One of the sticking points for us with our own Internet of Things is, ironically, the Internet part. We build hardware happily, but when it comes time to code up web frontends to drive it all, the thrill is gone and the project is only half-done.
Note that everything happens inside the ESP8266 here, from hosting the web page to interpreting and then blinking back out the IR LED codes to control the remote. This is a sophisticated “hello world”, the bare minimum to get you started. The interface could look slicker and the IR remote could increase its range with more current to the LED, but that would involve adding a transistor and some resistors, doubling the parts count.
For something like $10 in parts, though, this is a fun introduction to the ESP and BASIC. Other examples are simpler, but we think that this project has an awesome/effort ratio that’s hard to beat.
Before Bluetooth, before the Internet of Things, and before network-connected everything, infrared was king. In the 90s, personal organizers, keyboards, Furbys, and critical infrastructure was built on infrared. Some of these devices are still around, hiding in plain sight. This means there’s a lot of opportunities for some very fun exploits. This was the focus of [Mike Ossmann] and [Dominic Spill]’s talk at this year’s Shmoocon, Exploring The Infrared World. What’s the hook? Using software-defined radio with terahertz frequencies.
Infrared communication hasn’t improved since the days of IrDA ports on laptops, and this means the hardware required to talk to these devices is exceptionally simple. The only thing you need is an IR phototransistor and a 4.7k resistor. This is enough to read signals, but overkill is the name of the game here leading to the development of the Gladiolus GreatFET neighbor. This add-on board for the GreatFET is effectively a software defined IR transceiver capable of playing with IrDA, 20 to 60 kHz IR remote control systems, and other less wholesome applications.
Demos are a necessity, but the world seems to have passed over IR in the last decade. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t interesting targets. A week before Shmoocon, [Mike Ossmann] put out the call on Twitter for a traffic light and the associated hardware. Yes, police cars and ambulances use infrared signaling to turn traffic lights green. You shouldn’t. You can, but you shouldn’t.
What was the takeaway from this talk? IR still exists, apparently. Yes, you can use it to send documents directly from your PalmPilot to a laser printer without any wires whatsoever. One of the more interesting applications for IR is an in-car wireless headphone unit that sends something almost, but not quite, like pulse coded audio over infrared. The demo that drew the most applause was an infrared device that changed traffic lights to green. The information to do that is freely available on the web, but you seriously don’t want to attempt that in the wild.
We see a lot of traffic on the tips line with projects that cover old ground but do so in an instructive way, giving us insight into the basics of electronics. Sure, commercial versions of this IR-controlled light dimmer have been available for decades. But seeing how one works might just help you design your Next Big Thing.
Like many electronic controls, the previous version of this hack required a connection to a neutral in addition to the hot. This version of the circuit relies on passing a small current through the light bulb the dimmer controls to avoid that extra connection. This design limits application to resistive loads like incandescent bulbs. But it’s still a cool circuit, and [Muris] goes into great detail explaining how it works.
We think the neatest bit is the power supply that actually shorts itself out to turn on the load. A PIC controls a triac connected across the supply by monitoring power line zero-crossing. The PIC controls dimming by delaying the time the triac fires, which trims the peaks off of the AC waveform. The PIC is powered by a large capacitor while the triac is conducting, preventing it from resetting until the circuit can start stealing power again. Pretty clever stuff, and a nice PCB design to boot.
Given the pace of technological and cultural change, it might be that [Muris]’ dimmer is already largely obsolete since it won’t work with CFLs or LEDs. But we can see other applications for non-switched mode transformerless power supplies. And then again, we reported on [Muris]’s original dimmer back in 2009, so the basic design has staying power.
IoT-ifying old stuff is cool. Or even new, offline stuff. It seems to be a trend. And it’s sexy. Yes, it is. Why are people doing this, you may ask: we say why not? Why shouldn’t a toaster be on the IoT? Or a drill press? Or a radio? Yes, a radio.
[Dr. Wummi] just added another device to the IoT, the Internet of Thongs as he calls it. It’s a Philips MCM205 Micro Sound System radio. He wanted to automate his radio but his original idea of building a setup with an infrared LED to remotely control it failed. He blamed it to “some funky IR voodoo”. So he decided to go for an ESP8266 based solution with a NodeMCU. ESP8266 IR remotes have been known to work before but maybe those were just not voodoo grade.
After opening the radio up, he quickly found that the actual AM/FM Radio was a separate module. The manufacturer was kind enough to leave the pins nicely labelled on the mainboard. Pins labelled SCL/SDA hinted that AM/FM module spoke I²C. He tapped in the protocol via Bus Pirate and it was clear that the radio had an EEPROM somewhere on the main PCB. A search revealed a 24C02 IC in the board, which is a 2K I²C EEPROM. So far so good but there were other functionalities left to control, like volume or CD playing. For that, he planned to tap into the front push button knob. The push button had different resistors and were wired in series so they generated different voltages at the main board radio ADC Pins. He tried to PWM with the NodeMCU to simulate this but it just didn’t work.
Sometimes when we see such builds as these, fit and finish take a back seat to function. [dasdingo89] bucks that trend with a nicely detailed build, starting with the choice of zebrawood for the table frame. The bold grain and the frosted glass top make for a handsome table, but what lurks beneath the glass is pretty special too. The 240 WS2812 modules live on custom PCBs, each thoughtfully provided with connectors for easy service. There’s also an IR transmitter-receiver pair on each board to detect when something is placed over the pixel. The pixel boards are connected to custom-built shift register boards for the touch sensors, and an Arduino with Bluetooth runs the whole thing. Right now the table just flashes and responds to hand gestures, but you can easily see this forming the basis of a beautiful Tetris or Pong table.
This build reminds us a little of this pressure-sensitive light floor we featured recently, which also has some gaming possibilities. Maybe [dasdingo89] and [creed_bratton_] should compare notes and see who can come up with the best games for their platform.
Would you use your tech prowess to cheat at the Pinewood Derby? When your kid brings home that minimalist kit and expects you to help engineer a car that can beat all the others in the gravity-powered race, the temptation is there. But luckily, there are some events that don’t include the kiddies and the need for parents to assume the proper moral posture. When the whole point of the Pinewood Derby is to cheat, then you pull out all the stops, and you might try building an electrodynamic suspension hoverboard car.
Fortunately for [ch00ftech], the team-building Derby sponsored by his employer is a little looser with the rules than the usual event. Loose enough perhaps to try a magnetically levitating car. The aluminum track provided a perfect surface to leverage Lenz’s Law. [ch00ftech] tried different arrangements of coils and drivers in an attempt to at least reduce the friction between car and track, if not outright levitate it. Sadly, time ran out and physics had others ideas, so [ch00ftech], intent on cheating by any means, tried spoofing the track timing system with a ridiculous front bumper of IR LEDs. But even that didn’t work in the end, and poor [ch00f]’s car wound up in sixth place.
So what could [ch00ftech] had done better? Was he on the right course with levitation? Or was spoofing the sensors likely to have worked with better optics? Or should he have resorted to jet propulsion or a propeller drive? How would you cheat at the Pinewood Derby?
Fail of the Week is a Hackaday column which celebrates failure as a learning tool. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your own failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.
Smartwatches are pretty great. In theory, you’ll never miss a notification or a phone call. Plus, they can do all kinds of bio-metric tracking since they’re strapped to one of your body’s pulse points. But there are downsides. One of the major ones is that you end up needing two hands to do things that are easily one-handed on a phone. Now, you could use the tip of your nose like I do in the winter when I have mittens on, but that’s not good for your eyes. It seems that the future of smartwatch input is not in available appendages, but in gesture detection.
Enter WristWhirl, the brain-child of Dartmouth and University of Manitoba students [Jun Gong], [Xing-Dong Yang], and [Pourang Irani]. They have built a prototype smartwatch that uses continuous wrist movements detected by IR proximity sensors to control popular off-the-shelf applications. Twelve pairs of dirt-cheap IR sensors connected to an Arduino Due detect any of eight simple gestures made by the wearer to do tasks like opening the calendar, controlling a music player, panning and zooming a map, and playing games like Tetris and Fruit Ninja. In order to save battery, a piezo senses pinch between the user’s thumb and forefinger and uses this input to decide when to start and stop gesture detection.
According to their paper (PDF warning), the gesture detection is 93.8% accurate. To get this data, the team had their test subjects perform each of the eight gestures under different conditions such as walking vs. standing and doing either with the wrist in watch-viewing position or hanging down at their side. Why not gesture your way past the break to watch a demo?