Five Dollar RF Controlled Light Sockets

This is tens of thousands of dollars worth of market research I’m about to spill, so buckle up. I have a spreadsheet filled with hundreds of projects and products that are solutions to ‘home automation’ according to their creators. The only common theme? Relays. Home automation is just Internet connected relays tied to mains. You’re welcome.

[Todd] over at Fabricate.io found an interesting home automation appliance on Amazon; a four-pack of remote control light sockets for $20, or what we would call a microcontroller, an RF receiver, and a relay. These lamp sockets are remote-controlled, but each package is limited to four channels. Terrible if you’re trying to outfit a home, but a wonderful exploration into the world of reverse engineering.

After cracking one of these sockets open, [Todd] found the usual suspects and a tiny little 8-pin DIP EEPROM. This chip stores a few thousand bits, several of which are tied to the remote control. After dumping the contents of the EEPROM from the entire four-pack of light sockets, [Todd] noticed only one specific value changed. Obviously, this was the channel tied to the remote. No CRC or ‘nothin. It doesn’t get easier than this.

With the new-found knowledge of what each lamp socket was looking for, [Todd] set out to clone the transmitter. Tearing this device apart, he found a chip with HS1527 stamped on it. A quick Googling revealed this to be an encoder transmitter, with the datasheet showing an output format of a 20-bit code and four data bits. This was a four-channel transmitter, right? That’s where you put each channel. The 20-bit code was interesting but not surprising; you don’t want one remote being able to turn of every other 4-pack of lamp sockets.

With all the relevant documentation, [Todd] set out to do the obvious thing – an Arduino transmitter. This was simply an Arduino and a transmitter in the right frequency, loaded up with bit of carefully crafted code. [Todd] also figured out how to expand his setup to more than four lamp sockets – by changing the 20-bit code, he could make his Arduino pretend to be more than one transmitter.

With Arduino-controlled lamp sockets, the world is [Todd]‘s oyster. He can add Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and whatever trendy web front end he wants to have a perfect home automation setup. It’s actually a pretty impressive build with some great documentation, and is probably the cheapest way to add Arduino/Internet-enabled relays we’ve ever seen.

 

Creating a Scanning Monochromator

If you need a specific wavelength of light for research purposes, the naïve way of obtaining that is a white source light, a prism, and a small slit that will move across your own personal Dark Side of the Moon album cover. This is actually a terrible idea; not only won’t you have a reference of exactly what wavelength of light you’re letting through the optical slit, the prism itself will absorb more of one wavelength of light than others.

The solution is a monochromator, a device that performs the same feat of research without all the drawbacks. [Shahriar] got his hands on an old manual monochromator and decided to turn it into a device that performs automatic scans.

The key of a monochromator is a diffraction grating, a mirrored surface with many fine parallel grooves arranged in a step pattern. Because of the surface of the diffraction grating, it’s possible to separate light according to its spectrum much like a prism. Unlike a prism, it’s effectively a first surface mirror meaning all wavelengths of light are reflected more or less equally.

By adding a stepper motor to the dial of his monochromator, [Shahriar] was able to automatically scan across the entire range of the device. Inside the monochromator is a photomultiplier tube that samples the incoming light and turns it into a voltage. By sampling this voltage and plotting it with MATLAB, [Shahriar] was able to plot the intensity of every wavelength of light within the range of the device. It’s all expertly explained in the video below.

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A Modern Woodworking Workbench

This is a post about workbenches, but not the benches you’re probably thinking about. Workbenches meant for electronics development are simple matters – just about any flat surface, a few shelves for equipment, and an anti-static mat will be fine for every conceivable use.  Workbenches for woodworking are a separate matter entirely. There’s actually quite a bit of history behind the development of the woodworking workbench, but the basic idea is a thick laminated wood top, integrated vices, holes in the work surface for bench dogs, and ergonomics that allow for comfortable use of hand tools. The basic design of these benches hasn’t changed much in several hundred years, and [Dirk] thought the design was ready for a modern update.

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Upgrading a Laminator for Toner Transfer PCBs

If you need a circuit board now, you’re probably looking at a toner transfer process; all you need to make a PCB is a copper clad board, a laser printer, some special paper, and the usual etching chemicals. The quality of these boards is highly dependant on the quality of transferring toner to the copper, and getting the process right is as much an art as it is a science. A clothes iron is the easy way of transferring the toner to the board, but if you’re looking for repeatability, you’ll probably want a laminator.

Laminators, too, also vary in quality. The king of toner transfer laminators is the Apache AL13P. With four heated rollers and a steel chassis, it’s enough to do some serious heating. [mosaicmerc] came up with an amazing mod for his Apache laminator that takes all the guesswork out of the settings, and does it all in one pass for maximum repeatability and PCB quality.

The Apache laminator in question is a beast of a machine that drives four rollers with a synchronous motor and also has a ‘reverse’ button that sends the laminations out the front end of the printer. Stock, a toner transfer PCB would require dozens of passes through the Apache, but [merc]‘s mod takes care of everything for you.

The addition that makes this possible is a small board with a PIC12 microcontroller. This microcontroller connects the motor driver board and the display interface together, triggering the reverse button to move the board 5/8″ forward and 1/2″ back, giving the laminator an effective speed reduction of 12:1. This method also has the bonus of not tampering with the motor or control circuitry, and allows for multiple passes in the same run.

With this modification, the Apache AL13P becomes the perfect solution to transferring toner to a piece of copper, with the ability to transfer 10mil traces on 1oz copper. The board also offers some other features like thermal sensor failure shutdown and a cool-down mode that overrides the heater. If you’re looking for an easy way to step up your toner transfer PCBs, you can’t do much better than this mod.

3DS Homebrew Channel and Custom Firmware

Nintendo has always been very wary about allowing independent and homebrew developers making games for their consoles, and the 3DS is no exception. It’s locked down, and a few 3DS and console hackers have spent years searching for a method that will easily allow anyone to run unsigned code. That day is finally here. The exploit is called NINJHAX, and it allows anyone to install the Homebrew Channel, the repository for everything awesome in the world of 3DS homebrew development.

The latest exploit relies on a bit of code in a retail game – Cubic Ninja – to run unsigned code. This game includes a level editor that allows players to share different levels by QR codes and 3DS’ camera. By carefully crafting one of these QR codes, the 3DS gains the ability to run the Homebrew Channel

If this exploit sounds familiar, you’re right. The most common way to open up a Wii for homebrew development is Smash Stack, an exploit found in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This exploit also works by modifying custom stages, and opened the door to a wealth of homebrew development for the Wii.

In the video below, [smea] shows off his exploit by starting Cubic Ninja, going to the QR code level editor, then loading up homebrew games. A copy of the game that enables this exploit, Cubic Ninja, is required for this exploit. Last week, you could buy Cubic Ninja for a few dollars on eBay and Amazon. Today, the price has settled around $50, with a few very dumb or very eager people paying up to $300. If you already have the game, you’ll only need to get the homebrew starter kit, generate a QR code, and start installing unsigned code. All the instructions are available on [smeal]‘s site.

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The Trompe-l’œil Menorah

Hanukkah decorations have been up in stores since before Halloween, and that means it’s time for electronic Menorahs with blinking LEDs, controllers, and if you’re really good, a real-time clock with support for the Jewish calendar. [Windell] over at Evil Mad Scientist just outdid himself with the Mega Menorah 9000. It’s a flat PCB with nine LEDs, but it uses stippling and a trompe-l’œil effect to make it appear three-dimensional.

Making a 2D object look three-dimensional isn’t that hard – you just need the right shading. A few years ago, [Evil Mad Scientist] created StippleGen, a library to turn images into something that can be easily reproduced with the EggBot CNC plotter. It’s actually quite impressive; there are Voronoi diagrams and travelling salesmen problems, all to draw on eggs. The library can be used for much more, like properly shading a PCB so that it looks three-dimensional.

The Mega Menorah 9000 is surprisingly large, at about 7.5″ wide. It’s powered by an ATtiny85 loaded up with the Adafruit Trinket firmware, making it a truly USB enabled Menorah. While it may just be a soldering kit, it is a fantastic looking PCB, something we’d like to see some more examples of in the future.

A USB-Controlled POV Light Stick

Wanting to showcase their USB LED strip controller, the folks at Maniacal Labs built a POV LED stick this weekend. Yes, it’s pretty much the same as any other POV LED display you’ve seen; set a camera for a long exposure, wave the POV light stick around, and get a cool pixely image in mid-air. This build is a little different, though: it’s controlled over WiFi with a Raspberry Pi connected to a WiFi network.

The USB LED strip controller in question is the AllPixel, a small board that controls NeoPixels, WS2801, LDP8806, and a bunch of other LED strip controllers over USB. The Stick used for this project consisted of two meters of LPD8806 LEDs, giving 96 pixels of horizontal resolution. A big battery and Raspberry Pi rounds out the rest of the electronics.

Building a LED POV display isn’t that much different from building a LED matrix display; all you have to do is break up the image into individual columns and display them sequentially. To do this, the Maniacal Labs folks whipped up a LEDPOV class that does just that. To get the images, just open the shutter on a camera, wave the stick around, and if you get it right, you’ll have a great pixely image of nyan cat or the rainbow wrencher.