Commandeer X10-based home automation with your favorite microcontroller

X10 has been around for a long time. It’s the brand name for a set of wireless modules used to switch electrical devices in the home. There’s all kinds of different units (bulb sockets, electrical outlets and plug pass-throughs, etc.) and they’re mass-produced which makes them really inexpensive. Whether you already have some X10 controlled devices or just plan to add them later, we think you’ll find [Jeff Ledger's] post on controlling the system with a Propeller chip interesting. The technique is not Propeller specific and will be simple to port to your microcontroller of choice.

[Jeff] got his hands on an X10 Firecracker. This provides a DB-9 serial connection meant to be used for computer control. But the interface is so simple all you need is two I/O pins feeding the level converter circuit seen above. You can get the TC4427 for less than a dollar, and the Firecrcker module for as little as $6. Since [Jeff] has already covered adding Ethernet via a ENC28J60 he goes on to detail a web-server that lets him switch his devices, all served from the Propeller chip.

Here’s a different ENC28J60 Ethernet tutorial for those interested in webpages from microcontrollers. And then there’s also a ZigBee home automation project if you’re not warming up to the idea of using X10 modules.

Salvaged flight stick controls A/V system, triggers “Emergency Party System”

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After seeing a writeup online that demonstrated how to build an “Emergency Party Button”, [spikec] knew that he had to have one of his own. He happened to have a USAF B-8 stick grip from an A-10A aircraft laying around, and figured it would be perfect for controlling the A/V system in his basement.

The control stick was mounted to the top of a cheap cigar humidor, and crammed full of any electronic component he could get his hands on. It contains not one, but two Arduinos. The first is tasked with reading the flight stick’s inputs and the IR control of his various appliances, while another triggers the overhead lighting in his bar along with the X10 controlled Emergency Party System. He contemplated combining all of the functionality into one device, but splitting the tasks in two was easier for this self-declared electronics novice.

The various buttons on the control stick can be used to power all of his A/V appliances on and off, control volume levels, and select which songs stream from his digital jukebox. If the action ever starts to wind down, a quick turn of his “arming” key and the flick of a switch sends his basement into full-on party mode, which includes more lighting and lasers than any one person should be allowed to own.

[spikec] says that his wife’s eyes were rolling like “uncaged gyros” when he unveiled his controller for the first time – a sign of a job well done. Don’t take our word for it though, check out a video of his control stick and Emergency Party System in action after the jump.

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Home automation systems easily hacked via the power grid

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As home automation becomes more and more popular, hackers and security experts alike are turning their attention to these systems, to see just how (in)secure they are.

This week at DefCon, a pair of researchers demonstrated just how vulnerable home automation systems can be. Carrying out their research independently, [Kennedy] and [Rob Simon] came to the same conclusion – that manufacturers of this immature technology have barely spent any time or resources properly securing their wares.

The researchers built tools that focus on the X10 line of home automation products, but they also looked at ZWave, another commonly used protocol for home automation communications. They found that ZWare-based devices encrypted their conversations, but that the initial key exchange was done in the open, allowing any interested 3rd party to intercept the keys and decrypt the communications.

While you might initially assume that attacks are limited to the power lines within a single house, [Kennedy] says that the signals leak well beyond the confines of your home, and that he was able to intercept communications from 15 distinct systems in his neighborhood without leaving his house.

Rescuing surplus blinkenlights

Because surplus LED panels from an early 1990s supercomputer is a completely reasonable thing to own, [William Dillon] set to work displaying them on his wall.

The LED panels came from a surplus CM-5 Connection Machine, best known from it’s role as the mainframe in Jurassic Park (only an empty case with LED panels were used in the movie). When not on Isla Nublar, the Connection Machine was a fabulous piece of engineering from the 1980s Artificial Intelligence revival. With some machines having 65,536 processors, it was used for AI research using Lisp (although we were never very good at Lisp.

[William] built a wooden frame out of 1×2 inch maple and installed an X10 module behind the panels as a remote switch. The panels themselves aren’t controlled by a computer, so the only thing left to do was to mount the power supplies. It’s impressive to see the massively over-engineered power supplies that were designed to source 5V @ 30A when the panels only draw 7 Amps. [William] says it was a design feature of the Connection Machine to spare no expense.

[William]‘s next plan is to reverse engineer the panels to display custom messages, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with. We can’t explain why, but we really want to build one of these panels. Check out the pictures of [William] decommissioning the CM-5.

Building a home automation mesh network

[Ian Harris] designed a bunch of home automation for his parents using X10 hardware. He was a bit disappointed by the failure rate of the modules and the overall performance of the system so he set out to replace it with his own hardware. Lucky for use he’s documented the journey in a four-part series about mesh networks.

The hardware seen above is his test rig. He’s using a couple of Sparkfun breakout boards to develop for nrf2401a RF transceiver chips. These could be used as slave modules, with a central command device, but due to the home’s architecture wireless signals don’t propagate well from one end of the house to the other. The solution is to build a mesh network that will allow each module to act as a network node, receiving and passing on messages until they arrive at the target device. He’s trying to do this with cheap hardware, selecting the PIC 16F88 which boasts 7 KB or program memory and 368 bytes of ram. In the end it doesn’t take much code to get this running, it’s the concepts that take some time and research before you’ll be comfortable working with them.

[Thanks Oakkar7]

Face tracking with x10

If you are looking to do some face tracking and don’t know where to start, this explanation of how to do it with X10 modules could be pretty helpful. Aside from having, what some could consider to be, the absolute most annoying website ever for a company, X10 also makes modular systems for home automation. X10 also refers to the industry standard for home automation, so sometimes just saying you did something with X10 can get confusing.   He is using the SDK to write custom code for the tracking, which you can download from the project page.

[via HackedGadgets]

BobLight night light networking

It turns out that more than just pictures of women and flashing animations can be found on the X10 website. [Jonathan] based his BobLight project around the MS14A X10 module.

The idea for the devices started off as a Christmas gift for his parents in-law. A boblight turns on when motion is detected. It then communicates (through radio) with the other boblights to turn them all on. If motion is not detected by any of the boblights for a length of time, they all turn off. Rather than having the user shut all of them off every morning, a light sensor is used to automate the task.

Each boblight is a common LED utility light combined with the board of an MS14A and added a 310MHz RF receiver. He even hacked the board by replacing the onboard PIC with a higher spec model. We think [Jonathan] did a great job at implementing an innovative concept.