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When I built my automation system, the one thing that became apparent is how poor the user interface is. Running multiple apps, each with multiple windows of their own, is a bit of a mess and quite hard to keep track on what is happening at any given point. ACP presents a nice user front end in a website, but is priced at the higher end of the market where people can have the open of renting out their Observatory. There seems to be no open source middle ground for hobbyists to explore.

I’ve started to develop an open source solution that can interface with automation applications in different ways. The idea is that if you can have a client that brings all your applications into one standard communication protocol, then this can be used to interface with anything; a web server, database, or external controller. This could simply be displaying information on a website as ACP does, but with touchpanels now being ubiquitous in everyday life, why can’t your remote Observatory have an interface on an iPhone or iPad?

The Mobai Windows Client will run as a console application on your Observatory PC and connect into each of your applications (supported so far are MaximDL, CCD Commander, ASCOM mounts, the Aurora Cloud Sensor and MJPEG IP webcams). It will then send all the stats for these applications over the network to another device. What I plan to develop with the client is that you can pick and choose your configuration. This could mean support for different automation applications, and the choice of how you want your user interface to work, this could be a simple webpage, or an iOS / Android application. So far this information is read only, but it also has the ability to send commands into your applications from the interface and there is a lot of room for development on this front.

The way I am creating a user interface is to send all the client data to an AMX Netlinx controller. This sits inside the house on the same network as the Observatory PC and can also control lots of devices via RS232, relays and digital sensors. These are high-end AV & Industrial controllers, but can be found occasionally on eBay for a few hundred pounds. AMX controllers can also be connected to their own touchpanels, which again are quite expensive, but some cheeky Russians have brought out their own AMX compatible iPhone, iPad and Windows application called iRidium that allows the use of AMX touchpanel files normally meant for proprietary devices. The license for this is a few hundred pounds, but in effect this means quite a high-end automation system for not a lot of money.

For more info and to try the source files visit the Yahoo Tech Group: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/Mobai/

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