A feature that is available for your remote-controlled garage door or gate is the ability for you to control it using your smartphone. But this feature is primarily available from a few American-based home-automation manufacturers with some companies who sell garage-door openers offering add-on kits for their products to enable them to have this functionality. This is while the rest of these vendors offer them as a kit that is retrofitted to an existing garage-door opener or gate controller.
What do they offer?
Your smartphone is your garage door remote control
This avoids the need for you to fossick for a garage-door opener transmitter or worry whether the transmitter’s battery has died when you leave or arrive and some of these systems may have the ability to let you know if that garage door is actually closed or not. This may avoid the need to glance nervously in the rear-vision mirror when you leave to see if that door is closing as I have seen someone that I have known do when they and I left their house in their car, or to turn around to check if that gate is properly closed.
There is also the opportunity for the software developer who write the smartphone apps for these garage door controllers to exploit your smartphone platform’s abilities like asking your platform’s voice-driven personal assistant (Siri, Google Now, Cortana) whether the garage door’s open or not or telling it to close the door. Similar you can set a notification to pop up using your smartphone platform’s notification interface if certain conditions are met like the garage door being open too long or at odd hours.
The software developers can even provide support for the in-car or smartwatch interfaces that are an extension of these mobile operating systems so that your CarPlay or Android Auto infotainment setup in the car, or your Apple Watch or Android Wear smartwatch is your key to your garage door or gate.
Increased security and manageability
All these garage door controllers have similar functionality to a smart lock where you can issue extra keys to other people yet have the ability to take the keys away from them or provide limited usage periods for these keys.
For example, you could allow your houseguests to have access to the garage or give the keys to a friend who is storing their car in your garage. Similarly, you could allow your nanny to have access to your property through the front gates for the duration of her shift.
You gain this functionality through the mobile-platform app or a Web-based dashboard in the case of those systems that connect to your home network. In a lot of cases, the latter example allows you to manage your garage from another Internet-connected computer like your workplace’s computer.
How do they work
Connecting to the garage door or gate opener
Most of these systems are designed to work on a universal-connection setup where the smartphone controller interface mimics the manual pushbutton that is used to open the garage door from inside. This is achieved through a relay (your car has these to control the headlights, horn or starter motor from the switches on the dashboard) or an optocoupler which has its switching contacts wired in parallel to the manual pushbutton and these are brought closed for a short moment when the controller wants the door opened or closed. This action causes the garage door or the gates to start opening or closing depending on their current position. The setup allows for the circuits in both the devices to be isolated thus reducing the risk of cross-voltage damage occurring while allowing for this control.
The systems that support Wi-Fi-based connectivity also provide the ability to work with a sensor that determines whether the garage door is open or closed. This allows them to report on this status either in an event-driven manner or under control of the controller’s app. This goal can be achieved using a wireless sensor that uses an integrated tilt switch and is attached to your single-panel or multi-panel lift-up garage door; or the better units may simply allow you to connect a door-contact switch to the garage door. This can work well with roller doors, sliding or swing doors including gates.
A few of these systems even have their own video-surveillance camera or can work with IP-based video-surveillance cameras so you can see if the garage door is opening or closing as well as knowing if anyone is in the garage. Some of them also offer a visual and/or audio alert so you and others know if the garage door or gate is being opened or closed, with this functionality being offered as a “get-out-of-the-way” safety warning.
The GoGoGate controller allows for increased flexibility by permitting different wiring scenarios like a separate “open” and “close” button which may be encountered with more advanced setups. On the other hand, some garage-door-opener manufacturers may offer kits that enable you to control their products from your smartphone.
An issue that may plague a lot of these controllers is that they aren’t weatherproof to outdoor conditions and installers may have to house them in weatherproof housings if they want to use them with gates.
Connecting to your smartphone
Some of these garage door controllers connect to your smartphone using a Bluetooth 4.0 interface while most of the others use a Wi-FI network interface that is linked to your home network’s Wi-Fi segment.
A few of the controllers also offer an “own-access-point” mode where they serve as their own Wi-Fi access point just for controlling your garage door or gates. In this latter case, you have to make sure your smartphone discovers and switches to that network before you can control your garage door.
Some of the controllers like the GoGoGate system may even provide for Ethernet connectivity, perhaps in the form of using an Ethernet-based USB network adaptor. This feature cannot be discounted because it can allow the use of HomePlug AV500 or HomePlug AV2 powerline adaptors to provide a reliable network link to the home network and the Internet. Use this with a HomePlug Wi-Fi access point and you could assure reliable remote access from your car outside the garage or front gates.
All of the smartphone-capable garage door controllers, like other home-automation devices, rely on control apps that are peculiar to a vendor’s controller system.
They will allow you to control multiple garage doors as long as the controllers are from the same vendor. The software even allows for property-level grouping and caters toward garages which have two or three separately-opened doors. So this means that you don’t need to install a new app for each door.
The Wi-Fi-based systems that connect to your home network also work with a management Website so you can see access logs or manage your system from a regular computer. Some of them also link to a remote-access server which would be referred to as a “cloud” setup, typically established by the vendor. This would allow for functions like email alerts or the ability to open or close your garage door from work.
Another feature to expect for some of these connected garage-door-controller systems is the ability to integrate with smart-home subsystems. This feature may be delivered in the form of a software update for better-designed systems, but some smart-home platforms like Apple’s HomeKit or Google’s Nest may require the garage-door controller system to be accepted by the platform’s vendor.
Although there are 11 systems on the market that link your garage door or gate to your smartphone, the market is still immature and fragmented as is the rest of the “smart-home” product market.
What needs to happen is for companies involved with garage doors and front gates for the residential and small-business market to share knowledge in order to enable the garage door or front gate to be part of the smart home. Manufacturers could sell the technology on a basis that allows different vendors to integrate in to their systems thus allowing for a quicker time-to-market for newer products or a reduced need to “reinvent the wheel”. As far as retailers go, it could include reselling the various systems whether with a new installation or to retrofit to existing installations.
For most of us, it may simply be about inquiring with your garage-door contractor about the existence of Bluetooth-based or Wi-Fi-based garage door controllers and seeking to have them installed.