👨‍💻 Wesley Moore

Monitoring My Garage Door With a Raspberry Pi, Rust, and a 13Mb Linux System

·updated

I’ve accidentally left our garage door open a few times. To combat this I built a monitor that sends an alert via Mattermost when the door has been left open for more than 5 minutes. This turned out to be a super fun project. I used parts on hand as much as possible, implemented the monitoring application in Rust, and then built a stripped down Linux image to run it.

Photo of the garage door monitor stuck to the wall. It has wires going to the power supply and reed switch, which is visible on the right of the photo.
What we'll be building in this post. (In reality the reed switch and magnet are better aligned than they appear in the photo)

Overview & Goals

The garage door state is monitored via a reed switch. If the door is left open for more than 5 minutes a message is posted to a Mattermost channel. The monitor has a web server that allows the current state to be viewed (on the local network only). There’s also a JSON endpoint that I use to put the door state in the status bar of my Awesome desktop. An LED on the device flashes to indicate status around once every second. All code and designs are published in a git repo.

Screenshot of the message posted to Mattermost by the garage door monitor. It reads: Garage door has been open for 5 minutes.
Mattermost message posted by the monitor. A notification will be shown on my desktop or mobile if I'm away from my computer.

When I embarked on this project I researched the garage door opener that opens and closes the door. The installation document mentions an “E-Serial port” but it’s listed as an input. I concluded that the opener doesn’t readily expose the door state and proceeded with tracking this myself.

I had a few goals in mind, which shaped the approach:

  1. Notify both my partner and I when the door is left open.
  2. Use parts I had on hand as much as possible.
  3. Minimise upkeep/maintenance of the final result.

For notifications I made use of the Mattermost instance I host. I created a channel called House and then created an incoming webhook locked to that channel. The garage door monitor uses this web hook to post messages.

It was important that the monitor be able to send notifications so that we would be alerted even if we were away from home. For example, if we left in the car but forgot to close the door. Without this requirement it would have been enough to wire an LED directly to the reed switch that could be observed from inside the house.

Making https requests means the monitor needs to be able to access the internet. With the parts I had on hand this meant an Espressif ESP32 or Raspberry Pi Zero W. The ESP32 would be perfect except I prefer to write software in Rust and after some investigation I concluded Rust on ESP32 is still immature, although improving every month.

So Pi Zero it was. The Pi Zero in question is actually the one I used for my e-Paper conference badge in 2019.

Software

The software came together quickly. I used a thread per task approach where there is a dedicated thread for each of:

Acquiring access to the GPIO pins requires elevated privileges, so after that’s done the application drops privileges to a regular user.

All logging is done via syslog to avoid the need to manage an application specific log file. The logging was mainly used during development. The only way to see it is via the serial console.

Web Server

A failure mode of this whole arrangement is that if it stops working for some reason I won’t know unless I observe the status LED. To remedy this I included a web server that allows the status of the device to be checked remotely (on the local network) via a web page.

Screenshots of the web page served by the garage door monitor. The left side shows the closed state with a green dot emoji and the right one shows the open state with a red dot emoji and the text: Opened 1 minute ago.
Screenshots of the web page when the door is closed and open.

I then extended this with a JSON endpoint /door.json:

{
  "state": "Open",
  "secs_since_notified": null,
  "open_for": 9
}

I use the JSON endpoint in my status bar to show the door status:

Screenshot of my status bar showing the garage door state on the far right.
Screenshot of my status bar showing the garage door state on the far right.

Shrinking/​Hardening/​Buildroot

The trouble with using a Raspberry Pi is now I have another computer I have to maintain: apply package updates, upgrade the OS, worry about wearing out the SD card, etc. Raspberry Pi OS was great for getting the project off the ground but I wanted to slim it down so it was running the bare minimum amount of software. I also wanted it to run from RAM so that I didn’t have to worry about the SD card wearing out or file-system corruption from unclean shutdowns.

The aim was to turn the Pi into a glorified microcontroller that I could feel comfortable running for years without needing to worry about applying updates etc. Yes it’s still possible that there is a vulnerability in the limited amount of software it runs but I feel like I’ve reduced the attack surface enough that I can happily let this thing run and it’ll be fine.

I used Buildroot to build a custom Linux file system image. I started with the base Buildroot Raspberry Pi Zero configuration and then trial-and-error disabled kernel features and tested that it still worked. The image started off at about 30Mb and ended up at 13Mb. The smallest microSD card I could get my hands on was 256Mb (thanks Kim), so the aim wasn’t really the smallest image possible, more the most basic kernel configuration that would still run the application.

In the end I disabled a lot of kernel features, including:

The resulting image boots and is interactive in under 5 seconds. The monitoring application itself starts running about 13 seconds after power is applied, as shown in the video below. The time between boot and the application running is taken by bringing up the Wi-Fi connection and syncing the clock.

Power on to status LED blinking in about 13 seconds.

The image runs entirely from the initial RAM disk embedded in the kernel image. The SD card is not even mounted, nor can it be mounted as the kernel lacks the necessary file-system support. The Raspberry Pi bootloader loads the kernel and initial RAM disk into memory from the SD card, then hands over to the kernel.

The final image includes the following:

Since the image lacks ssh, debugging was done over a serial console (which is protected by a password) while I iterated on the Buildroot image.

OpenNTPD and rsdate are used for time keeping. Semi-accurate time is required to make https connections to Mattermost. OpenNTPD removed its functionality for syncing the time at startup and since the Pi Zero lacks a real-time clock it boots up with the time set to the distant past. The delta is greater that OpenNTPD is willing to adjust for so the time remains in the past. To address this I built rsdate, a small Rust tool that sets the system clock to the time retrieved from an ntp server. This is run at boot and afterward OpenNTPD takes care of keeping it in sync.

Buildroot has built-in support for Rust so as part of the building the image it also cross-compiles the monitoring application and rsdate and bakes them into the image.

I ran the image in my study for a couple of weeks occasionally flipping the door state by adding or removing a resistor on a breadboard to help ensure it was working properly.

Hardware

Wiring

The diagram below shows the limited wiring required:

Wiring diagram
Wiring diagram

The pin for reading the reed switch is configured so that if the reed switch is missing or broken then it will be detected as the door being open and an alert eventually sent.

Status LED

Photo of alligator clip holding a piece of solid write in place for soldering between the Raspberry Pi header and LED cathode.
Soldering the LED to the Raspberry Pi header.

The LED periodically blinks to show the state of the device. This allows correct operation to easily be observed in person.

One blink for door closed.
Two blinks for door open.

Installation

Our house came with a security system and there is a camera mounted on the front of the garage. The cable that runs to the camera goes right past where I wanted to put the garage door monitor and it carries 12V DC. To power the Pi from that I bought a UBEC on AliExpress for US$1.94.

The UBEC is a tiny switch-mode power supply intended for powering the receiver and servos in remote control planes, etc. It’s perfect for the Pi too: It’s rated at 3 amps, outputs 5V and can take a broad range of input voltages.

I cut the camera cable and spliced a little connector into it for the BEC to connect to. This turned out to be extremely fiddly and time consuming, requiring three attempts before I got a result I was happy with.

Photo of three exposed wires that have been soldered being held with helping hands.
Splicing the BEC connector into the video camera cable.
Photo of the camera cable completed with heatshrink tubing over the joint
The completed splice with heatshrink tubing over the joint.

The only other part I had to buy for this project was the reed switch. I picked this up from the local Jaycar for about AU$5. I mounted it between a bracket that holds the runner for the garage door and the door itself. The gap was too wide for the reed switch to operate so I designed a spacer in FreeCAD and 3D printed it. It’s a block with 3mm holes and slots in the sides for nuts to slide into. You can view the rendered model on GitHub.

The first revision of the spacer was too tall and the slots for the nuts weren’t quite big enough—I’m still new to 3D modeling and 3D printing. I tweaked the design (yay for parametric modeling) and printed a second version, which worked well.

Photo of the reed switch mounted on it's 3D printed mounting block.
The reed switch mounted on the 3D printed spacer block.

I used super sticky double sided tape to attach everything to the wall and bracket.

Photo of a roll of double sided body mounting tape on a table with mini screwdrivers to the left, a roll of solder above, and a Raspberry Pi Zero with an LED attached to the right.
Mounting tape I had left over from another job around the house.
Photo of reed switch, UBEC, and Raspberry Pi Zero with double sided tape attached.
All taped and ready to stick on.

Before connecting the Pi to power I tested the BEC output and reed switch behaviour with a multimeter. I used washers under the reed switch to fine tune the gap between it and the magnet attached to the garage door to ensure it switched properly. Once all seemed well I connected the Pi and tested that the monitoring, web server, and notifications were working as expected—they were!

Conclusion

This was a fun project as it combined several of my interests: hardware and electronics, software, web dev, and operating systems. I’m pleased with the end result. It’s certainly not the smallest Linux system in the world but definitely a lot smaller than Raspberry Pi OS Lite.

The true test will come if/when I leave the door open and receive a notification, making all this worth it. I’ll post an update if that happens.

All the code, hardware designs, and Buildroot configuration/overlay is available in the git repository if you’re interested.

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