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I understand that I can build a circuit that will do whatever I like (ex: a simple circuit that will turn on a motor to open the blinds or something), and I can write a program that will automate my computer/mac however I like (ex: open this program at this time, or with this input and create a new file, ect).

My question is, how can I interface the two? Is there an easy DIY or cheap commercial (or not cheap but functional) USB plug that will turn on/off from computer commands? I'm basically looking for some sort of on/off switch I can script/applescript. How would you even approach this problem, would I have to write my own driver some where along the way?

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I remember reading something about a kit you could buy that would let you control electric switches, relays, electric-engines and such with your computer. It was specially made for home tinkerer and I remember thinking how much fun it looked. Unfortunately my google-fu is failing me and I can't find a link for you. – Nifle Jan 16 '11 at 1:41
Usually for this kind of thing you have to do a fair bit of tinkering, though there may be kits available. If you search for "home automation", you'll probably find pertinent information (there have been at least a few other similar questions on this site). – user55325 Jan 16 '11 at 5:01
A little electronic engineering knowledge would be a good thing to have, here, also. – quickly_now Jan 16 '11 at 7:13
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I've used hardware from Attached a stepper motor with a stepper controller and used their drivers/api and it worked fine for my needs.

Looks like one of their relays might be what you are looking for.

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Their relay looks higher voltage than I'd start with, but this is a great start, thanks! – light.hammer Jan 16 '11 at 8:18

You may want to have a look at Arduino:

It provides a very flexible interface (hardware and software) between your computer and external circuitry.

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