ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

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ThomasB
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ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#1 Post by ThomasB » 07 Aug 2018, 22:51

Our postal mail box is far from our house. Often I make the walk of shame: find no mail, return again later. It's a big nuisance when the weather is bad. I'm thinking about creating a remote alert using ESPEasy and RFM95 LoRa modules.

The overall concept would involve a battery powered 3.3V Arduino Pro mini (modified for micro-current standby) and RFM95 at the mailbox. It would send the mail alert to a wall powered ESP8266/ESPEasy/RFM95. Then MQTT it to my home automation system and Alexa Echo would tell me the mail arrived. I'm not the first to do this sort of thing, but in my case I would like to incorporate ESPEasy just to make it more interesting.

There were some past discussions about creating a LoRa plugin. But there was limited interest and it appears that it never happened. By chance has anyone completed the LoRa plugin for their personal use and are willing to share it?

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#2 Post by TD-er » 07 Aug 2018, 23:21

How long is your driveway to cover?
And if it is that long, your neighbours are probably far enough that nobody can see your 'walk of shame' ;)

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#3 Post by ThomasB » 07 Aug 2018, 23:32

I wish our postal box was at the end of a long driveway. Instead it's down the street and around a bend. Everyone has to watch me kick rocks when I return empty handed. So for their sake I need a LoRa plugin.

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#4 Post by TD-er » 08 Aug 2018, 19:14

My distance question was more about 'maybe there are other options than lora'.
For lora you also need to have some kind of gateway.

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#5 Post by ThomasB » 08 Aug 2018, 19:42

The distance is too far for reliable WiFi or those little 433MHz remote keyfob type solutions. LoRA's long range capabilities would do it with ease.

LoRa can be used in a point-to-point mode that does not require a gateway or support from any other infrastructure. Its long range and flexibility is what attracted me to it.

But I'm not married to LoRa, so any other RF link suggestions are appreciated. The criteria is that it has to work with ESPEasy, have good RF penetration & noise immunity, and be low cost.

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#6 Post by ThomasB » 03 Sep 2018, 19:58

The LoRa based Postal Mail Aert project is ready for installation. I custom coded the ESP8266 based receiver. But this project shows how a ESPEasy LoRa Plug-in would be useful for long range remote control, temperature reporting, and general telemetry applications.

Project Summary:

My mailbox is about 125 meters down the street. It's an all metal construction US Postal cluster mailbox that is similar to this image:

clustermailbox1.jpg
Example of Postal Cluster Box
clustermailbox1.jpg (80.69 KiB) Viewed 2583 times
The sender is Arduino Pro Mini with a LoRa RFM95 module that is used in point-to-point communication mode (gateway not required). Standby current is about 2uA. It is powered by a 18650 lithium battery that should last several months before needing a recharge.

sender_assembed1_800.jpg
LoRa Sender
sender_assembed1_800.jpg (51.75 KiB) Viewed 2583 times
There's a plunger type push switch that is activated when the postal carrier opens the mailbox's rear access door. Only a mail carrier can do this using a master key.


The receiver is a NodeMCU V3 with LoRa RFM95 module and OLED display. The 3D printed case hides an off-the-shelf 5V USB AC wall adapter and the modules. It simply plugs into a standard AC wall outlet and has a factory-built appearance.

receiver_assembled2.jpg
LoRa Receiver
receiver_assembled2.jpg (130.52 KiB) Viewed 2583 times
The received alert message includes battery voltage, RSSI (signal strength), and switch status. The receiver sends an acknowledgement message; if the reply message is not received by the sender it will resend the mail alert message (up to five times).

The only remaining task is to 3D print the mounting bracket. It will allow me to easily remove the sender from the mailbox so I can change the battery.

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#7 Post by grovkillen » 03 Sep 2018, 20:28

Wow Thomas, really nice project! Thanks for sharing.
ESP Easy Flasher [flash tool and wifi setup at flash time]
ESP Easy Webdumper [easy screendumping of your units]
ESP Easy Netscan [find units]
Official shop: https://firstbyte.shop/
Sponsor ESP Easy, we need you :idea: :idea: :idea:

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#8 Post by TD-er » 03 Sep 2018, 20:46

Great!
Looking forward to the pull request, when ready and operational for a (short) while ;)

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#9 Post by ThomasB » 04 Sep 2018, 01:09

Thank you for your nice feedback/comments.
Looking forward to the pull request, when ready and operational for a (short) while
I didn't create a ESP Easy plugin for this project. At least not yet. This project was developed during my fights with ESPEasy's random stability (ongoing frustration from intermittent reboots). So rather than add more salt to the wound I skipped over ESPEasy and wrote dedicated custom code for the ESP8266.

But from my time spent building the Postal Mail Alert system I learned that a ESPEasy LoRa point-to-point Plugin would be useful for a variety of things. Basically any type of monitoring or control application that is compatible with short data length / low duty cycle communication.

LoRa has amazingly long range and reliability. Plus it works with relatively low power, so it's a golden goose for small battery powered applications.

I've ordered more LoRa related parts to build a small battery operated push button switch and also a remote temperature sensor. Mostly as show-and-tell projects for this forum. By demonstrating what is practical I hope they create more interest in LoRa so that the community is motivated to create a plugin for ESPEasy.

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#10 Post by pwassink » 17 Dec 2018, 13:40

I was just wondering, how is the antenna arrangement done.
could you describe that or add a picture of it ?

The image and the description of the postal-cluster box say its made from metal,
uhf lowpower signals are not very capable of penetrating that.
and i think that an external rp-sma based antenna on a mailbox
will not survive long in weather or will be vandalised ?

A nice project, just wonder how you solved that problem.

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#11 Post by ThomasB » 17 Dec 2018, 17:00

I was just wondering, how is the antenna arrangement done. could you describe that or add a picture of it ?
The 915MHz LoRa Transmitter (and its dipole antenna) are inside the aluminum mail box. It is fully protected from vandals and the weather. It is mounted up against an inside corner edge to allow maximum room for the delivered mail. I'll post a photo in a day or so.
The image and the description of the postal-cluster box say its made from metal, uhf lowpower signals are not very capable of penetrating that.
It takes great effort to design an RF tight enclosure. With that in mind, a common mail box is not going to be an effective Faraday cage; Plenty of RF leakage exists. Also some RF is coupled to the metal mailbox surfaces, which is also radiated. In this installation I estimate only -20dB signal is lost due to being installed inside the mailbox.

Another surprise: For convenience the transmitter antenna is horizontally polarized and the receiver is vertically polarized. Despite the additional cross-polarization RF losses, I still get RSSI values that are -105dBm or better. So plenty of signal strength remains within the link budget. My RF success magic is due to the amazing sensitivity and noise immunity of the RFM95 LoRA module. Some users have achieved miles of range from them.

- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#12 Post by ThomasB » 18 Dec 2018, 01:06

Here's the LoRa sender mounted in the mailbox:
.
sender_in_mailbox1_1000.jpg
LoRa sender (transmitter) mounted in the mailbox.
sender_in_mailbox1_1000.jpg (111.64 KiB) Viewed 2012 times

Here's the neighborhood cluster mailbox (all-aluminum construction):
.
mailbox1_600.jpg
My mailbox, all-aluminum construction.
mailbox1_600.jpg (112.48 KiB) Viewed 2012 times
- Thomas

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#13 Post by ThomasB » 19 Jan 2019, 19:41

Neighborhood cluster mailboxes are theft magnets. Ours was hit once, many years ago. So at 2AM last night when we were awoken to a "mail delivery" I knew it was our time again.

I was too tired to run down the street to get the perp's description. Our security cameras captured their car race away, but it was too dark to get any useful details. They were definitely in a hurry to get out, but it was nice to see them use turn signals. At least they obey some laws.

This episode demonstrated another nice feature of my Mail Box Alert device: Mailbox Burglar Alarm.

MailTheft_800.jpg
MailTheft_800.jpg (87.51 KiB) Viewed 1661 times

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#14 Post by grovkillen » 19 Jan 2019, 20:09

Sorry to hear that!
ESP Easy Flasher [flash tool and wifi setup at flash time]
ESP Easy Webdumper [easy screendumping of your units]
ESP Easy Netscan [find units]
Official shop: https://firstbyte.shop/
Sponsor ESP Easy, we need you :idea: :idea: :idea:

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#15 Post by TD-er » 18 Jun 2019, 11:11

Did they take your LoRa notifier too?

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Re: ESPEasy LoRa: Mail Box Alert

#16 Post by ThomasB » 18 Jun 2019, 17:21

Did they take your LoRa notifier too?
Fortunately the mail thieves didn't touch the LoRa device. It's back in service.

The mangled mail box took a month to be replaced. Our neighborhood had to visit the post office for mail pickup while we waited for the replacement.

The long wait was because the post office decided to relocate the cluster mail box to another location, which required pouring a new concrete pad. The new mailbox is a different design that is built to handle more abuse (thicker metal, stronger construction).

Initially I was concerned that its heavy duty construction would create a better Faraday Cage and impair the RF signal. But miraculously the signal strength is better than before, mostly due to more favorable line of sight operation.

The upside is that the mailbox is 20 paces closer to my house. And now I can clearly see it from a second floor window. So next time I get a mail delivery alert at 2AM I can look out a window to see what is going on.

- Thomas

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