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.

Shower Occupancy Sensor Keeps Peace/Eliminates Odor at the Office

When the first two prototype ingredients listed are paperclips and Post-it notes you know it’s going to be good. The problem: one shower stall at work with numerous co-workers who bike to the office. The solution: a occupancy monitor that is smart enough to know that someone is actually in the room. You know what we’re talking about, a sensor that knows more than whether the door is open or closed. [James] got wise and built a sensor to monitor whether the door is bolted or not. We think this method is far superior to motion-based systems.

This uber-smart sensor is simply a pair of paperclips anchored on a rolled Post-it note substrate and shoved in the receiver on the door jamb. When the bolt is locked from the inside it pushes the paperclips together completing the simple circuit. This is monitored by a Spark Core but will work with just about any monitoring system you can devise. What we’re trying to figure out is how to ruggedize the paper-clip hack which we can’t think will perform well for very long. It looks like there’s room to bore out a bit more inside the receiver hole. Perhaps leaf switch with a 3D printed mounting bracket?

Oh, and kudos on the Ikea food storage container for the enclosure. That’s one of our favorite tricks for hacks which are installed for the long-run.

Amazon Echo Becomes A Better Home Automation Appliance

There’s a bright future ahead of us, filled with intelligent computerized assistants that will listen to everything we say and do our bidding. It’ll be like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without unverified mission-critical software and a bunch of killing. Until then, we have a few Amazon Echo hacks that tease out a reasonably capable home automation system without a proper API.

This build was inspired by an earlier project that polled the to do list looking for key phrases. Saying, “Alexa, to do, lights on” would turn on an Internet-connected light bulb. Saying, “Alexa, to do, call home” would call a phone number set up with the ‘home’ keyword.

[Glen] has improved that earlier setup somewhat, mostly by getting rid of the requirement to say, ‘to do.’ The Git for the project still shows it’s exploiting the Amazon to do list, but this is a much cleaner build that should end up having a lot more possibilities.

So far, [Glen], or rather, Alexa, can control the temperature of the house through a Nest thermostat, the lighting of a room with a Phillips Hue light bulb, and other random tasks like playing an audio file through the speakers. Not bad, and something that really demonstrates the potential of a smart, connected home.

Reading Power Use Data with a Webcam and Python

As any hacker will attest to, whenever an important tool is missing, you might as well just build a new one! That’s the position that [Matt] found himself in when he was attempting to measure the power consumption at his parents’ house. He left the transmitter for the power meter at home, and so the logical thing to do was to set up a webcam and a python script to monitor his dad’s power meter instead of going back to get his.

The power meter that he had handy was a GEO Minim Electricity Monitor. He found it very difficult to extract the data directly from this particular meter, so instead of digging into any of the communications protocols int he meter, he set up a webcam in a box with an LED and monitored it with a specially-written Python script. The script is able to see the particulars of the meter, and then reports back to the computer with all of the relevant data. [Matt] has put this code up on his project site for anyone to use.

This is a great workaround that doesn’t involve delving too deep into the inner workings of the meter in question. You could always build your own power monitoring system though, if that’s more of your style!

Hanging Monitors Keeps Your Desk Slightly Less Messy

[Gertlex] – like just about everyone reading this, I’m sure – has a messy desk with monitors, keyboards, mice, several other input devices, tablets, and a laptop. He wanted a system that would reduce the wire clutter on his desk and after thinking a bit came up with a really cool solution for arranging his monitors. He’s hanging the monitors from a shelf above his desk using nothing but some aluminum and a few 3D printed brackets.

The main structure is a shelf of ‘bridge’ above his desk, made from 3/4″ ply. The inventive bit of this build is the two 1″ square aluminum tubes spanning the width of this shelf. From these, a few bits of aluminum angle pieces slide along the 1″ rails. a mount holds a 1″ round pipe to these supports, and a VESA mount is clamped to the pipe. There’s an imgur album that goes through the entire design. It’s certainly an improvement over the earlier battlestation, and the wiring loom cleans everything up nice and tidy.

[Gertlex]’s new system of hanging monitors is great, but this simple puts some even cooler builds on the table. The sliding system is great, but by putting one monitor on its own carriage, you could have an infinitely reconfigurable monitor setup. Some proper bearings, 3D printed VESA mounts, and maybe even a few stepper motors would make a build like this the coolest battlestation rig since the great ‘capacitor plague and I have a soldering iron so free monitors’ spectacular of 2005.