Category Archives: Home automation

Home Automation with Raspberry Pi – Garage Door

I hate keys. And even though I hate not having keys when I need them even more I still think keys are annoying. I keep forgetting or losing them. In some cases, they make life harder than it needs to be. For example, I bike to work almost every day from early spring to late fall and I should not even have to think about keys and door since I just need to open the garage door, take/park my bike and close the garage door. Currently what I need to do is to make a couple trips around the house to open/unlock doors and then close/lock everything I opened/unlocked. I tried using my kids to do all of this for me but they simply started to avoid seeing me in the morning and even if I caught them they kept forgetting to do what I asked. Yes, I could carry a remote with me. I actually did for a while but it was even worse than carrying the key – it’s bigger, it’s another thing to remember about and the last one got some rust within a year or so and stopped working completely. There is, however, one thing I carry with me almost always – my cell phone. If I could open my garage from my cell phone (almost) all my problems would be solved. As a bonus my kids wouldn’t be afraid of leaving their rooms before I leave for work. Yes, I know there are already some garage openers on the market that can be controlled with cell phones so one way to go would be just to replace my garage opener with one like that. I don’t like, however, throwing away things that work. Replacing the garage opener would also cost at least a few hundred bucks even if I did all the work myself. Another thing is that I am currently using a Windows Phone (hey, an unlocked Nokia Lumia 640 was like $30 + tax – this deal was hard to beat for a cheapo like me) and given Windows Phone’s market share I don’t expect any garage opener to have an app for that. Finally, hacking something myself is much more fun then using a ready made solution.

Enough talking, let’s get started. What you need for this project is a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian and a remote that matches your garage opener. If you don’t have a spare remote you can buy a generic one on eBay or Amazon. (I had a remote with a broken button so it was useless in general but perfect for this project since we need to short-circuit the button anyways). The idea is to connect the remote to the Raspberry Pi via GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) and then write a web application that could be used to control the remote. Whenever you are on your home network you will be able to access this web application (e.g. from your phone) and open or close the garage door. Heck, if you have friends who you trust and allow on your network they will be able to open your garage door to (this obviously has pros and cons). This might sound complicated but it is really not that hard.

GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output)

The first thing you need to be familiar with is GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output). If you have never heard about GPIO these are the 26 pins on your Raspberry Pi. You can find out more on GPIO from this tutorial.

Hardware

Preparing the hardware requires a bit of soldering. Don’t be afraid – it is so basic that even I could do that! The first thing to take care of is the button you press to open or close the garage door. Because we are going to control the remote from Raspberry Pi we need to short-circuit the button otherwise it will prevent the current from flowing and nothing will work. We also need to solder jumper wires which we will connect to GPIO. Note – GPIO pins are 3.3V and my garage opener used a 3.3V battery so I soldered the wires directly to the battery socket. This is what I ended up with :

Connecting remote to Raspberry PI

The important thing before connecting anything is to know what version of Raspberry PI you have because the layout of GPIO pins vary between models and revisions. In this project I used pin 7 (GPIO4) because it seems to be the same in most/all of the models and revisions. I would recommend however double checking your Raspberry Pi before wiring things up (if you decide to use a different pin you will have to update the script that controls GPIO).  Now, you just need to connect the ‘hot’ wire to pin 7 (GPIO 4) and the other wire to GND (e.g. pin 6). This is how things look like after I put them together:

Connected

Hint – for testing instead of connecting the remote you can connect just a LED. This way you can quickly test if things work without leaving your neighbors wondering why the hell your garage door opens 10 times in a minute. The GPIO tutorial shows how to do this and here is what I used for testing:

LED

Software

With hardware ready we can now take care of software. We want to be able to control GPIO from a web server. The problem is that you need root permissions to access GPIO and granting root permissions to a webserver is generally a bad idea. Fortunately, there is the pigpio library which allows to control GPIO. pigpio contains a utility – pigpiod – that launches pigpio as a daemon and enables talking to pigpio using sockets or the pipe. You talk to the pigpio library by sending pigpio messages. The list of available messages with descriptions can be found here. One very useful thing is that when pipgpiod is running you can send messages directly from command line by writing to /dev/pigpio – e.g. echo "w 4 1" > /dev/pigpio sets GPIO4 to high (w – write, 4 – GPIO4, 1 – high) – we will use this command in out script.

Thanks to pigpiod the webserver no longer needs to have root permissions to control GPIO.

I chose lighttp as my webserver. Installing and configuring it is not hard and there are quite a few tutorials on the internet showing how to set it up. Once you have a webserver up and running you only need a script that will handle user requests and send messages to pigpiod. I wrote the script in Python so you will need to install Python on your Raspberry Pi if you have not done it yet.

If you have never configured a daemon (like me – I just used the init script template I found here and adapted it) or written anything in Python (like me – but it’s like 7 lines of code) fear not. All the code is ready. Just clone my repo (or even copy files) from https://github.com/moozzyk/GarageDoor and follow steps below:

  1. Install pigpio
  2. Configure pigpiod (pigpio daemon)
    • copy the pigpiod script from the GarageDoor/scripts/init.d folder to /etc/init.d/. You must be root to do this. If you are in the GarageDoor repo root run:
      sudo cp scripts/init.d/pigpiod /etc/init.d/
    • Make sure the pigpiodscript you copied has execute permissions. If it does not you need to chmod +x it. Again, you have to have root permissions to do that:
      sudo chmod +x /etc/init.d/pigpiod
    • Start pigpiod daemon with:
      service pigpiod start
      (You can stop the service with service pigpiod stop or check the status with service pigpiod status)
    • If you have a test setup with LED you can now easily check if things work – set GPIO4 to high by running
      echo "w 4 1" > /dev/pigpio
      The LED should light up. To turn off the LED execute
      echo "w 4 0" > /dev/pigpio
    • Configure the daemon to start on boot:
      sudo update-rc.d pigpiod defaults
  3. Configure lighttp to execute python scripts (if you are not running lighttp configure your webserver accordingly). In /etc/lighttpd.config:
    • In the server.modules section uncomment or add "mod_cgi" e.g.:
      server.modules = (
              "mod_simple_vhost",
              "mod_evhost",
              "mod_userdir",
              "mod_cgi",
              "mod_compress"
      )
    • In the cgi.assignsection add a mapping for .pyfiles:
      cgi.assign = (
              ".py" => "/usr/bin/python"
      )
  4. Prepare and run the application
    • copy the garage.py file from GarageDoor/Script/web to /var/www (or wherever your application root is)
    • Navigate to the application using a browser – you should see something like this:
      wp_ss_20160522_0002
    • Now if everything is set up correctly your garage door should open/close if you click the open/close button

Points of interests

Currently the application lets everyone who is on the home network play with your garage door. This may not be desirable. One improvement to make would be to authorize people before they can open or close the door. Another useful thing would be to log when the garage door is opened and closed. Finally, configuring the webserver to use https would be useful as well.

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