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SmartThings community in uproar over loss of Rule Machine

Apr 13, 20164 mins
Data and Information SecurityInternet of ThingsOpen Source

The highly popular Rule Machine for SmartThings allowed for creating sophisticated automations, but the community developer has now yanked it in protest of the 'ongoing serious degradation of the SmartThings platform.'

There’s a storm brewing on the SmartThings forums, as the SmartThings community suffered a big loss when community developer Bruce Ravenel announced his decision to pull Rule Machine.

You can set up “routines” and add “actions” such as turning all the lights on, opening garage doors, unlocking doors and setting the thermostat in the SmartThings app. If you wanted those devices to be smarter and interact with other apps, then IFTTT lets people setup If This Then That recipes. But Rule Machine added another level of “smart” to smart devices. As was explained on the HA (Home Automation) Forums, Rule Machine is “like IFTTT but with an extra ‘This.’ If This and This, then do an action.”

The open hardware platform was originally pimped as being a hacker-friendly hub, not hacker as in malicious hacking but in the form of developing, of creative hacking such as getting the hub to connect to other platforms that weren’t compatible with an out-of-the-box SmartThings.

There have been people who were unhappy about changes since Samsung acquired SmartThings, such as by the extra-long wait after the promise of the newest SmartThings hub being released in March 2015 but hub 2.0 not actually rolling out until September, yet the platform was a decent bet if you were looking for one that works with a plethora of other devices. There are even some plusses, such as all Samsung 2016 SUHD TVs having the SmartThings hub technology built into it, so you won’t need a separate hub “to connect with, control and monitor more than 200 other compatible devices, including lights, locks, thermostats, cameras, speakers, appliances, SmartThings sensors and more.”

There are always optimistic cheerleader-types and hater-types on any forum, but there have been continued grumblings about SmartThings’ performance and ongoing outages. About a month ago, the SmartThings staff admitted the platform had degraded due to “stress on the database clusters.”

Apparently yesterday was the proverbial last straw as Ravenel posted a Rule Machine withdrawn notice that stated, “In light of the ongoing serious degradation of the SmartThings platform, and the total lack of transparency into the problems with the platform by the company, I have reached the conclusion that it is prudent to no longer support Rule Machine in this environment.”

He added:

Rule Machine is subject to random failure due to the degraded platform. The platform randomly causes corrupted Rules that may continue to function in unpredictable ways. There is nothing that I as the author can do to correct this. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you rely on Rule Machine. SmartThings itself offers no support.

When you have a problem with SmartThings, you can always turn to support and hope for actual support to resolve the issue. Although Rule Machine was created in the SmartThings community, it provided the system with so much additional functionality that its inability to work correctly could completely mess up your home automation set-up.

Some people have contacted SmartThings regarding issues with Rule Machine, but a typical response from SmartThings allegedly would state: “I’m sorry to say that we can’t offer support for SmartApps and Device Integrations found on the Community such as Rule Machine. Please understand that these integrations have not been reviewed or vetted by our engineers at SmartThings to ensure that they meet our standards for quality and security. Please don’t let this turn you off of exploring our community integrations, though!”

A lot of people depended on Ravenel’s Rule Machine. As the topic heated up and some were voicing their displeasure on the forum, the SmartThings Staff claimed Rule Machine was never submitted for publication or it would have been put through the review process. Ravenel replied with a screenshot showing it was submitted five months ago, with no response at all. So now that the developer announced he was yanking it, Rule Machine is getting reviewed.

That’s no guarantee Ravenel will change his mind or that it will be given the thumbs-up by SmartThings. There are all sorts of amazing things you can do with SmartThings if you can get the app to stop warning of an “unexpected error” occurring, but “rules” were important for additional functionality you might have wished to have out-of-the-box. Since “rules and triggers can work together to create sophisticated automations,” the Rule Machine issue is one to keep your eyes on if you are on the fence about purchasing SmartThings.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.