Garage door monitoring and control using a dedicated Android phone

[Sean] happened to have an extra Android phone sitting around and wanted to see what type of home automation he could use it for. One simple hardware modification, and some apps from the Android Market let him monitor and control his garage door remotely.

The hardware modification is a hack we’ve already looked at. The BTmate uses a Bluetooth headset with an added transistor to short the connections on your garage door opener. The only issue is that you need to be within range for the Bluetooth to work. [Sean] adds a layer of abstraction by using two Android phones. One is permanently mounted in the garage and handles the Bluetooth connectivity, while the other uses VNC to tunnel in anywhere he has an Internet connection.

But why stop there? He knew that this one feature was overkill, and added a second which the phone was perfect for. Since it has its own camera, he used the tinyCam app to create a webcam server. This even allows him to turn the LED on and off for a better view in dim light conditions. See [Sean's] demonstration after the break.

Overkill? Maybe, but if you’ve got a phone with a broken LCD, this might be just the thing to give it a new purpose.

29 thoughts on “Garage door monitoring and control using a dedicated Android phone

  1. I think “overkill” in this case is a misnomer. Sure, a phone has a ton of processing power, but how often is it completely wasted? Once it’s not the Phone Du Jour, it’s likely sitting in a drawer. I think more hacks that keeps these engineering marvels of last year (week?) out of the garbage are warrented.

    1. I second this! Hell, I’ve been using some 32-bit microcontroller dev boards clocked at 72MHz for my projects and people keep telling me it’s overkill, and these things cost less than an Arduino! At some point people need to get with the times, we can get a whole bunch of processing power for cheap, it’s not overkill, it’s a testament to mass manufacturing and economies of scale.

      Note to Hackaday: sorry, accidentally hit “Report comment” because it looked too much like the “reply” link.

      1. I know, right?
        I felt weird about using an ARM7 board for some simple gpio stuff, but, hey, the board was $10 because the site was trying to get rid of them.

        Yay for reusing e-waste!
        .

        Does recycling an old phone like this count as a sustainability hack? (Nevermind that it is plugged in 24-7)

    2. To consider a 2 y.o. smart phone as an old piece of junk, you must really be a victim of the mass consumption society.
      It’s not about money, you Americans always think everything is about money…
      “Because fuel is cheap, we don’t care if the cars we drive consume 30l/100km.”
      Engineers, please ask yourself the real questions.

  2. I agree with you hpux. Phones and tablets do get wasted away when newer ones come out. Its not like a desktop or even a laptop that the hardware can be upgraded and get a few more years out of them.

    Hell, if I had a few (maybe ten) android phones/tablets, even apple iphones and ipads. I can have my house fully automated.

  3. I will admit I was secretly horrified as I read the article but if the screen is cracked then it doesn’t even seem like overkill.

  4. Yea, with the average half life a cell phone being shorter than that of beryllium-8 I think this is a great use for old phones, way to go!

  5. The link states that there is no monthly fee. I have always wondered what happens to smart phones when you let the contract lapse– whether they retain all functionality except the cell phone and data part or whether they turn into shiny bricks. I take it the WiFi data part still works? What about access to the Android market? Can anyone confirm?

    1. My old Droid still works… no service just enable Airplane mode, and turn on Wifi and it will sit in a drawer for 2+ weeks and still be at 80% battery :)

    2. Off contract phones simply become off contract. You can continue to purchase service from your provider without buying a new phone.

      HOWEVER, you’re still subsidizing one! You’ll have to negotiate with your provider to reduce your monthly fees (unless they use a “on your tab” like service like Pay-as-you-go or I think Virgin, Wind, Mobilicity, and T-Mo where you have to “buy” your own phone)

      If you shut off the service, you simply lose its phone functions. Take your phone into an area without service (subway, basement, airplane mode) and that’s pretty much it: no phone calls, no SMS/MMS. You still have access to your SIM contacts, since that’s part of the SIM.

      I’m actually using a Nexus One in airplane all the time at the moment since I switched from a 850/900/1800/1900 to an AWS (1700/2100) provider.

    3. My wife has my old HTC EVO as a wifi toy, no contract, Android Market works, Amazon Market works, can do SMS/TXT with Google Voice, can even make phone calls over wifi with the right apps.
      This is all perfect since that EVO developed an issue with the cell radio, making it nearly useless as a cell phone.

      I’ve been wanting to set up a few phones to do this sort of home automation, keeping an eye on ebay for “broken” Android phones, but the bidding tends to get too high for it to be worth it to me.

  6. @Peter

    I don’t know about what happens when the contract lapses, ie no more service,

    But I know with my android phone, before the service was turned on (altel>att :( ), and now when I take my sim card out, it acts like my android tablet does.
    App market works with wifi, the only things that do not work are, obviously calling and sms/mms

  7. Peter, yes your phone will still be able to access the market via wifi and can still download apps. Also, you have access to the web as well. Just no phone calls or messages. That’s why this is the perfect thing to do with an old smart phone.

  8. Peter, yes, you will still be able to access the Market via WiFi and can still download apps. Just no calls or messages. Thats why this is a perfect use for an old Android phone.

  9. arduino’s cost money
    a lot of money if you add a shiny lcd display and a camera

    28.56EUR for the arduino
    33.32EUR for an lcd
    36.89EUR for an ethernet shield

    vs nothing for an old smartphone that was on the bin list.

  10. I don’t understand why anyone would want to monitor or control their garage door with a phone. Those Ethernet-based garage door systems that are being marketed are nonsense.

    People are way too hung-up on their smartphones. It takes more time and effort to open an app to control your garage door than it takes to press a simple button on your garage door opener. Not to mention, the phone app is less reliable, the batteries don’t last even a fraction of the time (though it can be charged), and it runs a greater risk of being lost from carrying the phone around (where the garage door opener resides in the car).

    Just another way to waste time screwing around with a phone all day like most people seem to do these days rather than actually working.

    1. +1

      Fun trick but I have this little button that cost me nothing, has all the same major features but doesn’t require a phone to use. It even has a light that comes on when I use it (well it would if I bothered to change the bulb…)

    2. On a more constructive note, couldn’t this have been done cheaper and easier by just wireing the transistor to the phones built in speaker? Your leaving one phone there afterall so why do you need the blue tooth?

  11. I think the point is being missed. The whole idea here is to be able to view the status of your garage door and control if need be, if you are not home. For example, you can’t remember if you closed the door after you pulled away, or if you want to let your neighbor in without giving them a key, or the access code of your door opener. That’s the point of this project. Its not to replace your garage door remote.

  12. Using a Dell anything to monitor a fish tank would be a risky proposition…May as well use a Gateway or a wally world toshiba laptop. my old Android phones for the kids to play angry birds at least this guy did something interesting

  13. Wow, did this guy really register a domain and create a website just for this? I like the use of old android phones. Soon enough these will be very cheap on ebay. I question the usability of all the work necessary to check it the door is closed with the camera. He mentions the security of bluetooth, but not the security of accessing the VNC server over the internet (hint: not encrypted). A better solution would be using Microbridge with the phone http://code.google.com/p/microbridge/ to and magnetic door sensors to read door position. Better yet, lose the phone and introduce an Arduino and a wifi module ($36) at sparkfun. Sell your phone on ebay to pay for it and you’ll have money left over and a better solution.

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