Josh Hendrickson is the Editor-in-Chief of Review Geek. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read more.
The easiest smarthome tech uses the cloud to do the heavy lifting. But that means you give up your privacy. And if the company shuts down, so does your smarthome. Here’s how to bypass the cloud in your smarthome setup.
Why a Locally-Controlled Smarthome?
Cloud-powered smarthomes are feature-rich and include some niceties, but they do come with disadvantages.
First, you have to give up a modicum of privacy. Google, Amazon, Apple, and even Microsoft voice assistants used to record everything you said to them and often sent those recordings to humans for review. While Google, Amazon, and Apple have taken steps to alleviate those concerns, Microsoft still hasn’t changed anything. Some cloud-powered devices also record your activities. Manufacturers use the information to improve systems, but in some cases, they sell your anonymized data.
Second, if the company cloud that drives your smarthome tech closes up shop or abandons the smarthome category, your devices will no longer work.
This very thing happened with the Lowe’s Iris and Revolv hubs. Likewise, Best Buy recently announced it’s shutting down the Insignia smarthome line. So, Insignia smart plugs, cameras, and light switches will stop functioning. And if you have an Insignia Smart Wi-Fi Freezer, soon it will be just a freezer.
If you build a locally controlled smarthome, you sidestep all these issues. Your data doesn’t leave your home, and even if a manufacturer quits, your devices keep working.
Keep in mind, though, creating a local-controlled smarthome isn’t for the faint of heart. But here’s what you need to do to kick the cloud to the curb.
Start with a Locally-Controlled Hub
Every smarthome needs a brain to power it. Unfortunately, most of the time, those “brains” involve the cloud. For example, both Wink and SmartThings offer hubs with some amount of local control, but they still reach out to the internet for some features.
Thankfully, you have other options, such as Hubitat, an entirely locally controlled hub. Any command you send to it or automation you set up runs at the local level. Another advantage of Hubitat is it’s a pre-built system. The downside is the process to set it up creates automations similar to complicated router interfaces.
Home Assistant is a build-your-own hub solution. With this option, you get exactly the smarthome you want, with all the features you want. However, you have to do everything yourself, including building the hub from a Raspberry Pi.
Of these two options, Home Assistant’s interface is more polished, but Hubitat’s setup process is more user-friendly.
Other options, like OpenHab, offer similar features. In every case, though, you should expect to do more setup than you would with a cloud-friendly hub like Wink.
Also, be careful of which options you enable—if you connect to a cloud service, all your smarthome data can and will go to the cloud.
Switch to Z-Wave or ZigBee Devices
Now that you have a local hub, you need devices to power your smarthome. Any Wi-Fi-based plugs, bulbs, locks, or switches have to go. Most Wi-Fi smart devices connect to a cloud service to work, even when you use them with a hub.
Instead, use either Z-Wave or ZigBee devices. Which you pick is up to you, but they’re more similar than different.
Z-Wave devices tend to broadcast at a longer range, so you can place devices farther apart. ZigBee devices create larger mesh networks, so if you have a lot of them, distance isn’t an issue. Either way, pick one protocol and stick with it as much as possible.
You can purchase Z-wave or ZigBee bulbs, switches, plugs, locks, and more.
Ditch Voice Assistants
Voice assistants are one of the most convenient ways to control your smarthome. But whether you use Google Home or Amazon Echo, you involve the cloud. What you say can end up on company servers, even if Google lets you opt-out.
Even with the opt-out option, you’re still using the cloud, and your voice is always going to the company’s servers. If the goal is to ditch the cloud, that’s not good enough. Sadly, we can’t recommend a viable local voice assistant as all use the cloud, at least, to some extent.
Giving up the convenience of voice control might seem hard, but you do have another option: automation.
Without a voice assistant, you need another way to control your smarthome. Thanks to your hub, you can control everything in a single app. But that’s not always convenient—especially if you have younger family members who don’t have smart devices.
That’s okay, though. When you use a locally controlled Z-Wave or Zigbee hub, you can enable your smarthome’s superpower—automation. You can use automation to turn lights on or off when you enter or leave a room. You can turn on your heated blanket when you walk into the bedroom on a cold night. And your smarthome can shut itself down when no one’s home.
The most expensive and challenging part of this venture is to set up the automation. First, you need a variety of motion, temperature, contact, and water sensors. Expect to spend somewhere in the range of $30 to $60 per sensor. And, as you’ll likely want to automate your entire home, you’ll need more than one of each sensor.
Once you have your house decked out with sensors, your next step is to learn your chosen hub’s automation engine. The basic premise is usually “if this, then that” conditions. If the bathroom sensor detects motion, turn on the light. If the living room is empty for more than 10 minutes, turn off the smart plugs.
As you master the rules, some hubs (like Hubitat) can accomplish more complicated scenarios. For example, you can combine conditions, such as time of day and if anyone is in the room before the hub turns on the floor fan.
The ultimate goal is a smarthome that anticipates your needs and proactively works, as opposed to one that reacts to voice commands.
It takes some effort to put together an entirely locally-controlled smarthome. You also might have to buy new components, learn new rules, and give up voice commands. But you’ll have total control of your data and a smarthome that works exactly as you want it to. The process is pricey, but might be worth it in the long run.
With some work and planning, Home Assistant sets your smart home.
Alex Kretzschmar – Mar 31, 2021 11:30 am UTC
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What comes to mind when you think of a smart home? Wi-Fi enabled light bulbs, video doorbells, cloud-connected robot vacuums, or smart fridges perhaps? Brands like Google/Nest or everything enabled with Amazon’s Alexa? While often providing some genuine convenience, these devices are also usually designed to invite and lock users into manufacturers’ ecosystems. Create a cool piece of hardware, you’ll make one sale. Create a cool piece of hardware that extracts recurring monthly service fees for cloud storage or to unlock extra functionality, and you’ll have sales for life.
Compounding our collective frustration, these ecosystems are often incompatible with each other and require multiple different apps for control. Not only are subscriptions and upselling part of the game, the underlying business models for these products are built around planned obsolescence and mining user data.
Luckily, aspirational smart home folks in 2021 have at least one viable alternative: Home Assistant. This piece of open source software is the proverbial ring “that in the darkness binds them.” It is the glue for smart home gear spanning all sorts of manufacturers, from behemoths like Google to minnows like Shelly. It’s a project that has set out to change all of the smart home pitfalls listed above by putting local control, privacy, and interoperability first.
By acting as a single configuration point for multiple ecosystems, Home Assistant is in a uniquely powerful place in the modern smart home. It is aware of the state of every entity in your home and can therefore do useful things like close the garage door if you left it open when you went to bed or left your defined home zone. I will never tire of having the lights automatically fade up one hour before sunset either.
If this sounds too good to be true—all the benefits of a smart home without the downside associated with off-the-shelf solutions—today is the day to see for yourself. Let’s walk through the building blocks required to put together your own self-hosted, subscription-free home automation system. Using the Home Assistant project as a foundation, we’ll cover some must haves for new tech, highlight some of our favorite open source home automation projects, and give you a quick primer on how to put all of it together.
Home Assistant, the basics
Considering the title of this article, this note is a bit awkward. But when you initially choose to build out your smart home with the Home Assistant project, there is an optional $5 per month subscription. This is administered by the company behind the project, Nabu Casa, which was founded in 2018 to ensure the Home Assistant project remained sustainable. For the company, these fees allow Nabu Casa to pay a small number of staff. For you, the $5 per month fee enables your local Home Assistant instance to effortlessly work with popular cloud services like Google Home or Amazon Alexa, and it also permits access to Home Assistant from anywhere with minimal setup. That said, it is definitely possible to mirror both of these functions without the subscription by using a reverse proxy, if you like.
While there are other choices in this space such as Domoticz, OpenHAB, or Gladys, Home Assistant will be our focus today because it’s free, open, and has a *huge* community behind it. At the time of writing, it has over 1,700 integrations with all manner of devices, services, and hardware supported. Plus, it’s a regular feature of Github’s trending page, too.
Versatility is the true magic of Home Assistant. In effect, it speaks 1,700 different languages and brings them all into one place. Build a smart home ecosystem with Home Assistant at its core, and devices from completely different ecosystems can finally talk to each other. Would you like the lights to automatically turn off when you turn the kettle on? With Home Assistant, you can do that!
Cloud vs. local
Things aren’t quite that simple, of course. The primary downside of self-hosting any service is that you’re required to exchange your time and effort instead of the more accepted mainstream model of exchanging money and data. The upside of self-hosting is that you know how every nut and bolt is connected and, until the physical hardware stops working, your setup will keep humming along just fine (assuming you’re not relying on cloud APIs—Darksky is a good example here). Cloud services take away the burden of setup and upkeep in exchange for convenience (but also your dollars and data). We won’t make a strong recommendation on this common home automation issue today, but it belongs on the radar of anyone considering a smart home setup.
Let’s look at a more realistic example of a useful automation based on this principle. Say you have two sets of lights on totally different circuits that you always want to be in sync, perhaps downstairs and upstairs hallway lighting. With Home Assistant monitoring the state of these entities, it can react and do things automatically. In other words, if light1 is on, then turn on light2 .
Time for some key terminology: Home Assistant performs such actions when certain conditions are met or triggers occur. This allows the construction of complex logic such as “turn down the thermostat, ensure doors are locked, and all lights are off when the sun is below the horizon and no motion is detected for one hour or guest mode is not enabled.” Consider how many apps you’d have to open to do all that by yourself: an app for the thermostat, a smart lock, and motion detection via a camera or sensor at least.
Without some Home Assistant glue in the middle, most home devices aren’t really “smart” or “connected.” They are remotely controllable, which is an important prerequisite for being automated, but that should not be conflated with automation.
Automation is your house reacting to the time of day, the weather, your presence, and so on without need to manually activate the devices every time. With Home Assistant flexing all its muscles, in theory it’s possible to build a home where you shouldn’t need to touch a light switch or a thermostat because your automations are created with enough care and thought.
- June 15, 2020
Can a smart home work without an internet connection? Whenever the term home automation is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the internet. If you are interested in turning your house into a smart home, you have probably been told that you need a reliable internet connection.
The evolution of technology has made it possible for home appliances and devices to be made into smart devices. Today, it is possible to connect devices and appliances at home in one network. This gives you the liberty to control these smart devices from anywhere, at any time. The common factor that makes it possible to connect and control these devices is internet connectivity.
Even with the benefits involved with having all your home appliances and devices connected to a network, it comes with some drawbacks. The most significant issue with connecting devices to the internet is security as most smart devices are highly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. This puts your personal information at risk since hackers can access your private network through these devices. Also, smart devices are delicate and highly prone to breakdown or failure when compared to their analogue counterparts.
Because of these concerns, homeowners are looking for ways to turn their houses into smart homes without needing the internet. It is still possible to command your thermostat to adjust the temperature or turn off your bulbs without having to do it manually.
Here is how to make a smart home without the internet.
Finding a central getaway
The first thing you need to do to make your home a smart one without internet is finding a central getaway that can support a wireless protocol. Whether your smart home relies on the internet or not, a smart home requires a brain that can control it. There are a few options that do not require an internet connection.
It would be best if you found an affordable hub that can easily connect to a wide range of smart home appliances. It needs to be one of the most efficient hubs in the market, with the best compatibility ability. Hubitat comes with fantastic local features that make it easy to set up, even for the tech novices. This hub can perform other functions such as smart home control and geofencing without needing an internet connection.
With this device, you have the choice between using an internet connection or IP connection. It comes with built-in Z-Wave and Zigbee radios for easy integration with smart home appliances. All you have to do is plug in the Z-Wave or Zigbee stick into the Hubitat to have your devices connected for complete local access.
Other smart home hub options include Wink and SmartThings. These too can offer the same level of local connectivity without needing the internet. However, they will require to be connected to the internet to be able to use some features. Home Assistant is also another option that allows you to create a smart home from scratch without needing internet connectivity. It comes with a better-looking interface but requires you to build the network manually.
Get Z-wave or Zigbee compliant devices
Once you have chosen the best hub for your local connection needs, you need to find devices and home appliances that are compatible with the programs used by the hub. Zigbee and Z-Wave are the most common programs in most smart home devices. You need to replace most of your smart plugs, switches and lighting fixtures as most of these smart features cannot work without an internet connection.
Z-wave and Zigbee
Zigbee and Z-Wave are the best wireless protocols for smart home devices.
Z-Wave devices have the ability to connect over long ranges, which allows you to connect devices that are far apart. Z-wave can connect devices that are up to 550ft apart. It operates on the 908.42MHz radiofrequency. This ensures there is no connection interruption from close Wi-Fi connections.
On the other hand, Zigbee appliances create a mesh network that allows you to connect all Zigbee devices in one network through other devices in the network, regardless of the distance between the devices. However, Zigbee cannot connect devices that are further than 60ft apart when there is no mesh network in place. It runs on the 2.4ghz radio frequency that is also used by Wi-Fi routers, thus creating a possibility of interference.
Automating your home without internet connectivity
Once you have an ideal smart home hub and purchases Z-Wave or Zigbee compatible devices, it is time to bring them together.
You will need to invest in temperature, motion, contact and water sensors. The number you need depends on the size of your home and the areas you want to automate. Because you are building a smart home without an internet connection, you need to design your home to ensure it can anticipate your preferences and needs, thus being able to initiate actions accordingly.
Smart home sensors
Building a smart home using sensors is different from setting up a smart home using the internet as the latter can be used with a voice command. Once you have sensors installed around your home, you need to learn the automation engine in your smart home hub. The best option is IFTTT. This is a free web service that allows you to create simple command conditions for your sensors.
For instance, the sensors can turn on your living room lights when they detect motion in the living room. With the right hub, there are endless possibilities when it comes to sensor options for your needs. With time, you will learn how the sensors work with your hub and devices to create a smart environment.
If you have ever wondered whether you can own a smart home without using the internet, this article proves that it is possible to do it. All you need is a reliable smart home hub. While some of these hubs may require you to connect to the internet to complete some functions like updating security patches, latest features and download updates, they work independently of the internet to create a smart home environment. Internet-free smart homes are the solution for elderly individuals and people who prefer not to rely on the internet for everything.
The networked Smart Home diligently generates sensitive and personal data. Where should it be stored and how secure is your data in the cloud?
Smart Home Services like Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomeKit
Have you ever thought about Smart Home and the Cloud? These questions concern companies with alarm systems and surveillance cameras as well as private households that control their heating or shutters. After all, Smart Home components and sensors continuously record data that needs to be evaluated and stored. So it makes sense to store this data in the cloud. So it is not surprising that every large cloud service provider also offers smart home services. Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple HomeKit are just a few of the countless possibilities in this market segment.
There are also providers for companies that specialize in building monitoring and management. But all of these have one thing in common: to work, data must be evaluated and stored. This is sensitive data in real time. For example, the video feed of a surveillance camera. So the question is to whom do you entrust this data? However, before we discuss this more explicitly, we would like to briefly explain to you what Smart Home actually is.
What is Smart Home?
Smart Home describes the networking of electronic components and various measuring points as well as sensors for the purpose of increasing comfort, safety and energy efficiency. Networking can be wired or wireless using various connection protocols. For example, the smart home includes the networking of switches and sockets, lamps and roller shutters or thermostats and electricity meters. This also includes connecting consumer electronics to the home network, the intelligent alarm system or security technology in the company.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) advances, more and more components can be integrated. The whole thing is addressed and managed via the home network and/or the Internet. As soon as access from outside is possible from the Internet, you should think about data security and data protection. From this moment on, there is a potential risk of an external attack or data leakage. This is not only a nightmare for companies, private households should also be aware of it. An example of this is the headline that made people look good a few years ago: “Hackers transfer live material from webcams to YouTube”. To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, watch out for the following.
How do I securely connect Smart Home and the cloud?
All devices and Smart Home components regularly record data. That’s not bad in itself, because they’re designed to do just that. It is important that they are not directly accessible from the Internet and that you adapt the respective access data by using secure passwords and changing them regularly. A firewall and network address translation (NAT) go without saying. You should also choose a confidential service provider that stores this data securely. Choose a provider that does not allow any data to leak out, as it is based on closed systems. But as soon as you want mobile access to your smart home or smart office from your smartphone while travelling, you need an Internet connection. So install another security barrier. Encrypt your data!
Nobody can do this better than TeamDrive. Run TeamDrive on your home or company server, which, for example, hosts the video feeds of your surveillance cameras. This allows you to create your own High Security Private Cloud, which you can only access with end-to-end encryption. In addition, the data on the server is also encrypted and unreadable even in the unlikely event of a data leak. Another important advantage of this solution: TeamDrive creates continuous backups of this data virtually by itself. This allows you to access this data even after a system crash.
The sleek new Hubitat Elevation Hub processes everything locally, so you can keep using your smart home even when the Wi-Fi goes down.
At first glance, the Hubitat Elevation struck me as a pretty standard smart home hub. It has Zigbee and Z-Wave built in so it can communicate with a variety of connected gadgets. You can set up rules so one of your devices can trigger another — a motion sensor might flash your smart lights. You can group your devices by room and create scenes so multiple devices turn on at once with a single command.
All of those features are pretty standard for hubs such as the SmartThings Hub . Hubitat’s main selling point is a pretty interesting twist on the smart hub formula — it processes everything locally. After the initial setup, Hubitat stores certain device data and automation recipes on the device itself. This should theoretically result in your smart home reacting more quickly to your commands, since they don’t need to head to the cloud and back. It also means that if the internet goes down, your smart home can keep functioning.
Local processing isn’t entirely new either, as SmartThings offers it with certain devices and automations, but Hubitat wants to take the feature one step further by making all of its automations local — from rules to geofencing.
Hubitat officially debuted a new, trimmed-down version of its Elevation home automation hub on Wednesday. You can order it now from the company’s site for $100 for a limited time. Its normal price will be $150 (about £115 or AU$210) after the introductory price expires. You’ll be able to order the Hubitat Elevation on Amazon as well starting Friday.
In addition to offering the same processing power in a smaller frame, Hubitat is introducing apps for its system for both iOS and Android. You currently have to use a web browser to access your Hubitat system. The apps are still in the works, but are roughly expected to launch by April.
The Elevation also works with Amazon’s assistant Alexa and the competing Google Assistant , so you can control any devices synced to the hub with a voice command to your Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker. Bear in mind, since those smart speakers rely on the cloud, that functionality won’t work without the internet.
Since the Elevation Hub processes information locally, it could be a better fit for privacy minded individuals who still want smart home gadgets. In addition to keeping most of your info off of the cloud, Hubitat offers a customizable rules platform and invites users to develop and share their own code for any missing functionality.
It looks to be aimed more at avid DIYers who like to tinker as opposed to someone less proficient in tech who just wants something to work out of the box. Most of Hubitat’s advantages come from setting up your own rules and scenes. That said, the app should help make the platform more widely applicable and user friendly. Since the Elevation will work with some Lowe’s Iris sensors, it could provide a nice new hub for those in need once Iris fully shuts down in March .
The heart of your Smart Home System
The centre of your system connects all devices and couples them with the Bosch Smart Home app
The controller is the connecting element or the brain of your Bosch Smart Home System. It bundles all information locally on one device. Your Smart Home Controller organises the communication between the devices in your system, making it possible to connect your smart home. In addition, it functions not only as a smart home control centre, but also as an interface to the Bosch Smart Home app. Use it to control your devices at the touch of a finger and adjust all settings.
Protects your data through local storage
Your Smart Home data is stored locally on the Smart Home Controller by default. Only if you want to benefit from partner services (for example, for voice command), data is transferred to the cloud partner. However, by adding selectively, you remain in full control.
Keeps up to date
Your Home Automation Controller updates itself at regular intervals with automatic and free software updates. This guarantees maximum security and keeps your smart home up to date. Even after the purchase, your smart home receives new functions and thus becomes smarter and smarter.
Provides openness when desired
Your privacy comes first. This is why all system settings are initially set to private by default. If you want to open your Smart Home, for example to use the voice command or for other partners, this is possible without any problems. The decision is entirely yours.
As smart as it gets
The control of individual devices is smart – the intelligent and automatic interaction of several devices is even smarter. The real added value of a smart home is that it thinks for you and makes your everyday life easier by having devices interact automatically. The controller is the brain of your Bosch Smart Home System and forms the basis of this cross-device communication. It enables their interaction in scenarios and automations that control regular processes completely automatically. This is how the topic of interoperability is implemented.
Secure remote access thanks to end-to-end security
Your smart home hub is the interface to your Bosch Smart Home app, which you use to control your smart home. You have the choice whether you want to use your system only at home in your own Wi-Fi or also on the road.
Want to check up on things at home while on vacation? No problem! Simply allow this in the menu “More > System > Remote access”. You can do this without hesitation, because your data security is important to us: Thanks to end-to-end security with modern encryption methods, communication between your controller and the Smart Home app is secure.
Independent, reliable and fast
Unlike devices from other manufacturers, the Bosch Smart Home Controller does not store your data in a cloud, but locally on the controller itself. By storing all relevant information locally on your Smart Home Controller, your system remains independent and responds quickly to your commands. This guarantees system functionality in the event of an Internet failure: Local execution of functions, scenarios and automations is maintained even without an Internet connection. Your Smart Home System remains reliable and safe – no matter what happens.
Opens doors to other systems and partners
Your Bosch Smart Home Controller connects devices and systems with a wide range of interfaces and wireless protocols across manufacturers. This allows you to integrate partner products and interface partners or use functions such as voice command.
Technology for life – the Bosch quality promise
Future-oriented innovations have always been a central focus at Bosch. Our know-how in a variety of fields and our demand for reliable quality have been reflected in our products for over 125 years.
The Smart Home Controller, as well as the software used on it and your Bosch Smart Home app, were developed and manufactured by Bosch employees in Germany.
It’s that simple
Connect the Smart Home Controller
Step 1 of 4
When you set up your controller, your dream of a smart home begins. Installation is quick and easy: Insert the network cable into the Bosch Smart Home Controller and a free LAN port on your Wi-Fi router. In the next step, connect the Smart Home Controller to the mains using the power supply. After the controller starts up, pay attention to the LEDs – they show the initialisation status.
If you connect your Bosch controller to the Internet for the first time, it can take a little bit longer: Your controller will automatically search for software updates. If updates are required, they will be downloaded and installed automatically. This process can take up to 30 minutes. During this time, you cannot continue setting up the Smart Home Controller.
As soon as all the LEDs light up in white, your controller is ready for use.
Security is a top priority at myGEKKO, with or without Internet access
myGEKKO can look back on 25 years of experience in building automation and has set itself the task of creating a secure smart home – from the inside and the outside. Inside refers to the operating system per se, outside refers to the building itself.
The myGEKKO concept impresses with the possibility that it can be used with or without the Internet. Without the cloud, all functions can be operated and controlled on the display controller SLIDE 2. The user can also block all ports from the outside. However, after approval by the user, external technical support can access this and thus quickly and easily solve potential faults. The updates can also be installed via a USB stick or server without Internet access. myGEKKO enables everyone to have a smart home. Regardless of whether you are critical of the Internet or you do not have a good Internet connection: You
don’t have to go without intelligent living.
If you choose myGEKKO with an internet connection, you can be sure that this is also secure. This variant enables you to use the myGEKKO Plus Services. This enables you to access your myGEKKO remotely and to use various services. These include, among other things
- the notification when the alarm system is triggered
- the link to services such as Alexa voice control or
- the retrieval of weather data and forecasts and many more.
All myGEKKO PLUS services are AES encrypted and thus have a high security standard. In addition, the internet-dependent services of myGEKKO are continuously checked, developed and improved. The myGEKKO development team recently carried out a security test (Pentest) in collaboration with cybersecurity expert Nico Werner. myGEKKO OS corresponds to the “state of the art” and is constantly being developed.
At myGEKKO, security is also very important with regard to the building itself. This ranges from access via the alarm system to entire, individually set scenarios. myGEKKO works with renowned manufacturers such as TELENOT. This cooperation enables a quick and easy connection of the devices such as: an alarm system to the building technology. With just one click, scenarios can also be configured with the SLIDE or the app, which take care of all the steps when you leave the house: the shutters are lowered, all lights are switched off and the alarm system is activated. Here you will find an overview of the myGEKKO device interfaces. In the future, myGEKKO will do everything it can to further develop the operating system, including in the area of security. Because one thing is certain at myGEKKO: Security is a top priority, with or without internet access.
Here you can read more about the security concept of myGEKKO.