New Homebridge plugin allows extensive Ring integration with HomeKit
Ring has signalled intentions to add HomeKit support to it’s connected doorbells and security cameras for a few years now, and while there has been some signs there might be movement in this area, there is still nothing actually out there for Ring customers to use. For the more avid HomeKit enthusiast, the excellent and powerful HomeBridge open source project has been providing a solution to slow pace of adding HomeKit support for many devices.
HomeBridge is a Linux software bridge solution that can be run on a low end computer, or preferably a RasberryPi. This has been a bit daunting for many, but with the advent of an iOS app to configure and manage a RasberryPi installation it’s now far more approachable for the average smart home enthusiast. I’ve written up using this new app earlier, and can confirm it works very well.
As the actual device support in HomeBridge is provided by third party plugins, it’s a matter of when a volunteer developer chooses to take on a particular device or service. One such developer by the name of Dustin Greif has now released a very comprehensive plugin to provide support for the entire Ring security ecosystem. While the plugin was started a year ago, it’s only been in the last month that it’s really come together with v5.5.
While there are some obvious things you can do with Ring support in HomeKit, such as get access to the camera feeds from the Home app, the support provided by this plugin goes a lot further than that. As the plugin taps the Ring service API it allows integration with all Ring doorbells, cameras, security and smart lighting systems, as well as any third party device that integrates with Ring’s service. This expands the options to carbon monoxide sensors, motion sensors, panic buttons, smoke alarms, fans and smart switches.
All of these devices are represented in HomeKit as standard HomeKit accessories and can be added individually through the HomeBridge once the plugin is installed. As HomeKit sees them as standard accessories, they can be used in all the normal ways for their accessory type. This means triggering scenes and automations in the case of sensors or switches, or activated by other events or devices in the case of lights and alarms. In the case of the camera devices you actually get several HomeKit entities for each one, depending on the model. For example here are two different models of camera as they appear in the Home app.
You can see here that the Video doorbell presents as three distinct devices. The Camera obviously, but also a motion sensor and a button (Door Bell). The camera view in the Home app will show the last snapshot from the camera, which is polled from the Ring service every 30 seconds by default. Wired cameras will provide a snapshot on this interval, while battery models will provide one every 10 minutes unless triggered sooner by a motion event. The motion sensor works like any standalone HomeKit sensor, and can be used to activate other devices or scenes (such as turning on the outside lights when motion is detected), and the button can be programmed to do the same when pressed similar to a smart switch.
The Spotlight Cam in the example shows two additional devices which are included in the hardware, the light and the siren. Both of these can now be turned on and off by HomeKit automations or scenes as well as normal Siri commands. In the case of the Spotlight Cam Battery the light will turn off automatically after 30 seconds the same as if turned on by the Ring app.
This additional integration opens up a whole lot of possibilities where the Ring hardware can be used to trigger other actions, or be activated by other HomeKit devices. On top of that, we can also utilise HomeKit notifications. The fairly inflexible notifications provided by the Ring app have long bothered me, because the lack of presence awareness (to arm/disarm camera notifications) and the lack of person detection (come on Ring, really?) leads to a lot of notification spam when normal activities around the home are taking place. Yes, you can adjust the sensitivity of the motion detection, and you can dial down the repeat notification frequency or schedule Motion Snooze at specific times of day, but what you really want is to be able to determine notification behaviour based on time of day and whether someone is home or not. This is better with the Ring Alarm as you have arm/disarm functionality, but if you are just using the Ring cameras or doorbell products, it’s problem.
With HomeKit integration, you can now turn off the Ring notifications, and instead let HomeKit do it using the normal built in time of day and people settings. This means you can turn on notifications only at night when no one is home, for example. This provides a lot more control over when to send notifications, and adds another feature that Ring has yet to include; the snapshot. This comes into play when a doorbell is pressed. The notification for that event includes the snapshot from the doorbell camera which gives you an instant view of who is there, which can really save time when you’re out by being able to see whether you need to tackle action immediately.
Some other camera vendors include this in the camera motion notifications, but Ring is yet to do so. HomeKit only adds it to doorbell rings, not all motion events, and only on the iPhone not the Watch, but it’s a start. The caveat with these notifications is that we’re routing the events through multiple steps rather than direct to the home hub like a normal accessory. This does add delay, and may make it an unsatisfactory solution depending on your setup. The amount of delay will vary somewhat with your WiFi strength, internet connection and Home Hub setup, but can add a few seconds.
I’ve set up a camera motion detection to turn on some outside Hue lights with a 5 minute auto-off duration and this works fine, the response time is fast enough for this use case. For me, the delay on doorbell notifications is a little too long to be practical, even though it only take a second or two longer than the Ring app. This is one area where timely response is critical to usability. For other security-based alerts, such as motion alerts on the backyard camera, a couple of seconds is not an issue, especially if it means I can avoid false positives.
These added steps in the data flow from a camera also have an impact on streaming data to the Home app. Generally I’ve found it works surprisingly well and video will start live streaming within a second or two, but it requires all the pieces to be working correctly. If the snapshots are not updating or your attempt to view a camera feed doesn’t start in a few seconds, it’s probably a matter of restarting the HomeBridge or the Home Hub (most likely in my experience) to kick things off again.
Ring has continued to drag their heels on HomeKit support, but the potential for device integration with such capable devices is huge especially when factoring in the Protect security system. This plug-in is a no brainer for HomeBridge users of Ring devices, and could well be the ‘killer app’ to convince others to try HomeBridge. The ability to connect all manner of additional sensors and switches to your HomeKit automations, and leverage the detection capabilities of the cameras is super useful. Siri commands can be used to control the alarm system state if you have one, such as “Set Ring alarm to away” or “Turn off Ring Alarm”, and the ability to integrate with other third party devices only extends the utility of this plug-in.
HomeBridge can be setup on a Rasberry Pi that costs less than most HomeKit accessories, and you can pick up a full starter kit from Amazon. Ring products are also available through Amazon direct (Amazon owns Ring), or through the Ring store. A good place to start is the Ring Video Doorbell 2, and the wire free, solar-powered Spotlight Cam.