You may have to watch twice to see the sprinkler squirt Deer Mary.
Cast of Characters
M: My eight-year-old granddaughter who has engineering interests and skills
Arlo: A home video camera system
LinkTap: An Internet-controllable faucet
IFTTT: If This Then That. A cloud-based service used to connect smart things to each other
Deer Mary: An alpha tester
Critters eat gardens both at M’s house and mine. I used Arlo before to capture images of critters in the garden but now it’s time for action.
The Solution (a mashup)
When a critter is spotted, we want a sprinkler to come on and scare it away. Critters come at night after M’s bedtime so she can’t just turn on a sprinkler when they’re spotted. We need automation! Our game plan is to have Arlo open the LinkTap faucet to which a sprinkler is attached, but Arlo and LinkTap don’t know how to talk each other. That’s what IFTTT is for.
- Get Arlo set up and working
Inside the Arlo box is a quick start guide. This is where the girl engineer starts. She learns that Arlo talks to the Internet through a box called a gateway which connects to the Internet through the home router and to the Arlo cameras by radio. Once she has her father’s permission, she uses an RJ-45 cable from the box to connect the gateway to the router being careful to listen for the click which means the cable is secure. She finds an available power outlet for the gateway’s adapter and plugs that in. The quick start guide says that lights will blink until two are solid green indicating the gateway has connected to Arlo service in the cloud. Got’em; two green.
Next you need an Arlo account. M goes on the web and sets up the account entering the serial number of the gateway, which her eyes can read much better than mine, into the web page. She names the gateway “puppy” for reasons best known to her.
After putting batteries in an Arlo camera, it’s time to introduce the camera to the gateway by pushing “sync” buttons on both. Three green. Perfect. From the Arlo web page, we can see little sister in front of the camera. Step 1 is done.
- Get Arlo working with IFTTT
M goes to IFTTT.com and creates an account there. There are lots of pre-packaged IFTTT “applets” on the service but none connecting Arlo to LinkTap. We’re going to have to create our own. M already understands the idea of “if this, then that” from Scratch lessons. We search for Arlo and there is a prepackaged “if” which lets IFTTT listen for an alert from Arlo indicating that it’s seen something. In setting up the alert, M lets IFTTT into her Arlo account to tell the Arlo service where to send the alert.
We want to test the Arlo-IFTTT connection with something easy; so, at first, we make the action one that is also pre-packaged on IFTTT: send a text message. M waves her hand in front of Arlo’s eye; in a few seconds we have the text message. Step 2 is done.
- Get LinkTap working
Another quick start guide; another gateway to connect to the router; another device that needs batteries and syncing; another web account to set up. M’s an old hand at all this now. We can turn the sprinkler on and off from the LinkTap web page. Step 3 done.
- Connect LinkTap to our IFTTT applet
This turned out harder than I thought. LinkTap has not set up a connector on IFTTT but does have instructions for using HTTP to make your own connection on their website. If you don’t know what HTTP is, you don’t want to know (OK, it’s a basic web protocol); and it isn’t time to teach M HTTP yet either. Her lesson here was seeing me going into deep nerd mode for about 12 hours to debug my non-working HTTP, Google for answers and diagnostic tools, correspond with LinkTap tech support in Australia, and come back in the morning with working code. I think she also saw that it was valuable to have unit tested each piece so that we knew where the problem was when the end-to-end solution didn’t work.
Voila. Critters beware; you will be soaked.
What will M do next?