A 1920’s Doorbell is Upgraded with 2010’s Technology

Doorbell

When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.

ESP8266 Distance Testing

ESP

With progress slowly being made on turning the ESP8266 UART to WiFi module into something great, there is still the question of what the range is for the radio in this tiny IoT wonder. [CNLohr] has some test results for you, and the results are surprisingly good.

Connecting to the WiFi module through a TPLink WR841N router, [CN] as able to ping the module at 479 meters with a huge rubber duck antenna soldered on, or 366 meters with the PCB antenna. Wanting to test out the maximum range, [CN] and his friends dug out a Ubiquiti M2 dish and were able to drive 4.28 kilometers away from the module and still ping it.

Using a dish and a rubber duck antenna is an exercise in excess, though: no one is going to use a dish for an Internet of Things thing, but if you want to carry this experiment to its logical conclusion, there’s no reason to think an ESP8266 won’t connect, so long as you have line of sight and a huge antenna.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on this module. It’s capable of running custom code, and since you can pick this module up for less than $5 USD, it’s an interesting platform for whatever WiFi project you have in mind.

Inductive Charger Mod Allows for Non-Stop Wireless Rocking

Inductive charger

When you want to jam out to the tunes stored on your mobile devices, Bluetooth speakers are a good option. Battery power means you can take them on the go and the Bluetooth connection means you don’t have to worry about cables or wires dangling around. Unfortunately the batteries never seem to last as long as we want them too. You can always plug the speaker back in to charge up the battery… but when you unhook those cords they always seem to end up falling back behind the furniture.

[Pierre] found himself with this problem, but being a hacker at heart meant that he was able to do something about it. He modified his JAM Classic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker to include an inductive charger. It used to be a lot of work to fabricate your own inductive charging system, or to rip it out of another device. But these days you can purchase kits outright.

The JAM speaker was simply put together with screws, so no cracking of the plastic was necessary. Once the case was removed, [Pierre] used a volt meter to locate the 5V input line. It looks like he just tapped into the USB port’s power and ground connections. The coil’s circuit is soldered in place with just the two wires.

All [Pierre] had left to do was to put the speaker back together, taking care to find space for the coil and the new circuit board. The coil was taped to the round base of the speaker. This meant that [Pierre] could simply tape the charging coil to the underside of a glass table top. Now whenever his Bluetooth speaker gets low on battery, he can simply place it on the corner of the table and it will charge itself. No need to mess with cables.

 

 

Energia on the CC3200

The CC3200 dev board with Energia

If you’re looking to connect things to the internet, with the goal of building some sort of “Internet of Things,” the new CC3200 chip from TI is an interesting option. Now you can get started quickly with the Energia development environment for the CC3200.

We discussed the CC3200 previously on Hackaday. The chip gives you an ARM Cortex M4 processor with a built-in WiFi stack and radio. It supports things like web servers and SSL out of the box.

Energia is an Arduino-like development environment for TI chips. It makes writing firmware for these devices easier, since a lot of the work is already done. The collection of libraries aids in getting prototypes running quickly. You can even debug Energia sketches using TI’s fully featured IDE.

With this new release of Energia, the existing Energia WiFi library supports the built-in WiFi radio on the CC3200. This should make prototyping of WiFi devices easier, and cheaper since the CC3200 Launchpad retails for $30.

A Remote Controlled, Fully Functional, Steam Powered Tank

Steam Powered Tank for the 21st Century

Steam power anything these days is pretty cool, but rarely have we ever seen such a complex build as this steam powered, remote controlled 1/16th scale tank.

[Ian] is an electronics design engineer whose hobbies include messing around with steam power. The Steam Turret Tank is based on a 1/16th scale Tamiya King Tiger die-cast model tank. It features a 3.5″ diameter marine boiler from MaccSteam, which is a fully equipped miniature version of a real boiler, complete with pressure gauges, safety valves, and a ceramic burner. It can produce pressures of up to 70PSI (max 120PSI), but for this project, [Ian] is limiting it to around 30PSI.

A small 2″ diameter fuel tank contains a propane mixture to fuel the boiler. Two Regner 40451 Piccolo steam engines make up the drive train, with mechanical linkages controlled by servos to engage the various features. The tank can go forward, backward, spin in place, and the turret can both rotate and adjust trajectory. It also has controllable headlights, and can even “fire” the turret.

[Read more...]

Green Light Your Commute with America’s Unsecured Traffic Lights

Green Lights Forever

Remember that episode of Leverage (season 5, episode 3), where Alec uses Marvin to wirelessly change all the street lights green so they can catch up to an SUV? And you scoffed and said “that’s so not real!”… well actually they got it right. A new study out of the University of Michigan (PDF warning), shows just how easy it is to make your morning commute green lights all the way.

The study points out that a large portion of traffic lights in the United States communicate with each other wirelessly over the 900Mhz and 5.8Ghz ISM band with absolutely no encryption. In order to connect to the 5.8Ghz traffic signals, you simply need the SSID (which is set to broadcast) and the proper protocol. In the study the researchers used a wireless card that is not available to the public, but they do point out that with a bit of social engineering you could probably get one. Another route is the HackRF SDR, which could be used to both sniff and transmit the required protocol. Once connected to the network you will need the default username and password, which can be found on the traffic light manufacturer’s website. To gain access to the 900Mhz networks you need all of the above and a 16-bit slave ID. This can be brute forced, and as the study shows, no ID was greater than 100. Now you have full access, not to just one traffic signal, but EVERY signal connected to the network.

Once on the network you have two options. The completely open debug port in the VxWorks OS which allows you to read-modify-write any memory register. Or by sending a(n) UDP packet where the last byte encodes the button pressed on the controller’s keypad. Using the remote keypad you can freeze the current intersection state, modify the signal timing, or change the state of any light. However the hardware Malfunction Management Unit (MMU) will still detect any illegal states (conflicting green or yellow lights), and take over with the familiar 4-way red flashing. Since a technician will have to come out and manually reset the traffic signal to recover from an illegal state, you could turn every intersection on the network into a 4-way stop.

So the next time you stop at a red light, and it seems to take forever to change, keep an eye out for the hacker who just green lit their commute.

Thanks for the tip [Matt]

New Chip Alert: The ESP8266 WiFi Module (It’s $5)

NewChip

Every so often we run across something in the Hackaday tip line that sends us scurrying to Google, trying to source a component, part, or assembly. The ESP8266 WiFi module is the latest, made interesting because it pretty much doesn’t exist outside China.

Why is it cool? It’s a WiFi module with an SOC, making it somewhat similar to TI’s CC300 in conception (A.K.A. the thing that makes the Spark Core so appealing), in that a microcontroller on the module takes care of all the WiFi, TCP/IP stack, and the overhead found in an 802.11 network. It’s addressable over SPI and UART, making this an exceptionally easy choice for anyone wanting to build an Internet of Things thing; you can simply connect any microcontroller to this module and start pushing data up to the Internet. Oh, it’s also being sold for $5 in quantity one. Yes, for five dollars you can blink a LED from the Internet. That’s about half the price as the CC3000 itself, and a quarter of the price if you were to build a CC3000 breakout board.

There’s a catch, right, there’s always a catch. Yep. About two hours after this post is published it will be the number one English language Google result for “ESP8266.” As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be found anywhere on the Internet on this module.

Seeed Studio recently sold a few of these modules for $7 and has some documentation, including a full datasheet and an AT command set. All the documentation is in Chinese. There’s also an “ESP8266 IoT SDK”, but from a quick glance at the code, this appears to be an SDK for the SOC on the module, not a simple way to connect the module to a microcontroller.

Anyone wanting to grab one of these modules can do so on Ali Express. Anyone wanting to do something with one of these modules will have a much more difficult time, most likely poking and prodding bits randomly with the help of Google translate. Should someone, or even a group of people, want to take up the task of creating a translation of the datasheet and possibly a library, we have a pretty collaborative project hosting site where you can do that. You may organize in the comments below; we’ll also be taking bets as to when a product using the ESP8266 will be found on Kickstarter. My guess is under a month.

EDIT: Here’s a translation of the datasheet and AT command set.

Edit two: [bafeigum] is writing a library go help him out.

Thanks [Liam] for the tip.

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