Introduction: Cheapest Smart Home for $38

Picture of Cheapest Smart Home for $38

Have you heard of the new Raspberry Pi Zero? Only priced at $5 (or $10 for the W version), it revolutionizes smart home by making it cheaper than ever and accessible to any budget. Another part of making smart home more accessible is the connection and automation part. That’s why we developed Prota OS, the Raspberry Pi based OS, that helps you connect your devices, sensors and services in a single smart hub and write automation workflows in natural language.

In this Instructables, we hope to show you what you can do with Prota OS with no skills and a very limited budget. Here are our four objectives:

  • 6 features
  • $38 budget
  • 1 hour setup
  • 0 skills needed

Let’s find out if we completed them!


  • Automated and connected appliances
  • Trigger automation when entering or leaving home
  • Old webcam turned into a smartcam
  • Motion detection while away
  • Notification of intrusion
  • Old smartphone turned into a smartcam



  • Raspberry Pi Zero W = $10
  • 16GB SD card = $8
  • GPIO pin header = $3
  • RF transceiver (with soldered antenna) = $2
  • 3*RF socket = $15
  • Old webcam = $0
  • Old smartphone = $0

TOTAL = $38!


Prota OS is already available on RPi 2, 3. We are currently adapting the OS to RPi WZ, we will very soon update the OS version to allow RPIWZ support. If you want to use it on early access, make sure to join the Beta Program explained at the end of the project.

Prota OS can be downloaded for free on It’s only 3.8GB and easy to burn on a SD card (make sure to use a 16GB card).

Follow the instructions of Raspberry Pi foundation to write the OS image on your SD card. Extract the .img file from the zip folderPlug in your SD cardDownload and open Etcher, select the image and the drive and start the process.That’s it!


Once Prota OS is burned on the SD card, you can follow this simple installation guide to set up your Prota hub (less than 1 minute!). You only need to define its name and password, your time zone and your email address and the rest is completely automatic!

That’s it! In less than 15 minutes and with no hassle, you transformed your Raspberry Pi into a Smart Home automation hub!


The Raspberry Pi Zero W does not have a header integrated but it’s very easy to add one (and you can buy it for less than $2 on Amazon). You can solder it very easily in a minute.

Thanks to those PINs, we can now connect the Raspberry Pi Zero W to our RF transceiver. The latter will communicate via radio frequency with your RF sockets to turn them on and off. It’s a very economical way to connect devices/appliances that can be triggered by just being connected to a power supply (like lights and TV).

You need to solder the RF transceiver and home-made antenna together. Make sure the soldering connects the antenna to the ANT port on the RF transceiver.

You can have more information on how to make an external antenna in this article.

Keep in mind that the required length of your antenna will depend on the frequency of your RF socket. Our OS supports 433, 477 and 315 MHZ.

Once soldering is done, plug three jumper wires to your RF transceiver (433/477/315 MHZ).

VDD = Electric current (5V)
GND = ground (select a ground PIN)
DATA = has to be connected to GPIO23

You can connect those three jumper wires as we did on PIN 2 (5V), PIN 6 (GND) and PIN 16 (GPIO 23).

The last step is to connect the configured antenna with the RF socket.

  • Open App Libraries and download ON/OFF app
  • Click on “Add socket”
  • Type-in the details, select “On Board” and click on “Done”

  • The app will start scanning the surrounding sockets. Press and hold on the socket’s button until the LED blinks
  • When the LED stops blinking and stays on solid red, it means your Prota Pi has paired with your socket. You can then press on “Remember”

You can now try turning it on and off via the app interface.
Do the same for your other two sockets.

Alternatively, if you already have WeMo switches at home you can also very easily connect them via ON/OFF by selecting “WeMo Switch” in the New Device interface above.



There is nothing more simple than turning an old webcam into a smart cam with Prota OS!

It’s so simple you can actually do it in 60 seconds and just few clicks (see above).

  • Plug your old webcam
  • Open App Libraries
  • Download Webcam app
  • Open Webcam app


You can turn an old smartphone into a smart cam by using ManyThing app, which is supported by IFTTT.

  • Download the app on iOS or PlayStore depending on the smartphone you will use as a webcam.
  • Sign up and choose “Camera” to put it in Webcam mode (Viewer is the mode to use on the device from which you want to monitor).
  • Define the Settings according to your preferences

Try to find a point of view that would compliment the orientation of your webcam and give you a great range of sight. Requirement: keep in mind it’s necessary that your smartphone stays connected to a power supply and in reach of your WiFi connection.


A Telegram bot is a virtual assistant that you can create on Telegram messenger app.

  • Download Telegram app on your smartphone and create an account
  • Download Telegram app on your Prota Pi (in App Libraries)
  • Open the Telegram app on Prota and click on “Request Authorization”
  • Set a name and username for your bot, then click on "Create"

Your bot is now created!


The key part of smart home is to create automation workflows that will connect your devices together according to pre-programmed scenario.

Let’s do that by using two great tools, Stories app (in Prota OS) and IFTTT (If This Then That).

Connect to IFTTT

First, let’s connect your Prota with the IFTTT service.

  • In App Libraries, download the IFTTT app. This app has no interface and only handles the link.
  • Go to IFTTT (the app or website) and search for “Prota”. Click on connect and select your Prota Pi.
  • Search for “MicroBot Push” channel, click on connect and select your Prota Pi.
  • Search for “Manything” channel and connect your old smartphone to it.

Write Storylines
Stories app is the automation tool of your Prota Pi hub that generates workflows in natural language, to make it more accessible to any user.

In Stories app, write the following automation storylines:

  1. When Prota applet run, ON/OFF S1/S2 turn on
  2. When Prota applet run, ON/OFF S1/S2 turn off
  3. When Prota applet run, ON/OFF turn on S3
  4. When it is 9AM, Prota restart Webcam app.
  5. When it is 6PM, Prota terminate Webcam app.
  6. When Webcam detects motion, Webcam takes a snapshot, Telegram bot sends a message “Motion has been detected while you’re away” Then Telegram bot sends the snapshot Then run prota applet

You can use those links to import directly the storyline to your Stories app using the Cite feature :

Those storylines need to be linked to Applets created on IFTTT.

Create Applets

To create the necessary applets automatically, click on the link below each applet below to get the applets we pre-set for you. You will simply have to enter some elements specific to your location and turn the applet on.


You can now set everything up and start enjoying the benefits of an automated home!

We hope you enjoyed this Instructables and discovered the many possibilities you have to make your home smarter in very simple and inexpensive ways. Thanks to IFTTT, you can integrate most major smart devices to this project and increase the number of available features. Great improvements could be to build-up a smart doorbell to be warned of visitors whether you’re at home or away, to integrate a smart thermostat to save up on energy while away or use a MicroBot Push to turn dumb appliances into smart devices.

If you liked this project, make sure to have a look at our previous projects, to follow us on both Instructables and Twitter.

You like Prota OS and want to test our newest apps before their release?
Subscribe your email address here to enroll or get further information on our Beta program.

Prota OS update for Raspberry Pi Zero W will be soon released. If you want to get it with early access make sure to join the Prota beta program. Once we are ready to launch, we’ll send download link :)

You like our projects? Make your own!

We are currently (and until July 30) running a maker contest. Show us the creative projects you can do with Prota OS and win awesome prizes!

More info here -


JimI8 (author)2017-05-30

You are assuming more knowledge than I have so I guess mine is less than zero...LOL

1) Do the old smart phones need a contract for access????

2) Can more than ONE smartphone be used for cameras simultaneously?

3) Can a Raspberry 3 be used in place of the Zero??

Naran (author)JimI82017-05-30

1) No contract needed, any smartphone that can use WiFi and on which you can install Manything app is fine.

2) Manything offers a free plan for one camera. It's possible to connect two or more cameras but it's necessary to enroll to a paying plan.

3) You can indeed use a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 instead.

robinf63 (author)Naran2017-09-18

which rf tranciever did you use?

RigoC (author)Naran2017-06-16

some phones shutdown the wifi if they are not active. evil.

Dwargh (author)2017-07-14

Great I'ble!

It's a shame the Pi Zero is so expensive... :(

(For germany I can't find a price below 15€)

MattY40 (author)2017-05-30

Leaving aside the previous comments, not everyone has a spare webcam and smartphone laying around. The price should be at least $150 dollars even if the parts you have listed are at the prices you list.

Sudden_ (author)MattY402017-05-30

$150? Are you crazy? Even if you didn't have an old webcam and an old smartphone, you could buy a cheap webcam for $15 in a store (like Staples) or used locally (Craigslist). An old smartphone on Craigslist could cost you about $40 (iPhone 4s, less for an old Android) or you could buy a cheap off-brand Android phone from Walmart, CVS, ect for $30-$50.

MattY40 (author)Sudden_2017-05-31

Okay, for the sake of argument, let's say you can source those parts for those prices, and that you could find the rest of the list for the prices you quoted (although I notice you did not provide links).

Let's also assume people don't have jumper wires. A pack of those costs about 2 bucks.

So with the $38 you originally quote, 2 for jumpers, and 55 for the parts we have already talked about, you're up to $95

I'm sorry, but your title isn't accurate. You might amend it to "as low as $38" to keep people from thinking that you are just after views.

Sudden_ (author)MattY402017-06-16

What's with all of the "you you you"? I did not write this guide. I did not give it a title. I did not omit purchasing links. I'm not after views. And I still think the pricing on this guide is accurate. Most people have old electronics. That's the whole philosophy of Instructables: DIY with a focus on reusing things you have.

MattY40 (author)Sudden_2017-06-16

Sorry, I thought you were the original poster. Still, my comments all stand. This is clickbait for a company, not a real instructable. This community should be about DIY people helping each other, not about companies generating exposure and sales. If the title had said "as low as $38" it would have been an entirely different thing.

RigoC (author)MattY402017-06-16

I have to agree.

Rluijckx (author)2017-06-07

Is " protapi_official_0_21_17041019.img" the right version for the Pi zero W ?

I burned a SD with "Etcher", but nothing happens.
Inserting this SD in my Pi 3 B invokes installing Prota.
Whats up ?

Gr. René.

PaulK276 (author)2017-06-07

Maplins do a set of own brand RF Sockets

Does anyone know if these will work, they function at 433.92Mhz

PaulK276 (author)2017-06-07

I've been looking for the RF transiver part, I have managed to find the following but have no idea if they would work.

Does anybody have an idea if these are going to work?

pmshah (author)2017-05-30

What is your source for RF Sockets? Any place like AliExpress or DX.COM? Would appreciate a prompt answer. Require them to handle 220 / 240 VAC as just like the ones shown in the images.

Naran (author)pmshah2017-05-31


For RF Sockets: currently our OS supports 433, 477 and 315 MHZ sockets. We recommend you to use WattsClever, DX or Etekcity. The following brands are not working properly: Westfalia, Energenie, DiO, JTD.

RyanC229 (author)Naran2017-06-05

Can you provide a link for the RF transceiver? I'm. Ew to this and am unsure of what to get. Thanks!

pmshah (author)Naran2017-05-31

I looked for these by googling. All I could find were the US type on eBay and Amazon. I need these for use in India. where I absolutely must have the Schuko type plug and socket. These are theones shown on your instructable.

RyanC229 (author)2017-06-02

Where can this RF transceiver w/ antenna be found for $2?

BenjaminK79 (author)2017-05-31

this could technically be counted as an ad. If I do this ima do a few things differently, adapt for my own use. Also you had an old WORKING webcam, and old WORKING smartphone!??????

You should rename this to: How We Assembled The Cheapest SmartHome For 38 Buckos ??

Valkem (author)BenjaminK792017-06-01

With the way some companies in the U.S. give those deals every 2 years, I think an old/out-dated working smartphone lying around isn't all that unbelievable. That and how cheap some burners are becoming. I upgraded after my phone (s4) was 3+ years old and started having storage space issues, now I use it for testing work projects. Still works great once I reformat it and use it like a mini-wifi-tablet.

BenjaminK79 (author)Valkem2017-06-01

I guess it depends on if you are in the right place right time, and savvy enough to get those things

auto13142828 (author)2017-05-31

Please summarize exactly what this smart automated home thing does.

rundmcarlson (author)2017-05-31

Nice ad disguised as an instructable.

JoeM114 (author)2017-05-30

Does this work with iPhone? Or do you need a google/android phone?

Naran (author)JoeM1142017-05-30

Hi! You can use Prota OS on any iOS or Android smartphone through the Prota Space app or on a browser through

ChristosM8 (author)2017-05-30

Very very nice!!! Althought I couldnt find the 10$ price for the Raspberry PI instead I have found this one

Naran (author)ChristosM82017-05-30

Hi! You can find distributors for the Raspberry Pi Zero W on this link (right side)

yeisnier (author)2017-05-30

Hello, somebody can tell me where I can by the Raspberry PI Zero W mention on this DIY that cost $10.


Naran (author)yeisnier2017-05-30

Hi! Please check this link from the Raspberry Pi foundation, on the right side you will see a list of distributors

EliJ9 (author)yeisnier2017-05-30

Order from adafruit

alex.rivet.31 (author)yeisnier2017-05-30

Depending on where you live.... maybe a microcenter?

nburrows72 (author)2017-05-30

Great article, not heard of Prota OS and will check it out.

I've been using these remote RF sockets for sometime for my home automation to control various lights inside and out.

The great thing about this setup is the price ($5) per socket and I can give the remote these come with to the wife for manual operation :-)

I added a (5v->12v) step up module on the RF Transmitter VCC and found it increased the range.

In terms of question people raised about $15 sockets and pi zero w:

These type of RF outlets can be bought in packs of 3 at walmart for $15 at xmas time.

These are 315Mhz and have an AUT980202 chip in them.

I've been buying them over the last few years. Last year they changed the design slightly and no longer have the LED, but work the same.

This is a link to the older design that is $22.

They come in different channels and I've seen A,B,C,D,E,F so far. If you look closely on the picture below you can see the sticker for channel C. Buy buying different channels you can automate more than 3 outlets.

For Pi Zero W, you can get from Adafruit:

Don't be put off about the out of stock, add your email and you will get notified

when they add the next batch to the website, but you need to be quick to order when you get the notification.

If you are just starting out on these types of projects, I'd suggest using the $35 Raspberry PI 3 as it's a little easier to get going. Then look at the Pi Zero's.

Syx (author)2017-05-30

Is there any benefit to this over solutions such as OpenHAB or Home Assistant which have similar plug and play functionality along with very powerful automation options?

Also, given the ESP8266 allows very cheap wifi control of devices (see: Sonoff) is there a benefit to using RF given the prevalence of wifi in homes?

TechnicalJohn (author)Syx2017-05-30

Although wifi is somewhat prevalent, many power sockets are behind things and in distant corners of your area of control.

Wifi is working in the 2.4Ghz band, which is good for speed, but does not propagate a signal very well in various conditions.

Compare that to 433Mhz-315Mhz band, which has little issue with signal propagation. 433Mhz will be a much slower signal, but that's ideal for home automation since you are sending small simple messages back and forth.

Syx (author)TechnicalJohn2017-05-30

Good point in terms of the signal propagation; hadn't considered that. Might need to look into adding that into my current setup!

AraC3 (author)2017-05-30

Most of the comments are based on the claim to need 0 skills needed. I would say this should be clarified to 0 programming skills needed. You definitely need some familiarity with soldering and some PC knowledge such as what a USB port looks like.

As far as the cost, perhaps the article should have been worded like "Cost down to $38 depending on what you have on hand".

The real benefit I see here is you do not need to mess with compiling kernels, grepping packages, banging out command files, etc.

In fact I have an old raspberry pi laying around and have been tossing around an automation project for a while, so going through my junk drawer my cost will be somewhere around $18. Excellent!

thepaine (author)2017-05-30

Missing a bit of polish (links, etc.,), but otherwise a great concept and walkthrough. It's now on my list of to-dos!

Thank you!

JimI8 (author)2017-05-30

Like TechnicalJohn says, need links to parts.

TechnicalJohn (author)2017-05-30

I like the build, however it would really be helpful if you could link to the items you bought. Specifically, the RF transceiver module, and the smart sockets.

piter1992 (author)2017-05-30

Hi, can you really find 3*RF socket for $15? Where?

JamesB670 (author)2017-05-30

There is a lot to this project; but I am really lost where it says "just plug the WebCam in". Plug the WebCam into what; what connectors are involved ??

pkaffe. (author)JamesB6702017-05-30

As you can see in the video Camera to USB on the Pi...

benmcdonald (author)2017-05-30

Hi, I don't wish to sound critical. You assume a lot of knowledge of the Raspberry Pi Zero, soldering and for configuring. I wasn't sure if you intended this as a starter project because you mention "0 Skills needed". If thats not the case then i apologise

diy_bloke (author)2017-05-28

Looks great, but Step 4 is slightly confusing.
Step 4:
is this in anyway different than downloading that app from Playstore?
If it is then please explain:
"Connect" To what? A PC?
"Open App Libraries" Where? Website? Yours says says the App section is 'under construction'?
I presume step 4 only deals with using a webcam as motion detector not as a smartcam

nevertheless, great project for little money. apart from a few Sonoffs, most of my homeautomation done by 433MHz RF as well

bobby-gg (author)2017-05-26

Great write up, I love the fact you've included wemo support as well as rf switching and as I've just ordered another zero W I'll be trying this out soon

About This Instructable




Bio: We are the creators of - Prota OS: an OS for smart home hub that connects all devices and services and automate them in a simple ... More »
More by Naran:DIY Cheap Safety Alarm System W/ Raspberry - a Smarter Way to Stay SafeDIY - Smart Office Automation Using Raspberry PiAutomated Photo Frame for IOS/Android Photos and Emails
Add instructable to: