AAA Powered LoRa Mailbox Sensor Goes The Distance

As more of the world’s communication moves into the electronic realm, a casualty has come in the physical mail. Where once each new day might have brought with it a bulging mailbox, today it’s not uncommon for days to pass with not even so much as a bill or a coupon book. For [Eivholt] this presents a problem: he doesn’t want to miss a parcel but most visits to the mailbox are futile. His solution is a LoRa-connected mailbox monitor that sips power from a pair of AAA batteries to the extent that so far it’s run for over two years on a single set.

At its heart is a single board, a Talk2 Whisper Node. This packs a low-power version of the ATmega328 microcontroller alongside a LoRa radio and an efficient power regulator allowing it to draw only 8.70 uA in standby mode, waking up only for extremely short periods to check for mail and report via LoRa to The Things Network. The sensor is simply a microswitch, selected after finding a reed switch problematic to install. Finally an SDR was used to debug the operation of the radio.

The write-up also provides an introduction to extreme low power projects, including some tips on measuring such tiny currents. Even if you have no interest in a mailbox, any tricks that can help maximize power efficiency are always worth taking a look at. Check out the video after the break to see this radio-equipped mailbox in action.

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A Battery Sipping Cellular Mailbox Notifier

Like many of us, [Zak Kemble] has an indeterminate number of tiny packages coming his way from all over the globe at any given time. Unfortunately, the somewhat unpredictable nature of the postal service where he lives meant he found himself making a lot of wasted trips out to the mailbox to see if any overseas treasures had arrived for him. To solve the problem, he decided to build an Internet-connected mailbox notification system that could work within some fairly specific parameters.

For one thing, the mailbox is too distant to connect directly to it over WiFi. [Zak] mentions that 433 MHz might have been an option, but he decided to skip that entirely and just connect it to the cellular network with an A9G GPRS/GSM module from A.I. Thinker. This device actually has its own SDK that allows you to create a custom firmware for it, but unfortunately the high energy consumption of the radio meant it would chew through batteries too quickly unless it had a little extra help.

Not wanting to have to change the batteries every couple months, [Zak] added a ATtiny402 to handle the notifier’s power management needs. By using a P-MOSFET to completely cut power to the A9G, the notifier can save an incredible amount of energy by only activating the cellular connection once it actually needs to send a notification; which in this case takes the form of an HTTP request that eventually works its way to a Telegram group chat.

To cut a long story short, testing seems to indicate that the notifier can fire off approximately 800 requests before needing its 10440 lithium battery recharged. Given how often [Zak] usually receives mail, he says that should last him around five years.

The A9G module, the ATtiny402, a BME280 environmental sensor (because, why not?), the battery, and all the ancillary support hardware are on a very professional looking PCB. That goes into a relatively rugged enclosure that’s designed to keep the electronics from shorting out on the mailbox’s metal case as well as keeping any particularly weighty parcels from crushing it.

If you’ve got the freedom so mount whatever you want outside, then you can certainly build a more technically impressive mailbox. But considering the limitations [Zak] had to work around, we think he did an excellent job.

3D Printed Key Saves The Day

When [Odin917’s] parents went away on vacation, they took the apartment mailbox key with them. With the mail quickly piling up in the mailbox, he needed to get in there. He could have had the building super replace the lock, for a fee of course. Instead he had his parents email a photo of the key, which he used to 3D print his own copy.

Using a photograph as a template for a 3D printed copy is nothing new. We’ve covered it in-depth right here. However, this is the first time we’ve seen the technique put to use for good – in this case avoiding a hefty lock replacement fee.

He did his modeling in Autodesk’s free Fusion 360 CAD software. He then printed it out, and the box didn’t open. It took three revisions before the perfect key popped out of the printer. This particular mailbox uses a 4 pin tumbler, which makes it a bit less forgiving than other mailbox locks we’ve seen.

Admittedly this isn’t [Odin917’s] first time working with locks. Back in 2013, he submitted a parametric bump key model to Thingiverse.

Picking locks isn’t just for getting the mail. Locksport is a popular pastime for hardware hackers.

Over-Engineered Mailbox Flag Machined Using Under-Engineered Mini-Lathe

[Tim Nummy] used his cheap, Chinese, bench mini-lathe to make a non-terrible mailbox flag holder (YouTube video, embedded below). Tim posts videos on his channel about garage hobby projects, many of which are built using his mini-lathe, often based on suggestions from his followers. One such suggestion was to do something about his terrible mailbox flag – we’re guessing he receives a lot of old-school fan mail.

He starts off by planning the build around 1 ¼ inch aluminum bar stock, a 688 bearing, three neodymium magnets and some screws. The rest of it is a “think and plan as you go along” project, but essentially, the new holder is in three pieces. An inner piece goes inside the mail box and holds the assembly to the mail box. The middle piece holds the two magnets which act as end-stops or limits for the flags raised and lowered positions. The final, outer piece holds the flag itself, and the bearing which allows it to rotate freely.

This part also has the third magnet embedded in it to work with the other two magnets for the limits. The use of magnets is cool, but a ball catch with two detents would have worked just as well. It’s a great simple project to follow for those who want to wet their feet on lathe work. [Tim] has also posted links to all of the tools and equipment seen in the video, so check that out if anything catches your fancy.

But workshop veterans will almost certainly cringe at several places along the video. The main one that caught our eye is obviously the shaky lathe itself. It could do with a heavier workbench, proper leveling, foundation bolts or anti-vibration mounts. And from the looks of it, the tail stock isn’t any rock steady too. Although the lathe is variable speed, the chuck rpm is set too high for aluminum, and the lack of cutting fluid makes it even more troublesome. Using oil, or even some cutting fluid, while tapping would have been wise too.

We’re not sure if it’s the shaky foundation or poor feed control, but the step cut for mounting the bearing is over-sized by a whole lot more and requires a big goop of retaining compound to glue the bearing in place. But the end result works quite well, including the magnetic catches – a complex solution for a simple problem.

We’re sure our keen-eyed readers will likely spot some more issues in [Tim]’s methods, so go at it in the comments below, but please make sure to rein in the snark and keep your feedback positive.

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Waiting For A Letter? This IoT Mailbox Will Tell You Exactly When It Arrives.

If you’re waiting for a much sought-after letter, checking your mailbox every five minutes can be a roller-coaster of emotion — not to mention time-consuming. If you fall into this trap, Hackaday.io user [CuriosityGym] as whipped up a mailbox that will send off an email once the snail-mail arrives.

The project uses an Arduino Uno, an ESP 8266 wifi module, and an idIoTware shield board — making specific use of its RGB LED and light dependent resistor(LDR). Configuring the RGB LED on the idIoTware board to a steady white light sets the baseline for the LDR, and when a letter is dropped in the box, the change in brightness is registered by the LDR, triggering the Arduino to send off the email.

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Avoiding Exercise With An ESP8266 And Blynk

[Mike Diamond] was tired of climbing down (and back up) 40 stairs to check his mailbox. He decided to create a mailbox alert using the ESP8266 to connect to his WiFi. The idea was simple: have the ESP8266 monitor when the mailbox flap opened using a magnet and a reed switch. As always, though, the devil is in the details. [Mike] got things working with a little help and shares not only the finished design but how he got there.

To handle the sending of e-mail, [Mike] used the Blynk app. You often think of Blynk as a way to build user interfaces on an Android or iOS device that can control an Arduino. In this case, though, [Mike] used the library with the ESP8266 and had it send e-mail on his behalf.

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Building A Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

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