Even more Automation with Tasker and Geofencing
So if you saw my last blog, you know I spent some time writing a small application that would log into my home security providers website, then lock and unlock my door on a timed schedule. If you haven’t read it, check it out at https://iwritecrappycode.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/automating-things-that-should-already-be-automated-with-selenium-and-node-js to get some context. While that was great and all, I figured I could do more with it. I mean timed scheduled are great, but I do occasionally leave the house so you know what would be really cool? If my door automatically locked when I left, and unlocked itself again when I returned home. I figured it should be a reasonably simple process to make my script respond to remote commands, and trigger my phone to send such commands when leaving and entering an area. Turns out I was mostly right. At it’s core its pretty easy, but there are a lot of moving parts and places to make mistakes, which I did make plenty of (it’s crazy how often as a programmer I type the wrong numbers in somewhere).
So obviously the first part of this challenge was going to be to setup my script to respond somehow to external requests. Being written in Node.js it made sense that it respond to web requests. I figured the requester should provide the username and password to login to the security website with, as well as a desired action of either lock or unlock. I decided to make it respond to POST requests just to reduce the possibility of some web spider hitting it and by some fluke making it do something (I also put the service on a different port, but we’ll cover that later). So the service listens for post requests with some JSON encoded data in the request body and then makes the request to alarm.com. The code for that method is as follows.
So now with a server that listens, I need to allow requests from the outside world to come in and actually get to my server. This is where my old days of networking came in handy. First I decided I’d like to have a domain name to reach my server instead of just an IP address (maybe I can setup dynamic DNS later so if my home IP address changes, my registar it automatically updated with the new one and will change my zone file records). I know this is more of a programming blog, but just a basic bit of networking is required. First I headed over to GoDaddy and grabbed myself a cheap domain name. Then changed the DNS settings to point the @ record at my home IP address.
Now going to my domain would send traffic to my home, but of course it would be stopped at my firewall. So I had to setup port forwarding in my router. This is where I was able to change from using the web traffic port 80 to my custom port to help obscure the fact that I am running a web server (as well as having to change the listening port in the Node script). Of course I decided to turn off DHCP on the machine hosting this and give it a static IP address. I would have used a reservation but my crappy router doesn’t have that option. Lame.
After some fiddling with settings for a bit my service was now responding to outside traffic. The only bummer part is that my domain name does not work within my network because again my router is crappy and doesn’t support NAT loopback, so it doesn’t know how to route the request to the right machine internally. I could modify my hosts file or setup my own DNS server but it’s not worth it seeing as this service is only useful when I’m outside my own network anyway.
Now the trickiest part, I needed to find a way to make my phone detect when I entered or left a given geographic region and when it detected that, send the specially crafted POST request to my server. I knew of two options off the top of my head that I had heard of but never played with. The first one I tried was a service called ‘If this then that’ or IFTTT for short. While the website and app are very sleek and they make configuration of these rules very easy, there was one problem. It just didn’t work. No matter what I tried, what recipes I configured nothing worked. Not even when triggered manually would it send the POST request. After playing with that for a bit, I decided to give up and give the other app I had heard of a shot. Tasker.
So if IFTTT is the mac of task automation (sleek, easy, unable to do the most basic things). Then Tasker is Linux. It’s extremely powerful, flexible, a bit difficult to understand and not much to look at. It does however have all the features I needed to finish my project. I ended up buying both Tasker (its like 3 bucks) and a plugin for it called AutoLocation. You see Tasker by itself is fairly powerful but it allowes for additional plugins to perform other actions and gather other kinds of data. AutoLocation allowed me to easy configure a ‘geofence’ basically a geographic barrier upon passing through which you can trigger actions. So I configured my geofence and then imported that config data into Tasker. Then it was simple a matter of created two profiles. One for entering the area and one for leaving it.
I also added a simple vibrate rule so that my phone will buzz when either of the rules trigger so I know the command was sent. Later that night when I headed off to the store, that little buzz was the sweet vibration of success. I may or may not have yelled for joy in my car and frightened other motorists. I hope perhaps this post might inspire you to create own you crazy automation service. With the combination of selenium, node, tasker, and a bit of networking know how it’s possible to create all kinds of cool things. If you’d like to download the source code for my auto lock program you can grab it below (I don’t really feel like making a git project for something so small. Also I realize its not the best quality code in the world, it was meant to be a simple script not a portfolio demo).
Till next time!