Sunday, May 3, 2015

Source of electronics woes in my garage discovered

It's been around 4 years that I've been having strange problems with 'homemade' electronics devices in my garage.

It started off when I built a (semi) 'automatic cat door'. My little device allowed our cats to push one button (mounted to the outside of the door) when they want to come in, and another button (mounted on the inside of the door) when they want to go outside.

After I built a working prototype that worked flawlessly 100% of the time in my testing, I moved the circuit to a prefboard, installed everything on the door, and thought I had the project completed - (this is a video on my completed project). However, it didn't take long to notice that it was behaving strangely - it would not respond to button presses sometimes, the servo wanted to keep moving even though it hit a limit switch, the servo would go the wrong way, etc. I would have to power cycle it to get it to work properly again. I was never able to figure out what was wrong with it, but the light shone very recently and now I am confident that I know what the problem was...(don't worry, I'll reveal the problem/solution at the end of this post)

A little later in time I purchased this really cool Internet-connected sprinkler system:
But I had a very similar problem with it not behaving properly...see one of my threads about it:!topic/rayshobby/eeiMdxePBUs
Again, myself or the creator of that device was not able to figure out the problem. So I would have to constantly check on the status and make sure that it was working...when it stopped working I had to power cycle it.

Lastly, I developed an automatic Garage Door Controller. It took months and months of development, and I tested it a lot in my 'lab' (read: my very little bedroom in my house), and it worked wonderfully for months before I took it into the garage to test/install. When I did finally install it in my garage, it was so exciting, and it worked great for a couple weeks. Then I started having strange problems where it wouldn't respond to my commands, wouldn't let me connect to it, etc. I would have to power cycle it once or twice a week to get it back working. I took it back into my lab and tested and it would work for weeks with no problem. I couldn't figure out what was different in my garage and my lab. I spent months trying to figure out what it could be, posting on forums, etc. Recently, however, I figured out!

The suspense is killing you, right? Drum roll please:

Ok, so I don't know which one of the above 2 Insteon devices is the culprit. I had them connected together in my garage, and for the test, I pulled both of them out, and haven't tested 1 at a time yet. However, ever since I pulled them, I haven't had any problems with the sprinkler system or the garage door controller (and if I was a betting type of guy I would bet that if I reinstalled the automatic cat door, that would be working great too). It's been about 3 months now, and things are still looking great.

I plan on trying to isolate which device of the 2 is the culprit, then I will try to get in contact with Smarthome/Insteon and see if they know anything or have any useful information about it. I will report back here if there's anything useful I can share.