Intro: AutoAlert Driveway Alarm to Dakota Alert VS-125 W/ Hacked Wireless Chime
We've had an AutoAlert AL155 vehicle detection sensor for several years. It all started when I was running my business from home and I didn't want miss the delivery guy. A couple of hours with a shovel to bury the wires along the driveway, a quick drill through the garage wall and we were in business. The unit came with a wireless chime so when someone came up the driveway (vehicles only mind you - magnetic sensor!) we'd get a "DING-DONG" in the office.
Loved it, worked great, don't know how people lived without it.
Flash forward to last year when the system stopped working. Oh, it didn't happen overnight and Comcast helped it along when they had to re-run a wire through our yard. They were very sorry, right up to the point where they drove off and were never to be heard of again. Anyway, between that and other things the system started to fail until one day, "she a-no dingy a-no more!"
Since I've been on the hunt for a similar system without breaking the bank. Oh, I forgot to mention, AutoAlert went out of business. G-R-E-A-T !!
Step 1: The Old System
The old AutoAlert was so good because it was simple and reliable - up to the point where wasn't. It used a simple coil sensor at the end of a long wire (150') that sensed the changes in magnetic fields at a maximum distance of 10'-15'. It was up from the end of the driveway so normal traffic didn't set it off and far enough from our neighbors that it they had no effect either. Now our lawn mover, THAT was another story. If I didn't shut if off prior to mowing the lawn my wife made reservations for me at the luxurious "Shae Couch".
Anyway, like I said, it really was a pretty good system but since the company went under I was forced to try and find another solution. What I found was pretty disheartening. Either the systems had TERRIBLE reviews, cost an arm and a leg or didn't offer the features I wanted. C'mon people, this isn't brain surgery! I could probably use an old Arduino I have laying around to do the same thing. "Hmmmm, note to self, next project. Arduino driveway alert with Internet notification to my smartphone!"
I can't really convey to you the process of having the alert working for several years and then have it not work. I felt like a primary sense had been removed. No, really! As silly as it sounds I had really gotten use to relying on it. Oh, and the day that a package I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY needed first thing in the morning spend the entire day on my front porch help me move my decision process along.
Step 2: The NEW System
Well, at least it was cheaper than the OLD system...
The Dakota Alert VS-125 hard wired vehicle sensor with 125' of cable and a 12v adapter. What more could I want? How about 150' of wire, a remote chime and a lower price? Yeah, didn't think so - what ever!
The Dakota's had pretty decent reviews, weren't "terribly" expensive but didn't come with that chime feature. Dakota offered units with chimes but they were either $100 more expensive or sacrificed on other features. the system I wanted needed at least 125' of sensor wire and needed to be plugged into the wall. I didn't want a unit that ran on batteries or had to be hidden somewhere along my drive.
So, we picked up the VS-125. I figured I could either live without the chime or figure something else out later on.
Step 3: Installation. Easy As 1-2-3 (4,5,6,7,8,9....)
Actually, installing the system was pretty straight forward but I decided to go an extra step or two which added a day or two to the project. Not to mention some soar muscles and blisters.
My original driveway sensor was installed by separating the sod just an inch or two down. Drop the cable and step on the turf to seal. Although expedient in nature it allowed nature (and COMCAST!) to slowly (and QUICKLY) degrade (and DESTROY) my cable and sensor. No really, no residual anger here. Wu-saaaaa.... Inner peace becomes outer tranquility... (FREAKING COMCAST!!!)... Damn!
Anyway, I decided to fix those problems by this time placing the wire inside of some PVC conduit and burying it a bit deeper, about 1' down where possible. With a quick trip to the LHS I had plenty of PVC 1/2" tubing, couplers and glue and with a second trip I had plenty plus two which is the magical number I actually needed to finish this project. Remember, the golden rule is PLENTY + TWO.
A day and a half later I had the ditch dug, the tube together with the wire. I used some silicon at the sensor head and everything was water tight and ready for burial.
Ahhhhh, but I'm forgetting something. Before I actually "glued" anything or "buried" anything I did a full test on the system. How embarrassing would THAT be to bury everything only to find out that I had to dig it all up again. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.... Ok, maybe I had done something similar in the past. Lessons learned.
System checked out! Driving the car up and down the driveway I heard the new systems electronic "beeeeeep" from it's enclosed - Ok, they call it a BELL but it's not a BELL it's a lousy piezo electric speaker but it does make a noise.
So far so good! Time to start cutting wires and make things do what their not really supposed to do. In other words, I'm going to "enhance their functionality" which will hopefully not include sparks, smoke and a hit to my credit card...
Step 4: A Little From Column "A", a Little From Column "B"
So now I have a new driveway alert system that works but it doesn't have a remote chime and I have an old system that doesn't work but does have a remote chime.
Out comes the wire cutters. I've previously noticed that the separate board at the bottom of my old system was responsible for my remote chime. It contained the "code" jumpers for the remote, had what looked like an antenna coil and had clearly marked power inputs. I was surprised that this part was separate from the rest of the system but also delighted. I'm not sure why they made it that way, perhaps they knew that it could live on once the main board died.
After testing for the polarity of the wires I gave them a quick snip, striped the ends and moved onto the new system. The Dakota electronics are "sealed" when the lid is closed but the box has a 12v quick connect on the bottom so I attached the transmitter to the quick connects and give the system a quick test.
Down the driveway with my care and remote chime in hand and I was rewarded with a loud "Ding-Dong" from the chime. YEAH! So now the system itself "beeps" and my chime chimes. Just what I was looking for.
I then opened the lid of the Dakota and there where some 12v screw down connectors. Again, I checked for polarity and then attached the wireless transmitter. I tucked it up to the side (it stayed secured) and closed the lid. I tested it again and everything was working perfectly. Can't believe how easy this was.
I mounted the control box, tied down the wires and buried the run down the driveway. Everything was working, cleaned up and tied up out of the way.
Although the Dakota system wasn't my ideal choice, it had features that allowed me to use parts from my old, defunct, system to do what I wanted it to do in the first place. Total time (minus ditch digging) to merge the two systems - 10 minutes. Tools needed, wire cutter, multimeter and a screw driver to secure the terminals.
How easy was that! If you're looking for a replacement to your old AutoAlert system, contemplate doing something like this.