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Jacob Tabak and his garage-door-opening watch.

Cedarburg man invents garage door opener app


After nightly walks with his dog, Jacob Tabak always returned to his Cedarburg home with a bag of poop in one hand and the leash attached to his pooch in the other. To get back into his house, he needed to enter through the garage and the garage was always locked.

"One night I finally thought to myself, 'wouldn't it be cool if I could open the garage through a voice command?'" says Tabak.

For most of us, such a thought sounds about as attainable as building a time machine, but for Tabak, who is an Android app developer, this was within the realm of possibility.

Tabak grew up in Whitefish Bay and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2009 with a degree in computer science.

Since April, he has worked full-time as a developer from his Cedarburg home for the New York-based Timehop, developers of an iPhone and Android app of the same name that provides a "daily dose of nostalgia."

By gathering information from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare, Timehop allows people to know where they were and what they were doing on any given day in years past.

With this technical know-how and successful design under his belt, Tabak turned his attention to his more pressing problems: a closed and locked garage door, full hands and the desire to solve human needs through better technology.

Tabak first designed and rigged a device to the garage door opener inside his garage that is connected to and bypasses the button on the wall. He then designed the app that would not only allow him to open his garage door by a voice command through his Android smart watch but could also let him know if he had accidentally left his garage door open.

Tabak was also inspired to create the app because he had been locked out of his house when he didn't have a garage door opener because, again, the door to his house is accessed through the garage.

This will now never happen again.

"As long as I have my watch, of course," he says.

Basically, Tabak says, he connected a Raspberry Pi – a credit card-sized computer – with a ribbon cable to a solderless circuit board linked to the garage door opener.

"The computer sends a small current to a relay that completes the garage door opener's circuit and tricks it into thinking the button was pressed," he says.

Then, with the help of his father-in-law, Jim Redman, Tabak built a switch to detect whether or not the garage door was closed.

"When the door is shut, the button is pressed and current flows through the wire," Tabak says. "If the computer detects current on the wire, then it knows the door is shut. There is a web server running on the computer, and it 'listens' for my phone or watch to send it signals or ask it whether or not the door is open, or tell it to open or close the door."

Follow all of that? Perhaps looking at this YouTube video will clear up any confusion. But before you do, remember that the important take-away nugget from all of this is that there's a guy who lives in Cedarburg who decided he wanted to open his garage door through the Internet and so he invented a way to do it.

In doing so, Tabak echoes the words of the man who invented the Airstream camper, Wally Byam, who said, "It was impossible. And so it took a little longer."

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