The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon

Con­trol your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with Home Assistent's WiFi pres­ence detec­tion and MQTT


Home Assis­tant

Home Assis­tant is one of the most excit­ing devel­op­ments in the home automa­tion space. Found­ed by Dutch­man Paulus Schout­sen only a few years ago, it has tak­en the world by storm and is dri­ven by a world­wide com­mu­ni­ty of tin­ker­ers and DIY enthu­si­asts.

In this arti­cle, I will show you how to use Home Assistant's WiFi-based pres­ence detec­tion sys­tem to turn your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame off when nobody is in the house - and back on again when some­body comes home - using the MQTT pro­to­col to com­mu­ni­cate between the devices.

It is also the basis for Ama­zon Echo or Google Voice con­trol of your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame and a great deal of oth­er smart home automa­tion scripts.

Home Alone

Pres­ence detec­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant sub­ject in home automa­tion and is very rel­e­vant for the own­er of a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

The life expectan­cy of your frame will increase when you turn off the dis­play when it's not need­ed, and your ener­gy costs will go down. And if both results can be achieved in a way that doesn't com­pro­mise on con­ve­nience, then it's a no brain­er to do it.

At the cen­ter of it all is the smart­phone. You can assume that every­one in your fam­i­ly will have at least one device and won't leave home with­out it for a longer time.

There are three tech­nolo­gies that you can use with your smart­phone: WiFi, Blue­tooth, or geofenc­ing. Geofenc­ing is the use of GPS data of your phone to cre­ate a vir­tu­al geo­graph­ic bound­ary to trig­ger a response when you enter or leave a pre-defined area.

I ini­tial­ly test­ed geofenc­ing on my iPhone in com­bi­na­tion with IFTTT, the ser­vice that aims to get all your apps and devices talk­ing to each oth­er.

I had it set up so when some­body would leave the house it would reg­is­ter on the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. When nobody at home, it would turn off the frame dis­play.

And when a per­son was get­ting near 50m of the house, the frame would light­en up again.

This sound­ed to me like a great approach because it works inde­pen­dent­ly of a WiFi sys­tem. How­ev­er, in prac­tice, geofenc­ing often didn't work for me both for leav­ing and com­ing back. It was either too slow or com­plete­ly unre­spon­sive.

After a few months of test­ing, I con­clud­ed that it was too unre­li­able for my use case.

I haven't giv­en Blue­tooth pres­ence detec­tion a thor­ough test yet, but giv­en the lim­it­ed range of Blue­tooth, I am a bit skep­ti­cal if it would work well in a larg­er house. But out of curios­i­ty, I may give it a try in the future.

Pres­ence detec­tion with WiFi, how­ev­er, is some­thing I have test­ed for over four months now and I am very pleased with its reli­a­bil­i­ty and respon­sive­ness.

It has become my favorite pres­ence detec­tion method, and I will show you how you can use it to turn your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame on or off auto­mat­i­cal­ly.

Feel­ing home

The sum­ma­ry of how this set up works is this:

The WiFi router knows which devices are con­nect­ed at home even if they are asleep.

It typ­i­cal­ly takes a minute to rec­og­nize a new device and about 10 min­utes until a non-present device is being dropped from the net­work.

The device track­er fea­ture in Home Assis­tant will act upon the change of a net­work state of one of the spec­i­fied devices through an automa­tion script and trig­ger a response.

The response in my case is a mes­sage broad­cast via MQTT which the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame picks up and in turn, trig­gers a Python script to turn the frame on or off.

Home Assis­tant Device track­ers

The fol­low­ing instruc­tions assume that you have installed HASS.IO (Home Assis­tant) on a Rasp­berry Pi, NUC or even NAS.

It also assumes that your WiFi router is on the list of devices that are com­pat­i­ble with the device track­er of Home Assis­tant. This list includes many devices, and it is get­ting longer with every new bi-week­­ly update release of Home Assis­tant, so the chances are good that your WiFi router is on it.

Although I have a FritzBox 7490 act­ing as a DSL modem, the house WiFi is made up of three Ubiq­ui­ty Unifi direct AP meshed togeth­er with a Uni­fy con­troller.

We have nev­er had a bet­ter WiFi sys­tem (says my wife so this must be right). Indeed, the Uni­fy set­up is so much bet­ter than every­thing we had before in terms of per­for­mance, sta­bil­i­ty, and seam­less roam­ing between base sta­tions.

Set­ting up a device track­er in Home Assis­tant is easy although it first looks a bit com­pli­cat­ed. But I'll walk you through.

I'll base my instruc­tions on the Ubiq­ui­ty Uni­fy direct Access Points but on this page, you will instruc­tions for many WiFi router devices.

To use this device track­er in your instal­la­tion, add the fol­low­ing to your Home Assis­tant configuration.yaml file:

# Unifi Presence Detection
  - platform: unifi_direct
    host: #(change to IP of your base station)
    username: unifi_ap_username 
    password: unifi_ap_password
    interval_seconds: 10
    consider_home: 180
      track_new_devices: False
      hide_if_away: True

If you have a con­troller like me for two or more Ubiq­ui­ty Uni­fy direct AP, then you must add every access point as a plat­form point indi­vid­u­al­ly.

Make sure that user­name and pass­word are the SSH device pass­word, not the login for your Uni­fy con­troller.

There may be a way to access the con­troller direct­ly, but I nev­er got it to work, but the three access points indi­vid­u­al­ly work very well togeth­er for device track­ing.

Restart Home Assis­tant.

If you haven't used a device track­er yet, a new file called known_devices will be cre­at­ed.

Open this file and check if your device appears. Although you have put "track_new_devices: False", every device is record­ed in this file, but the track­ing sta­tus is set to "False".

Find the smart­phones that you want to track for your pres­ence detec­tion. If you have many devices, this may be a bit tricky a first because you may only see the MAC num­ber.

The MAC (Media Access Con­trol) num­ber is a hard­ware iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber that unique­ly iden­ti­fies each device on a net­work.

To find out your device num­ber, you either look it up on your phone. If you see an item under Gen­er­al - Info (on iPhones) called "WiFi address" that looks like d4:a4:3d:38:34:30 then you found it. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can see the MAC address in your WiFi router.

In known_devices.yaml change the track tag to "true" for all tracked smart­phones.

So it will look like

  name: Wolfgang
  mac: D4:A4:3D:38:34:30
  picture: /local/wolfgang.png
  hide_if_away: true
  track: true

The pic­ture is option­al but looks nice in Home Assis­tant. To add it, place a 192 x 192 px PNG file in the "www" direc­to­ry. Yes, "local" is not "www" but trust me, it will work.

Restart Home Assis­tant and check the device states. It will say "home" when the device is con­nect­ed to the home WiFi and "not_home" when not.

In the front end of Home Assis­tant, prob­a­bly Lovelace, define the enti­ties like in this exam­ple:

  - device_tracker.person1
  - device_tracker.person2
entity: device_tracker
title: Presence
type: entities

To test if it works, turn off the wifi on your phones and wait a few min­utes. Some­times it can be swift; some­times it takes up to 10 min­utes to drop a device from the net­work scan. Find­ing a new device is much faster.

We have one last set­ting to do in Home Assis­tant, but before we can come to this, we must first install our MQTT set­up.

The MQTT bro­ker

Get­ting things to talk

MQTT stands for MQ Teleme­try Trans­port and is an extreme­ly sim­ple and light­weight mes­sag­ing pro­to­col. Orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived to work with min­i­mal net­work band­width, it is ide­al for the Inter­net-of-Things world and the com­mu­ni­ca­tion between many small and low-pow­ered devices. This is why it has become so pop­u­lar for Home Automa­tion sys­tems.

MQTT works, to put it very sim­ply, like a post office. Peo­ple are send­ing let­ters to each oth­er, but they have to always get to the cen­tral post office where they are being dis­trib­uted.

The key terms are "top­ic, mes­sage, pub­lish and sub­scribe". Top­ic is some­thing you want to par­tic­i­pate in, pub­lish when you make a state­ment con­cern­ing a top­ic, and sub­scribe is when you want to receive all state­ments around a top­ic. The con­tent of these com­mu­ni­ca­tion activ­i­ties is called "mes­sages". The post office in MQTT speak is the "bro­ker".

This is as far I will go in this arti­cle, there are lots of good tuto­ri­als on this sub­ject on the inter­net. Although MQTT is a sim­ple pro­to­col, it can be a potent com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool.

The first thing to install is the MQTT bro­ker.

In Home Assis­tant you can install the Mosquit­to bro­ker add-on, an open source MQTT bro­ker. In the­o­ry, this should work well but I had my share of prob­lems with it, so I revert­ed to a free host­ed mes­sage bro­ker Cloud­MQTT.

What I like about Cloud­MQTT is its Web­Sock­et UI, which is most help­ful for debug­ging an MQTT set­up with sev­er­al devices. Get a "Cute Cat" account, it's free and comes with every­thing you need.

One could argue that hav­ing your own pri­vate post office is the safer alter­na­tive because the MQTT bro­ker doesn't leave your Rasp­berry Pi, but I don't see any issues with the Swedish com­pa­ny 84codes which is behind Cloud­MQTT. Your mes­sages are still not vis­i­ble to any­body but your­self.

As always, make sure that you use strong and unique pass­words.

Installing MQTT on your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame

The fol­low­ing instruc­tions assume that you have read my arti­cle "How to set up your Rasp­berry Pi for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame".

In Ter­mi­nal con­nect to your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with

ssh pi@IP-of-your-digital-picture-frame


sudo pip3 install paho-mqtt

Now we need a Python script which turns the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame dis­play on or off.

You can down­load it here or copy and paste it. It lis­tens to the top­ic "frame/monitor" and turns the mon­i­tor on when the mes­sage is "ON" and off when the mes­sage is "OFF". Name the file "".

  1. #!/usr/bin/env python3
  3. import paho.mqtt.client as mqtt
  4. import subprocess
  6. def hdmi_on():
  7.     CONTROL = "vcgencmd"
  8.     CONTROL_BLANK = [CONTROL, "display_power", "1"]
  10.     print ( "I turned the screen on!" )
  12. def hdmi_off():
  13.     CONTROL = "vcgencmd"
  14.     CONTROL_BLANK = [CONTROL, "display_power", "0"]
  16.     print ( "I turned the screen off!" )
  18. def on_connect(client, userdata, flags, rc):
  19.   print("Connected to MQTT broker")
  21. def on_message(client, userdata, msg):
  22.     print(msg.topic+" "+str(msg.qos)+" "+str(msg.payload))
  23.     if msg.payload.decode() == "ON":
  24.         hdmi_on()
  25.         client.publish("frame/monitor", "ON")
  26.     elif msg.payload.decode() == "OFF":
  27.         hdmi_off()
  28.         client.publish("frame/monitor", "OFF")
  29.     else:
  30.         pass
  32. def on_subscribe(client, userdata, mid, granted_qos):
  33.     print("Subscribed to topic : " + str(mid) +" with QoS" + str(granted_qos))
  35. client = mqtt.Client()
  37. client.username_pw_set( "User" , "Password" )
  39. client.connect( "", 17905, 60)
  41. client.subscribe( "frame/monitor/set" , qos=0)
  43. client.on_connect = on_connect
  45. client.on_message = on_message
  47. client.loop_forever()

You will find the para­me­ters for your bro­ker in the Cloud­MQTT Account Details under "Instance Info".

Change this line accord­ing­ly

client.username_pw_set( "User" , "Password" )


client.connect( "Server", Port, 60)

We want the script to be launched at boot and restart­ed should a net­work fail­ure occur. Enter

sudo nano /lib/systemd/system/cloudmqtt.service

In the edi­tor, paste this text

Description=Cloudmqtt Service
ExecStart=/usr/bin/python3 /home/pi/

Save and exit. Then enter in Ter­mi­nal

sudo chmod 644 /lib/systemd/system/cloudmqtt.service
sudo systemctl daemon-reload
sudo systemctl enable cloudmqtt.service

Set­ting up MQTT in Home Assis­tant configuration.yaml

Add this para­graph in configuration.yaml:

# CloudMQTT
  port: 17905
  username: username
  password: your-password


# MQTT Switch
  - platform: mqtt
    name: "Digital Picture Frame"
    icon: mdi:panorama
    state_topic: "frame/monitor"
    command_topic: "frame/monitor/set"
    availability_topic: "frame/monitor/available"
    payload_on: "ON"
    payload_off: "OFF"
    state_on: "ON"
    state_off: "OFF"
    qos: 0
    retain: true

Final­ly, set up the enti­ty switch for the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in the Lovelace UI.

Restart Home Assis­tant and reboot your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. Con­grat­u­la­tions, you can now con­trol your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame through Home Assis­tant!