BBSing with the ESP8266

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extant bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below

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New Brain for Smart Vacuum

The ESP8266 has found its way into almost everything now. With its tiny size, low price tag, and accessible programmer, it’s perfect for almost any application that requires WiFi. [HawtDogFlvrWtr] decided that will all of the perks of the platform, an ESP8266 was practically begging to be shoehorned into his automatic vacuum cleaner. This isn’t a Roomba, though, it’s a Neato that now has a custom WiFi interface.

The new WiFi modification comes with some additional features as well. First of all, it ditches the poorly designed default user interface (often the most annoying proprietary component of any consumer product). In addition, the vacuum can now be placed on a completely custom schedule and can also be deployed at the push of a button. Now that it has a custom interface, it can report its status over the network to a phone or other computer as well.

[HawtDogFlvrWtr] is still developing his project and it looking for some help beta testing his new platform. He also has how to videos on his project page if you’re in the process of tearing apart your own. There are many other ways of modifying vacuum cleaners to add other useful features as well.

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ESP8266 MQTT Remote Gate Entry

Do you live in an area where you (or your car) are locked in by a gate? If so, you may know how [Alexander Else] feels about letting his guests in and out constantly with a remote control — it’s just not convenient. [Alexander] could have just purchased some extra remote controls and passed them out, but they aren’t exactly as cheap as party favors. Not to mention it wouldn’t make sense to hand one out to every single visitor anyway. Because the gate is a community gate, hacking the actual gate system was not an option. There was only one thing he could do — hack the remote control!

Like just about every other hacker, [Alexander] had a spare ESP8266-based board lying around. [Alexander] also had a couple of spare relays which he used to control the two buttons on his designated ‘sacrifice’ remote — one relay per button. After throwing these parts together with a couple of supporting bits of electronics, the hardware was done.  Now [Alexander] can just set up HTTP Request Shortcuts on each trusted visitor’s smartphone. From there on out they can open/close the gates themselves!

Originally, he was using IFTTT to trigger the string of events that make it all happen, but there was a delay of about 8 seconds (from trigger to relay action). [Alexander] was not having this so he turned to the HTTP Request Shortcuts app. When he made this change, the delay disappeared. Continue reading “ESP8266 MQTT Remote Gate Entry”

Hijacking the Sonoff OTA Mechanism

ITEAD’s Sonoff line is a range of Internet-of-Things devices based around the ESP8266. This makes them popular for hacking due to their accessibility. Past projects have figured out how to reflash the Sonoff devices, but for [mirko], that wasn’t enough – it was time to reverse engineer the Sonoff Over-The-Air update protocol.

[mirko]’s motivation is simple enough – a desire for IoT devices that don’t need to phone home to the corporate mothership, combined with wanting to avoid the labor of cracking open every Sonoff device to reflash it with wires like a Neanderthal. The first step involved connecting the Sonoff device to WiFi and capturing the traffic. This quickly turned up an SSL connection to a remote URL. This was easily intercepted as the device doesn’t do any certificate validation – but a lack of security is sadly never a surprise on the Internet of Things.

After capturing the network traffic, [mirko] set about piecing together the protocol used to execute the OTA updates. After a basic handshake between client and server, the server can ask the client to take various actions – such as downloading an updated firmware image.  After determining the messaging format, [mirko] sought to create a webserver in Python to replicate this behaviour.

There are some pitfalls – firmware images need to be formatted slightly differently for OTA updates versus the usual serial upload method, as this process leaves the stock bootloader intact. There’s also the split-partition flash storage system to deal with, which [mirko] is still working on.

Nevertheless, it’s great to see hackers doing what they do best – taking control over hardware and software to serve their own purposes. To learn more, why not check out how to flash your Sonoff devices over serial? They’re just an ESP8266 inside, after all.

Digital Clock Goes with the Grain

This good-looking clock appears to be made out of a block of wood with LED digits floating underneath. In reality, it is a block of PLA plastic covered with wood veneer (well, [androkavo] calls it veneer, but we think it might just be a contact paper or vinyl with a wood pattern). It makes for a striking effect, and we can think of other projects that might make use of the technique, especially since the wood surface looks much more finished than the usual 3D-printed part.

You can see a video of the clock in operation below. The clock circuit itself is nothing exceptional. Just a MAX7218 LED driver and a display along with an STM32 ARM processor. The clock has a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor, as well as a speaker for an alarm.

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Google Home Meets ESP8266

[Luc Volders] is building his own smart house with the help of Google Home and an ESP-8266. Inspired by the house computers from the TV show, Eureka [Luc] created an IoT ecosystem using a mix of off the shelf devices and open source software.

There are about a thousand ways to create a DIY smart home these days. All of them involve setting up a command receiver (like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home), some sort of cloud connection, and an end device controller. This can get complex for the beginner. [Luc’s] article is great because he walks is through each step tutorial style. He even keeps things simple by programming the ESP8266 using BASIC with ESP-BASIC.

[Luc] uses If This Then That (IFTT) as his cloud service. IFTT is the glue between Google’s cloud service and the ESP8266 connected to his home WiFi network. Speaking of which, [Luc] shows how to set up port forwarding on the router so all accesses to port 8085 go to the ESP8266. Not exactly strong security – but it’s better than opening the entire home network.

You don’t need a real Google home device for this hack. You can build your own with a Raspberry Pi. Once that is set up you can do everything from turning on lights to watering your lawn.

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Bitcoin Price Ticker

Are you a Bitcoin miner or trader, but find yourself lacking the compulsive need to check exchange rates like the drug-fuelled daytraders of Wall Street? Fear not – you too can adorn your home or office with a Bitcoin Price Ticker! The post is in Italian but you can read a translated version here.

It’s a straightforward enough build – an Arduino compatible board with an onboard ESP8266 is hooked up with an HD44780-compatible LCD. It’s then a simple matter of scraping the Bitcoin price from the web and displaying it on the LCD. It’s a combination of all the maker staples, tied together with some off-the-shelf libraries – it’s quick, and it works.

[Ed: Oh boo!  The images of the LCD were photoshopped.  Please ignore the next paragraph.]

What makes the build extra nice is the use of custom characters on the LCD. The HD44780 is a character based display, and this project appears to use a screen with two lines of sixteen characters each. However, a custom character set has been implemented in the display which uses several “characters” on the screen to create a single number. It’s a great way to make the display more legible from a distance, as the numbers are much larger, and the Bitcoin logo has been faithfully recreated as well. It’s small touches like this that can really set a project apart. We’d love to see this expanded to display other financial market information and finished off in a nice case.

If you’re wondering what you can actually do with Bitcoin, check out the exploits of this robotic darknet shopper. Oh, and Microsoft will take them, too.