Proximity Presence Detection with the Raspberry Pi

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There’s some cool code I’ve been playing with the last few days. It uses the Raspberry Pi’s Bluetooth capabilities to determine when you come within range of the Pi with your smartphone. It’s called Presence and explains itself as “Reliable, Multi-User, Distributed BT Occupancy/Presence Detection.”

What it does is run a script as a service on the Pi and watches for a pre-defined list of MAC addresses to enter its Bluetooth radio’s range. It sends out statuses on that MAC address to an MQTT server running on the Pi or elsewhere. The messages each look something like this:

home/bedroom/E4:E4:ZZ:00:XX:XX {"confidence":"100","name":"Jim’s iPhone","scan_duration_ms":"806","timestamp":"Tue Jan 22 2019 13:20:50 GMT-0500 (EST)"}

The first part of that is the MQTT topic (with my MAC address obscured): home/bedroom/E4:E4:ZZ:00:XX:XX

Next is a bit of JSON that tells you the script’s “confidence” that the device is home, as well as the name of the device:
{"confidence":"100","name":"Jim’s iPhone"}

There are several things that make this strategy particularly cool.
The first is that once it’s in MQTT, you can use this piece of information in any number of ways, the most obvious one being a Home Automation system such as Home Assistant or Domoticz. It would be trivial to whip up a script with Python and its paho-mqttlibraries, for example.

Another reason is that it doesn’t require any special software to be running on the phone–the Bluetooth radio broadcasts everything you need by default.

What all this gives you is a way to detect when your phone (you) comes within about 30 feet of a Raspberry Pi or even the $10 Raspberry Pi Zero. This is ideal for, say, turning on some lights when you pull into the driveway, (but perhaps not for unlocking an automatic door.)
I’ve only tried it with my iPhone, but in theory, you could do this with any Bluetooth device. It should even work with something like a Tile, the key-finding gizmo, something that would be of great interest. (I just need to figure a way to retrieve the MAC address from the Tile.)

Neat stuff.
So far, I like this better than other solutions I’ve found for presence detection.

Finally, something unexpected:

When I was setting this up and testing it, I noticed something unusual. To turn off Bluetooth on my iPhone, I would open this panel and tap the Bluetooth icon:

The odd thing is that when I did that, the Presence software would still see the iPhone as being nearby. Tapping “Airplane Mode” would actually turn off the Bluetooth radio and the script would see it as gone.

This seems odd at best, nefarious at worst.

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