Using my iPhone as a garage door opener

One of my weekend projects a few months ago was making it so I could open the garage door on my house with my iPhone. Here’s how I got it working.

First, a quick demo of the final product. Once I got everything working, using this thing is pretty simply. I launch X10 Commander on my iPhone:

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Then I tap the “ON” button with my finger and after a small lag (1 second?), my garage door…

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…springs open! (or closes).

“Who cares?” you ask… well, having my iPhone to control my garage means:

  • I can be in a car that doesn’t have my garage code programmed into it and open/close my garage (e.g. a friend’s car)
  • I can go out for a walk or a run, close the garage door behind me and open it again when I get back home
  • Generally speaking, it’s one less box to worry about when I go out
  • I can open and close my garage door from my iPhone… just for the sheer pleasure of the act
  • And of course, I have a cool thing to show friends when they come over. :-)

 

So how does this all work?  Pay attention because it’s a somewhat long-winded chain of events that makes X10 Commander control my garage door (almost a Rube Goldberg machine!):

1. I have the X10 Commander iPhone App installed on my iPhone (link, $9.99):

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2. It talks, over my home wi-fi network (a pair of D-Link DIR-655s setup as access points), to the X10 Commander “Server” software I have running on an always-on Windows XP PC upstairs in my home office:

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3. The X10 Commander Server software talks to an USB to RF X10 interface (the X10 CM19A)dongle on the same Windows XP PC:

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4. That dongle on my computer talks to an RF to X10 interface device (the X10 TM751) plugged into a nearby power outlet:

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5. Now we move downstairs to the garage where I have an X10 controller for low-voltage devices (an X10 PUM01) plugged into another home power outlet:

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6. And the terminals on the X10 low-voltage control device are spliced into the control wires for the garage door opener:

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7. And the control wires are, obviously, connected to the garage door opener which opens my garage:

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And that’s it!

It’s all run pretty reliably for a couple of months now and never fails to impress.  Surprisingly the most fragile piece has NOT been the Windows XP PC (would have been my first guess), but the  TM751 (step 4 above).  Because it’s connected to a childproofed power outlet and it’s at the entrance to my home office, if it’s ever brushed by a passing child, a the cuff of my pant, or a projectile toy, it easily loses contact.  But even this hasn’t been a big deal — I can only remember one occasion where the whole thing hasn’t worked since I set it up.

Another tip: A lot of the X10 stuff can be found on eBay and elsewhere online at pretty low prices.  The $$$ savings are nice and I personally make an effort to avoid buying anything from X10.com thanks to their <BLINK>WOW!! DO WE HAVE A DEAL FOR YOU!!</BLINK> style of website design and ecommerce tactics (not to mention that almost every page on their site starts a video with audio and then there are the bikini-clad women being spied on and… sigh, I should just stop. Please tell me you won’t spend any of your money at X10.com?).

12 thoughts on “Using my iPhone as a garage door opener

  1. matt

    Very cool, but doesn’t that mean that someone could also open your door simply with an X10 RF remote set to A3?

  2. Bigrinner

    Matt has a point, but the odds of that are too slim to really worry about. It would be an inside job if that were ever to happen. oops, you just let the entire interweb inside. I still wouldn’t sweat it.
    Cool to see it working for you!!!

  3. rakesh Post author

    The RF interface is far enough away from the driveway, sidewalk, etc, but you still make a good point Matt. That range could be overcome with a more powerful transmitter. So I’ve changed all the codes, but this is still not a terribly secure solution. Back to the drawing board I guess to come up with something more secure!

  4. Lasrin

    If you place foil over the receiver (the module connected to the garage door opener) leaving the direction towards the computer open, you will block signals from other directions, thus limit who can open the garage door. Though, you could use an arduino with xbee to do this, and with a higher level of security.

  5. Teocady

    My garage door would be opening all day. Recently, something must be kicking out line noise that causes my X10 lights to randomly turn on. (Unplugged all my wireless receivers…and then everything else in the house… the lights only come on and never off… sometimes only one, sometimes all…tried different codes, etc.)

  6. rakesh Post author

    Teocady: Something similar happens for me from time to time. Below the wall-mounted garage control that I have (the one that I’ve spliced the wires to), I have a light switch that turns a fluorescent light inside the garage on and off. Sometimes, when I flip that switch on or off, it triggers an open or close of the garage and at the same time something clicks on the X10 PUM01. I haven’t spent enough time trying to figure it out though… But this only happens once a month or so.

  7. Darrick

    Teocady, did you install some CFL bulbs? Not all of them are X10 friendly and they will put out a bunch of noise when turned off.

  8. Teocady

    Eventually I gave up – I keep those lights physically switched off (they were X10 in-wall lightswitches). On the CFL theory, I found I could get the on-signal in broad daylight when nothing else was going on in the house. The lights might turn on once a day, or they might come on a number of times an hour. It kind of started when new neighbors moved in next door, hence the unsuccessful attempts at changing codes. But I’ve had enough trouble with the signal getting where I want in my own house that I can’t fathom a signal making it over from the neighbor’s. I’ve been thinking about Z-Wave, but my desire for automation isn’t outweighing the cost of investing in something else.

  9. nimoh

    Great write up, thanks for sharing.

    Also, the TM751 could be plugged in to your PC directly via USB, and then set to not respond to wireless signals on a certain house code. Then, set your garage up on that ‘not wireless’ house code and your iPhone could still be used to open your door, but the door couldn’t be opened by anyone guessing the house/device code and using a wireless transmitter.

  10. Anonymous

    But do you need this? Aren’t you feeling guilty about all of this extra stuff that you’re using (i.e. electronics, energy, time) for something that could be done manually and only take about 2 seconds longer?

  11. Pingback: Using my iPhone as a garage door opener Rakesh Agrawal Blog | Wood TV Stand

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