I’m Sensing Some Progress – Erin Simons

As we enter the third month of working on our project, I believe that the Trailer Automation team (we really need a better name) is well on our way to having a working prototype in time for the Make-o-Rama at the end of April. Most of the components we need to build our system have come in, and we’ve been able to begin testing while we wait for other parts like a gas sensor, Ethernet shield, and another Arduino board to arrive.

Our current trio: the light, motion, and sound sensors all hooked up to an Arduino Uno board. (Original photo)
Our current trio: the light, motion, and sound sensors all hooked up to an Arduino Uno board. (Original photo)

So far this project has taught me two things: (1) most people creating home automation systems have degrees in computer science and/or electrical engineering and (2) the Internet is a beautiful thing. I’ve learned more on my own in these past three weeks than I think most computer science students learn in a semester. Chloe, Annalise and I recently discovered that our project involves more than just programming some sensors and sticking them in our trailer, and that the Instructuable we’ve been using to guide us isn’t as helpful and detailed as we previously thought. While this is stressful in that it means we’re navigating the sea of computer programming and automation systems largely on our own, it’s also (forcing) allowing us to become a lot more knowledgeable about the details of our project.

To help us keep all of these dizzying concepts and various components straight, I made this diagram showing an outline of our trailer automation system. (Original screenshot)
To help us keep all of these dizzying concepts and various components straight, I made this diagram showing an outline of our trailer automation system. (Original screenshot)

We are nowhere close to being as experienced and educated as the other people building wireless and Ethernet gateways with Arduino Uno boards, but this is why the World Wide Web is our saving grace: the people that are experts with Arduino, OpenHAB and home automation systems are all online. Resources like GitHub, SparkFun, Stack Overflow and independent Arduino wikis (like this one) have become our new best friends. They’ve helped us understand how components like proto shields and RFM wireless transceivers work, as well as the purposes of programs like OpenHAB and I2C. While all of this new information can be overwhelming, we’re trying to take a few steps at a time and not get too worried about all of the technical aspects.

And little by little, we’re making progress. Currently we’re able to operate a motion and a light sensor at the same time (our end goal is to have all five sensors running at once), and just last class we finally got the sound sensor to detect changes in noise. Some days are frustrating, and ninety minutes of trial and error gets us nowhere. But other days, our troubleshooting pays off and with one slight change we have another working sensor (this point was made painfully obvious last class when two class periods of a nonresponsive sound sensor was remedied by correctly connecting power and ground).

Caption: Oooh, aaah… with all these wires and pins and sensors, how could anything go wrong? (Original picture)
Oooh, aaah… with all these wires and pins and sensors, how could anything go wrong? (Original photo)

We still have the temperature/humidity and the gas sensors to test and program, but it’s my hope that all of the trial and error we’re experiencing now will make it easier for us as we move forward with our project. It’s kind of daunting to think that over half of our time to work on this project is already gone, I’m but optimistic that we’re progressing faster now than at the beginning of the semester, when we were feeling slightly suffocated by the scale and level of this project. Equipped with a toolbox of online forums, YouTube videos and breadboard wires, I’ve realized that even stressful projects like programming sensors that wirelessly sync with smart phones can be done if you don’t let the intricacy of the project scare you senseless.

One thought on “I’m Sensing Some Progress – Erin Simons

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  1. Watching the Trailer Automation team these past few weeks using bread boards made me picture myself as a young junior in digital electronics, struggling to figure out why my light bulb failed to illuminate. Those days were not the highlight of my life, but watching you learn from simple instructions and the all powerful internet has given me hope that maybe one day I could master the art of coding and bread boarding. I’m very impressed with the progress y’all have made since the last blog post I have read that Erin posted. I also can relate to your feelings of anxiety due to the time limit, but I also have high hopes for you in finishing the programming and testing of temperature/humidity and the gas sensors. I also would like to share with you, from personal experience with coding, that the trial and error phase does help things in the future move along quicker. When I was working at an internship at NASCENT (nanotechnology research), I learned Matlab coding and while trying to code a certain wafer chuck, I ran into a lot of problems. After troubleshooting the first few problems, it became much easier to locate the problem with ease and make a quick fix. I would also like to share that the help bar is a gift from God, and like you all have experienced, the internet saves lives. I’m truly amazed what y’all have learned in a couple months! I would trust you all to make a fine and functional automation system for my future home. Good luck with your future endeavors!-Sara Espinosa

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