DIY Linux Computer and 6LoWPAN Gateway

We toss together our own PCB designs, throwing in a microcontroller here or there. Anything more demanding than that, and we reach for a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone (or an old Linksys router). Why don’t we just whip together a PCB for a small Linux computer? Because we don’t know how…but [Jonas] apparently does. And when we asked him why he did it, he replied “because I can!”


His Ethernet-to-6LoWPAN gateway project is a small, OpenWRT-capable Linux computer in disguise. Rather than yet another Raspberry Pi project, he designed around an Atmel AT91SAM9G25 400 MHz CPU, and added some memory, Ethernet, and a CC2520 radio chip to handle the wireless side. It’s all done on a four-layer board, and hotplate/skillet reflowed. This seems temptingly like something within our reach. [Jonas] had access to X-ray machines to double-check his reflow work, which probably isn’t necessary, although it looks really cool.

When finished, the project will link together a 6LoWPAN network (probably home automation) and his home wired network. That makes this device a rival to something like Philips’ Hue Bridge, which was the subject of some controversy when they locked out other devices for a few days until they recanted. Indeed, in response to this, there’s been quite a lot of effort at hacking the firmware of the Hue device, just to stay on the safe side in case Philips plays shenanigans again.

Soon, that’s not going to be necessary. [Jonas]’s design is open from the ground up, and coupled with open software running on top of the OpenWRT router operating system, that’s the full stack. And that’s great news for folks who are thinking about investing in a home automation technology, but afraid of what happens then the faceless corporations decide to pull the plug on their devices.

FCC Reaches Agreement With Router Manufacturers

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a rule governing the certification of RF equipment, specifically wireless routers. This proposed rule required router manufacturers to implement security on the radio module inside these routers. Although this rule is fairly limited in scope – the regulation only covers the 5GHz U-NII bands, and only applies to the radio subsystem of a router, the law of unintended consequences reared its ugly head. The simplest way to lock down a radio module is to lock down the entire router, and this is exactly what a few large router manufacturers did. Under this rule, open source, third-party firmwares such as OpenWRT are impossible.

Now, router manufacturer TP-Link has reached an agreement with the FCC to allow third-party firmware. Under the agreement, TP-Link will pay a $200,000 fine for shipping routers that could be configured to run above the permitted power limits.

This agreement is in stark contrast to TP-Link’s earlier policy of shipping routers with signed, locked firmware, in keeping with the FCC’s rule.

This is a huge success for the entire open source movement. Instead of doing the easy thing – locking down a router’s firmware and sending it out the door – TP-Link has chosen to take a hit to their pocketbook. That’s great news for any of the dozens of projects experimenting with mesh networking, amateur radio, or any other wireless networking protocol, and imparts a massive amount of goodwill onto TP-Link.

Thanks [Maave] for the tip.

Sniffing Bluetooth Devices With A Raspberry Pi

Hackaday was at HOPE last weekend, and that means we got the goods from what is possibly the best security conference on the east coast. Some of us, however, were trapped in the vendor area being accosted by people wearing an improbable amount of Mr. Robot merch asking, ‘so what is Hackaday?’. We’ve all seen The Merchants Of Cool, but that doesn’t mean everyone was a vapid expression of modern marketing. Some people even brought some of their projects to show off. [Jeff] of reelyActive stopped by the booth and showed off what his team has been working on. It’s a software platform that turns all your wireless mice, Fitbits, and phones into a smart sensor platform using off the shelf hardware and a connection to the Internet.

[Jeff]’s demo unit (shown above) is simply a Raspberry Pi 3 with WiFi and Bluetooth, and an SD card loaded up with reelyActive’s software. Connect the Pi to the Internet, and you have a smart space that listens for local Bluetooth devices and relays the identity and MAC address of all Bluetooth devices in range up to the Internet.

The ability to set up a hub and detect Bluetooth devices solves the problem Bluetooth beacons solves — identifying when people enter a space, leave a space, and with a little bit of logic where people are located in a space — simply by using what they’re already wearing. Judging from what [Jeff] showed with his portable reelyActive hub (a Pi and a battery pack) a lot of people at HOPE are wearing Fitbits, wireless headphones, and leaving the Bluetooth on the phone on all the time. That’s a great way to tell where people are, providing a bridge between the physical world and the digital.

ESP8266 MicroPython Contest Gives You the Excuse You Need

As if the prospect of having everyone’s favorite scripting language ported over weren’t enough to get you to install MicroPython on a spare ESP8266, there is now a contest for that. Over on the MicroPython on ESP8266 contest is under way and you’ve only got until the end of August to submit your creation.

The prizes? First place gets an OpenMV camera board because [Radomir], who’s running the contest, has an extra one. OK, it’s not as lush as the corporate-sponsored goody-bag that we’ve got running in the Hackaday Prize, but there’s no reason that you can’t enter both. And if anyone wants to throw some more goodies into the pot, I’m sure they’d be welcome.

The rules are simple: use an ESP8266 or ESP8285 with MicroPython and post the project up on Bonus points are given for creating new libraries or hardware drivers. Basically, this just gives you an extra reason to get in there and play around. How cool is that?

If you need a start-up on MicroPython on the ESP8266, the official tutorial is great. We wrote up a first-look review of running MicroPython on the WeMos D1 hardware, but were plagued with (re-)flashing difficulties, so we’re going to have to give it another go.

MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires

Scripting languages are for large computers, right? “Real” embedded device work is a hellish, never-ending cycle of code, compile, and re-flash. Well, I used to think so too, but with the proliferation of scripting and other interactive languages to microcontrollers over the last few years, the hurdle to interactive development on the small chips has gotten a lot lower.

On the ESP8266 platform, I’ve tried out NodeMCU’s Lua and ESP8266 BASIC. (For the last half-year, I’ve been using the awesome Mecrisp-Stellaris almost exclusively on the STM32F1xx and F4xx chips, but haven’t dipped into ESP8266 Forth yet.)

NodeMCU is great because it’s got everything you could want built in, and through cloud services it’s easy to get a tailored build made that maximizes free flash memory for your projects. I just don’t dig the asynchronous Lua thing (you might, try it!). ESP BASIC has a different set of libraries, and is missing MQTT for my purposes. Still it’s pretty slick, and worth a look.

So when the MicroPython folks announced that they were releasing the binary builds for the ESP, I thought it was time to give it a spin. I’ve used Python for nearly twelve years now, so it’s like a comfortable shoe for me. Would MicroPython be the same on the ESP8266? The short answer is yes and no.

Continue reading “MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires”

Never Gonna Give Up Free WiFi

Our conscience almost prevented us from posting this one. Almost.

What do people all around the world want most? Free WiFi. And what inevitable force do they want to avoid most, just after death and taxes? Rick Astley. As a getting-started project with the ESP8266, user [jaime] built a “free WiFi portal” that takes advantage of people’s deepest desires. Instead of delivering sweet, high-bandwidth connectivity, once you click through the onerous terms and conditions, it delivers you a looped GIF with background music.

And all of this on $4 worth of hardware, with firmware assembled in the cloud and easily available to anyone. We live in a truly frivolous glorious age.

Digging through our archives, we found a number of Rickroll posts that we’d rather forget, but this steam-powered record player bears a second look.

Planespotter Spots Planes, Tracks Destinations

Ever looked up in the sky and wondered where all of those planes above you were going? [Daniel Eichhorn] no longer has to, thanks to his ESP8266-based Planespotter.

He built this nifty device to grab the details of the flights he sees taking off from Zurich airport. It’s a neat build, running on an ESP8266 that receives ADS-B data from ADS-B Exchange. This service allows you to query the ADS-B data with a specific location.

[Daniel]’s plane tracker sends a query to ADS-B exchange for flights in his location and below a certain height (so he sees ones that are just taking off), then displays the received information on the OLED screen.  [Daniel] says that a display-only version will cost you about $20, while the full version that also receives and shares data with the ADS-B Exchange will cost you about $50. That’s a lot cheaper than a plane ticket…