Finding ESP8266 Inside Big-Box Store IoT Plugs

When we buy new shiny toys, we usually open them up to at least have a look. [Scott Gibson] does the same, apparently. He found an ESP8266 module inside the EcoPlug brand WiFi-controlled wall switches.

The original device was intended to be controlled by a (crappy) app. He sniffed the UDP packets enough to send the on-off signals to an unmodified device, but where’s the fun in that? [Scott] gave it an upgrade by replacing the ESP8266’s firmware with his own and now he’s got a much more capable remote switch, one that speaks MQTT like the rest of his home automation system.

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Hacking a $20 WiFi Smart Plug

The Kankun smart plug is an inexpensive device that lets you switch an outlet on and off over wifi. The smart plug only works with an Android or IOS app that ships with the device, which limits its usefulness to turning things on and off from your phone.

In an attempt to make this device more useful, [LinuxGeek] probed the device with nmap and discovered that it runs OpenWRT. After trying various common default passwords he discovered the login was root/admin. While [LinuxGeek] hasn’t sniffed the protocol yet, others have hacked it a bit further. The plug apparently uses UDP packets to communicate with the Android app, but the packets are unfortunately encrypted.

Rather than hack at the protocol, they wrote code that toggles the GPIO pin from a CGI script and developed a small Windows application that hits the CGI script for simple control from a computer. There’s also a Google+ group where more information and a couple other hacks for these plugs are posted. For $20 (from AliExpress) and with a bit of hacking, this smart plug could be a great way to add wireless control to a home automation system.

Thermostat Controlled Plug Box

[Eric] has a problem with his new house, there was no heat in the attic space that had been converted into a loft. Facing no way to tap into the ductwork and wanting to use the space as a bedroom he did what most of us would, and just got a little space heater. Anyone who has lived with a space heater knows you have to be around to turn them on, and they usually dont have decent temperature control. These problems were quickly fixed by making a thermostat controlled plug box.

A quick trip to the hardware store resulted in a 2 gang metal junction box, faceplate with GFCI cutout, receptacle and a Honeywell baseboard heater thermostat. The thermostat is then wired to mains and its output connects to the receptacle.

He gives instructions on wiring which focuses on his parts, but you should follow the instructions to your specific thermostat, and error on the side of caution if working with mains current. The end story is a bedroom with a more constant temperature and doesn’t need a 3 hour burn to get there.

Robot waits for no man when recharging

Yikes, that power connector certainly wasn’t designed by Apple. Ugly as it may be, it’s the charging cable for a robot and acts as a sensor that allows the robot to properly align and plug into a power receptacle.

We’re going to go off on a tangent for just a second. We often think of the Rat Things from Snowcrash when considering robot power. They were nuclear powered (or something) and instead of recharging required constant cooling. Those day’s aren’t exactly around the corner but we think they’ve been realized in the lawn mowing robots that have a little nests to recharge in. Base stations work but they require the machine to return to the same place, or to have multiple charging stations.

The point is, this specialized cable makes base stations for robots obsolete. Now a robot can plug into any outlet it can get near, a great thing for robots roving large facilities. After the break you can see a video of this process. The robot arm zeros in by scanning horizontally and vertically and measuring the magnetic field put out by the AC in the wires of the outlet. Take a look, it’s a pretty neat piece of engineering.

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