I didn’t know much about electrical engineering. But I was passionate about my ideas, and about the problems I was trying to solve.
A lightbulb went off — why aren’t there smart safes? Why isn’t there a safe that can tell you when it’s opened, to identify theft, suicide and other issues? We know that kids access guns, even when they’re taught otherwise. We know that people commit suicide with family guns. We know that many guns are stolen. Additionally, guns are very expensive, and many carry historical or sentimental value passed down through the family. Simply put: guns aren’t toys that should be left alone and not monitored.
None of my friends wanted restrictive technology. No one I talked to wanted something that could take away their rights. And I can understand that. Guns are meant for protection, for sport, for collecting — not restricting in a time of need. It’s part of life for many people.
I initially thought of creating a smart safe. But, I started talking to people and thinking about it — no one would want to buy a brand new safe, at least not the majority of people. Many people don’t even store their guns in a safe. I also didn’t want to be in the business of making safes, I wasn’t interested in that. So I decided to build a sensor that monitors your gun space and sends you a text whenever it’s accessed. This helps to identify theft, reduce accidents and suicide — and best of all, give you peace of mind. I knew it had to work with everyone’s set up — regardless of how they stored their weapons.
So, I had this idea — and didn’t really know where to start. I did research, and found Arduino, a small, programmable piece of hardware that people used to build electronics with. I used Arduino to prototype and get an initial sensor working.
I taught myself a firmware programming language, c++ to write the firmware for Arduino, and figure out how to get the prototype to run on lithium batteries so it could be more portable for testing in a real environment. I asked friends for help, I read forums, I looked at example code and copied what I could. I almost burned the house down, twice! Always check the polarity of battery orientation, even if the graphic shows something different. I learned the hard way — things you buy online are not what they seem. I short circuited these batteries because of a manufacturer defect, and they started catching on fire. It was actually a learning experience — a short circuit on batteries was essentially draining the cells at an extremely high rate of discharge, which causes immense heat to release in the process.
Above is the battery housing that was incorrectly labeled resulting in the short circuit fire. You can actually see on the right side of the plastic at the end where it started to melt!
After getting help on forums, pointers and tips from people I worked with, and many trips to Fry’s electronics + Amazon — I managed to get an MVP working prototype up and running that would last three days on battery alone.
I had to use a down voltage regulator on my huge 12v lithium battery pack to down regulate to 3.5v, a GSM shield with motion and light sensors, and a whole lot of firmware / low power libraries to get it working right. It was hella fun.
This took me a couple months.
At the end of it, I had read electrical engineering books from the library, purchased my own bench power supply and spent several hundred dollars on random supplies, successfully soldered connections, learned what every chip and aspect of the arduino did and of course learned what “magic white smoke” meant and fried a few boards. Hint: never apply unregulated voltage to the VCC!
I learned a lot about hardware and electrical engineering. Hardware can be incredibly rewarding — and similar to golf, very frustrating. Something as simple as the ground connection not being seated properly can cause your entire build to function improperly, so patience and thoroughness are important because mistakes are costly in time, and in dollars spent.
It started with a spark — that led to other fires being lit. Pretty soon I was on my way to building something meaningful.