An ESP8266 in Every Light Switch and Outlet

[Hristo Borisov] shows us his clever home automation project, a nicely packaged WiFi switchable wall socket. The ESP8266 has continuously proven itself to be a home automation panacea. Since the ESP8266 is practically a given at this point, the bragging rights have switched over to the skill with which the solution is implemented. By that metric, [Hristo]’s solution is pretty dang nice.

esp8266-smart-lightswitchIt’s all based around a simple board. An encapsulated power supply converts the 220V offered by the Bulgarian power authorities into two rails of 3.3V and 5V respectively. The 3.3V is used for an ESP8266 whose primary concern is the control of a triac and an RGB LED. The 5V is optional if the user decides to add a shield that needs it. That’s right, your light switches will now have their own shields that decide the complexity of the device.

The core module seen to the right contains the actual board. All it needs is AC on one side and something to switch or control on the other The enclosure is not shown (only the lid with the shield connectors is seen) but can be printed in a form factor that includes a cord to plug into an outlet, or with a metal flange to attach to an electrical box in the wall. The modules that mate with the core are also nicely packaged in a 3D printed shield. For example, to convert a lamp to wireless control, you use a shield with a power socket on it. To convert a light switch, use the control module that has a box flange and then any number of custom switch and display shields can be hot swapped on it.

It’s all controllable from command line, webpage, and even an iOS app; all of it is available on his GitHub. We’d love to hear your take on safety, modularity, and overall system design. We think [Hristo] has built a better light switch!

ESP32 Hands-On: Awesome Promise

The ESP32 is looking like an amazing chip, not the least for its price point. It combines WiFi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities with two CPU cores and a decent hardware peripheral set. There were modules in the wild for just under seven US dollars before they sold out, and they’re not going to get more expensive over time. Given the crazy success that Espressif had with the ESP8266, expectations are high.

And although they were just formally released ten days ago, we’ve had a couple in our hands for just about that long. It’s good to know hackers in high places — Hackaday Superfriend [Sprite_tm] works at Espressif and managed to get us a few modules, and has been great about answering our questions.

We’ve read all of the public documentation that’s out there, and spent a week writing our own “hello world” examples to confirm that things are working as they should, and root out the bugs wherever things aren’t. There’s a lot to love about these chips, but there are also many unknowns on the firmware front which is changing day-to-day. Read on for the full review.

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Simple Clock from Tiny Chip

If you haven’t jumped on the ESP8266 bandwagon yet, it might be a good time to get started. If you can program an Arduino you have pretty much all of the skills you’ll need to get an ESP8266 up and running. And, if you need a good idea for a project to build with one of these WiFi miracle chips, look no further than [Ben Buxton]’s dated, but awesome, NTP clock.

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Nexmon Turns Nexus 5 (and RPi3!) Into WiFi Toolkit

Back in the day, when wardriving was still useful (read: before WPA2 was widespread), we used to wander around with a Zaurus in our pocket running Kismet. Today, every cellphone has WiFi and a significantly more powerful processor inside. But alas, the firmware is locked down.

mrmcd16-7748-deu-nexmon_-_make_wi-fi_hacking_on_smartphones_great_again_sdmp4-shot0005_thumbnailEnter the NexMon project. If you’ve got a Nexus 5 phone with the Broadcom BCM4339 WiFi chipset, you’ve now got a monitor-mode, packet-injecting workhorse in your pocket, and it looks a lot less creepy than that old Zaurus. But more to the point, NexMon is open. If you’d like to get inside what it took to reverse-engineer a hole into the phone’s WiFi, or make your own patches, here’s a great starting place.

But wait, there’s more! The recently released Raspberry Pi 3 has a similar Broadcom WiFi chipset, and has been given the same treatment, turning your RPi 3 into a wireless-sniffing powerhouse. How many Raspberry Pi “hacks” actually hack the Raspberry Pi? Well, here’s one.

We first learned of this project from a talk given at the MetaRhein-Main Chaos Days conference which took place last weekend. The NexMon talk (in German, but with slides in English) is just one of the many talks, all of which are available online.

The NexMon project is a standout, however. Not only do they reverse the WiFi firmware in the Nexus 5, but they show you how, and then apply the same methods to the RPi3. Kudos times three to [Matthias Schulz], [Daniel Wegemer], and [Matthias Hollick]!

Bathroom Status Reporting Hack Eliminates Lines, Frustration

In a lot of ways, portable toilets are superior to standard indoor-plumbing-style toilets. This is mostly due to the fact that they have a status indicator on the door. It’s a shame that no indoor bathrooms have figured this out yet, especially in office buildings where your awkward coworkers bang on every door rather than just check for feet in the huge gap that for some reason exists between the floor and the stall door. Anyway, [Chris] and [Daniel] came up with a solution for this issue, which also eliminates wait time for bathrooms in their office.

Their system is an automated bathroom status indicator that reports information about the bathroom’s use over WiFi. Since the bathrooms at their facility are spread out, it was helpful to be able to look up which bathroom would be free at any given moment. Several Raspberry Pis form the nerves of the project. Custom sensors were attached to a variety of different door locks to detect status. Each Pi reports back over WiFi. This accomplishes their goal of being subtle and simple. They also point out that they had to write very little code for this project since there are so many Unix and embedded hardware tools available to them. Checking the status of the bathroom can be as simple as running netcat.

If you’re looking to roll out your own bathroom status monitor solution, [Chris] and [Daniel] have made their code available on GitHub. There are a number of other ways to automate your bathroom, too, like switching the exhaust fan on when it gets too smelly or humid, or even creating a device that dispenses your toilet paper for you.

 

Asking the Security Question of Home Automation

“Security” is the proverbial dead horse we all like to beat when it comes to technology. This is of course not unjust — we live in a technological society built with a mindset of “security last”. There’s always one reason or another proffered for this: companies need to fail fast and will handle security once a product proves viable, end users will have a harder time with setup and use if systems are secured or encrypted, and governments/law enforcement don’t want criminals hiding behind strongly secured systems.

This is an argument I don’t want to get bogged down in. For this discussion let’s all agree on this starting point for the conversation: any system that manages something of value needs some type of security and the question becomes how much security makes sense? As the title suggests, the technology du jour is home automation. When you do manage to connect your thermostat to your door locks, lights, window shades, refrigerator, and toilet, what type of security needs to be part of the plan?

Join me after the break for an overview of a few Home Automation security concerns. This article is the third in our series — the first asked What is Home Automation and the second discussed the Software Hangups we face.

These have all been inspired by the Automation challenge round of the Hackaday Prize. Document your own Automation project by Monday morning to enter. Twenty projects will win $1000 each, becoming finalists with a chance at the grand prize of $150,000. We’re also giving away Hackaday T-shirts to people who leave comments that help carry this discussion forward, so let us know what you think below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Solar WiFi Rover Roves At Night

[TK] has a stretch goal for his RC car project — enabling it to recharge on solar power during the day and roam around under remote Internet control at night. It’s like a miniature, backyard version of NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Right now, he’s gotten a Raspberry Pi Zero and a camera on board, and has them controlling the robot over WiFi. He looks like he’s having a great time piloting it around his house. Check out the video down below for (crashy) remote-controlled operation.

We can’t wait to see if solar power is remotely possible (tee-hee!) as an option for this vehicle. The eventual plan to connect it via 3G cellular modem is still off in the future, and will probably demand more of the smarts of the Raspberry Pi than at present. But we love the idea of a long-running autonomous vehicle, so we’re pulling for you, [TK]!

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