New Take on the Binary Clock

By now it might seem like there’s no new way to build a binary clock. It’s one of the first projects many build to try out their first soldering irons, so it’s a well-traveled path. Every now and then, however, there’s a binary clock that takes a different approach, much like [Stephen]’s latest project which he calls the byte clock.

The clock works by dividing the 24-hour day into half and using an LED to represent this division, which coincidentally works out to representing AM or PM. The day is divided in half over and over again, with each division getting its own LED. In order to use this method to get one-second resolution it would need 16 LEDs, but since that much resolution isn’t too important for a general-use clock, [Stephen] reduced this to eight.

Additionally, since we’re in the Internet age, the clock has built-in WiFi courtesy of a small version of Python called WiPy which runs on its own microcontroller. A real-time clock rounds out the build and makes sure the clock is as accurate as possible. Of course an RTC might not have the accuracy as some other clocks, but for this application it certainly gets the job done.

New Brain for Smart Vacuum

The ESP8266 has found its way into almost everything now. With its tiny size, low price tag, and accessible programmer, it’s perfect for almost any application that requires WiFi. [HawtDogFlvrWtr] decided that will all of the perks of the platform, an ESP8266 was practically begging to be shoehorned into his automatic vacuum cleaner. This isn’t a Roomba, though, it’s a Neato that now has a custom WiFi interface.

The new WiFi modification comes with some additional features as well. First of all, it ditches the poorly designed default user interface (often the most annoying proprietary component of any consumer product). In addition, the vacuum can now be placed on a completely custom schedule and can also be deployed at the push of a button. Now that it has a custom interface, it can report its status over the network to a phone or other computer as well.

[HawtDogFlvrWtr] is still developing his project and it looking for some help beta testing his new platform. He also has how to videos on his project page if you’re in the process of tearing apart your own. There are many other ways of modifying vacuum cleaners to add other useful features as well.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: ESP32 Monster and Getting Started Quickly

Prolific hacker [kodera2t] is working on his own “ESP32 monster board” dev board for the still-newish ESP32 WiFi module. His board has everything: Ethernet, OLED, LiPo, and even CAN-bus. But all that peripheral connectivity is worth nothing if you can’t program the microcontroller to use it.

The Arduino environment for the ESP32 is coming along quite nicely, but it’s not yet fully featured enough to run all of [kodera2t]’s hardware. To take advantage of all that, he needs to use Espressif’s SDK — called the “IoT Development Framework” or IDF for short. In his latest project log, [kodera2t] goes through everything necessary to get the IDF up and compiling on OSX. (It’s strangely similar to the Linux procedure.) Read through the official instructions here, if you want more, but we think [kodera2t] hits all the high points.

While we’re tooting [kodera2t]’s horn, check out his old project — an Arduino shoehorned into an SD card — or watch his alter-ego [Toshiro Kodera] give a serious talk about his day job, engineering radio-frequency meta-materials.

Hackaday Prize Entry: WiFi ePaper

[Frank Buss] designed an electronic version of a sticky note: a WiFi enabled, solar-powered ePaper, with magnets embedded in the casing. It’s based on the new ESP32, and the idea is that you can update it via your smart-phone or over the internet via a cloud app to show any message you want. Being an ePaper display, the power consumption is greatly reduced, at least if you are cautious using the ESP32.

The final version plans to poll a server once per hour to get a new image to display. Depending on the final size and battery constraints, our guess is that it could probably poll often. Of course, that depends on the available charging light, which is usually reduced when you are inside the house. The project also has 3 buttons to provide user input, which can be customized for a wide array of actions, as [Frank Buss] notes:

For example install it on the fridge of your grandma, who might not be very proficient in using modern internet connected devices. Then you can send her birthday wishes, or remind her of schedules. And the buttons could be used as a feedback channel, like confirming a date. Or when installed at a public place, it can act as a bulletin board. Or it can be used for a modern form of internet connected graffiti or other art projects. The possibilities are infinite.

This project immediately reminds us of the recent SHA2017 badge we covered some days ago, with a bigger display and solar panel or the e-ink wifi display project from last year.

The latest version is being tested with a black/white/red ePaper display, as we can see in the video:

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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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ESP32’s Freedom Output Lets You Do Anything

The ESP32 is Espressif’s new wonder-chip, and one of the most interesting aspects of its development has been the almost entirely open-source development strategy that they’re taking. But the “almost” in almost entirely open is important — there are still some binary blobs in the system, and some of them are exactly where a hacker wouldn’t want them to be. Case in point: the low-level WiFi firmware.

So that’s where [Jeija]’s reverse engineering work steps in. He’s managed to decode enough of a function called ieee80211_freedom_output to craft and send apparently arbitrary WiFi data and management frames, and to monitor them as well.

This ability is insanely useful for a WiFi device. With low-level access like this, one can implement custom protocols for mesh networking, low-bandwidth data transfers, or remove the requirement for handshaking entirely. One can also spam a system with so many fake SSIDs that it crashes, deauth everyone, or generally cause mayhem. Snoop on your neighbors, or build something new and cool: with great power comes great responsibility.

Anyway, we reported on [Jeija]’s long distance hack and the post may have read like it was all about the antenna, but that vastly underestimates the role played by this firmware reverse-engineering hack. Indeed, we’re so stoked about the hack that we thought it was worth reiterating: the ESP32 is now a WiFi hacker’s dream.

Simple Scanner Finds the Best WiFi Signal

Want to know which way to point your WiFi antenna to get the best signal? It’s a guessing game for most of us, but a quick build of a scanning WiFi antenna using mostly off-the-shelf components could point you in the right direction.

With saturation WiFi coverage in most places these days, optimizing your signal might seem like a pointless exercise. And indeed it seems [shawnhymel] built this more for fun than for practical reasons. Still, we can see applications where a scanning Yagi-Uda antenna would come in handy. The build started with a “WiFi divining rod” [shawnhymel] created from a simple homebrew Yagi-Uda and an ESP8266 to display the received signal strength indication (RSSI) from a specific access point. Tired of manually moving the popsicle stick and paperclip antenna, he built a two-axis scanner to swing the antenna through a complete hemisphere.

The RSSI for each point is recorded, and when the scan is complete, the antenna swings back to the strongest point. Given the antenna’s less-than-perfect directionality — [shawnhymel] traded narrow beam width for gain — we imagine the “strongest point” is somewhat subjective, but with a better antenna this could be a handy tool for site surveys, automated radio direction finding, or just mapping the RF environment of your neighborhood.

Yagi-Uda antennas and WiFi are no strangers to each other, whether it be a WiFi sniper rifle or another recycling bin Yagi.  Of course this scanner isn’t limited to WiFi. Maybe scanning a lightweight Yagi for the 2-meter band would be a great way to lock onto the local Ham repeater.

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