Sometimes you come across a DIY project and immediately start thinking about how you could use it in your life. That’s what happened to us here on The edge when someone fell the SmartKnob view, a proof-of-concept project by engineer Scott Bezek, in our Slack chat. While it doesn’t seem to be the type of project that most people could build on their own right now (more on that later), it’s easy to imagine a future where it’s available as a kit, or where someone could put it in a Actual product.
The smart button looks a bit like a mini Nest Thermostat, but Bezek programmed it to have tons of modes. It can of course just act as a spinning dial, but you can also program the motor to provide haptic feedback and resistance, giving you the feeling of reaching an end point where the dial can no longer rotate. Because this illusion is created through software rather than hardware, there is a lot you can do. It can act as a rotary on/off switch, snap back to center after you twist and release it, and even simulate rattling steps.
When my colleagues and I heard about the button, a roadside staff member immediately suggested it would be great to regulate the shower temperature; another said they would use it as a fancy scroll wheel or volume control. Personally, I thought it would be a great way to control how much food my cat food dispenses.
According to Bezek’s GitHub page for the smart button, the device (which has a far from finished design) can be built for “certainly less than $200 in parts.” The page also contains the code for the project, as well as an absolute wealth of information about how the button works and what parts it uses. bezek also said on Twitter that he would make a video describing the assembly and design process for his SmartKnob.
Unfortunately, we will have to put our dreams about button-controlled home automation on hold for the time being. In the project’s FAQ, Bezek writes that he has “only implemented enough firmware for the demo shown in the video”, and that the button can’t really be used to control much of anything at the moment. It would also be a struggle to get parts – Bezek writes that “due to the popularity of this project, it seems that unfortunately the featured engines are no longer available for purchase.”
Even with just barebones firmware, and I still want to build one and use it as the ultimate fidget toy. Perhaps by the time he’s done a design and the parts are available, I’ll be able to develop my skills to apply the advanced soldering techniques needed to actually make the smart button.
Bezek admits the button is “not a mature plug-and-play project yet,” but he does say he’ll keep working on it and even has some sort of roadmap on his GitHub page. I hope he manages to turn this into a real thing that’s practical to make yourself – I want a future where I can build an army of buttons to control everything in my house. Does the TV volume need to be adjusted? Knob. Want to turn off my camera and end a Zoom call with a swipe instead of a button press? Knob. Want to stop procrastinating when writing an article? I don’t know yet how I’m going to fix that with a button, but I assure you I will figure it out.
What would you use a smart button for?