Vacation Mode and Temp Warnings

September, 2009

Now that I had a proactive alerting system with the SMS Text feature, I decided to add some other features.

1.  Vacation Mode

Watchdog was not designed as a security system, it was designed as a home automation system.  So, it doesn’t require that you enter a code on a keypad to disable an alarm before entering the house – it is always running.  This works well for my family since we are in and out a lot.  However, we do like to take extended family vacations which means we leave the house unattended for multiple days at a time.  During these vacations, I thought it would be good to have Watchdog perform some security monitoring for us, so I wrote the Vacation Mode feature.

Before I leave on vacation, I just press the “Vacation Mode” button on Watchdog and then walk out the door.  Watchdog begins a 5 minute delay so I can get out of the house.  Once the 5 minute timer expires, I get an automated SMS Text Message confirming Vacation Mode is activated and wishing me a good trip.  If I accidentially left something unlocked/unsecure it warns me about it at this time.

While Vacation Mode is active, I get automated alerts if any door, window, lock, or motion detector is tripped.  It also plays a really loud Klaxon throughout the house warning the intruder that the home owners have been notified and they should leave while they can.  I can optionally call friends/family to investigate or dial into the house and use the many IP cameras to check on the status of the house.

Vacation Mode also gives the house a “lived in” appearance to deter intruders.  I keep remembering the scene in “Home Alone” where the burglars are watching the street and can predict exactly when the timer is going to activate the lights inside the houses of vacationing families.  In order to prevent this, I added a feature that turns on/off the lights at random (but appropriate) times throughout the day.  So on one day, it may turn on the lights at 5:43pm and leave them on until 11:10pm, and the next day, it may vary the on/off schedule by up to 1 hour randomly.  I leveraged the X10 interface to automatically turn on/off the lights.

Returning from vacation is a bit cumbersome because I must trip the alarm and it always freaks my kids out – even when I pre-warn them.  I’m planning to address this in a future feature.  For now, I just trip the alarm, let it yell at me, and then disable Vacation Mode manually.


2.  Temperature Warnings

Monitoring temperatures in multiple rooms in the house has been a key feature of Watchdog from early on.  However, it occurred to me that I wasn’t really taking any action on this information – it was mainly there for reference and historical purposes.  So, I decided to add a feature that allowed the house to proactively notify us when the temperature exceeds a comfort level.

In the summertime, the upstairs rooms can get quite warm if the AC is not running.  If the average upstairs temperature exceeds 85 degrees, Watchdog speaks a warning that is broadcast throughout the house:  “Is it just me, or is it warm in here”.  Similarly, in the winter time, if the average house temperature drops below 65 degrees, Watchdog speaks “Is it just me, or is it cold in here”.  This has been especially helpful when our thermostat was accidentally mis-set.

In the winter, it can get very cold where I live.  In order to keep the house warm, it’s important not to leave the garage door open too long.  So, I wrote a feature that warns if the garage door has been open for for more than 10 minutes while the temperature sensor in the garage reads below 45 degrees.  This gives us time to load in and out of the cars, or check the mail with the garage door open and not have Watchdog give off false alarms.


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