HOPE X: Citizens Band Microwave Spectrum And Free Internet For All

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The bulk of HOPE X was the talks, but arguably the far more interesting aspect of thousands of hackers and tinkerers under one roof is talking to everyone about what they’re doing. One guy hanging out at HOPE gave a quick lightning talk to a few people about something very interesting: something the FCC is pushing through that’s open to just about everything: it’s the FCC’s new CB radio service (you’ll want to click the presentation link at the very top of the page), giving anyone, not just people with a radio license, access to a huge swath of microwave spectrum.

The short version of the talk was the fact the FCC is extremely interested in opening up 100 to 200 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The idea is to create something like cellular service that can either be implemented by companies, or normal, everyday people. The initial goal of this is to provide -possibly- free Internet to anyone with the right USB dongle. Since it’s just radio, and open to everyone, just about anything can be implemented.

This is something the FCC, Google, Microsoft, and a whole bunch of startups are extremely interested in, and the fact that about half of the spectrum will be open to anyone creates some interesting opportunities. A community-based freenet of wireless Internet links becomes an easy solution, and since the hardware to access 3.5 GHz is similar to other hardware that’s already available means building your own wireless ISP could be relatively easy in 12 to 18 months.

A transcript of the lightning talk is available below.

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THP Hacker Bio: hackersbench

 

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Remote sensing applications that make sense and cents? (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) That’s what [hackersbench], aka [John Schuch], aka [@JohnS_AZ] is working on as his entry for The Hackaday Prize.

He received a multi-thousand-dollar water bill after having an underground pipe break and leak without knowing it. His idea will help you notice problems like this sooner. But if you actually have a way to capture data about your own water use you also have a tool to help encourage less wasteful water use habits. We wanted to learn more about the hacker who is working on this project. [John’s] answers to our slate of questions are after the break.

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The Development Of A Lightweight Wireless Protocol

BANO[Texane] had been thinking about how to monitor the state of his garage door from a remote place. The door itself isn’t around any power outlets, and is a few floors away from where his server would be located in his apartment. This presented a few design challenges – namely, the sensor itself should have a wireless connection to the server, and being low power would be a great idea. This led to the development of a minimalist framework for wireless communication that allows a sensor to run for weeks without a battery swap.

The wireless protocol itself is based on a simple key value pair; each individual sensor, coupled with a NRF905 radio, has passes an address, a key, and a value. There are allowances for checksums and acknowledgement, but as the PDF says, this is a very minimal protocol.

With the software out of the way, [Texane] turned to the hardware. The microcontroller is a simple Arduino clone, paired with a radio and a coin cell on a small board. The micro spends most of its time in a low power state, with the sensor, in this case a reed switch, tied to an interrupt pin.

There was a problem with the power consumption of the radio, though: when the short 17-byte message was transmitting, there was a significant voltage drop. This was okay with a fully charged battery, but with a partially drained coin cell, the possibility of brownouts was high. A big cap in parallel was enough to offset this voltage drop.

It’s still a little expensive for an all-in-one home automation and monitoring system, but developing a functional wireless protocol and the hardware to go with it is no small feat. It’s actually a great piece of kit that [Texane] is sure to find a few uses for.

PirateBox, For All Your Wireless Dead Drop Needs

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Here’s an interesting idea: get a router, Android device, or Raspberry Pi, put it on its own wireless network, and allow anyone to upload and download files. That’s a PirateBox, a small node in the web of digital culture and also a really great way to distribute files at a LAN party.

We’ve seen these type of things before, but now, thanks to [David] and [Matthias], and a bunch of other people, there’s now an easy way to turn a Raspi, Android, or anything that runs OpenWrt into a wireless dead drop. Also included in the software is an image board (think chan) a chat room, UPnP media server, and a browser-based file sharing system. Want to share a “linux distro”? Just upload it to the box over WiFi and it’s available to anyone in range.

Installers are available for devices you probably have sitting around in a junk drawer. Great for that Pi you’re trying to find a use for, and figuring out how to run one of these completely off the grid is an interesting challenge, to boot.

 

 

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.

MicroModem, For Data Transmission Explorations

modemThem kids with those Arduinos don’t know what they’re missing. A serial connection is just too easy, and there’s so much fun to be had with low bandwidth modems. [Mark] made the MicroModem with this in mind. It’s a 1200 baud AFSK modem, capable of APRS, TCP/IP over SLIP, mesh network experimentations, and even long-range radio communication.

As the MicroModem is designed to be an introduction to digital wireless communication, it’s an extremely simple build using only 17 components on a board compatible with the Microduino. The software is built around something called MinimalProtocol1, a protocol that will be received by all other listening stations, features error correction, and automatic data compression. There’s also the ability to send TCP/IP over the link, which allowed [Mark] to load up our retro site at a blistering 1200 bps.

The code is extremely well documented, as seen on the Github for this project, with board files and even breadboard layouts included. [Mark] has three PCBs of his prototype left over, and he’s willing to give those out to other Hackaday readers who would like to give his modem a shot.

Game Boy vs. Electronic Shelf Labels

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAWhile they’re probably rare as hen’s teeth in the US, there have been a few major stores around the world that have started rolling out electronic shelf labels for every item in the store. These labels ensure every item on a shelf has the same price as what’s in the store’s computer, and they’re all controlled by an infrared transceiver hanging on the store’s ceiling. After studying one of these base stations, [furrtek] realized they’re wide open if you have the right equipment. The right equipment, it turns out, is a Game Boy Color.

The shelf labels in question are controlled by a base station with a decidedly non-standard carrier frequency and a proprietary protocol. IR driver chips found in phones are too slow to communicate with these labels, and old PDAs like Palm Pilots, Zauruses, and Pocket PCs only have an IrDA chip. There is one device that has an active development scene and an IR LED connected directly to a CPU pin, though, so [furrtek] started tinkering around with the hardware.

The Game Boy needed to be overclocked to get the right carrier frequency of 1.25 MHz. With a proof of concept already developed on a FPGA board, [furrtek] started coding for the Game Boy, developing an interface that allows him to change the ‘pages’ of these electronic labels, or display customized data on a particular label.

There’s also a much, much more facepalming implication of this build: these electronic labels’ firmware is able to be updated through IR. All [furrtek] needs is the development tools for the uC inside one of these labels.

There’s a great video [furrtek] put together going over this one. Check that out below.

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