Reverse Engineering a Wireless Studio Lighting 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.

Multi Input IR Remote Control Repeater

[Peter]’s folks’ cable company is terrible – such a surprise for a cable TV provider – and the digital part of their cable subscription will only work with the company’s cable boxes. The cable company only rents the boxes with no option to buy them, and [Peter]’s folks would need five of them for all the TVs in the house, even though they would only ever use two at the same time. Not wanting to waste money, [Peter] used coax splitters can take care of sending the output of one cable box to multiple TVs, but what about the remotes? For that, he developed an IR remote control multidrop extender. With a few small boards, he can run a receiver to any room in the house and send that back to a cable box, giving every TV in the house digital cable while still only renting a single cable box.

The receiver module uses the same type of IR module found in the cable box to decode the signals from the remote. With a few MOSFETs, this signal is fed over a three-position screw terminal to the transmitter module stationed right next to the cable box. This module uses a PIC12F microcontroller to take the signal input and translate it back into infrared.

[Peter]’s system can be set up as a single receiver, and single transmitter, single receiver and multiple transmitter, many receivers to multiple transmitters, or just about any configuration you could imagine. The setup does require running a few wires through the walls of the house, but even that is much easier than whipping out the checkbook every month for the cable company.

Video below.

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THP Entry: The Everything RC Transmitter

OSRC With few exceptions, most of The Hackaday Prize are things we really haven’t seen much of before: base-3 computers that have been relegated to the history books, extremely odd 3D printers, and fancy, new IoT devices are the norm. The OSRC is not a new project to us. (UPDATE: Looks like they deleted their project page. Here is a snapshot of it from the Internet Archive) We saw it once in 2011 and again a year later. What makes the OSRC an interesting project for The Hackaday Prize isn’t the fact that it’s the most advanced RC transmitter ever created. Creating that was evidently the easy part. The OSRC could use a big financial kick in the pants, and if [Demetris] wins, we’d guess he wouldn’t be taking that ride to space. Rather, he’d be taking the cash prize to get his ultimate transmitter into large-scale manufacturing and out into the wild.

While at first glance the base model OSRC seems expensive at about $6-700 USD, consider this: a six-channel transmitter from an excellent brand costs about $120 USD. Nine channels will run you about $400. The OSRC is a forty channel radio. The sticks are capable of force feedback, and of course the ‘pro’ model of the OSRC has that wonderful screen, capable of displaying video from an FPV camera, a GPS/map overlay, or an incredibly extensive telemetry display. There are multi-thousand dollar avionics for real airplanes out there that have a smaller feature set, and that’s not hyperbole.

A few months ago, [Demetris] was interviewed by the awesome people at Flite Test. That (highly suggested) video is embedded below.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

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Hackaday Links: June 8, 2014

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Yes, dogfighting with RC planes is cool. You know what’s even cooler? RC jousting. Considering these eight foot long planes are probably made of foam board or Depron, they’ll probably hold up for a fairly long time. The perfect application of RC FPV.

Home automation is the next big thing, apparently, but it’s been around for much longer than iPhones and Bluetooth controllable outlets and smart thermostats. Here’s a home automation system from 1985. Monochrome CRT display panel (with an awesome infrared touch screen setup), a rat’s nest of wiring, and a floor plan drawn in ASCII characters. It’s also Y2K compliant.

Here’s an idea for mobile component storage: bags. Instead of tackle and tool boxes for moving resistors and other components around, [Darcy] is using custom bags made from polyethylene sheets, folded and sealed with an impulse sealer. It’s not ESD safe, but accidentally zapping a LED with an ESD would be impressive.

Need a stepper motor test circuit? Easy, just grab one of those Polulu motor drivers, an ATtiny85, wire it up, and you’re done. Of course then you’re troubled with people on the Internet saying you could have done it with a 555 timer. This one is for them. It’s a 555, some wire, and some solder. Could have done it with discrete transistors, though.

Someone figured out Lego Minifigs can hold iDevice charge cables. +1 for the 1980s spaceman.

Remember that “electronic, color sensing, multicolor pen” idea that went around the Internet a year or so ago? It’s soon to be a Kickstarter, and man, is this thing full of fail. They’re putting an ARM 9 CPU in a pen. A pen with a diameter of 15mm. Does anyone know if an ARM 9 is made in that small of a package? We’ll have a full, “this is a totally unrealistic Kickstarter and you’re all sheep for backing it” post when it finally launches. Also, this.

Controlling RC Toys With The Raspi

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An interesting trick you can do with a a fast CPU and a GPIO pin mapped directly to memory is an FM transmitter. Just toggle a pin on and off fast enough, and you have a crude and kludgy transmitter. [Brandon] saw a few builds that turned a Raspberry Pi into an FM radio transmitter and realized a lot of toy remote control cars use a frequency in the same range a Pi can transmit at. It’s not much of a leap to realize the Pi can control these remote control cars using only a length of wire attached to a GPIO pin.

The original hack that turned a Pi GPIO pin into an FM transmitter mapped a GPIO pin to memory, cycled through that memory at about 100 MHz, and added a fractional divider to slightly adjust the frequency, turning it into an FM transmitter. Cheap RC cars usually listen for radio signals at 27 and 49 MHz. It doesn’t take much to realize commanding RC cars with a Pi is possible.

The only problem with this idea is that most RC cars use pulse modulation. For an RC transmitter to send the command for ‘forward’, a synchronization pulse is sent, then a series of pulses and pauses. The frequency doesn’t change at all, something the originally FM code doesn’t do. [Brandon] realized that if he just moved the frequency up to something the RC car wasn’t listening to, that would register as a zero.

All that was left was to figure out the command codes for his RC truck. For this, [Brandon] decided brute force would be the best option. Armed with a script and a webcam, he cycled through all possible combinations until the webcam detected a moving truck. Subtlety brilliant, if you ask us. Of course more complex commands required an oscilloscope, but now [Brandon] has a git full of all the code to control a cheap RC car with a Pi.

Bare Bones Arduino IR Receiver

TV Remote

Old infrared remote controls can be a great way to interface with your projects. One of [AnalysIR’s] latest blog posts goes over the simplest way to create an Arduino based IR receiver, making it easier than ever to put that old remote to good use.

Due to the popularity of their first IR receiver post, the silver bullet IR receiver, [AnalysIR] decided to write a quick post about using IR on the Arduino. The part list consists of one Arduino, two resistors, and one IR emitter. That’s right, an emitter. When an LED (IR or otherwise) is reverse biased it can act as a light sensor. The main difference when using this method is that the IR signal is not inverted as it would normally be when using a more common modulated IR receiver module. All of the Arduino code you need to get up and running is also provided. The main limitation when using this configuration, is that the remote control needs to be very close to the IR emitter in order for it to receive the signal.

What will you control with your old TV remote? It would be interesting to see this circuit hooked up so that a single IR emitter can act both as a transmitter and a receiver. Go ahead and give it a try, then let us know how it went!

A Wireless Computer Remote that Emulates a USB Keyboard

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If you are anything like [Antoine], you would love to be able to control your PC with a simple hand-held remote control from anywhere in your house. [Antoine] wrote in to tell us about his wireless computer remote that emulates a USB keyboard, making it suitable for any device that uses a USB keyboard.

His blog post is very well written and contains a ton of design information and background on the project. He initially wanting to easily control his PC’s music from anywhere in his house without needing to be within line of sight of his computer. The end result is a very handy remote that can be used to change music, video, and even launch applications on his computer. The system consists of a base station for his remote that connects to the computer and acts as a USB keyboard, and the remote itself. The base station uses V-USB on an Arduino to interface with the computer, and VirtualWire to handle the wireless protocol for the remote. For those of you who don’t know about VirtualWire (now superseded by RadioHead), it is a very cool Arduino library that lets you easily use raw wireless interfaces (also called vanilla wireless interfaces).

Without going into too much detail here (be sure to see the actual post for more information), the remote itself was redesigned after the initial proof of concept to maximize battery life. The final power consumption is very impressive, resulting in a battery life of more than two years! This remote system is very well put together and contains many aspects that can easily be reused for other projects.