The Internet of Minecraft Things is Born

Minecraft has come a long way since [Notch] first thought up the idea that would eventually make him a billionaire. The game can be enjoyed on so many levels and become so engaging that grown adults who should know better spend far more time playing it than working on, say, their backlog of Hackaday posts. As if that weren’t bad enough, now Minecraft threatens to break out of screen with the ability to control a WiFi light bulb from within the game.

For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it’s an open world game that allows players to interact with blocks of various materials. Players can build, destroy, explore and create landscapes and structures. An active modding community contributes everything from cosmetic texture packs to new block types with extended functionality. It was one of these mods that was leveraged to “break the fourth wall” in Minecraft. [giannoug] used the OpenComputers mod, which allows placement of programmable in-game computers with a full complement of peripherals, including an Internet connection. That allowed [giannoug] to send commands to his Brand X eBay WiFi light bulb, the protocol for which his friend [Thomas] had previously reverse engineered. Flip a switch in Minecraft and the real-world light bulb comes on instantly. Pretty cool.

We’ve seen quite a few builds where Minecraft blocks inspired real-world lamps, but this is a step beyond and might be a great way to get kids into programming using Minecraft. But it’s not the first time Minecraft has broken the fourth wall – check out this 2012 effort to build a microcontroller-based Minecraft server that can toggle pins from within the game.

[Thanks to aggvan and Stathis K for the near-simultaneous tips!]

Belkin WeMo Teardown

[Brian Dipert] over at EDN has a teardown of Belkin’s answer to the Internet of Things (IoT) craze: the WeMo. This little WiFi gadget plugs into an outlet and lets you turn a connected device on and off from a smart phone app or something like Amazon Echo.

As you might expect from a cheap piece of consumer hardware, there’s not a whole lot inside. The digital board contains a Ralink WiFi chip, an antenna etched on the PCB, and a handful of components, including an SDRAM and some flash memory.

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Get Your Internet Out of My Things

2014 was the year that the Internet of Things (IoT) reached the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” on the Gartner Hype Cycle. By 2015, it had only moved a tiny bit, towards the “Trough of Disillusionment”. We’re going to try to push it over the edge.

emerging-tech-hc.png;wa0131df2b233dcd17Depending on whom you ask, the IoT seems to mean that whatever the thing is, it’s got a tiny computer inside with an Internet connection and is sending or receiving data autonomously. Put a computer in your toaster and hook it up to the Internet! Your thermostat? Hook it up to the Internet!? Yoga mat? Internet! Mattress pad? To the Intertubes!

Snark aside, to get you through the phase of inflated expectations and on down into disillusionment, we’re going to use just one word: “security”. (Are you disillusioned yet? We’re personally bummed out anytime anyone says “security”. It’s a lot like saying “taxes” or “dentist’s appointment”, in that it means that we’re going to have to do something unpleasant but necessary. It’s a reality-laden buzzkill.)

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Echo, Meet Mycroft

The Amazon Echo is an attempt to usher in a new product category. A box that listens to you and obeys your wishes. Sort of like Siri or Google Now for your house. Kickstarter creator [Joshua Montgomery] likes the idea, but he wants to do it all Open Source with a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino.

The Kickstarter (which reached its funding goal earlier this month) claims the device will use natural language to access media, control IoT devices, and will be open both for hardware and software hacking. The Kickstarter page says that Mycroft has partnerships with Lucid and Canonical (the people behind Ubuntu). In addition, they have added stretch goals to add computer vision and Linux desktop control to Mycroft.

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Reach Out and Touch Your Computer

[Carter Yagemann] found himself in a bit of a pickle. He uses his computer mostly for gaming, but would like to access it remotely from time to time to do a littler server work on the side. The problem is gaming computers eat up a lot of electrons and he didn’t want to waste them by leaving it on all the time. The obvious solution was to use the Wake on Lan function. Unfortunately, his motherboard did not support this technology.

Like any good hacker would do, [Carter] used an IoT board to connect the power button of his PC to the internet. He achieved this goal with a Particle Core board. His motherboard was an ATX variety, so wiring up two of the IoT board’s I/O pins to the power on pins on the motherboard was a simple task accomplished with the help of an inline resistor.

This hack is so easy that it’s a great alternative to the blinky LED first program we all know so well. Want to get started in the hacking community? This is a great way to get going.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Sharing Pollution Analytics

A while ago, [Joshua Young] had a conversation with an environmental scientist. There aren’t many government-funded pollution monitoring stations around Texas, but there are a lot of well-off home owners associations in Houston that have the sensors to collect the data. Air quality monitoring is important, and more data is usually better, and without these HOA’s providing the data for free, these environmental scientists wouldn’t have the data to do their job.

[Joshua]’s project is taking the idea a few members of those HOA’s had and expanding it to the entire world. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s creating a system to share local pollution data with the entire Internet.

The system [Joshua] is building uses a suite of air quality sensors to measure sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and particulate matter. These sensors connect to the Internet through either an ESP8266 WiFi module or a LoRa radio module, push the data onto the cloud, and let the entire world know what the air quality is.

Using tens of thousands of individual base stations to gather data has been done before; Weather Underground uses ten times as many weather stations than the National Weather Service to get better weather tracking resolution. Pollution sensors aren’t normally a part of a weather station, and with [Joshua]’s project, the environmental scientists tracking this data will hopefully get the data they need.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Nixie Tube Clock Isn’t Just a Clock

With everything that’s been happening in the news lately, [Jarek] decided it was finally time to finish up his latest project. The Internet of Things has been exploding with projects lately, and this clock that also alerts him of the weather is the latest addition. Plus it has the added bonus of using everybody’s favorite display: nixie tubes!

Of course, using high voltage for the nixies can be terror-inducing, but [Jarek] found a power supply on eBay that was able to power the tubes for not too much money. The controller is an HV5622 which can control up to 32 nixies while only using up three pins on a microcontroller which is pretty handy if you have a limited number of output pins.

The clock also has another device hidden behind all of the wires for the tubes: an ESP8266 to give it network connectivity. The clock connects to the Internet and searches for the nine-hour weather forecast. There are a few nixie lights behind the display which illuminate cutouts in the case to indicate a few different weather statuses. It’s a very polished project, and since it’s enclosed in a nice case it’s not likely to be mistaken for any movie props. Of course, other nixie projects don’t have the same comforting look.

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