Reverse Engineering a Wireless Studio Lighting Remote

Strobe Remote

If you want to take a photograph with a professional look, proper lighting is going to be critical. [Richard] has been using a commercial lighting solution in his studio. His Lencarta UltraPro 300 studio strobes provide adequate lighting and also have the ability to have various settings adjusted remotely. A single remote can control different lights setting each to its own parameters. [Richard] likes to automate as much as possible in his studio, so he thought that maybe he would be able to reverse engineer the remote control so he can more easily control his lighting.

[Richard] started by opening up the remote and taking a look at the radio circuitry. He discovered the circuit uses a nRF24L01+ chip. He had previously picked up a couple of these on eBay, so his first thought was to just promiscuously snoop on the communications over the air. Unfortunately the chips can only listen in on up to six addresses at a time, and with a 40-bit address, this approach may have taken a while.

Not one to give up easily, [Richard] chose a new method of attack. First, he knew that the radio chip communicates to a master microcontroller via SPI. Second, he knew that the radio chip had no built-in memory. Therefore, the microcontroller must save the address in its own memory and then send it to the radio chip via the SPI bus. [Richard] figured if he could snoop on the SPI bus, he could find the address of the remote. With that information, he would be able to build another radio circuit to listen in over the air.

Using an Open Logic Sniffer, [Richard] was able to capture some of the SPI communications. Then, using the datasheet as a reference, he was able to isolate the communications that stored information int the radio chip’s address register. This same technique was used to decipher the radio channel. There was a bit more trial and error involved, as [Richard] later discovered that there were a few other important registers. He also discovered that the remote changed the address when actually transmitting data, so he had to update his receiver code to reflect this.

The receiver was built using another nRF24L01+ chip and an Arduino. Once the address and other registers were configured properly, [Richard's] custom radio was able to pick up the radio commands being sent from the lighting remote. All [Richard] had to do at this point was press each button and record the communications data which resulted. The Arduino code for the receiver is available on the project page.

[Richard] took it an extra step and wrote his own library to talk to the flashes. He has made his library available on github for anyone who is interested.

City Lights Telling Stories

morse code lights

If you’re walking around town and you see a light suddenly start to switch on and off seemingly at random, don’t discount it as a loose wire so quickly. [René] has been hard at work on a project to use city lights of all shapes and sizes for Morse messages, and a way for anyone to easily decode these messages if they happen upon one while out and about.

The lights can tell any story that is programmed into them. The code on the site is written for an Arduino-style microcontroller but it could be easily exported to any device that can switch power to turn a light on and off. Any light can work, there’s even video of a single headlight on a van blinking out some dots and dashes.

The other part of this project is a smartphone app that can decode the messages using the camera, although any Morse code interpreter can translate the messages, or if you’re a ham radio enthusiast you might recognize the messages without any tools whatsoever!

The great thing about this project is that it uses everyday objects to hide messages in plain sight, but where only some will be able to find them. This is indeed true hacker fashion! If you’re interested in making your own Morse code light, the code is available on the project site.

A Motion Activated AC Switching Circuit using Mostly Discrete Components

AC motion switch

If you’ve ever dealt with a brightly lit Christmas tree, you might understand the frustration of having to crawl underneath the tree to turn the lights on and off. [brmarcum] feel’s your pain. He’s developed his own motion activated AC switching circuit to turn the lights on and off automatically. A motion sensor ensures that the lights are only on when there are people around to actually see the lights. The circuit also has an adjustable timer so [brmarcum] can change the length of time that the lights stay on.

The project is split into several different pieces. This makes the building and debugging of the circuit easier. The mains power is first run through a transformer to lower the voltage by a factor of 10. What remains is then filtered and regulated to 9VDC. [brmarcum] is using a Parallax PIR sensor which requires 4.5V. Therefore, the 9V signal is then lowered once more using a voltage divider circuit.

When the PIR sensor is triggered, it activates the timer circuit. The timer circuit is driven by a 555 timer. The circuit itself was originally borrowed from a classic Forrest Mims book, though it was slightly modified to accommodate the PIR sensor. The original push-button trigger was removed and replaced with the signal from the PIR sensor. The only problem is that the circuit was expecting a low signal as the trigger and the PIR sensor outputs a high signal. [brmarcum] resolved this problem with an NPN BJT to invert the signal. Once the timer is triggered, it flips on a relay that allows the mains electricity to flow through to the lights.

[brmarcum] soldered the entire circuit onto a piece of protoboard. The final product was then mounted securely inside of an insulated plastic case. This allows him to mount the circuit safely underneath the Christmas tree skirt. The PIR sensor is kept external to the enclosure and wired up into the tree itself. This allows the sensor to still detect motion in the room while the rest of the circuit is hidden away.

[via Reddit]

Cheap Under-Cabinet Lights Reimagined as Photography Lighting

diy photography lights

Professional photography lighting can be expensive. Sometimes the professional photographer may not want (or need) to spend the big bucks on lighting. [Alex] is one of those folks. He needed a specialized light source and instead of going out and buying some, he made exactly what he needed out of components unlikely to be found in a photography studio.

The project started off with some off the shelf $12 Home Depot under-cabinet lights. Foam core board was attached to the sides of each light to adjust the beam’s width. Opening and closing these foam flaps allow the light beam to be adjusted to ensure the perfect shot.  The entire assembly was then taped to long, thin pieces of wood. The wood’s sole purpose is to facilitate mounting of the light.

[Read more...]

Remote Servo-controlled Lightswitch

remoteServoLightSwitch

We frequently get home automation tips, many of which have simple circuit-based on/off control for lights. [Paulo Borges] has created something quite different, however, with his in-the-wall servo-controlled light switch. This build forgoes the need of any relay to switch mains power, and because it’s physically flipping your switch, provides a distinct advantage over other builds that require a phone or tablet interface: you can use your switches as you normally would.

[Paulo] picked up a rocker-type switch at the local hardware store and carefully pried off the large, flat switch plate to notch out a small hole at its fulcrum. He then carefully shaped a piece of 12 gauge wire to provide a pivot point for the servo. His choice to use wire here seems to be entirely to provide a sturdy yet bendable component that functions mechanically rather than electrically. A small 9G servo fits to the back of the switch’s housing, and the servo’s arm connects up to the previously attached 12 gauge wire. He pieced together the remote control feature with an RF link kit with an inexpensive 433mhz Code duplicator from eBay.

[Paulo] explains that his Instructable is simply an overview rather than a step-by-step guide, so if you’re eager to reproduce this hack you’ll have to work out the code and the remote control portion yourself. He also acknowledges the biggest remaining hurdle: finding space in the wall to shove all the microcontroller guts. Check out a couple of videos of the switch after the break, and remember, there’s always the option of doing away with all light switches.

[Read more...]

Solar power for your bike

solarBikeKit

After the headlight on his bike died, [Patrick] decided this was the best time to hack the remains and solve a few problems: namely a constantly drained battery from accidentally forgetting to turn the light off. He opted for a solar solution, as he already had both an Adafruit solar lithium charger and a Seeed Li-po Rider. [Patrick] picks the Adafruit board for its extra safety features like temperature sensing to prevent the cell from overheating.

The build uses 9 eBay-sourced 2V mini solar panels attached neatly on the bike’s mudflaps. Three groups of 3 panels in series provide the needed 6V into the Adafruit lithium board which safely charges a spare 900mAh Nokia phone battery from the junk drawer. [Patrick] admits this solar setup may be overkill. He decided to include a USB jack to keep his phone charged for some Google maps navigation. The Adafruit board does not step up to 5V, however, so [Patrick] tacks on a Mintyboost kit to kick the Lipo’s output up high enough to charge the phone.

Solar’s not the only alternative way to power your bike’s lights. Check out the RattleGen from earlier this year if you missed it.

DIY Lighting Solutions

pvc-lights

With daylight savings time starting up, you might not have quite as much need for lighting, but this pair of hacks should keep everything well lit whether outside or indoors.  Check out the videos of both in action after the break.

The first lighting solution comes to us from [Ben]‘s Youtube channel. It’s a simple solution, press-fitting a clamp light into a 1 inch PVC Tee to attach the light to a pipe. The base is made with PVC shaped into three feet for a (hopefully) sturdy rest.  Several lights can be used as needed, and would probably work well for making his next video.

The second light also comes to us from Youtube, and is about converting a stock LED light into one that is much brighter. Skip to around 7:00 to see the outdoor comparison.  You may or may not want to do this exact hack, but you never know when you might want to swap out your blinkenlights for something that will scare the neighbors!
[Read more...]

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