Interest is growing in smart home technology, which lets you control devices ranging from TVs and stereos to air conditioning units and lighting with voice assistants or your smartphone. Upgrading a home to a smart home, though, can be expensive if you’re looking to rip out standard appliances in favour of their connected equivalents. That’s where the Airxed IRX comes in.
Developed using infrared technology licensed from parent company Remotec, the IRX is an unassuming black hockey puck of a gadget. It has only a single micro-USB port at the rear – just next to a reset button that doubles as a trigger for Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) connection mode.
Taking off the gloss plastic case reveals a not surprisingly circular circuit board, with a ‘hedgehog’ array of seven LEDs at varying angles. This is key to the device’s capabilities: a multi-angle infrared emitter, shining through the IR-transparent black plastic housing, which is designed to let the IRX send signals to any IR-capable device in the room – regardless of where it sits.
The array isn’t particularly smart – triggering an IR signal fires up all LEDs at once, with no effort made to target signals in any particular direction. If your room has, say, IR-triggered lighting or ventilation at two sides, you’ll find a single signal gets picked up by both at the same time. Edge-cases aside, though, it works well. It also does away with the need to carefully position the device in order to control a single target appliance, as with traditional IR blaster accessories, although line of sight to all target devices is still required.
A small piece of foam next to the IR emitter hides a low-cost Espressif ESP8266-based ESP-12S microcontroller module, which forms the brain of the system. It’s a low-cost but fully functional microcontroller with 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi support built into it. However, you only get a PCB antenna, with nowhere to connect a higher-gain external one, so signal strength could be an issue for installation in larger homes.
At its heart, the IRX is effectively a smart remote. That’s no surprise, given that Airxed’s parent company Remotec specialises in exactly those devices.
That’s not the full extent of its capabilities, however. The puck also houses a simple temperature and humidity sensor, recording seven days’ worth of continuous readings, which can be reviewed through the companion app on Android and iOS devices.
The same sensors can also be used to trigger IR-controlled heating and ventilation systems, including air conditioners. However, you would be hard pushed to find an air conditioning unit that doesn’t have its own built-in temperature sensor.
The companion software lets you scroll through a range of appliance manufacturers and try out various control signals to hone in on the protocol required. Airxed claims support for a wide number of devices, including 400 air conditioning brands and 7,000 audiovisual brands.
However, support for older devices is patchy – the IRX failed to control a Yamaha surround sound receiver that was around 15 years old, suggesting it’s relying on the same database as Remotec’s Remodo X.
The Airxed IRX Smart Home Hub also includes support for voice-activated control via Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, allowing you to integrate otherwise disconnected appliances into the system. It doesn’t, however, support Apple’s Homekit standard, although it’s possible this may change in future firmware updates as part of an ongoing development promise.
The software, meanwhile, is straightforward to use. Once an IR device is set up, the app displays a graphical virtual remote with access to most – if not all – of the functions present on the original. TVs can be switched on or off, the volume and channel can be changed, and menus accessed. Meanwhile, air conditioners can have their modes, fan speeds and oscillation settings changed.
It’s also possible to set up some very basic logic controls. HVAC devices can be powered on and off according to the temperature sensed by the IRX hub, for instance, while a ‘sleep mode’ lets you switch to different triggers at night.
The biggest annoyance comes in initial setup. You need to register an account, or sign in with your Google account, before you can actually begin using the IRX. Given the app is entirely useless unless you’ve given Airxed your money already, this feels entirely unnecessary.
Readings from the temperature and humidity sensor are displayed at the top of the app, with quick access to the seven-day historical readings. The sensor’s accuracy seems acceptable, although given its position in a black plastic housing, it’s common for the readings to spike if the hub is placed in direct sunlight for any length of time.
The Airxed IRX is available now from airxed.com for HK$299 (around £28 ex VAT), a very reasonable price for a highly flexible – though imperfect – smart home hub.