitting equipment with IR Blasters can come with its set of challenges, such as ensuring the IR signal reaches the device without obstruction or dealing with the variability in the IR codes used by different manufacturers. Users might also face initial hurdles in configuring the IR Blasters to communicate correctly with older devices, which may not always respond predictably to new forms of control. To address these issues, first, ensure that the IR Blaster is positioned with a clear line of sight to the device's IR sensor. If the device doesn't respond, try repositioning the blaster or check for interference from other IR-emitting sources.

For the variability in IR codes, Remotec provides a comprehensive database and learning mode that helps capture the correct codes from existing remotes, easing the setup process. Furthermore, there’s detailed documentation available, such as step-by-step video tutorials, and a responsive customer service team that can help troubleshoot issues. By leveraging these resources, users can mitigate the challenges of retrofitting and enjoy a smooth transition to an integrated IoT environment.

The Future of Retrofitting with IoT

The future of retrofitting with IoT promises to further dissolve the barriers between legacy equipment and cutting-edge technology. We can anticipate more sophisticated sensors and IR Blasters that can automate almost any device with an infrared receiver, driven by artificial intelligence to learn and adapt to user habits and preferences. The development of universal protocols could simplify the integration of even the most diverse devices, making the setup process as easy as plug-and-play.

Platforms like Gravio are expected to be at the forefront of these advancements, possibly incorporating more intuitive AI-driven interfaces that can anticipate the needs of users and adjust environments accordingly. We might see features like predictive maintenance alerts for connected equipment, energy consumption optimization, and even more robust security protocols. With the continuous evolution of IoT platforms, retrofitting old equipment will not just be about keeping up with technology but also about setting the stage for a future where every device, regardless of its age, can contribute to a smarter, more efficient, and more interconnected world.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the integration of Remotec’s IR Blaster Airxed with Gravio's IoT platform presents a transformative opportunity to modernize legacy equipment with minimal investment and disruption. By retrofitting existing devices, we can bridge the gap between the non-connected past and a smart, interconnected future, enhancing operational efficiency and embracing the full potential of IoT. The benefits of such integrations are clear: cost savings, extended equipment life, and the seamless incorporation of older technology into modern, automated workflows.

Embrace the future of technology without leaving your trusted equipment behind. We invite you to explore the capabilities of Airxed and Gravio and discover how your business can benefit from integrating IR Blasters into your existing setup. Visit our websites on Remotec or Gravio, and reach out to us directly for more information on how we can assist you in seamlessly blending your devices into the fabric of IoT. Don't let legacy technology hold you back—let's retrofit for a smarter tomorrow.

Get in touch to find out more:

getstarted@gravio.com

rtlsales@remotec.co

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