Fresh-Pressed Clothes Courtesy of TEO, the Iron Man

As with many tasks, robots may soon be ironing our clothes for us before we leave for work. Built by a team from the University Carlos III de Madrid’s robotics lab in Getafe, Spain, TEO is a highly articulated robot, that can climb stairs, open doors, and has recently added ironing to its skill set.

Data from a depth-sensing camera in TEO’s head is combed over by an algorithm, breaking it down into thousands of points — 0 being smooth and 1 a defined line in the clothing. Comparing those point values to those of its neighbours allows TEO to identify wrinkles without any preexisting notion of what a freshly-pressed garment looks like.

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Reverse Engineering A BLE Service To Control A Light Bulb

So, you buy an Internet of Things light bulb, it’s a fun toy that allows you to bathe your environment in pretty colours at the touch of an app, but eventually you want more. You start to wonder how you might do more with it, and begin to investigate its inner workings. Then to your horror you discover that far from having bought a device with a convenient API for you to use, it has an impenetrable closed protocol that defies easy access.

This was the problem facing [Ayan Pahwa] when he bought a Syska Smartlight Rainbow LED bulb, and discovered that its Bluetooth Low Energy  interface used a closed protocol. But instead of giving up, he proceeded to reverse engineer the communication between bulb and app, and his write-up makes for an interesting read that provides a basic primer on some of BLE’s workings for the uninitiated.

BLE allows a device manufacturer to define their own device service specific to their functionality alongside standard ones for common device types. Using a handy Android app from Nordic Semiconductor he was able to identify the services defined for the light bulb, but sadly they lacked any human-readable information to help him as to their purpose. He thus had to sniff BLE packets directly, and lacking dedicated hardware for this task he relied on a developer feature built into Android versions since KitKat, allowing packets to be captured and logged. By analysing the resulting packet files he was able to identify the Texas Instruments chip inside the bulb, and to deduce the sequences required to control its colours. Then he was able to use the Bluez utilities to talk directly to it, and as if by magic, his colours appeared! Take a look at the video we’ve placed below the break.

Many of us may never need to reverse engineer a BLE device. But if we are BLE novices, after reading [Ayan]’s piece we will at least have some idea of its inner workings. And that can only be a positive thing.

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Garage Distance Sensor Kicks Tennis Ball To Curb

Those with small garages might be familiar with the method of hanging a tennis ball from a ceiling to make sure they don’t hit the back wall with their car. If the car isn’t in the garage, though, the tennis ball dangling from a string tends to get in the way. To alleviate this problem, [asaucet] created a distance sensor that can tell him when his car is the perfect distance from the garage wall.

At the heart of the distance sensor is an HC-SR04 ultrasonic rangefinder and a PIC16F88 microcontroller. [asaucet] uses a set of four LEDs to alert the driver how close they are to the garage wall. [asaucet] also goes into great detail about how to use an LCD with this microcontroller for setting up the project, and the amount of detail should be enough to get anyone started on a similar project.

While this isn’t a new idea, the details that [asaucet] goes into in setting up the microcontroller, using the distance sensor, and using an LCD are definitely worth looking into. Even without this exact application in mind, you’re sure to find some helpful information on the project page.

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The Amazon Echo As A Listening Device

It is an inevitability that following swiftly on the heels of the release of a new device there will be an announcement of its rooting, reverse engineering, or other revealing of its hackability. Now the device in question is the Amazon Echo, as MWR Labs announce their work in persuading an Echo to yield the live audio from the microphone and turn the voice assistant device into a covert listening device.

The work hinges on a previous discovery and reverse engineering (PDF) of Amazon’s debug connector on the base of the Echo, which exposes both an SD card interface and a serial terminal. Following that work, they were able to gain root access to the device, analyze the structure of the audio buffers and how the different Echo processes use them, and run Amazon’s own “shmbuf_tool” application to pipe raw audio data to a network stream. Astoundingly this could be done without compromising the normal operation of the device.

It should be stressed, that this is an exploit that requires physical access to the device and a bit of knowledge to perform. But it’s not inconceivable that it could be made into a near-automated process requiring only a device with a set of pogo pins to be mated with an Echo that has had its cover quickly removed.

That said, inevitably there will be enough unused Echos floating around before too long that their rootability will make them useful to people in our community. We look forward to what interesting projects people come up with using rooted Echos.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the use of an Echo as a listening device.

Via Hacker News.

Amazon Echo image: FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0].

“The Alarm Clock Ate My Duvet Cover, That’s Why I’m Late!”

Some people just won’t wake up. Alarm clocks don’t cut it, flashing lights won’t work, loud music just becomes the soundtrack of an impenetrable dream. Maybe an alarm clock that rudely yanks the covers off the bed will do the trick.

Or not, but [1up Living] decided to give it a go. His mechanism is brutally simple — a large barrel under the foot of the bed around which the warm, cozy bedclothes can wind. An alarm clock is rigged with a switch on the bell to tell an Arduino to wind the drum and expose your sleeping form to the harsh, cold world. To be honest, the fact that this is powered by a 2000-lb winch that would have little trouble dismembering anyone who got caught up in the works is a bit scary. But we understand that the project is not meant to be a practical solution to oversleeping; if it were, [1up Living] might be better off using the winch to pull the bottom sheet to disgorge the sleeper from the bed entirely.

Something gentler to suit your oversleeping needs might be this Neopixel sunrise clock to coax you out of bed naturally.

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Eradicating Mosquitoes from Your Backyard — with Seltzer?

Q: What do you call 8000 dead mosquitoes in a Mason jar?

A: A good start. And [Dan Rojas]’s low-tech mosquito trap accomplished the feat in two nights with nothing fancier than a fan and a bottle of seltzer.

We know what you’re thinking: Where’s the hack? Why not at least use a laser sentry gun to zap skeeters on the fly? We agree that [Dan]’s mosquito trap, consisting of a powerful fan to create suction and a piece of window screen to catch the hapless bloodsuckers, is decidedly low-tech. But you can’t argue with results. Unless he’s fudging the numbers, a half-full Mason jar of parasite cadavers is pretty impressive. And you have to love the simplicity of the attractant he’s using. Mosquitoes are attracted to the CO2 exhaled by tasty mammals, but rather than do something elaborate with a paintball gun cartridge or the like, [Dan] simply cracks a bottle of seltzer and lets it outgas. Dead simple, and wickedly effective. The trapped bugs quickly desiccate in the strong air stream, aided by a few spritzes of isopropyl alcohol before cleaning the screen, which leaves them safely edible to frogs and insects.

Simple, cheap, and effective. Sounds like a great hack to us. And it’s really just a brute-force implementation of this mosquito-killing billboard for areas prone to Zika.

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Quick Hack Cleans Data from Sump Pump

Nobody likes to monitor things as much as a hacker, even mundane things like sump pumps. And hackers love clean data too, so when [Felix]’s sump pump water level data was made useless by a new pump controller, he just knew he had to hack the controller to clean up his data.

Monitoring a sump pump might seem extreme, but as a system that often protects against catastrophic damage, the responsible homeowner strives to take care of it. [Felix] goes a bit further than the average homeowner, though, with an ultrasonic sensor to continually measure the water level in the sump and alert him to pending catastrophes. Being a belt and suspenders kind of guy, he also added a float switch to control the pump, but found that the rapid cycle time made his measurements useless. Luckily the unit used a 555 timer to control the pump’s run time after triggering, so a simple calculation of the right RC values and a little solder job let him increase the on time of the pump. The result: a dry basement and clean data.

We recently discussed the evolution of home automation if you want to know more about the systems that sensors and actuators like these can be part of. Or for a more nuts and bolts guide to networking things together, our primer on MQTT might help.