Bluetooth Automation Remote Hangs Around

Using your smartphone to control your home automation system gives you a lot of flexibility. But for something as simple as turning the lights on and off, it can be a pain to go through the whole process of unlocking your phone, choosing the right browser page or app, and then finally hitting the button you need. It’d be much simpler if it could all be done at the touch of a single, physical button – but phones don’t have many of those anymore. [falldeaf] brings the solution – a four-button Bluetooth remote for your smartphone that’s wearable, to boot.

The project is built around the RFDuino, an Arduino platform used for quickly and easily building Bluetooth compatible projects. So far, so simple – four buttons wired into a microcontroller with wireless capability onboard. The real trick is the 3D-printed clothespin style case which allows you to clip the four-button remote onto your clothes. [falldeaf]’s first attempt was a palm-mounted setup that they found got in the way of regular tasks; we agree that the wearable version offers a serious upgrade in utility.

The smartphone side of things is handled with a custom app [falldeaf] coded using PhoneGap. This is where actions for the buttons can be customized, including using the buttons to navigate a menu system to enable the user to select more than just one function per button. It adds a high level of flexibility, so you can create all kinds of macros to control your whole home automation system from your button clip.

It’s really great to see a project that considers ergonomics and usability above and beyond just creating the baseline functionality. Follow this train of thought and you’ll find yourself enjoying your projects in the use phase well beyond the initial build. Another great example is this self-charging electrically heated jacket. Video after the break.

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Motorized Camera Dolly Rolls With the Changes

Over the last semester, Cornell student [Ope Oladipo] had the chance to combine two of his passions: engineering and photography. He and teammates [Sacheth Hegde] and [Jason Zhang] used their time in [Bruce Land]’s class to build a motorized camera dolly for shooting time-lapse sequences.

The camera, in this case the one from an iPhone 6, is mounted to an off-the-shelf robot chassis that tools around on a pair of DC motors. The camera mount uses a stepper motor to get just the right shot. A PIC32 on board the ‘bot takes Bluetooth commands from an iOS app that the team built. The dolly works two ways: it can be controlled manually in free mode, or it can follow a predetermined path at a set speed for a specified time in programmed mode.

Our favorite part of the build? The camera’s view is fed to a smart watch where [Ope] and his team can take still pictures using the watch-side interface. Check it out after the break, and stick around for a short time-lapse demo. We’ve featured a couple of dolly builds over the years. Here’s a more traditional dolly that rides a pair of malleable tubes.

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Raspberry Pi Home Automation for the Holidays

When you want to play around with a new technology, do you jump straight to production machinery? Nope. Nothing beats a simplified model as proof of concept. And the only thing better than a good proof of concept is an amusing proof of concept. In that spirit [Eric Tsai], alias [electronichamsters], built the world’s most complicated electronic gingerbread house this Christmas, because a home-automated gingerbread house is still simpler than a home-automated home.

fya59blixaq00y3-largeYeah, there are blinky lights and it’s all controlled by his smartphone. That’s just the basics. The crux of the demo, however, is the Bluetooth-to-MQTT gateway that he built along the way. A Raspberry Pi with a BTLE radio receives local data from BTLE sensors and pushes them off to an MQTT server, where they can in principle be read from anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried to network battery-powered ESP8266 nodes, you know that battery life is the Achilles heel. Swapping over to BTLE for the radio layer makes a lot of sense.

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33C3: Breaking IoT Locks

Fast-forward to the end of the talk, and you’ll hear someone in the audience ask [Ray] “Are there any Bluetooth locks that you can recommend?” and he gets to answer “nope, not really.” (If this counts as a spoiler for a talk about the security of three IoT locks at a hacker conference, you need to get out more.)

btle_lockUnlocking a padlock with your cellphone isn’t as crazy as it sounds. The promise of Internet-enabled locks is that they can allow people one-time use or limited access to physical spaces, as easily as sending them an e-mail. Unfortunately, it also opens up additional attack surfaces. Lock making goes from being a skill that involves clever mechanical design and metallurgy, to encryption and secure protocols.

master_jtagIn this fun talk, [Ray] looks at three “IoT” locks. One, he throws out on mechanical grounds once he’s gotten it open — it’s a $100 lock that’s as easily shimmable as that $4 padlock on your gym locker. The other, a Master lock, has a new version of a 2012 vulnerability that [Ray] pointed out to Master: if you move a magnet around the outside the lock, it actuates the motor within, unlocking it. The third, made by Kickstarter company Noke, was at least physically secure, but fell prey to an insecure key exchange protocol.

Along the way, you’ll get some advice on how to quickly and easily audit your own IoT devices. That’s worth the price of admission even if you like your keys made out of metal instead of bits. And one of the more refreshing points, given the hype of some IoT security talks these days, was the nuanced approach that [Ray] took toward what counts as a security problem because it’s exploitable by someone else, rather than vectors that are only “exploitable” by the device’s owner. We like to think of those as customization options.

Bluetooth Speaker With Neopixel Visual Display!

Finding a product that is everything you want isn’t always possible. Making your own that checks off all those boxes can be. [Peter Clough] took the latter route and built a small Bluetooth speaker with an LED visualization display that he calls Magic Box.

A beefy 20W, 4Ohm speaker was screwed to the lid of a wooden box converted to the purpose. [Clough] cut a clear plastic sheet to the dimensions of the box, notching it 2cm from the edge to glue what would become the sound reactive neopixel strip into place — made possible by an electret microphone amplifier. There ended up being plenty of room inside the speaker box to cram an Arduino Pro Mini 3.3V, the RN-52 Bluetooth receiver, and the rest of the components, with an aux cable running out the base of the speaker. As a neat touch, neodymium magnets hold the lid closed.

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Bluetooth Turns 5

Last week, the latest and greatest member of the Bluetooth family of wireless specifications was announced to the world: Bluetooth 5! What main changes are in store? Read the FAQ (PDF), or dig into the full spec (bigger PDF) at 2,800 pages.

Their big-print selling points include “up to 4x the range, 2x the speed, and 8x the broadcasting message capacity” to power the Internet of Things. Etcetera. [Akiba] pointed out via Twitter that they get the fourfold increase in range by adding an extra zero to the “Maximum Output Power” spec, going from 10 mW maximum power to 100 mW. That would do it.

In less snarky news, they’re also allowing for a lower-bitrate mode that will also increase range without simply boosting the power. The spec is actually being changed to let the user work out their optimal blend of power, range, and bitrate. We’re down with that. But you’re not getting 4x the range and 2x the speed without paying the bandwidth piper. That’s just physics.

If you use the beacon mode in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), you’ll be happy to hear that they’re lengthening the beacon packet from 31 bytes to 255, so you can send a bunch more data without consuming too much power. That’s the “8x”. Bluetooth 5.0 is also backwards compatible with Bluetooth 4.2, so you don’t have to redo anything if you don’t want to take advantage of the newer features. Your current BLE beacons will keep working.

Finally, there’s some contention-detection and other bandwidth optimizing going on, which is welcome in our crowded 2.4 GHz office spectrum. Our guess is that’s where the “2x speed” is largely coming from, but there are about 2,750 pages that we haven’t read yet, so if you’re digging into the spec, let us know what you find in the comments.

Thanks to [Akiba] for tipping us off to this via Twitter. Go check out his great talk on getting hacker stuff in Shenzhen that was presented at the SuperCon.

Game Controller Cuts the Rug

There’s an iconic scene from the movie Big where [Tom Hanks] and [Robert Loggia] play an enormous piano by dancing around on the floor-mounted keys. That was the first thing we thought of when we saw [jegatheesan.soundarapandian’s] PC joystick rug. His drum playing (see the video below) wasn’t as melodious as [Hanks] and [Loggia] but then again they probably had a musical director.

At the heart of the project is, of course, an Arduino. An HC-05 provides a Bluetooth connection back to the PC. We thought perhaps an Arduino with USB input capability like the Leonardo might be in use, but instead, [jegatheesan] has a custom Visual Basic program on the PC that uses SendKeys to do the dirty work.

The switches are more interesting made with old CDs, foil, and sponges. The sponge holds the CDs apart until you step on them and the foil makes the CDs conductive. He uses a lot of Fevicol in the project–as far as we can tell, that’s just an Indian brand of PVA glue, so Elmer’s or any other white glue should do just as well.

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