Track devices in Home Assistant

Home Assistant has a type of integrations called Device Tracker, these integrations are intended to control the location of the different devices that we linked to our server.

Depending on the integration, this “location” can change completely. To give some examples, you can get the GPS position of a device, indicate which devices are connected to the Internet using the home Wi-Fi network, a list of those visible by a Bluetooth driver connected to the server…

Types of tracking according to use

In general, the types of use that are usually given to this type of integration are the following:

  • Outdoor: Tracking information for an out-of-home device. Normally using the GPS tracker that the device has, its position is sent. Home Assistant has a map to see where it is.
  • Indoor: Tracking information of a device inside the house. Useful for example when you want to know in which room you can find a device.
  • Binary sensor: Informs only if the device is inside or outside the house. Very used to know when a device that is in a fixed position inside the house is turned on (at home) or turned off (outside the house).

Testing integrations

Given the high number of device tracking integrations (presence detection) available in Home Assistant. The best thing to do is to test the integrations we have available from the Presence Detection category.

On my side I have made tests with different integrations trying to guide their use according to the convenience of the device.

Device Tracker Integrations Testing

Bluetooth Tracker

Both the Bluetooth Tracker and its improved variant Bluetooth LE Tracker are quite simple to install, just declare them as a platform in the configuration.yaml file.

device_tracker:
  - platform: bluetooth_le_tracker

They use the Bluetooth protocol if available on your server to locate devices within range. Therefore, its use will be of an indoor type. When the server starts it will detect new devices and add them to the file known_devices.yaml, there is no way to limit it, so if the range of action is near a busy street, in a short time you will have the server storage full of devices you are not interested in.

As a plus, the accuracy is quite high and since it’s a passive detection, the devices do not usually “hide” from the radar. In addition, in other systems such as ESPHome, detection devices can be placed in each room so that we know always the room where the device is located and not only that; from ESPHome we can track only those devices that we want and no scanning of foreign devices is done.

Life360

Life360 is an outdoor mobile device location service. It offers a fairly comprehensive application with user registration and the ability to share locations and other data with other users. It is very easy to use and allows its integration in a visual way (Configuration -> Integrations) or through YAML.

By contrast, as a third party service, location data is recorded on Life360’s servers.

OwnTracks

OwnTracks is the Open Source alternative to Life360. While it does not have as many features as its competitor, data is only sent from the mobile applications to a proprietary server, no third party service is used.

Home Assistant by declaring (visually or with YAML) the OwnTracks integration, will create an OwnTracks Webhook server to receive the information securely via HTTP. You also have the MQTT option if you have a dedicated server.

@ChimoC from Telegram’s home automation groups, reports a small bug with the integration of OwnTracks. When doing the configuration, Home Assistant will show a web address to be included in the OwnTracks application like: https://YOUR_USER.duckdns.org/api/webhook/API_KEY to which it is necessary to add the server port to make it work: https://YOUR_USER.duckdns.org:8123/api/webhook/API_KEY.

Google Maps

The integration with Google Maps is based on taking advantage of Cookies where the GPS positions of a registered device are sent and received to create a location within Home Assistant. Its integration is somewhat complicated. It can be very useful for those people who have Google Maps installed on their mobile and do not want to install another application.

iCloud

If you’re using the Apple ecosystem, integration with iCloud can be very convenient for tracking these devices. Integration can be done visually or using YAML.

On the other hand, at this moment, accounts with a two-factor authentication present problems when being configured.

Mobile App

If you use the Home Assistant mobile application. It has an integration for device tracking. You only need to open the application’s settings in the menu and activate the device’s location services. It will automatically link to the server and start sending location data.

Nmap

Nmap is a network scanning utility. What you get with this internal type of integration is to see which devices are connected to the network by using an ARP scan of the range you specify in the configuration.yaml file. Typically, the netmask is 255.255.255.0, which indicates that the range of available IPs for the devices is one of the last 254 IPs. This means that if, for example, the gateway (Router) IP is 192.168.1.1, the range of IPs to look for will be from 192.168.1.2 to 192.168.1.255. This range is indicated with 192.168.1.1/24 or 192.168.1.1-255.

device_tracker:
  - platform: nmap_tracker
    hosts: 192.168.1.1/24

As in many other integrations. Found devices will be saved in known_devices.yaml and associated with Nmap via their MAC address.

Ping

The Ping integration acts similarly to Nmap, but is targeted at devices that cannot be accessed by ARP. Another point is that Ping does not scan the entire range of IPs, but instead provides a list of IDs and IPs to be tracked using ICMP.

device_tracker:
  - platform: ping
    hosts:
      my_iphone: 192.168.1.3

Likewise, the devices will be added to known_devices.yaml.

In order to use Ping integration it is necessary that the device to track has a fixed IP assigned.

Ghost devices

The integrations related to device tracking are “Best Effort”, that is, they will try to give the best of themselves and give us accurate data, but they will not always succeed.

So, if for example we configure Nmap and Ping for a mobile, we’ll see that it gives contradictory results.

Ghost Devices

This is because some devices get disconnected from Wi-Fi networks to save battery power. Others, even if we leave them in Standby (off, but with light), remain connected to the network, so the sensors will indicate that it is “on”.

The best way to solve this is to use full Home Assistant integrations. For example, in the case of LG televisions, I use webOS TV integration. They are much more accurate, and also provide more functionality. Another way is to try different integrations until you find the most accurate one for that device.

Zones and Areas

Once the position of the devices has been obtained, you can assign labels to locations. For example, a zone that indicates the office where you work so that Home Assistant knows when you are at work, or assign devices to rooms to have an easier management of the devices in the server.

Zones

The zones are designed for the first case. From the Map section, or from Configuration -> Zones, or from the file zones.yaml you can create zones with a GPS position and a range. When the device is in that zone, its tracking status will change to the zone identifier.

Zones Editor

Areas

The areas work in a similar way to zones, except that they act inside the house. They are usually used to define the different rooms and assign devices to them. They can only be configured visually from Configuration -> Areas.

Areas Editor

Attaching devices to people

Once the devices are tracked, Home Assistant users can be linked by creating Person type entities.

These entities have one or more device_tracker associated, in such a way that they complement each other and give the user the most precise situation and with it know where he is at all times.

People Tracking

Simply declare the person in Configuration -> People (or via YAML) and assign the device_tracker type entities you want to use. Home Assistant will follow the these rules:

  1. If there are stationary trackers (non-GPS trackers, i.e., a router or Bluetooth “device_trackers”) presenting the status “home”, the tracker most recently updated will be used.
  2. If there are trackers of type “gps”, then the most recently updated tracker will be used.
  3. Otherwise, the latest tracker with status “not_home” will be used.

In other words. When you’re at home, your position is determined first by stationary trackers (if any) and then by GPS. When you’re outside your home, your position is determined firstly by GPS and then by stationary trackers.

Although having several tracking devices configured increases accuracy, the use of these entities for critical operations is not recommended. A correct use is to turn the heating on or off depending on the position of the person for example, but it is not convenient to use it for alarms or doors until enough checks and tests are done.

Conclusion

A tour has been made through the device tracking, configuration and problems. All that remains is to analyze all the devices in the house and add them to the system in order to keep better track of the entire household. In addition, it will be possible to link these integrations to people in order to know where they are at any time.

This and other articles complement the documentation of the GitHub repository where all the configuration of my house is available.

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