From Smart Phones to Smart Homes… and by Home I Mean Trailer –Erin Simons

Did you leave the light on at home? Is the coffeemaker still going? Is someone walking through the door to your house right this very second, moments away from stealing your most prized possessions?

We hope not. But just in case, Chloe, Annalise and I have set out to program and install a home automation system in our school’s Airstream trailer. Following some recent break-ins, Ms. Jo became concerned that the trailer wasn’t safe enough. So using an Instructable, Adafruit sensors, Arduino software, and an Intel Galileo board, we are programming sensors that will monitor light, sound, motion, gas, temperature and humidity in the trailer. The sensors will then feed the data to a mobile app, allowing Ms. Jo to monitor the trailer from her iPhone. Chloe, Annalise, and I were each on different DAP engineering teams in tenth grade, but we never got to actually renovate a trailer, so we saw this project as the perfect opportunity to gain some hands-on engineering experience that we missed out on two years ago.

When we first began this project I was nervous that we were in over our heads and wouldn’t be able to write the code, program the sensors, and connect them to an app in less than four months. Surprisingly, however, we seem to be ahead of schedule. We’ve taken inventory of the items we currently have and placed orders for things we still need. I interned at Intel last May, so we already have an Intel Galileo board, LED lights, wires, and some resistors, and we’re borrowing an Arduino Uno board and a breadboard from the school.

Some of the components I got to keep from my internship with Intel last May (original photo).
Some of the components I got to keep from my internship with Intel last May (original photo).

While we wait for our sensors to arrive we’ve been working on the placement of the sensors around the trailer as well as writing the code. We decided to purchase two light sensors so there can be one attached to each lamp, allowing Ms. Jo to tell if either of the lights is on. We will also have two temperature/sensors- one near the coffee maker, microwave, and A/C unit at one end of the trailer, and another near the fan at the opposite end. We’ll fasten a motion sensor to the door and a place gas sensor in the center of the trailer which will sound an alarm upon the detection of any LGP, i-butane, propane, methane, hydrogen, or smoke. Finally, we will have three sound sensors, one on each side of the trailer by the wide windows, and a third near the smaller, middle windows beside the AC unit.  This would let the owner know if someone broke a trailer window or is talking or making other noise.

I’m personally in charge of the code for the photoresistor (light sensor) and the temperature/humidity sensor, and I was able to find code for both of them on the Adafruit website that only required a few modifications. I was unsure how difficult it would be for me to code the sensors having never taken a computer science class, but I tried to keep a positive attitude amidst all the error messages. In addition to trial and error, I found solutions to many of my coding problems with the help of the Adafruit Learning System, the Arduino Playground, forums like, and a book from my internship titled Getting Started with Intel Galileo (which has a Arduino code glossary at the back). The real challenge will come once we connect the sensors to the microcontroller and have to adapt the code to the trailer’s environment (so that the sound sensor detects the sound of window glass breaking, and the light sensor knows how bright the lamp is when turned on). But after proving to myself that I’m capable of coding and problem-solving, I’m confident that as long as I remain optimistic, my team and I can successfully automate the trailer.

Part of the code I debugged for the temperature/humidity sensor (original screenshot).
Part of the code I debugged for the temperature/humidity sensor (original screenshot).

I’m really excited about this project because I’ve always wanted to learn how to code, but every year scheduling issues have prevented me from taking computer science at school. This project is also more problem-solving and engineering-based than our fall semester project, and while I thought JetSet did an excellent job prototyping our airplane comfort device, I’m more excited about programming sensors with code than combating deep vein thrombosis. We’re only a month into this project, but I’ve already learned so much about coding, sensor nodes, open source software like Arduino, and other technologies that I never imagined I’d be familiar with before college. I’m no longer worried about our ability to complete our project and can’t wait to see what our end product will look like- I sense that it will be great!

3 thoughts on “From Smart Phones to Smart Homes… and by Home I Mean Trailer –Erin Simons

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  1. First of all, great pun! 🙂 I’m really excited about your project. Being someone who had no desire to ever renovate a trailer, I was surprised at how interesting and cool this project is; there is a demonstrated need and this post proved that your team is more than capable of actually producing a solution, unlike the first semester projects we were working on.

    Like you, my schedule hasn’t worked out for me to take Computer Science, so I’m glad to hear that you’re finding free resources like Arduino and Adafruit to help you learn how to code (I’m using Codecademy to code for websites, so I’m learning it for a different purpose, but similarly I think it’s awesome we’re learning so much before college!).

    It’s also smart the way you’ve assigned each sensor to a team member so you can really focus on the programming and testing of one at a time. I can’t wait to see how they come out!

    –Karrie Newton

  2. After reading the first couple of paragraphs and understanding what you were seeking out to accomplish, I felt a little nervous for you. Just seeing the word programming sets off an alarm in my head, because like you, I have little background with any form of coding. Programing and installing a home automation system in the Airstream seems like a big task, but very necessary, especially after hearing the tales of people breaking in to sleep over a night or two. From your explanation it seems like making an alarm system can be done in a more simple way than what would be expected. Seeing as how you’ve split it up, the task seems completely doable. Questions have begun to pop up into my head, further pondering the complexity of the systems that we see in our everyday life such as at home, at school, and in offices.
    For my Capstone project I am being introduced to the world of coding, so if you fall in love with the tedious, yet often user friendly task, I would suggest trying out C++ coding on Xcode. If you are interested in exploring more I would point you to the direction of watching a few of the videos that are located at the link below.
    I think the coolest part of this entire project will be seeing all your hard work come together and actually putting this system to use. Maybe one day it will stop a robber or save a life thanks to the nifty alarms. One thing I enjoy about your overall project is how useful it will be. I know often we are faced with many projects that increase our knowledge, yet has an end product that has no application. This project however is well rounded, with plenty of learning and will leave a lasting effect.
    -Sara Espinosa

  3. Erin you’re so funny! But in all seriousness, I’m actually really interested in your project! My CapStone project has a lot to do with coding so I have an idea of what you and your group will be doing. I personally am not a fan of coding, but I think it’s really awesome that you’re interested in it. Your interest in the subject should make completing this project easier since it won’t be seen as unnecessary work, more like fun times coding and programming!
    I believe that you all will be able to get this project completed in the time allowed. Splitting up the coding tasks will definitely allow you guys to get more done. And by each of you focusing specifically on something it makes each of you sort of like an expert in the area. I think if you guys can get this up and running for the trailer, it’s worth a shot to see if you could take it even further. This idea is something that could possibly be used in areas outside of just our school. Keep up the hard work Erin Simons & team!!
    – Alexys Garza

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