Turn your smartphone into a universal remote

Honolulu-based software developer bbtinkerer was tired of never being able to find the TV remote. So he made his own using a Raspberry Pi Zero, and connected it to a web app accessible on his smartphone.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Finding a remote alternative

“I needed one because the remote in my house tends to go missing a lot,” explains Bernard aka bbtinkerer on the Instructables page for his Raspberry Pi Zero Universal Remote.”If I want the controller, I have to hunt down three people and hope one of them remembers that they took it.”

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

For the build, Bernard used a Raspberry Pi Zero, an IR LED and corresponding receiver, Raspbian Lite, and a neat little 3D-printed housing.

First, he soldered a circuit for the LED and resistors on a small piece of perf board. Then he assembled the hardware components. Finally, all he needed to do was to write the code to control his devices (including a tower fan), and to set up the app.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Bernard employed the Linux Infrared Remote Control (LIRC) package to control the television with the Raspberry Pi Zero, accessing the Zero via SSH. He gives a complete rundown of the installation process on Instructables.

bbtinkerer universal remote Raspberry Pi zero

Setting up a remote’s buttons with LIRC is a simple case of pressing them and naming their functions one by one. You’ll need the remote to set up the system, but after that, feel free to lock it in a drawer and use your smartphone instead.

Finally, Bernard created the web interface using Node.js, and again, because he’s lovely, he published the code for anyone wanting to build their own. Thanks, Bernard!

Life hacks

If you’ve used a Raspberry Pi to build a time-saving life hack like Bernard’s, be sure to share it with us. Other favourites of ours include fridge cameras, phone app doorbell notifications, and Alan’s ocarina home automation system. I’m not sure if this last one can truly be considered a time-saving life hack. It’s still cool though!


MarkP avatar

I am very interested to read up on this as I will be embarking on a similar project soon. I use one of the harmony ‘all in one’ remote controls which are amazing and I love the simplicity it brings but they have one major flaw. They cannot control any device that receives RF (like my new TV!), hence the need to build a system with the pi that can do the RF part when I need it to. When it’s finished I will also be able to use my harmony as normal and when I ask my harmony remote to watch TV, the TV will actually turn on, very helpful! Along side this I will be able to turn on remote sockets from the harmony remote, maybe even trigger the door bell to confuse the wife and drive the dog crazy! It would be nice to integrate some of the events with my amazon echo too!

Alex Bate avatar

I keep thinking about setting up my Echo to do more than read me audiobooks. I’ll get there one day.

Lada avatar

See limesdr-mini , it is a very versatile SDR radio with both input and output (transmit) you can use with RPi over USB. You can use it as a spectrum analyzer to find a frequency of your remote (and the channel width of trasmitted control) and then record the spectrum to a file. Use it for all commands on your remote. Then replay the spectrum on the same frequency for each command as desired. Osmocom drivers allow you to record parts of the spectrum (base frequency + channel width) and replay it back (AFAIK).

If your remote uses some simple On/OFF/ASK keying, then some ultra cheap transceiver can be used. Many of these remotes are using the 433MHz ISM band or 868MHz (Europe). It may use 2.4GHz band too. With SDR radio, you can sweep across all frequencies (the limemini sweeps from 10MHz to 3.8GHz)

You can find out the modulation with SDR-RTL radio too (cheaper, receive only) using inspectrum program. Then use some cheap transmit only modulator board and modulate it so it transmits same packets as your remote.

Lada avatar

If you need inspiration, look at Samy Kamkar’s presentation of opensesame and videos around the thing.

Lada avatar

Find this article

“Controlling your Holiday Lights with Raspberry Pi, Alexa and Go”

inspire :)

fulgor avatar

I bought broadlink mini S3 it is working great with an Android devices

Jeffrey Findley avatar

Nice. Another useful project for me to try with a Pi Zero W. I’ve got several IR emitters and a couple IR receivers in my stash of electronics parts.

Alex Bate avatar

Excellent. Be sure to let us know how it goes.

Brian Simmons avatar

Or you can just use a cell phone that has an ir emitter….

Daniella avatar

I used remotsy, is based on the esp8266 you can use the firmware or flash your own, is so simple, and works with Alexa!!!

Just search for in Google or the source code in GitHub

James Belcher avatar

Can someone please tell me why these are still only available in quantity of one per order?

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