Vera Lite / UI7

This review has come about because we saw an announcement that the UI7 firmware update was available for our Vera Lite Z-Wave controller. Generally, we leave stuff alone if it is working but, there were some significant limitations with the UI5 firmware we were using, so we upgraded to this official release. Because this was an official release, we made the assumption that our Vera would update to this new release by using the firmware update process on the device. This proved to not be the case though, and to get from UI5 to UI7 you have to follow the instructions provided in the firmware release note.

Our Vera Lite decided to upgrade us via the UI6 beta release and this caused us of a lot of our problems. Once we had upgraded to UI6 our Vera refused to function correctly. We then worked out how we could upgrade it to UI7 and whilst this was successful, our Vera still refused to work properly with just a few graphics from the UI7 interface displayed.

Eventually, we decided to do a hard reset using the physical reset button on the Vera Lite and this managed to bring it back to life as expected. The majority of our Z-Wave network configuration had been lost though, including names of devices and many of the node IDs had changed.

Initially, the Vera tried to take me through the setup wizard. I got stuck very quickly because of this error though:

Completely meaningless and not useful at all.

We then tried the GetVera LiveChat service and whilst in a chat session realised I didn't need to use the wizard at all.

Static IP Address

One of the first things we did was to give our Vera a static IP address. This is required to be able to send commands to the Vera from other processors and to also improve the security of our Home Control System (HCS).

Firmware Update

Once I changed the IP address the Vera asked me to update the firmware. Seeing as this was the original cause of my problems we were not keen but decided to let it update anyway. It upgraded successfully this time though to version 1.7.374.

As well as losing lots of settings in the firmware update, a lot of our Z-Wave devices and sensors now have different IDs. Under UI5, each device had a node ID and a device ID. Under UI7 the device ID has become just the ID and the advanced settings now show an alt-id.

UI7 Overview

It is fair to say that the new UI takes a bit of getting used to but, it is not massively different to the UI5 experience. The following section is a quick overview of the functionality.

Dashboard Cards

The dashboard cards provide any overview of the overall system status, security devices and real-time energy consumption (where devices support this).

My Modes

This provides four basic selections to choose a current 'mode' from Home, Away, Night and Vacation. This is roughly comparable to our house status but, not as useful. We have a house status that is automatically determined but can also be fixed at In, Out or Away. Daytime and nighttime are automatically determined using a twilight sensor sensor.

We could in theory map these buttons to our status but, it doesn't help much and there is no obvious mapping. It would be much easier to do this via scenes.

Devices

The devices view was really confusing initially because the firmware update had caused all of the names I had allocated to device to get lost, so each was simply named '_Appliance Module', '_Motion Sensor', etc. Very confusing!

By switching devices on and off, we were able to work out what each device in the UI was in our home.

Cameras

We haven't connected any cameras to our Vera. We think you would only want to do this is the Vera was being used as your primary home automation controller.

Scenes

Creation and management of scenes has been made much simpler and clearer. This is one area where UI7 is a big improvement. Well it would be if it wasn't for all the bugs :-(

Energy

This is an area we are sill looking at. A company called Echo Labs is used to provide energy usage information.

Settings

Rooms

I basically had to create all of the rooms that contain Z-Wave devices and sensors in my home. These are a subset of the zones used by our Home Control System (HCS).

Scenes

The first thing we did was to create a manual test scene, to check that we could still generate socket layer events into our Home Control System (HCS). This proved to be successful :-)

When you add a new scene you are taken through a series of steps:

  1. Select a device, e.g. 'Letterbox'.
  2. Choose a trigger, e.g. 'Whenever Letterbox is opened whether is armed or disarmed'. If you choose a device that can be switched on/off, then you need to choose a mode.
  3. You can add a delayed action.
  4. Choose the action - in pretty much all cases we don't do this.
  5. Add LUA code to be run if required.

We typically name our scenes of the form, 'SCR_LetterboxOpen', where SCR means this is a scene that reports (an event). The UI now displays the scene ID next to the name.

Apps

We are not using any apps yet.

Users & Account Info

Account Info

Not sure what this is used for but it has fields for a billing address.

User Info

User information used for sending notifications (email address, mobile phone number, etc.).

Notification Limits

Enables you to adjust how many SMS and email notifications your Vera can send but, it isn't clear what period of time this refers to.

Change Password

Changes you account password.

Alerts

This is a list of 'alerts' generated by devices and sensors on your Z-Wave network. Typically this means when they last changed state.

Other Users

We are not 100% sure what this is for but it looks like you can grant other users access to your Vera.

Tech Support

From here you are able to grant the tech support team remote access to the Vera.

Unit Settings

This section lets you set basic weather settings (country, region, temperature format). You can also rename the unit and view information such as MAC address, serial number and firmware version.

There is also a tick-box to 'Secure your Vera'. If you check this box, then it basically becomes unreachable to other computers on your home network and there are not able to control things using HTTP requests (which is mainly how we are using our Vera).

Identified Bugs

Aside for the upgrade issues, we have encountered a number of bugs in the UI7 interface:

Setup Wizard

This simply didn't work for us. We got asked to enter our user data but it wouldn't accept the data entered and came back with a obscure error that told us nothing useful. As most of the fields were pull-don menus, it was very hard for us to have actually entered wrong data and we certainly couldn't see anything wrong.

User and Account Info

Every time we click on the tab labelled 'User and Account Info' it displays the sub-menu options and then redirects us the the URL: https://home.getvera.com/dashboard/myunits regardless of what we do next. We needed to access the 'Unit Settings' sub-menu in order to get the device to display in degrees centigrade.

Help from the Micasaverde forums suggested that you can only access this page after authenticating with home.getvera.com when you are not connected to your home network. This worked for us and allowed us to use the remote control panel to make the required changes.

Failed Devices

Failed devices

For some reason the dashboard keeps showing these 2 failed devices but they are both working fine and generate the required events.

Mobile Apps

There are both Android and iOS mobile apps for remote control of the Vera Lite device. We have focussed our testing on the iOS app so far and it has proved useful for testing purposes.

The app is a little slow to connect, taking 5 to 10 seconds before it displays useful data. Quite often it fails to connect.

mobile app shortcuts
The mobile app features shortcuts and a default one is 'all lights off'. This assumes Vera knows about all your lights but, in practice many are plugged in using appliance modules and these are not recognised as lights.

Other Stuff

Z-Wave Associations

The firmware update seems to have removed the Z-Wave associations that we had created to enable direct control of our bathroom extractor fan.

Z-Wave associations are configured in the 'Device Options' section. The Everspring ST814 supports two association groups, with a single node in Group 1 and up to three nodes for Group 2. For the ST814 you need to create a Group 2 under the parent device and place the devices you want ST814 to turn on or off in this group.

We initially tried using scenes to enable the required control but this has two problems. Firstly, there is increased delays and much poorer response times if you use scenes. The ST814 doesn't report current values back to the Vera very regularly, so the Vera controller doesn't get the data to make the decision. Control is immediate if you use association. Secondly, scenes just don't work very reliably under UI7 yet.

Luup engine error
We created the group 2 control group.

Luup engine error
Having created group 2 for associations, the UI7 interface gives you a graphical list of devices to be controlled via this group.

Luup engine error
Having configured the group associations we saw the all to common Luup engine error message :-( This means it failed to set the association.

Luup engine error
After several attempts we eventually got Vera to recognise and store the association. On the Everspring ST814 you can press the '°C/°F' button three times to force it to poll and hence get the new configuration.

Summary

The Vera Lite is one of the few 3rd party components and dependencies we have in our Home Control System (HCS) and it is responsible for the interfaces and reporting of all Z-Wave networked devices, sensors and events. Although we have focussed on a wired solution, we have had to resort to wireless sensors and devices in some instances. When the Vera Lite is not working properly it does have significant impact on some of our home automation.

We are probably not a typical user of the Vera Lite device. We are simply using it to as a gateway to the Z-Wave technology and a way to abstract the underlying technology. The Vera Lite device interfaces to our Home Control System (HCS) like all the other components we are using. The primary mechanism we are using is socket layer communications enabled by scenes and LUA code.

As well as backing up your Vera regularly, you should also be storing all of your configuration information (device names, IDs, scripts, etc.) outside of the Micasaverde / GetVera eco-system in case situations like those we have experienced arise. The upgrade from UI5 to UI7 lost the majority of the configuration work we had previously done and reconfiguration from a hard reset like this is over six hours of effort.

We initially saw significant bugs in the user interface and it pretty much always reported that one or more devices are missing, despite them all working as expected. Some minor updates have fixed this issue now though.

The biggest issue we currently have with the latest firmware is that the device is just not reliable and will often become unreachable via both the web interface and in terms of messages to and from our Home Control System (HCS).

One of the key issues we had with the Vera has not been fixed with this new update. Temperatures are still only captured as integers.

I can understand the need to get remote access to the Vera, to diagnose problems but the support desk also request remote access to my computer to try things out and I can't see why this level of intrusion is required.

Updates

8th Oct 2014 - Firmware V1.7.437

We upgraded to version 1.7.388 because this release claimed to fix some of the bugs I have been seeing including an issue with scheduled scenes.

10th Nov 2014 - Firmware V1.7.437

This latest firmware update seems to have fixed one problem for us. The reason why scenes were being triggered multiple times (making it look like our doors were shutting repeatedly) was because every time the sensors wake-up they report current state to Vera and it was triggering our scenes (though it only seemed to do it when doors were closed).

12th Nov 2014 - Firmware V1.7.439

This release has fixed the annoying need to get a tour of the dashboard every time you access the Vera UI7 interface. It also defaulted to sending us an email alert every time someone opened the Lounge Door. Something that we can't switch off from home due to the bug in accessing 'Users & Accounts Info'.

20th December 2014 - Firmware V1.7.481

We have installed this release and are currently testing it. Initial tests show that is doesn't fix our problem with unscheduled scenes being run.

7th February 2014 - Firmware V1.7.513

This new version of firmware appeared as available today. Given the current number of bugs our view is that any upgrade has to be preferrable. Time will tell! This release fixes quite a few bugs by the look of it.

UI7 Bugs

These are the main bugs we have identified with UI7 and are trying to resolve with the Vera support channels:

FIXED - Users & Accounts Info

This is particularly annoying. Every time we try to access anything under the 'Users & Accounts Info' tab, the device forces us to login again. The only way we have found to access these features is by using remote access to our Vera from outside of our home.

Now fixed

Scheduled Scenes

Scheduled scenes simply do not work for us at the moment. We have managed to get a basic scheduled scene working briefly but simply things like manually running it (to test it works) will stop it working. We have often scene the 'next run' time to be a time/date in the past.

We have raised this as a bug with tech support and received a response to say that they are working on this issue.

FIXED - Unscheduled Scenes

We have noticed that some devices activate scenes, even when the devices have not been triggered themselves. This is true for all of our door contact sensors, regardless of brand (we use Fibaro and Everspring). The effect of this is that the door looks like it is being closed many times (but not opened). This is important to us as we use events like this to determine how much activity is going on in our house and use this to determine things like are people waking up.

We have raised this as a bug with tech support and received a response to say that this would be fixed in release 1.7.481. It hasn't been fixed yet though :-(

This appears to have been fixed in version V1.7.513 :-)

FIXED - Unwanted Notifications

We upgraded to firmware V1.7.439 and immediately started getting an email notification every time the front door was opened. We didn't switch this on and there are no notifications enabled for this device listed in the UI7 interface, so there is no way to turn this off :-(

Now fixed - This was a new feature of the dashboard that enabled notifications in 'Home' mode by default. We switched these off in the configuration.

There is a YouTube video that explains this:

Integer Temperatures

This is a 'feature' of the Vera that has been carried over from UI5. All temperatures are represented as integers and thus reported at a much lower resolution than they are capable of.

General Reliability

We know we are not a typical user of the Vera device, with an external Home Control System (HCS) making requests upon it via HTTP but, generally it isn't as reliable as we would like it to be. We have experience the device failing to respond and in some cases have had to cycle power to get it back working. This is in contrast to the Raspberry Pi slave devices we we use in our home.

iOS Mobile App Bugs

We changed the units for display of temperature from Fahrenheit to centigrade. Whilst the unit have changed in the mobile app display, the actual values were not initially mapped from Fahrenheit to centigrade, so we are seeing temperatures like 72°C. This seemed to correct itself after a while though.

Every time we start the app, a dashboard banner is displayed saying 'Congratulations. Your Vera is ready.'. There doesn't seem to be any way to turn this off.

The app often crashes when trying to control a device. In most cases it has carried out the command and crashes before the confirmation comes in.

Having made lots of changes the day before using the web UI7 interface, they didn't seem to get carried over to the mobile app UI. It looks like it is caching an old view of the configuration and I struggled to get it to update this old view.

Android Mobile App Bugs

We have now started testing the Android app. The look and feel is identical to the iOS app.

We first tried the app whilst at work, to see how well it worked. It took some time to connect as it tried to connect the app to our local device first.

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