Ask Hackaday: The Internet of Things and the Coming Age of Big Data

Samsung has thrown its hat into the Internet of Things ring with its ARTIK platform. Consisting of three boards, each possesses a capability proportional to their size. The smallest comes in at just 12x12mm, but still packs a dual core processor running at 250MHz on top of 5 MB flash with bluetooth.  The largest is 29x39mm and sports a 1.3GHz ARM, 18 gigs of memory and an array of connectivity. The ARTIK platform is advertised to be completely compatible with the Arduino platform.

Each of these little IoT boards is also equipped with Samsung’s Secure Element. Worthy of an article on its own, this crypto hardware appears to be built into the processor, and supports several standards. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find the preliminary datasheet (PDF) to each of these boards. It is this Secure Element thing that separates the ARTIK platform from the numerous other IoT devices that have crossed our memory banks, and brings forth an interesting question. With the age of the Internet of Things upon us, how do we manage all of that data while keeping it secure and private?

What is The Internet of Things?

These kind of terms get thrown around too much. It was just the other day I was watching television and heard someone talk about ‘hacking’ their dinner. Really? Wiki defines the IoT as –

“a network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.”

Let’s paint a realistic picture of this. Imagine your toaster, shower head, car and TV were equipped with little IoT boards, each of which connects to your personal network. You walk downstairs, put the toast in the toaster, and turn on the TV to catch the morning traffic. A little window pops up and tells you the temperature outside, and asks if you want it to start your car and turn on the air conditioning. You select “yes”, but not before you get a text message saying your toast is ready. Meanwhile, your daughter is complaining the shower stopped working, making you remind her that you’ve programmed it to use only so much water per shower, and that there is a current clean water crisis in the country.

This is the future we all have to look forward to. A future that we will make. Why? Because we can. But this future with its technical advancements does not come without problems. We’ve already seen how malicious hackers can interfere with these IoT devices in not so friendly ways.

Is it possible for our neighbor’s teenage kid to hack into our shower head? Could she turn our toaster on when we’re not home? Or even start our car? Let’s take this even further – could the government monitor the amount of time you spend in the shower? The amount of energy your toaster uses? The amount of time you let your car idle?

Clearly, the coming age of the Internet of Things doesn’t look as nice when we lose the rose colored glasses. The question is how do we shape our future connected lives in a way that is secure and private? If closed source companies like Samsung get their IoT technology into our everyday household items, would you bet a pallet of Raspberry Pi’s that the government will mine them for data?

This, however, does not have to happen. This future is ours. We made it. We know how it works – down to the ones and zeros. There is no fate, except that which we make. Can we make the coming IoT revolution open source? Because if we can, our community will be able to help ensure safety and privacy and keep our personal data out of the government’s hands. If we cannot, and the closed source side of things wins, we’ll have no choice but to dig in and weed out the vulnerabilities the hard way. So keep your soldering irons sharp and your bus pirates calibrated. There’s a war brewing.

Ask Hackaday: Fixing Your Tractor Could Land You Behind Bars

It’s 9AM on any given Sunday. You can be found in your usual spot – knee-deep in wires and circuit boards. The neighbor’s barking dog doesn’t grab your attention as you pry the cover off of a cell phone, but the rustling of leaves by the back door does. Seconds later, several heavily armed SWAT officers bust in and storm your garage. You don’t have time to think as they throw your down on the cold, hard concrete floor. You’re gripped by a sharp stinging pain as one of the officers puts his knee in the square of your back. Seconds later, you’re back on your feet being lead to the back of an awaiting police cruiser. You catch the gaze of one of your neighbors and wonder what they might be thinking as your inner voice squeaks: “What did I do wrong?”

The answer to this question would come soon enough. Your crime – hacking your dad’s tractor.

“That’s like saying locking up books will inspire kids to be innovative writers, because they won’t be tempted to copy passages from a Hemingway novel.”

-Kyle Wiens

John Deere is trying to convince the Copyright Office that farmers don’t really own the tractors they buy from them. They argue that the computer code that runs the systems is not for sale, and that purchasers of the hardware are simply receiving “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

In order to modify or “hack” any type of software, you have to copy it first. Companies don’t like the copying thing, so many put locks in place to prevent this. But because hackers are hackers, we can easily get past their childish attempts to keep code and information out of our hands. So now they want to make it illegal. John Deere is arguing that if it is legal for hackers to copy and modify their software, that it could lead to farmers listening to pirated music while plowing a corn field. No I am not making this up — dig into this 25-page facepalm-fest (PDF) written by John Deere and you’ll be just as outraged.

Trying to keep hackers out using the DMCA act is not new. Many companies argue that locking hackers out helps to spur innovation. When in fact the opposite is true. What about 3D printers, drones, VR headsets…all from us! The Copyright Office, after holding a hearing and reading comments, will make a decision in July on whether John Deere’s argument has any merit.

Let us know what you think about all this. Can hackers and the free market learn to live in harmony? We just want to fix our tractor!

Thanks to [Malachi] for the tip!

Making Servos Spin Right Round Without Stopping

[Brian B] found a handful of servos at his local hackerspace, and like any good hacker worth his weight in 1N4001’s, he decided to improve upon their design. Most servos are configured to spin only so far – usually 180 degrees in either direction. [Brian B’s] hack makes them spin 360 degrees in continuous rotation.

He starts off by removing the top most gear and making a small modification with a razor. Then he adds a little super glue to the potentiometer, and puts the thing back together again. A few lines of code and an arduino confirms that the hack performs flawlessly.

We’ve seen ways to modify other types of servos for 360 rotation. There’s a lot of servos out there, and every little bit of information helps. Be sure to check your parts bin for any Tower Pro SG90 9g servos and bookmark this article. It might come in handy on a rainy day.

Robot K-9 Scares Off the Daleks

[Bithead942’s] love of the ever popular Dr Who series led her to develop a replica of the 4th Doctor’s robotic companion. It’s name is K-9, and was built from scratch in only 4 months. Its shell is made from HPDE – a light and bendable plastic. A custom plastic bender was constructed to get the angles just right, and custom laser cut parts were used in various places.

Its frame consists of aluminum channel, and is packed full of juicy electronics. An arduino with an XBee shield controls the remote voice, frickin’ laser and eye sensors. Another arduino is paired with a motor shield to control the linear actuator for the neck movement. And a Raspberry Pi keeps the LCD screen in order.

We’re not done, folks. Because this puppy is radio controlled, a custom controller is needed. Sparkfun’s Fio paired with another XBee is used along with a 16×2 LCD and various other electronics to keep the robot on an invisible leash.

Be sure to check out the blog site, as it goes into great detail on all the various parts used to construct this complicated but awesome project.

Using an LED as a Simple RF Detector

When [b.kainka] set out to make the world’s simplest RF detector, he probably didn’t realize it would be as easy as it was. Consisting of only a handful of components and thirty eight lines of code, he was able to make an RF detector that works reasonably well.

The microcontroller running the code is an ATtiny13 on a Sparrow board. He’s using an everyday LED as a detector diode and an internal pull-up resistor in the ATtiny13 for the bias voltage. The antenna runs off the LED’s anode. To make it sensitive enough, he switches on the pull-up resistor for a tiny fraction of time. Because an LED can act like a small capacitor, this charges it to a few volts. He then switches the pullup off, and the voltage across the LED will start to discharge. If there is an RF signal present, the discharge voltage will be less than the discharge voltage with no signal present.  Neat stuff.

Be sure to check out his Hackaday.io page linked at the top for full source, schematics and some videos demonstrating his project.

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Driving A Brushless DC Motor Sloooooooowly

Driving a brushless DC (gimbal) motor can be a pain in the transistors. [Ignas] has written up a nice article not only explaining how to do just this with an Arduino, but also explaining a little bit on how the process works. He uses a L6234 Three Phase Motor Driver, but points out that there are other ways to interface the BLDC motor with the Arduino.

warningA warning is warranted – this is not for the faint of heart. You can easily destroy your microcontroller if you’re not careful. [Ignas] added several current limiting resistors and capacitors as advised in the application note (PDF warning) to keep things safe.

Everything worked well at high speeds, but for slower speeds the motor was choppy. [Ingus] solved this riddle by changing over to a sine wave to drive the motor. Instead of making the Arduino calculate the wave, he used a look up table.

Be sure to check out his blog for full source and schematics. There is also a video demonstrating just how slow he can make the motor move below.

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Ask Hackaday: Is Amazon Echo the Future of Home Automation?

Unless you’ve been living under a case of 1 farad capacitors, you’ve heard of the Amazon Echo. Roughly the size of two cans of beans, the Echo packs quite a punch for such a small package. It’s powered by a Texas Instrument DM3725 processor riding on 256 megs of RAM and 4 gigs of SanDisk iNAND ultra flash memory. Qualcomm Atheros takes care of the WiFi and Bluetooth, and various TI chips take care of the audio codecs and amplifiers.

What’s unique about Echo is its amazing voice recognition. While the “brains” of the Echo exist somewhere on the Internets, the hardware for this circuitry is straight forward. Seven, yes seven microphones are positioned around the top of the device. They feed into four Texas Instrument 92dB SNR low-power stereo ADCs. The hardware and software make for a very capable voice recognition that works from anywhere in the room. For the output sound, two speakers are utilized – a woofer and a tweeter. They’re both powered via a TI 15 watts class D amplifier. Check out this full tear down for more details of the hardware.

circuit board

Now that we have a good idea of the hardware, we have to accept the bad news that this is a closed source device. While we’ve seen other hacks where people poll the to-do list through the unofficial API, it still leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, the wake word, or the word which signals the Echo to start listening to commands, is either “Alexa” or “Amazon”. There is no other way to change this, even though it should be easily doable in the software. It should be obvious that people will want to call it “Computer” or “Jarvis”. But do not fret my hacker friends, for I have good news!

It appears that Amazon sees (or had seen all along) that home automation is the future of the Echo. They now officially support Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo gadgets. The Belkin WeMo, which is no stranger to the hacker’s workbench, has a good handle on home automation already, making the ability to control things in your house with the Echo tantalizingly close. See the video below where I test it out. Now, if you’re not excited yet, you haven’t heard of the WeMo Maker, a device which they claim will let you “Control nearly any low-voltage electronics device“. While the WeMo Maker is not supported as of yet, it surely will be in the near future.

We know it sucks that all of this is closed source. But it sure is cool! So here’s the question: Is the Echo the future of home automation? Sure, it has its obvious flaws, and one would think home automation is not exactly Amazon’s most direct business model (they just want you to buy stuff). However, it works very well as a home automation core. Possibility better than anything out there right now – both closed and open source.

Do you think Amazon would ever open the door to letting the Echo run open source modules which allow the community to add control of just about any wireless devices? Do you think that doing so would crown Amazon the king of home automation in the years to come?

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