Make Your Mailman Nervous With a Wifi Enabled Mailbox

“It’s not a bomb,” the mailman whispered to himself as he reached for [atxguitarist]’s mailbox, giving a nervous glance at the small black box stuck to the side. “This is THAT house, it’s not a bomb. I’m sure it’s not a bomb,” he muttered as a cold bead of sweat ran down his neck. His hand approached slowly, shakily. The mailman gathered courage, then, in a single quick movement, opened the box. He sighed relief as nothing happened. Somewhere in [atxguitarist]’s house a recording wailed “You’ve got mail!”

The mailbox enhancement in question is a hacked Amazon Dash Button in a project box. When the door of the mailbox is opened, a magnetic reed switch simulates a button press on the Dash. The Dash transmodulates the signal into WiFi pixies which are received by a Raspberry Pi. The Pi’s sole purpose in life is to run a 24-line Python script that plays the famous sound from AOL’s mail software and sends a notification to his phone.

Aside from unnerving the mailman, it’s a cool hack and keeps you from slugging it out there in the cold or rain to witness an empty box.

[via r/DIY]

42 thoughts on “Make Your Mailman Nervous With a Wifi Enabled Mailbox

  1. My mailbox runs a Esp8266-01 with reed switch+dht11. I run it from a tc4056 li-on charger and solar panel. I use the junky plastic enclosure at menards. I’d like to add a camera but the esp only has so much bandwidth sadly XD

    1. You can easily add a camera, get a serial camera and hook it to a pair of pins… works great, no you wont get 20 megapixel images at a 60 frames a second, but once when triggered works perfectly. Note upgrade to an ESP that is bigger than the 01, same price and you get more than 2 GPIO.

    2. You’re going to find that LiIon battery gets killed pretty quickly from cycling, being kept at a high SoC, and if you live where it gets really cold, temperatures below freezing. Did you consider a supercapacitor?

    3. I like your idea better, and you could have an ESP at either end. Much cheaper if all it does is make a noise, otherwise that serial data off the ESP can feed into a machine that broadcasts the events to whatever you want. I’ve got an XMPP server running so that each message stream I need has a separate account and can message me on my phone as well as log it to a database. This is really handy as XMPP can be used to push a simple interface to the client to present the information and give them the option to act on it, select URLs that then do whatever via cgi-bin scripts.

      It is not that hard to set up, it depends on what gear and operating systems you have there. All my stuff is Linux sow sewing it together was easier, once I RTFM.

  2. I thought that this was the laziest thing ever, and then I remembered that the US generally has the mailbox-on-a-stick thing, not a letterbox in the front door.

    Though, of course, this could still be useful if you had difficulties getting to the door.

    1. Not only that, but a lot of us have “group” mailboxes that are 10-30 boxes in a bigger metal box that can be several hundred feet away from the house… But this project would be even less smart to put in one of those in terms of price, and likelihood to get hit with a “hoax device” charge by a federal entity.

      1. Just put a clearly visible label that says something like “You-Have-Mail-O-Matic, WiFi edition” with a silly logo on it. If you’re really concerned, leave a friendly note for your letter carrier beforehand, explaining what the device is, and your phone number.

        Long as it doesn’t make it harder for them to stuff mail into the box, they probably don’t give a damn. Some of them may even think it’s cool.

        1. I am carrier and I don’t care what you do with your box as long as it functions well, I don’t even care if you make your own box as long as it functions the same as a regular box and does so as well or better (most homemade ones don’t work as well though). And I have seen quite a few diy notifiers and never once thought it was a bomb.

          I actually would like to do the same with mine, but I live about 1/2 Mile through woods from my mailbox, if anyone knows how to reliably send a notification that distance with a solar, or preferably a very low powered device that just has its batteries changed once a year, let me know. I have thought 900mhz, but those modules aren’t powerful enough, neither is wifi, or even a hacked walki talki.

          1. I’d like to hear more of your insights into what makes a good mail box, as for the data link have you considered making something with a Cantenna? It would be the cheapest way of seeing if you can get enough range, but having both ends point at each other, alignment, may require you to use your imagination, such as green laser beacons pointed into the sky at night so you can see the location of the other antenna while you are setting it up. Hmmm I wonder if you can put an entire ESP module inside the can that would save building a separate enclosure for it?

            http://jacobsalmela.com/wi-fi-cantenna-2-4ghz-how-to-make-a-long-range-wi-fi-antenna/

          2. @Dan

            For some reason your comment doesn’t have a reply button.

            Basically it needs to stay shut when flipped up, we use a flick of the wrist to close lids. Door can’t be to heavy, handle should preferably be a finger hook and not a loop. Need to be good in all conditions, I see people make them out of wood, and they swell when wet and won’t open. Also make the compartment MINIMUM of a normal mail box if not larger, not much do I dislike more than having a package that would fit in a normal mailbox and it won’t because its a homemade one.

            As for canteanna, reason I was saying battery and not solar is I don’t want anything on outside of box as I live on a main street and don’t want to draw undue attention to it.

          3. Best would be to use a directional antenna.

            They come in different sizes – and with different gain figures – for WiFi and if you want you can build one yourself. I know of people who made a Wifi link (11Mbit) across a whole city over about 60km. But they used dish antennas at elevated points.
            You only need about 800m so about 20dB gain should be sufficient. Like 10dB at each side or 20dB on one side.

    1. The unabomber is one of my earliest memories from the news. It’s funny how big an effect that had on how we think about weird packages. Well, it’d be funny if people hadn’t, y’know, been killed.

      Anyway, I loled at “This is THAT house.” I know I’m my neighborhood’s “that guy” because I’ve heard one neighbor telling someone who just moved in “I’m fairly sure the gunshots I hear through the walls are from videogames.”

    2. Some times it it seems that way as they got exactly what they wanted to instill fear and destroy our way of life.
      One fix that would make the mail carrier less nervous would be to simply put the electronics inside the mail box.
      Use one of those plastic mail boxes as well as they tend to have a doubled wall construction would would enable everything to be hidden from sight.
      He’d probably never know it was wifi enabled.

      1. Well, what the terrorists actually wanted was:
        -to draw the west and the US in particular into expensive ground wars
        -goad the west into a xenophobic backlash, alienating muslim communities, effectively pushing them towards radical groups
        -sow chaos in the middle east–both through their own actions and indirectly through western intervention–to allow them to seize power and land in the confusion

        Sooooo yes, the terrorists have won. Just not in the way you think.

  3. I’ve been meaning to do something similar ever since the bastards closed the mail slot in my door and put a mail box outside. Running wires is a pain though so I haven’t bothered yet. Why can’t we have magic batteries that never needs charging yet?

    1. How about changing batteries once per year or more? your ESP8266 does not need to be powered up at all until it is triggered. make the trigger latch power on, the ESP connects and sends it’s payload then uses another GPIO to kill it’s own power.

    2. If the mailbox is outside, I would also go the way of solar power. Stick a piece of flexible solar cell on the mailbox. If it has not the perfect orientation you will lose some efficiency, no problem, oversize it reasonable.

  4. I built a similar system for my parents. It is based on a simple wireless doorbell in the mailbox, connected to a switch. No need to handle chargin, weatherproofing and so on! This setup is easy on the batteries.
    In the house the doorbell piezo is covered with tape to make it less loud.

  5. Check out https://hackaday.com/2014/11/07/triple-sensor-mailbox-alert-really-delivers. One sensor is not “spouse friendly”: the mail alarm goes off when the spouse puts outgoing mail in the box. My solution was to have three sensors: one for the door opening, one for the position of the flag (up means the mail in the box is outgoing, not incoming) and a light sensor on the floor of the box to detect if there’s actually something in there.

      1. My brother’s mailbox was down the end of the road, take a left, then another half block. Newer neighborhoods often have mailboxes centralized into a few large stations instead of at every house.

      2. Yep, you should hear me brag about it when it’s snowing or in the fall when the leaves are piled up on it!

        In reality, it’s also 45 feet uphill from the house to the mailbox. It’s just a wonderful experience to get up to the mailbox and find that the mail hasn’t been delivered yet. The dog likes the walk though!

    1. You could use a device like the Particle Electron with 3G connectivity, but there is a monthly cost associated with the account for data. Since you only need a few bytes a day, it is affordable.

      If you are a licensed amateur radio operator, you could use an APRS device and monitor. I made one to monitor the level in a water tank, but the switch could be triggered by anything.

      In our neighborhood there have been a rash of mailbox robberies lately. The question is whether the notification would be quick enough to retrieve mail before it is stolen, or whether the device would also be stolen. At least with the APRS version, it would be possible to find the thief as it reports location as well.

      1. Wouldn’t a directional wifi or bluetooth antenna do this easily?

        Maybe. But not if there are trees between or if the mailbox is on the other side of a ridge. Clear line of sight, yes.

        A 900 MHz transmitter/receiver would also be another option. But 450 feet would be at the limit of most of the legal ones, too, unless it was clear line of sight.

        1. Ya,you’re right, and then you have power issues… Though, what about a laser modulator? Just one of the simple ones that aim a laser pointer at a photo-transistor. Some weather would be an issue, but overall it should work to send a byte or two.

  6. i’ve got a couple android phones i picked up for $10 around christmas time, using one as a wifi-webcam, i can toggle the flash LED on/off remotely, so i’ve been meaning to put one in my grandparents mailbox, but the only thing stopping me is I’m either going to have to run electricity to their mailbox, or find a mailbox-friendly solar panel to keep the phone powered, and that would likely be stolen unless i install it in a tree or something.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s