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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TrainLight: Transit Info At A Glance

In a world of sensory overload, sometimes it’s nice to get the information you need without a bunch of clutter. [Savage] has created an attractive and minimalist system to display the current wait times for specific trains in his San Francisco neighborhood.

trainlight-legendIt’s basically a Spark Core and a 60 LED-per-meter strip of WS2812Bs. A 1000µF cap filters the power coming in from a switching adapter and a resistor limits the level-shifted logic going to the LEDs. Eight barriers made from card stock keep the light zones from bleeding together. The sides of the square canvas panel indicate cardinal directions and are oriented to [Savage]’s southern-facing house.

The server gets prediction data every 30 seconds using the RESTbus JSON API. [Savage] added in a bit of time for walking down the stairs, putting shoes on, and walking to each stop. TrainLight receives these times over WiFi and lights the LEDs accordingly. If a section isn’t lit at all, the wait time for that line is greater than 10 minutes. Dark green means you have 5-10 minutes to get there, and pale green means 2-5 minutes. If the LEDs are yellow, you’d better put on your running shoes.

This is a fairly simple build with a focus on subtlety. Even before guests in his house understand what they’re looking at, [Savage]’s TrainLight makes for an interesting conversational piece of blinkenlights and doubles as illumination for the stairs. There’s a slightly sped-up demo after the break.

Want to make your own? [Savage] has a tutorial page and his code is up on the gits. Blinky lights are also good for telling you whether the trains are running at all.

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Animated Jack-o’-Lantern Really Connects

Days past people used to just carve a scary face in a pumpkin, drop in a candle and call it a day, but for our kind of crowd that’s not going to cut it. [Alexis] stuffed this Jack o Lantern with a lot of brain power and even connected it up to the internet for community control.

At the core of the festive decoration is a spark core, which allows micro controlled special effects to be triggered via Twitter. RGB LED’s change colors, flicker and flash and even a spooky ghost pops out of the top. Along with all that, a sound sensor is added in so the lights can react to the ambient sound around the lantern.

If you get too close an ultrasonic sensor will trigger the ghoulish treat with lights and animation, but what about spooky sounds? That is also included thanks to a toy found at the local discount store, which had its guts removed and its trigger button replaced with a transistor.

Now sights and sounds can all be controlled remotely or in an active response mode to entertain all the little goblins visiting the house this Halloween. Join us after the break for a quick demo video and don’t forget to send in links to your own pumpkin-based hacks this week!

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Non-Invasive Smart Electricity Meter

There are a lot of ways to measure energy usage in the home, but most of them involve handling mains voltage. Not only that, but sometimes they require handling mains voltage before it gets through a breaker panel or fuse box, meaning that if you make a mistake there are a lot of bad things that can happen. [Yonas] has been working on this problem, and has come up with a non-invasive, safer way to monitor electricity consumption without having to work directly on live wires.

Please note that you should still not be working on mains voltage without proper training, but if you have the required know-how then the installation should be pretty straightforward. The project is based on the Spark Core, and uses clamp-on current sensors to measure energy use. The sensors wrap around the mains cable, meaning you don’t have to disconnect anything to hook them up. The backend runs on a LAMP server which could be a Raspberry Pi if you have one. [Yonas] runs it on a hosted server as a matter of preference.

All of the source code for this is available, and assuming you can get your hands on the current sensors this could be a great way to get started monitoring your energy usage in the house. Be sure to check out the video below for a demonstration of the operation of this device. Of course, if you have a gas line you’ll need this energy monitoring setup too.

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Rebraining an LED Marquee with a SparkCore

Wires? Where this LED scroller is going we don’t need wires. Well, except for power but everything needs power. The 90×7 LED marquee hangs over the entrance to NYC Resistor’s laser cutter room. Thanks to a Spark Core and a bit of work from [Trammell Hudson], the sign is working and attached to the network.

The original unit called for an RS485 connection for input. Other than that there wasn’t really a reason it had been collecting dust. Closer inspection of the internals proved that the display is driven exactly as you would expect: transistors for the rows and shift registers for the columns. Well, actually the columns are split into separate shift registers for the even and odd but that doesn’t complicate things too much. GPIO takes the seven row-driving transistors, two shift register clocks, data, latch, and enable for a total of twelve pins.

The Spark Core completely replaces the Atmel 80C32X2 and its RTC by pinging the network for UTC time synchronization once per day.

[via NYC Resistor]

IoT Chameleon Lamp Does It with Python

If this Internet of Things thing is gonna leave the launchpad, it will need the help of practical and semi-practical project ideas for smartifying everyday items. Part of getting those projects off the ground is overcoming the language barrier between humans that want to easily prototype complex ideas and hardware that wants specific instructions. A company called Things on Internet [TOI] has created a system called VIPER to easily program any Spark Core, UDOO or Arduino Due with Python by creating a virtual machine on the board.

The suite includes a shield, an IDE, and the app. By modifying a simple goose neck IKEA lamp, [TOI] demonstrates VIPER (Viper Is Python Embedded in Realtime). They opened the lamp and added an 24-LED Adafruit NeoPixel ring, which can be controlled remotely by smartphone using the VIPER app. To demonstrate the capacitive sensing capabilities of the VIPER shield, they lined the head of the lamp with foil. This code example will change the NeoPixels to a random color each time the button is pressed in the app.

Check out the lamp demonstration after the break and stay for the RC car.

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Spark Goes Cellular With The Electron

A few years ago, small and cheap WiFi modules burst onto the scene and with that the Spark was born. It’s a tiny dev board with a TI CC3000 WiFi module, capable of turning any device into an Internet-connected device. It’s only the very beginning of the Internet of Things, yes, but an important step in the right direction. Now, Spark is unshackling itself from WiFi networks with the Spark Electron, a dev kit that comes with a cellular radio and data plan.

If you’ve ever tried to build a high altitude balloon, a project that will be out of range of WiFi, or anything else where cellular data would be a godsend, you’ll quickly realize Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and all the other carriers out there don’t necessarily care about your project. As far as we can tell, Spark is the first company to fix this gaping hole in what cellular can do by offering their own service – 20,000 messages for $3/month and no contracts. Officially, that’s 1MB of data spread over 20k messages that are about 50 bytes in length.

There are a few dozen companies and organizations working on the next generation of The Internet Of Things, but these require completely new silicon and spectrum allocations or base stations. Right now, there’s exactly one way of getting a Thing on the Internet without WiFi, and that’s with cellular data. We have to hand it to Spark for this one, and can’t wait to see the projects that will be possible due to a trickle of Internet everywhere.