The easiest way to automate a haunted house is to bribe your friends to hide behind curtains and pull ropes all night. A slightly more complicated (and considerate) way is the Hauntbox “automation machine.” With screw terminals for six digital inputs like break-beam triggers and motion sensors, and six outputs at 5V, 12V, and — yes! — 24V, you can trigger lights, motors, pneumatics, and all manner of mechanical hauntery. And with a PowerSwitch Tail, you can toggle a 120V AC outlet at will — making the Hauntbox the easiest method of home automation I’ve seen.
The hardware is open source; the dead-simple browser interface lets you program delays, durations, and the optional sound module from any device on your network; and an override tab gives you manual control. I had trouble getting it working on a mobile browser, but the guys say they’re working on that. Ideally, you can override your haunt on-the-fly from your phone! Network setup is idiot-proof. Just download the code from Github, throw it on a micro SD card, and plug in the Ethernet. It worked on our office network on the first try, so it should be fine on any simple home setup.
The review kit came with three PIR sensors in custom 3D printed enclosures that nested snugly in PVC pipe. Even though the parts are rough, they get the job done. And compatibility with standard pipe makes building fixtures a breeze. Oddly, the pin order on the board is different than the order on the sensors, but it’s no big thing, since both are clearly labeled and accessible. The nice thing about using screw terminals everywhere is that it eliminates the need for jacks. No need to solder ends or buy matching plugs, just strip some old Ethernet cable and you’re good to go.
Plus you get Arduino compatibility and most of the I/O pins of an Arduino Mega ADK. For bonus points, you can break out the input signals to a separate logic board. Or use the outputs to send a high signal to another Arduino, which we ended up doing to use a non-Mega-compatible shield.
The best thing about the Hauntbox is its simplicity. This extends to the documentation as well, which is great the first time you set up, but is annoying when you want to extend the controller’s capability. It has headers for shields, but there’s no documentation on how to use them. Likewise, there’s no clear place to go if you have problems with the Hauntbox. Fortunately, everything about it is on Github, including the instructions, so hopefully all the necessary info will be fleshed out soon.
My biggest beef with the controller is the lack of built-in Wi-Fi; to run your haunt live from a mobile device, you need a wired Ethernet connection or you’ll have to add a Wi-Fi shield. (Sure, you can program your Hauntbox ahead of time and leave out the cable during the performance, but that eliminates the really cool on-the-fly feature of the box.)
Either way, the Hauntbox is easily the most straightforward platform I’ve seen for web-controlling anything. The barrier between the average Joe and a fully automated haunted house — or smart house — just got beaten down a notch.
See all of our Halloween projects here.