Follow me control of Sonos

  • 2 May 2017
  • 4 replies

Not sure if this is appropriate, however this looks like a way to have your music play in diifferent groups as you move from room to room

I have no connection to the company but I did just back it 🆒

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4 replies

It's neither new nor, in my experience, that useful.

I have had motion sensor based control of my home for the last 17 years. I've come to understand what works and what doesn't. Note my home is a typical family home, with 3 or 4 people and a couple of pets wandering around at any given time. I have over 20 motion sensors around my home. Here is my analysis of this based on that experience:

Heating/HVAC is a great application of motion based control in many ways as it's a high-hysteresis, low-information, high-predictability system.

By "high-hysteresis" I mean by that is that it takes a long time for a room to heat up and cool down so you generally don't want it turning on and off every few minutes. It's more sensible for heating to turn on for longer periods of time. It's also sensible to delay turning on heat until a number of minutes of motion has been detected: you don't want to turn the heating on for an hour in a room because someone popped in to grab their keys off the table. Delaying the heating start isn't also going to make much difference to people's comfort.

By "low-information" I mean that the heating system really has two states for a given room: on or off. Of course it can have a temperature, but that is usually set in advance for the room. In fact my heating system automatically adjusts based on preset separate temperatures for "occupied", "unoccupied" and "night".

By "high-predictability" I mean it's relatively easy to assess the required outcome based on the input: if people are occupying a room for a given period of time, they will want it heated (or cooled).

Of course, it depends on the room and people's movements, and I have found, in practice, you have to "fine tune" these timings to get close to the ideal. My heating system also learns over time, so if it sees motion in a room at the same time every day, it will start to pre-empt that and turn the heating on before time.

Also the outcome is not specific to the person who occupies the room: in general the heating is required to be turned on regardless of who is in the room.

Lighting is less easy. It is a zero-hysteresis, low-information, low-predictability, moderate personalisation system.

"Zero-hysteresis" because lights go on and off instantly
"Low-information" because, in general, lights are on or off, but in some case you can also have dim levels

"Low-predictability" because it's not easy to know what is the best action to take based on the input. I quite often walk into neighbouring rooms and don't turn the light on because I'm just grabbing something from the side. It wouldn't be terrible if the system turned the light on for me, but it would be a waste of energy if it then kept the lights on for (say) another 10 minutes every time I went into a room for 30 seconds. In fact, I originally tried automating the lighting for most of my downstairs rooms and found that a lot of my lights would actually be on most of the time due to transient traffic from people and pets. I also found that, even when I spent a significant time in a room, the lights would turn off at random intervals because I wasn't moving enough to keep the motion sensor happy. And, unlike heating, you can't sensibly delay it turning on.

Trying to strike a balance between keeping lights on too long, and not enough is a far hard problem than the heating one, largely due to the difference in hysteresis and user expectations between the two systems

And different people have different expectations and requirements. If I come down for a drink at 4am, I don't want to be dazzled/surprised by lights coming on automatically. My daughter would probably injure herself if she didn't turn on at least one or two lights. When my wife goes into the room, she likes every possible light turned on. I often prefer just one.

Music is close to impossible to do except in very simplistic cases (small houses with only one or two people with inflexible routines). It is a zero hysteresis, high-information, almost zero-predictability system.

"Zero hysteresis" because, with a system like Sonos, playback is pretty much instant.

"High information" because there are almost infinite choices of what the system could play when you factor in radio stations, playlists, and music services.

"Almost zero-predictability" because it's pretty much impossible to know whether the input even means that music should be played, yet alone what source to play, which playlist, etc. even in a home with only one person. With multiple occupants, it is literally impossible to predict whether, what, where, how loud, and how long to play music with any degree of accuracy.

Even if you take the view that you only "follow" occupancy around when music has been chosen and started, this is still highly unpredictable: if I'm at home alone, I might be quite happy to start music in the kitchen and have it follow me into the living room. When my wife is at home watching TV, I don't want that at all. Especially as the system cannot distinguish between occupants, so my wife shifting position on the sofa would, in many cases, be treated the same as me walking into that room.

Frankly the number of cases where music following occupancy would break and remedial action would be needed are enough that it's less effort to just manually group zones where needed. When I looked at whether I could, meaningfully, trigger Sonos using motion I found pretty much every predictable scenario I had was better implemented using alarms.

Save your money, don't invest in this. It's not new, it's not innovative, and some of the concepts are fundamentally impractical.


Note the approach this system takes to music is by muting/umuting Sonos speakers.

So not only will it get it wrong a lot of the time...

...but it relies on you manually configuring your Sonos system in advance for the scenario you expect. That means you have to chose the music, group the rooms, set the volumes, and mute the speakers you don't want to use just yet.

And if any of that changes (such as you wife wants to play something different in the living room than you are playing in the den) then that all gets torn apart and has to be reconfigured before it will work again.

IOW a heck of a lot of effort is required to create a temporary illusion of automation. And you still have to grab your phone if you want to adjust the volume, change the music, etc. anyway.

I would love someone to explain to me how this is in any way easier or better and not, as it seems to me, more difficult and more effort.


Keith thanks for the detailed response.

I thought this may be useful for my particular circumstances. I have LIFX bulbs throughout the house.Sonos in open plan Living room/Dining/Kitchen and in the Bedroom. I have an app on my apple watch to adjust volume.
Motion based lighting control can be moderately useful if carefully planned and tweaked, but I (and most of the people who I have exchanged experiences with) have found it to be nowhere as useful as it sounds.

You know that Samsung make SmartThings motion sensors which already work with LIFX? You could try this out today.

You could also probably use the Smarthings sensors to control Sonos using IFTTT:

Or just use the location on your phone:

Or there's this: