Hacking A Wireless AC Power Outlet

It’s always nice to see hackers pick up stuff headed for the landfill and put it back in action with a quick repair and upgrade. [Septillion] found a wireless remote controlled AC outlet in the junk bin and decided to do just that. A nice spin-off of such hacks is that we end up learning a lot about how things work.

His initial tests showed that the AC outlet and its remote could be revived, so he set about exploring its guts. These remote AC outlets consist of an encoder chip on the remote and a corresponding decoder chip on the outlet, working at 433MHz.  Since the various brands in use have a slightly different logic, it needed some rework to make them compatible. The transmit remote was a quick fix – changing the DIP switch selected address bits from being pulled low to high and swapping the On and Off buttons to make it compatible with the other outlets.

Working on the AC outlet requires far more care and safety. The 230V AC is dropped down using a series capacitor, so the circuit is “hot” to touch. Working on it when it is powered up requires extreme caution. A quick fix would have been to make the changes to the address bits and the On/Off buttons to reflect the changes already made in the remote transmitter. Instead, he breadboarded a small circuit around the PIC12F629 microcontroller to take care of the data and address control. Besides, he wanted to be able to manually switch the AC outlet. The relay control from the decoder was routed via the microcontroller. This allowed either the decoder or the local manual switch from controlling the relay. Adding the PIC also allowed him to program in a few additional modes of operation, including one which doubled the number of outlets he could switch with one remote.

Fixing Faulty But Genuine Apple Power Adapters

apple The standard power adapter for Apple laptops is a work of art. The Magsafe connector has saved more than one laptop owned by the Hackaday crew, and the power brick with interchangeable plugs for different countries is a work of genius. Being a miracle of modern manufacturing doesn’t mean Apple gets it right all the time; the UK adapter doesn’t use the ground plug, leading to the power supplies singing at 50 Hz when plugged in. [Gareth] had had enough of the poor design of his charger and decided to fix it.

The Apple power adapter has two obvious connections, and another shiny metal disk meant for a connection to Earth. In most of the Apple charger ‘extension cords’, this earth connection is provided by the cord. In the smaller plug adapters – even ones where space is not an issue, like the UK plug – this connection is absent.

To fix this glaring oversight, [Gareth] shoved some aluminum foil where the earth terminal on the plug should go. A hole was drilled through the plug to connect this foil to the Earth socket terminal, and everything was covered up with kneadable epoxy.

No, aluminum foil probably won’t do its actual job of preventing horribleness in the event of an insulation failure or short. It will, however, silence the 50 cycle hum emanating from the power adapter, and that’s good enough for [Gareth].

Hacklet adds Linux control for the Modlet smart outlet


Linux users now have a simple option for controlling the Modlet smart outlet. Hacklet is a Ruby script that can switch and read status information from Modlet.

This is the first we remember hearing about Modlet. It’s another take on controlling your appliances remotely. Unlike WeMo, which puts control of one outlet on WiFi, the Modlet uses a USB dongle to control two outlets wirelessly. It has the additional benefit of reading how much current is being used by each plug. This does mean that you need a running computer with the USB dongle to control it. But cheap embedded systems like the Raspberry Pi make this less of an issue both in up-front cost, and the price to keep it running all the time.

[Matt Colyer’s] demo video includes an unboxing of the $60 starter kit. The screen seen above shows his script pairing with the outlet. It goes on to demonstrate commands to switch it, and to pull the data from the device. He even provides an example of how to use IFTTT with the script.

Continue reading “Hacklet adds Linux control for the Modlet smart outlet”

Proximity switch for your mains devices

[Ivan’s] friend built a proximity sensor to switch his LED bench lighting off every time he walked away. The idea is pretty neat, so [Ivan] decided to implement it for mains devices by making this proximity switched outlet box.

A Sharp GP2D12 infrared distance sensor is the key to the system. It has an emitter and receiver that combine to give distance feedback base on how much of the light is reflected back to the detector. This is presented as a voltage curve which is monitored by an ATtiny85 (running the Arduino bootloader). It is small enough to fit inside the outlet box along with a tiny transformer and linear regulator to power to logic circuitry. The mains are switched with a relay using an NPN transistor to protect the chip’s I/O pins.

Check out the video after the break to see this in action. It should be a snap to add a count-down timer that gives you a bit more freedom to move around the workshop. With that in place this is a fantastic alternative to some other auto-shutoff techniques for your bench outlets.

Continue reading “Proximity switch for your mains devices”

Under-bench timed outlets won’t let you leave the iron on

When we used to use firesticks (the pen style plug-in soldering irons) it was always a worry that we might leave them on. But now we use a base unit which has an indicator light to serve as a reminder. Still, [FoxxTexx] isn’t taking any chances and instead built this timer-based outlet which kills the power automatically.

The parts are all pretty common. The timer itself is the same form factor as a light switch and is commonly used for heat lamps or hot tub jets. It feeds the outlet next to it by way of the indicator switches to the right. We like the use of the switches but since mains voltage is still running through them we would suggest using a three-gang box and mounting them on the cover plate so that all the wiring is contained. If done this way you could just have the electrical box siting on your bench, but it is a nice touch to have it mounted this way.

We’ve long been proponents of a timer system. Back when we put together our Hacker’s Soldering Station we just used a plug-in timer unit.

Home automation with RC wall plugs and Raspberry Pi

[Jake] took some cheap hardware and figured out a way to use it as a huge home automation network. He’s chose a Raspberry Pi board to connect the radio controlled power outlets to his network. He wrote about his project in two parts, the first is hacking the RC outlet controller and the second is using the Raspberry Pi to manipulate it.

These RC outlets are a pass-through for appliances that connect to mains (lamps, consumer electronics, christmas trees, etc). Often the protocol used by the cheap-as-dirt remote is difficult to work with, but [Jake] really hit it out of the part on this one. In addition to simulating button presses for up to fifteen devices on the remote, he replaced the DIP switch package. This lets him change the encoding, essentially allowing the one device to control up to 32 sets of outlets. Theoretically this lets him command 480 devices from the Raspberry Pi. Since that board is a web server it’s just a matter of coding an interface.

Some of the inspiration for this hack came from the whistle-controlled appliance hack.

Whistle controls for you home electronics

You know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow. But do you know how to make the electronics around you react to your whistled commands? Well [Befi] figured out a system that allows him to assign a whistled command to various home electronics.

He’s using a set of RF remote control outlets to switch power to various devices like a desk lap, or a turn table. The board you see in the image above is the remote control that came with the system, but that chip is an ATmega8 which he added to give round-about USB connectivity using a serial-to-USB converter. The technique is simple enough that we’d bet you can get this to work with an ATtiny2313 and the V-USB project but that’s another story.

The additional piece is the use of embedded Linux to detect and process whistled commands. In the video after the break [Befi] explains that he’s using a Dockstar along with a microphone to capture audio input. It uses a Fast Fourier transform algorithm to process the clip and pushes commands to the remote control after processing is complete. Continue reading “Whistle controls for you home electronics”