Cracking Litter Box DRM

DRM on a specific brand of cat litter box has been cracked. In other news, DRM on cat litter boxes exists.

[Jorge] moved into a new apartment with a feline companion and wanted one of those fancy, auto-cleaning litter boxes. Apparently only one such device exists, the CatGenie. This ‘Rolls Royce of cat litter boxes’ uses little pieces of plastic granules as ‘functional medium’ that are scooped up, cleaned, and returned to use. These granules are washed with a cartridge full of fresh-smelling cleaning solution that comes in a container with an RFID tag. Yep, DRM’ed cat boxes. Welcome to the future.

After cruising around the Internet, [Jorge] found a CatGenie community that has released open source firmware for a litter box and something called a CartridgeGenius, a drop-in replacement for the cartridge tag reader in the litter box. It simulates both the RFID tag and its reader, allowing any robotic litter box owner to select between 120 cycle cartridges, 60 cycle cartridges, a maintenance cartridge, and set the fill level of those cartridges.

Previously, [Jorge] was spending about $350 a year on the solution to clean these plastic granules, so in a few months this CartridgeGenius has already paid for itself.

Tracking Power Usage With A Raspi

With tiny, Internet-connected computers everywhere these days, home automation is finally hitting it big. [Jelora] was looking for a few more home automation projects and realized his electric meter had a pair of ‘digital information outputs’. With a Raspberry Pi and a few bits of wire, he figured out how to read this digital output and put a log of his electricity consumption up on the web.

The digital output on [Jelora]’s meter is a bit odd; it’s 1200 bps, 7 bits per character, parity, with one stop bit. It’s also a 50 kHz AC signal for a binary ‘0’ and nothing for a binary ‘1’. To read this signal, [Jelora] is using a diode to throw out half the signal, a 6N138 optoisolator so the Pi isn’t connected directly to the meter, and a small cap to smooth out the signal. Simple, and it works.

This cleaned up signal is then connected to serial to USB chip and a PHP script scrapes the data every minute. The data received from the meter is stored in a data base along with a few other bits of information: if the meter is being charged peak or off-peak rates, and the price per kWh. All this is saved on an IDE hard drive (more reliable than the SD card, surprisingly), and a ‘electricity cost per day’ is plotted on a nifty graph and served up by the Raspberry Pi.

Using The Wink Hub With OpenHAB

Spend enough time looking at home automation setups, and you’ll quickly find there are two competing philosophies. The first wants to put an Arduino on every light socket, with everything connected by cheap eBay radio modules. The second home automation philosophy requires astonishingly expensive hardware to talk to other expensive modules. The Arduino solution is a system that can be infinitely customizable, and the commercial solution talks to ‘the cloud’ for some strange reason. There is no middle ground. At least there wasn’t until [Eric] started poking around and looked at a few hardware solutions.

[Eric] was looking to control some GE Link bulbs through his phone, computer, or through the Internet. They’re supposed to be the best bulb on the market in terms of price and performance, but they can only be controlled with a Zigbee. This lead [Eric] to an interesting hack that gave all owners of the Wink Hub local control of their devices. From [Eric]’s research, this was the only way his lighting wasn’t dependent on ‘the cloud’.

Local control of the Wink was only possible after [Eric] read a post on rooting the Wink (and this post from a few days ago). Because the device could be rooted, and the fact that [Eric] already has a few things in his house integrated with OpenHAB, the choice on how to proceed with controlling a few Zigbee enabled lights was easy.

Once [Eric] got the light bulbs talking to the Wink, integrating them with the rest of the devices in his home was easy. The new bulbs are activated with his Arduino motion sensors, door sensors, and can be controlled via smartphone or by voice control. The Wink can also be completely disconnected from the Internet. A good idea, because the ability to turn a light on and off should not be dictated by the quality of your Internet connection.

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Redundant Automated Water Filler For Your Coffee

We’ve always wondered why we have indoor plumbing if it isn’t hooked up to our coffee pots. We probably drink as much coffee as water anyway, so why not just hook up a water line to refill the pot? [Loose Cannon] aka [LC] has been working on just that problem, with a whole lot of extra features, creating a very robust automatically-filled, gravity-fed, vacuum-sealed water tank for whatever appliance you have that could use it, including your coffee pot.

[LC] tapped into the 1/4″ water line from the ice maker, which has the added bonus of being a common size for solenoid valves. He’s using an eTape sensor to measure the water level in the reservoir, but he ALSO is using a flow meter in the line itself to double-check that the reservoir won’t overflow. The flow meter allows a hard limit to be set for the maximum amount of water allowed into the tank. He’s used an Arduino Micro to tie the project together, which also handles a real-time clock so the tank can be filled on a schedule.

The tank that [LC] was trying to fill was vacuum-sealed as well, which made things a little trickier. Without a vacuum on the tank, the water would just run out of the overflow valve. This is an interesting project that goes way beyond the usual automatic water supplies for coffee pots we’ve seen before.

Making Something Useful With The ESP8266

The ESP8266 is the latest and greatest way to get a project connected to the Internet, but so far we haven’t seen many projects that actually do something with this very cool chip. Yes, there are a few people pinging away with AT commands, and there is a thriving community building interpreters and flashing new code on this chip, but not much in the way of actual projects. [Martin] is the exception. He’s come up with two projects that use the ESP8266.

The first project is one that puts the readings from a DHT22 temperature/humidity sensor up on the Internet. Following the spirit of all the recent development of the ESP8266, [Martin] isn’t using an external microcontroller. Instead, he’s using the SDK to run an HTTP daemon using [Sprite_TM]’s code. This web server provides an interface to turn an LED on and off, and reports the temperature and humidity readings from the DHT22. It’s simple, but it’s easy to see how this tiny chip could become the basis for a smart thermostat.

If lighting up LEDs isn’t enough, [Martin] has another project that includes three solid state relays. This one is a bit more complex with MQTT support, a fancy jQuery interface, and support for network time. [Martin] isn’t quite ready to publish the complete code for this project, but that’s only because there are a few features he’d like to implement before making it public. These include dynamic DNS, scheduling functionality, and support for an I2C status display. Even without these fancy features, it’s still a great project that’s still extremely capable for an Internet of Things thing. You can check out [Martin]’s video demo of this board below.

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A Better Way To Hack The Wink

If you’re looking for Home Automation appliances, you might want to check out the Wink Hub. It’s fifty bucks, and has six radios on board: WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and 433MHz Lutron and Kidde. That’s an insane amount of connectivity in a very cheap package. It’s been pwnzor3d before, but dinnovative has a much better solution for getting root on this device.

Earlier methods of rooting the Wink involved passing commands via URLs – something that’s not exactly secure. The new method leverages what’s already installed on the Wink, specifically Dropbear, to generate public keys on the Wink hub and getting that key onto another computer securely. The complete exploit is just a few lines in a terminal, but once that’s done you’ll have a rooted Wink hub.

Even though the Wink hub has been rooted a few times before, we haven’t seen anything that leverages the capabilities of this hardware. There isn’t another device with a bunch of IoT radios on the market for $50, and we’re dying to see what people can come up with. If you’ve done something with your Wink, send it in on the tip line.

Automated Bed Warmer Control for Chilly Nights

For most of the Northern Hemisphere, winter is in full swing right now. That means long, chilly nights. We assume [LC] is in one of these climes because it seems like his bed warmer wasn’t doing quite a good enough job of getting his bed up to a reasonable temperature before he climbed in. To alleviate some of his discomfort, he hacked into the control unit and added some automation.

The original controller uses a mechanical potentiometer to set the heat level. [LC] added a digital potentiometer which he can switch to in order to allow the automation (using a real-time clock to handle scheduling) to take over control of the bed warmer. This also preserves the original functionality of the controller. There is also an Arduino involved which handles the override from mechanical to digital potentiometer when a capacitive touch sensor is activated. This means that when someone attempts to take manual control of the device, the Arduino can switch the override circuit off.

There is quite a bit of detail on the project site about this hack, including the source code for the controller. [LC] also mentions that this could be interfaced to the web to allow remote control of the bed warmer. This is a great hack, and also fits into the idea of heating the person, not the room.