Sense All the Things with a Synthetic Sensor

What will it take to make your house smarter than you? Judging from the price of smart appliances we see in the home centers these days, it’ll take buckets of cash. But what if you could make your home smarter — or at least more observant — with a few cheap, general purpose “supersensors” that watch your every move?

Sounds creepy, right? That’s what [Gierad Laput] and his team at the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute thought when they designed their broadband “synthetic sensor,” and it’s why they purposely omitted a camera from their design. But just about every other sensor under the sun is on the tiny board: an IR array, visible light sensors, a magnetometer, temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors, a microphone, PIR, and even an EMI detector. Of course there’s also a WiFi module, but it appears that it’s only for connectivity and not used for sensing, although it clearly could be. All the raw data is synthesized into a total picture of the goings on in within the platform’s range using a combination of machine learning and user training.

The video after the break shows the sensor detecting typical household events from a central location. It’s a powerful idea and we look forward to seeing how it moves from prototype to product. And if the astute reader recognizes [Gierad]’s name, it might be from his past appearance on these pages for 3D-printed hair.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Another Internet Button

It’s long been a staple of future-gazing, the idea that we will reach a moment at which all of life’s comforts can be summoned at the press of a button. Through the magic of technology, that is, without the army of human servants with which wealthy Victorians surrounded themselves to achieve the same aim.

Of course, to reach this button-pressing Nirvana, someone has to make the buttons. There are plenty of contenders for the prize of One Button To Rule Them All, the one we’ll probably have seen the most of is Amazon’s Dash. Today though we’re bringing you another possibility. [Hendra Kusumah]’s A.I.B. (Another IoT Button) is as its name suggests, a button connected to the Internet. More specifically it’s a button that connects to IFTTT and allows you to trigger your action from there.

Hardware wise, it couldn’t be simpler. A button, a Particle Photon, some wires, and a resistor. Then install the code on the board, and away you go. With a small code change, it also works with an ESP8266. That’s it, it couldn’t be simpler. You might ask where the fun in that lies, but you’d be missing the point. It’s the event that you trigger using the button that matters, so why make creating the button a chore?

We’ve shown you many IoT buttons, just a couple of posts are this ESP8266 button and a look at  the second-generation Amazon Dash.

Hack Your Apartment: Keyless Entry with Little Effort

A typical buzzer for an apartment complex.
A typical buzzer for an apartment complex.

If you’ve been to an apartment complex with a locked front door, you’ve seen the buzzer systems. You press the corresponding button for the apartment you want and can talk to the resident. They can press a button to unlock the door briefly, and then you go up to their apartment and they don’t have to come down to let you in. But what if you’re the resident and you want to go for a run without your keys jingling in your pocket? What if you want to open it using just your smartphone?

I knew this was a silly problem, and everyone I told about it thought that for the amount of time and effort it might save, it was hardly worth it.

Challenge accepted.

How fast can I put this together using only parts I have around the apartment? Turns out about 2 hours.

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Bacon Beacon

The device featured here is quite simple, but it’s well executed and involves bacon, so what’s not to like!

They take their bacon sandwiches seriously in Dundee. And let us tell you, in Scotland they make good bacon! At the co-working space where [Grant Richmond] works, people were missing out on the chance to order when someone went to the bacon sandwich emporium for a refill.

His solution was the Bacon Beacon, a nicely lasercut box with a series of buttons on top connected to a Particle Photon microcontroller. Press a button, and a node.js web app is called on a server, which in turn sends notifications to the “Fleeple”, the inhabitants of the Fleet Collective co-working space. They can then reply with the details of their order, such as their desired sauce.

The work of sending the notifications is done through Pushbullet, but the code for [Grant]’s side of things can all be found on his GitHub repository. The whole thing was put together in Dundee MakerSpace.

We have something of an affinity for bacon and cured meat products here at Hackaday, we’ve featured more than one bacon-related exploit. The Rabbit Hole hackerspace’s “Push button, receive bacon” cooking system using a laser printer fusing roller for example, an alarm clock that cooks your tasty treat, or a full cooked breakfast using workshop tools.

Please keep them coming, and resolve to make space for a bacon-related hack this year. We promise, it won’t be one of your rasher decisions.

Open Sesame, from a Galaxy far, far away.

[TVMiller]’s description of his project is epic enough to deserve a literal copy-paste (something our readers often praise us about). In his own words,  “Having discovered several spare Midichlorians in my liquor cabinet, I trained and applied them to opening a large cumbersome gate. The FORCE motion travels through my inner what-nots and is translated by the Pebble Classic accelerometer toggling a command sent to the (Particle) Cloud (City) which returns to the Particle Photon triggering a TIP120 to fire a button on an existing RF transceiver. May the ridiculous hand gestures be with you, always.” Thus was born the Gate Jedi , and you’ll need exactly 47 Midichlorians, and some other trivial parts, to build one.

The Pebble watch hooks up to his android smart phone. A Pebble (android) app sends the accelerometer data to the Particle (previously called Spark) cloud service. From there, the data is pushed to the Photon IoT board which runs a few lines of code. Output from the Photon turns on a TIP120 power transistor, which in turn triggers the existing RF trans receiver that opens the Gate.

This looks way cooler than the Light Sabre hacks. Check out the video of him summoning the Force. And if you’d like to do more, try integrating gesture controls with this Pebble Watch hack that turns it into a home automation controller.

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Hacking a coffee machine

The folks at Q42 write code, lots of it, and this implies the copious consumption of coffee. In more primitive times, an actual human person would measure how many cups were consumed and update a counter on their website once a day. That had to be fixed, obviously, so they hacked their coffee machine so it publishes the amount of coffee being consumed by itself. Their Jura coffee machine makes good coffee, but it wasn’t hacker friendly at all. No API, no documentation, non-standard serial port and encrypted EEPROM contents. It seems the manufacturer tried every trick to keep the hackers away — challenge accepted.

The folks at Q42 found details of the Jura encryption protocol from the internet, and then hooked up a Raspberry-Pi via serial UART to the Jura. Encryption consisted of taking each byte and breaking it up in to 4 bytes, with the data being loaded in bit positions 2 and 5 of each of the 4 bytes, which got OR’ed into 0x5B. To figure out where the counter data was stored by the machine in the EEPROM, they took a data dump of the contents, poured a shot of coffee, took another memory dump, and then compared the two.

Once they had this all figured out, the Raspberry-Pi was no longer required, and was replaced with the more appropriate Particle Photon. The Photon is put on a bread board and stuck with Velcro to the back of the coffee machine, with three wires connected to the serial port on the machine.

If you’d like to dig in to their code, checkout their GitHub repository. Seems the guys at Q42 love playing games too – check out 0h h1 and 0h n0.

Thanks [Max] for letting us know about this.

Remote PC Power Control Thwarts Button Pushers

Pervasive connectivity is a mixed blessing at best, especially when it creates the expectation that we’ll always have access to everything we need. When what you need is on your work or home PC, there are plenty of options for remotely accessing files using your phone. But if your roomie or the cleaning crew powers the machine down, you’ve got a problem – unless you’ve got a way to remotely power the machine back up.

[Ahmad Khattab]’s hack required getting up close and personal with his PC’s motherboard. A Particle Photon steals power from the always-on 3.3 volt line of the vacant Trusted Platform Module connector on his machine. Outputs from the Photon are connected to the motherboard’s power switch connection and a smartphone app drives the outputs and turns the machine on and off. As [Ahmad] admits, there are plenty of ways to attack this problem, including Wake-on-LAN. But there’s something to be said for the hardware approach, especially when a Photon can be had for $20.

Astute readers will note that we recently covered a very similar project using a Particle Core. Be sure to check that one out for a little more detail on using Particle’s cloud, and for some ideas on powering the module if your motherboard lacks a TPM port. In the meantime, enjoy [Ahmad]’s video.

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