Garage Door Monitor

Sep 2, 2012 • alan

How many times have I gone outside in the morning, only to find that I had left my garage door open all night? Too many. I hate that uneasy feeling that I have just invited thieves into the garage for some easy pickin’s (truth be told, I’d be happy if they took some of that junk, but still).

For a long time, I had thought of rigging up a light upstairs that would come on whenever the garage door was open. That way, at night, it would be pretty obvious that I had left the door open. But I let that idea sit dormant for a long time.

Then I read an article in Make magazine (“12,000-Mile Universal Remote“, issue 30, page 66). In it, the author built a board called an “XBee Pulse I/O” that watched a door sensor, tapped the opener’s switch, and communicated with an XBee internet gateway. These talked to a cloud service called iDigi. This was not exactly what I wanted to do, but it pushed me in the direction I needed.

I decided that I wanted to build an Arduino board that would monitor my garage door. I wanted it to communicate with my home Linux server, “Bender”, which I consider to be sort of a digital butler, keeping track of stuff around the house and reminding me of stuff that I need to know.


For the next few weeks, I pondered how I would hook the Arduino board in the garage to Bender, which lives in the bonus room over the garage. I was not too fond of the idea of running a wire, even though the distance is very short. I scoured the internet for ZigBee boards, but soon decided that these were very pricey for what they did.

Inside the garage, I would need an “XBee” ZigBee radio module, which costs about $24~$40. But I would also need a controller board for another $10. This controller board acts as a front-end, providing a simple serial port to my project, and taking care of all of the ZigBee protocol stuff.

Then, on Bender’s end, I would need a similar XBee module ($24) and a USB adaptor ($20).

That’s a total of $78~$110, just for the wireless link!

Surely, dropping a Ben Franklin down for a home project is not such a big deal. But I was concerned that as my project grew, I might be adding many wireless links to it. And at $50 a pop, I figured it would be worthwhile to broaden my search a bit.


I worked for Ericsson from 1998 until 2003, when they were first developing the Bluetooth standard. I remember reading presentations about the technology before they had come up with the Bluetooth name… internally they referred to it as “MC Link”, and occasionally, (my favorite) “wireless wire”! I knew that the goal for Bluetooth was to make these communication chips so low-power and so cheap that every device would include one… WORLD DOMINATION!

With that in mind, I wondered whether there were simple Bluetooth serial communication boards that would work with an Arduino. I found one, called the “BT2S” from Virtuabotix. It was only $15, and it looked pretty easy to use. AND… I would only need ONE on the garage monitor side, because I could use Bender’s existing Bluetooth interface!

I ordered two BT2S sticks from Virtuabotix. Later, I found another source for almost-identical boards. DealExtreme has the JY-MCU Arduino Bluetooth Wireless Serial Port Module for $8.60! (Be careful not to get the TTL version that looks very similar).


I am not too fond of crawling up a ladder to reprogram my Arduino in my garage, so I decided to make the Arduino end of this project as simple and generic as possible.

The BT2S module plugs in to the Arduino’s serial port, and the program on the Arduino simply listens for serial commands and responds. I decided to implement three commands: read digital, write digital and read analog. That way, nothing would be hard-coded into the Arduino. Instead, all of the smarts would be in the client program that runs on Bender.


Reed switch.

I plugged in a magnetic reed switch to one of the digital inputs, and an LED to a digital output. While I was at it, I put a light sensor on one of the analog inputs.

Then I hung it up on the garage door frame. I stuck a very strong hard drive magnet on the door so it would be close to the reed switch whenever the door was open.


Door, magnet, reed switch.

Bender is a Linux machine, and so I needed a Linux-based program that would open a Bluetooth serial connection to the Arduino and then send serial commands to it. I needed a mixture of shell commands to configure the Bluetooth connection and low-level communication to the serial port. So I chose Python.

Bluetooth is a complex protocol that supports a lot of different uses: real-time audio, serial communication, keyboard/mouse, dial-up networking, and more. We’re using a simple serial link, which they call “rfcomm”. In Linux, we establish the serial link using the rfcomm command. It makes a Bluetooth connection to the device and creates a serial port device named /dev/rfcomm0.

Once we have created a serial device, the python program simply reads and writes to that device just like any other file. I structured my program as a big loop with timers. Every so-many seconds, it sends a command to read the magnetic reed switch. It also sends commands to blink the LED, so I can tell from the garage that the python program is still running. When the reed switch response comes back, it writes the door status to a file. If I put that file in an area that is shared via my web server (/var/www/ or $HOME/public_html/), I can check on my door from any browser.

If the door state has changed since the last time it was read, the python program sends a push notification (like a text message) to my phone. This is another idea that I stole from the same issue of Make magazine (“You’ve Got (Snail) Mail“, page 76). This uses an iPhone app called “Prowl” and a web service that goes along with it.


Sure, it’s cool to hear my phone “bling” when someone opens the door at home. But my original motivation was to be warned when I had left the door open.

Fortunately, that’s an easy job. I wrote a simple “cron” job that reads that status file at certain times of day (or night). If the door is open, it sends me another push notification saying “hey dummy, your garage door is still open!”.

Breadboard, with “Boarduino” and BT2S, sensors and LEDs


Source code and other resources can be found on github.