Home Assistant builds tool to flash ESPHome from browser on controllers

The makers of Home Assistant have come up with an open source tool that allows users to flash ESP boards from the browser. That should make it easier to install ESPHome on such boards. There will also be a standard for WiFi provisioning to share credentials via Bluetooth.

The new standard is called Improv-Wifi. It is a standard developed by the makers behind ESPHome and Home Assistant. Improv-Wifi is an SDK to get WiFi going on devices without having to switch between APs. “We saw that each manufacturer was implementing its own thing and therefore there was nothing open source available to use,” says Home Assistant founder Paulus Schoutsen. The tool is “built with open source firmware in mind”.

The standard will be implemented in Home Assistant and in ESPHome, which has been owned by Nabu Casa, the company behind Home Assistant since March. Via Improv-Wifi, WiFi credentials for a device running ESPHome are compiled into ESPHome itself. These can then be shared via Bluetooth Low Energy. That only works on ESP32 controllers, as ESP8266 controllers don’t support ble. The standard will be available open source. There will also be a button that website builders can use to add a device directly from a browser. For now, the tool only works in Chromium browsers and Home Assistant applications. They are not immediately available on the latter, but that will follow later.

That way, users don’t have to set up their own access point to connect two devices. “Wi-Fi APs aren’t useful because the access point has to be shut down to test Wi-Fi credentials,” says Schoutsen. “Then if your connection fails, for example, you won’t be able to get feedback from your device.”

Related to the project is a method to be able to flash ESP devices directly from the browser. It’s called ESP Web Tools. “We noticed that the first firmware is the most difficult to install with ESPHome,” says Schoutsen. “In this way, users can easily get started with firmware without having to use the command line right away.” This will soon be easier with the new tool, which ESPHome can install on ESP boards. That also only works in Chromium browsers such as Chrome or Edge for the time being.

The aim of the new tools is to make it easier for smart home users to use proprietary firmware on devices in their smart home network. In order to achieve that ultimate goal, the terminology in Home Assistant is also changing. For example, terms like ‘upload firmware’ are replaced by the more accessible ‘install’.