Sucking PIC Firmware Out of an Old APC Battery Backup

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Looking at this huge Uninterruptible Power Supply we are a little envious. It’s meant to hang on the wall of a utility room and power your critical devices. [Radek Hvizdos] has had it in service for quite some time, and when he started thinking of replacing the internal battery he decided to see if he could also extend the functionality. To do so he needed to get at the firmware of the chip controlling the device. And so began his adventure of dumping the firmware from the read-protected PIC 18F452.

The challenge of dumping code from a write-protected chip is in itself a fun project. But [Radek] was actually interested in fixing bugs and adding features. The wishlist feature we’d be most interested in is a kind of triage for shutting down devices as the internal battery starts to run low. Nice! But starting from scratch with the firmware is a no-go. You can see the two places where he connected to the PCB. The upper is for using a PIC programmer. The lower is an I2C connection used to dump the EEPROM with an improvised Bus Pirate.

In the end it was improper lock bit settings that opened the door to grabbing the firmware. The bootloader section of the PIC is not locked, and neither is the ability to read from FLASH at run-time. These two combined allowed him to write his own code which, when flashed to the bootloader section, dumps the rest of the firmware so that it may be combined into a complete file afterward. Since posting this fascinating article he has made a follow-up about disassembling the code.

Sniffing Wired Garage Door Opener Signals

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In addition to being something fun to do with an oscilloscope, this could be a valuable time-saver for anyone looking to tap into the wired communications on a garage door opener. If you own an older model you might be scratching your head. But newer units have more than just one button operation, usually extending to at least two extra buttons that control the lights on the motor unit and lock out wireless control. A quick probing turned up the communication scheme used by the button unit mounted next to the door into the house.

We’ve patched into our own garage door using a simple relay to interface with a microcontroller which will still work for opening and closing the door But if you’re looking for extended control you need to spoof one of the timing signals detailed in this post. We like the stated examples for future hacks: building a better wired button unit, or adding some type of RFID integration. We could see this approach for hacking in motion light control for door openers that don’t have it.

[Thanks Victor]

Built-in Coffee Table Lightbox

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[Flyingpuppy] sent us this tip about her cleverly-concealed pull-out lightbox drawer. Her resolution for the new year was to make more art, so she filled this coffee table with art supplies and decided she’d draw while relaxing in front of the television. She also wanted a lightbox nearby, which originally involved hacking the entire tabletop with some acrylic, but she eventually opted for a simpler build: and it’s portable, too! The drawer’s lights are battery-powered, so you can pull the entire thing out of the table and drag it onto your lap, if that makes drawing more comfortable.

[Flyingpuppy] sourced seven inexpensive LED units from her local dollar store, which she mounted to the back of the drawer with some screws. The rest of the drawer was lined with white foam board, the bottom section angled to bounce light up onto the acrylic drawing surface. Because she needs to open the case to manually flip on the lights, she secured the acrylic top magnetically, gluing a magnet to the underside of the foam board and affixing a small piece of steel to the acrylic. A simple tug on the steel bit frees the surface, providing access underneath. Stick around for a video below.

[Read more...]

From ePaper Badge to Weather Station

ePaper Weather Station

[Jeremy Blum] converted his 2013 Open Hardware Summit badge, also known as the BADGEr, into an ePaper weather station. We’ve looked at the 2013 OHS badge in the past, and the included open source RePaper display makes it an interesting platform to hack.

To fetch weather data, the badge is connected to a Raspberry Pi using an FTDI cable. A Python script uses the Python Weather API to poll for weather data. It then sends a series of commands to the BADGEr using pySerial which selects the correct image, and inserts the current weather data. Finally, a cronjob is used to run the script periodically, providing regular weather updates.

If you happen to have one of the badges, [Jeremy] has provided all of the files you’ll need to build your own weather station on Github. Otherwise, you can take a look at the RePaper project and WyoLum’s eReader Arduino Library to build your own ePaper project.

Doggy DVR Alarm Sensor

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[Martin] lives in a small village about 25km from his job in a major city. Occasionally his home alarm system will trip and he will rush home to make sure everything is okay. So he decided to buy a DVR system instead… and he turned his dog’s collar into one of the main sensors.

As you may know, DVR’s also have sensor inputs in addition to loads of video cameras. These can be very handy to tell you other things that a small video clip will not, such as moisture, humidity, temperature etc. [Martin's] DVR has 8 sensor inputs which he has configured to be the normally open type of sensors. By using a Sharp 817 optocoupler and a Funky v3 wireless module he made one of the sensor inputs wireless.

On the other end of the Funky wireless setup is a Kinder Surprise shell attached to his dog’s collar. In addition to the wireless module, it also contains a rudimentary 2-axis shock sensor consisting of a small spring that floats over a metal pin — when moved violently (when the dog is running about) it makes contact and [Martin's] DVR alerts him by email and sends him pictures from the system.

He suspects he’ll be getting lots of pictures of the dog getting spooked by cats wandering by.

Wireless Thermostat

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The thermostat in [Tom’s] 100-year-old house is two floors up from where the furnace is located, so a broken wire in the wall was just the catalyst needed to design a wireless thermostat.

The system is based on a customized PCB [Tom] designed called the Magic Mote. The board contains an MSP430 microcontroller, a low power NRF24l01+ wireless transceiver, and various sensor interfaces. The wireless thermostat project uses two of these boards; one monitors the temperature on the second floor and the other controls the furnace in the basement.

The temperature sensing is done using a DHT22/AM2303 temperature and humidity sensor, which is a convenient choice, since the part is calibrated and handles the analog digital conversion; you just need one digital pin to retrieve the temp/humidity data. To control the furnace, [Tom] used the local 24VAC and a latching relay to drive the heater signal. The 24VAC also powers the board, so a door-bell transformer steps the voltage down to something more usable; about 11VAC or so, which is then rectified, filtered, and regulated down to what the control electronics like to see (3.3V/5V).

This project is actually still in the early stages of what [Tom] has planned; a network of sensors and appliances with a beagle bone base station. We can’t wait to see what’s next for this project; maybe we’ll even see some voice control, like in this epic Siri controlled home automation project.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Recliner Sofa Given the Power of the Pi

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If you go to buy a sofa these days you’ll not only be greeted with the option of one or more reclining positions, but a fully modern unit comes with motorized reclining. That simply wasn’t convenient enough for [Nicki] and [Kevin] who wanted to control the feature from a smartphone rather than a physical interface (buttons) on the side of the furniture. What resulted is the PiSofa, a Raspberry Pi connected to the furniture’s electronics with the help of a relay board.

This is most certainly a hack, but no doubt one with a lot of finesse. Check out that white PCB. That’s right, it’s a factory spun board to keep things nice and neat. They went with one of our favorite tricks by housing everything inside of a food storage container. After some Ruby coding the Pi now has complete control of the sofa. We’re not overstating this. It literally is the only way to control it because the original buttons no longer work. But that’s okay, turns out not only does it work with their smartphones, but with a [Kevin's] Pebble watch as well.

We can’t think of any past hacks that specifically targeted the couch. But here’s a hammock that you can drive down the street.