Christmas Lights And Ships In A Bottle

Thanksgiving was last week, and Christmas has been invading department stores for two or three months now, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to kill a tree, set it up in your living room, and put a few hundred watts of lights on it. All those lights, though; it’s as if Christmas lights were specifically invented as fodder for standup comedians for two months out of the year. Why can’t someone invent wireless Christmas lights?

We don’t know if it’s been invented, but here’s a Kickstarter campaign that’s selling that same idea. It’s called Aura, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin: wireless Christmas lights, controllable with a smartphone. If it works, it’s a brilliant idea.

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Test Your Signal with the WiFi Cup

[CNLohr] wanted to test the WiFi range in his house. One look at his roommate’s cup and an unorthodox idea was born. The WiFi Cup used an ESP8266 to connect to his home network. For output, [CNLohr] also added a WS2812 LED strip to the cup. The ESP8266 was programmed to send UDP packets to [CNLohr’s] laptop. When the laptop responded back, the ESP8266 turned on the LEDs, lighting up the cup. The cup’s response to signal strength was very quick – about a second.

[CNLohr] took the WiFi Cup around the house. He was surprised to detect the connection in corners he didn’t expect; in fact, the signal wasn’t weakening at all! He proceeded to walk outside with it, hoping to see the signal strength decrease. As a testament to his roommate’s robust router, the cup merely flickered. Hoping for a better test, [CNLohr] switched out the router for a cheaper TP-Link with shorter antennas. While the initial ping test showed a slower response time, the cup detected WiFi around the house just fine. It only wavered for a couple of moments when it was placed inside a metal bucket. We have to wonder how thin [CNLohr’s] walls are. WiFi never works that well in our house!

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RFToy Makes Wireless Projects Easier

[Ray] has created RFToy, a simple gadget to aid in setting up wireless systems with a variety of common radio modules. RFToy is an open source microcontroller board running on an ATmega328. While RFToy is Arduino code compatible, [Ray] chose to ditch the familiar Arduino shield layout for one that makes it easier to install RF modules, and is more handheld friendly.

[RFToy] includes headers for the popular nRF24L01 2.4 GHz transceiver, as well as 433/315 transmitters and receivers found in many low-cost wireless electronic devices. The 128×64 pixel OLED screen and 3 button interface make it easy to set up simple user interfaces for testing new designs.

[Ray] hasn’t broken any new ground here. What he has done is create a simple tool for wireless projects. Anyone who’s worked on a wireless system can tell you that tools like this are invaluable for debugging why your circuit isn’t talking. Is it the transmitter? The receiver? Something else in the power supply circuit?

Check out [Ray’s] demo video after the break. In it, he sniffs, records, and plays back signals from several remote-controlled outlets. [Ray] also has a great demo of sending temperature data back and forth using an nRF24L01.

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Using Router SoCs as WiFi Modules (Yet Again)

8-bit AVRs and 32-bit ARMs do one thing, and one thing well: controlling other electronics and sensors while sipping power. The Internet of Things is upon us and with that comes the need for connecting to WiFi networks. Already, a lot of chips are using repackaged System on Chips to provide an easy way to connect to WiFi, and the USR-WIFI232-T is the latest of the bunch. It’s yet another UART to WiFi bridge, and as [2XOD], it’s pretty easy to connect to an AVR.

The module in question can be had through the usual channels for about $11, shipped straight from China, and the only purpose of this device is to provide a bridge between a serial port and a wireless network. They’re not that powerful, and are only meant for simple tasks,

[2XOD] got his hands on one of these modules and tested them out. They’re actually somewhat interesting, with all the configuration happening over a webpage served from the device. Of course the standard AT commands are available for setting everything up, just like the ESP8266.

With a month of testing, [2XOD] has found this to be a very reliable device, logging temperatures every minute for two weeks. There’s also a breakout board available to make connection easy, and depending on what project you’re building, these could be a reasonable stand-in for some other popular UART -> WiFi chips.

Reverse Engineering the D-Link WPS Pin Algorithm

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A router with WPS requires a PIN to allow other devices to connect, and this PIN should be unique to every router and not derived from other easily accessible data found on the router. When [Craig] took a look at the firmware of a D-Link DIR-810L 802.11ac router, he found exactly the opposite; the WPS PIN was easily decipherable because it was generated entirely from the router’s MAC address and could be reverse engineered by sniffing WiFi.

When [Craig] was taking a look at the disassembled firmware from his router, he noticed a bit of code that accessed the NVRAM used for storing device-specific information like a serial number. This bit of code wasn’t retrieving a WPS pin, but the WAN MAC address instead. Instead of being unique to each device and opaque to every other bit of data on the router, the WPS pin was simply generated (with a bit of math) from the MAC address. This means anyone upstream of the router can easily derive the WPS pin of the router, and essentially gives everyone the keys to the castle of this router.

A few years ago, it was discovered the WPS pin was extremely insecure anyway, able to be brute-forced in a matter of minutes. There are patches router manufacturers could apply to detect these brute force attacks, closing that vulnerability. [Craig]’s code, though, demonstrates that a very large number of D-Link routers effectively broadcast their WPS PIN to the world. To make things even worse, the BSSID found in every wireless frame is also derived from the WAN MAC address. [Craig] has literally broken WPS on a huge number of D-Link routers, thanks to a single engineer that decided to generate the WPS PIN from the MAC address.

[Craig] has an incomplete list of routers that are confirmed affected on his site, along with a list of confirmed unaffected routers.

Bluetooth-Enabled Danger Sign for Lab

[A Raymond] had some free time at work, and decided to spend it on creating a wireless warning sign. According to his blog profile, he is a PhD student in Applied Physics. His lab utilizes a high-powered laser system. His job is to use said system, but only after it’s brought online by faculty scientists. The status of the laser system is changed by a manual switchbox that controls the warning signs wired around the lab entrances. Unfortunately, if you were in the upstairs office, you only knew this after running downstairs to check. [A Raymond’s] admitted laziness finally got the better of him – he wanted a sign that displayed the laser’s status from the comfort of the office. He had an old sign he could use, but he wanted a way for it to communicate with the switchbox downstairs. After some thought, he decided Bluetooth was the way to go, using a pair of BlueSMiRF Bluetooth modules from Sparkfun and Arduino Uno R3’s.

He constructed a metal box that intercepted the cable from the main switchbox, mounting one BlueSMiRF and Uno into it. Upon learning that the switchbox sends 12V AC signals over three individual status wires, he half-wave rectified the wires and divided their voltages so that the Uno wouldn’t fry. Instead, it determined which status wire that had active voltage. and sent a “g(reen)”, “y(ellow)”, or “r(ed)” signal continuously via Bluetooth. On the receiving end, [A Raymond] gutted the sign and mounted the other BlueSMiRF and Uno into it along with some green, yellow, and red LEDs. The LEDs light up in response to the corresponding Bluetooth signal.

The result is a warning sign that is always up-to-date with the switchbox’s status. We’ve covered projects using Bluetooth before, from plush birds to cameras- [A Raymond’s] wireless sign is in good company. He notes that it’s “missing” a high pitched whining noise when the “Danger” lights are on. If he decides to add an accompanying (annoying) sound, he couldn’t go wrong with something like this. Regardless, we’re sure [A Raymond] is happy that he no longer has to go back and forth between floors before he can use the laser.

A 1920’s Doorbell is Upgraded with 2010’s Technology

When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.