Cheap Smarthome Gadget(s) Hacked into Zigbee Sniffer

French hacker [akila] is building up a home automation system. In particular, he’s been working with the “SmartHome” series of gadgets made by Chinese smartphone giant, Xiaomi. First, he started off by reverse-engineering their very nicely made temperature and humidity sensor. (Original in French, hit the translate button in the lower right.) With that under his belt, he opened up the PIR motion sensor unit to discover that it has the same debugging pinouts and the same processor. Almost too easy.

For a challenge, [akila] decided it was time to implement something useful in one of these gadgets: a ZigBee sniffer so that he can tell what’s going on in the rest of his home network. He built a USB/serial programming cable to work with the NXP JN5169’s bootloader, downloaded the SDK, and rolled up his sleeves to get to work.

While trolling through the SDK, he found some interesting firmware called “JennicSniffer”. Well, that was easy. There’s a demo version of a protocol analyzer that he used. It would be cool to get this working with Wireshark, but that’s a project for another day. [Akila] got far enough with the demo analyzer to discover that the packets sent by the various devices in the home network are encrypted. That’s good news for the security-conscious out there and stands as the next open item on [akila]’s to-do list.

We don’t see as many ZigBee hacks as we’d expect, but they’ve definitely got a solid niche in home automation because of commercial offerings like Philips Hue and Wink. And of course, there’s the XBee line of wireless communications modules. We just wrote up a ZigBee hack that aims to work with the Hue system, though, so maybe times are changing?

A Little IoT for Your PID Tea Kettle

For some folks, tea is a simple pleasure – boil water, steep tea, enjoy. There are those for whom tea is a sacred ritual, though, and the precise temperature control they demand requires only the finest in water heating technology. And then there are those who take things even further by making a PID-controlled electric tea kettle an IoT device with Amazon Echo integration.

Nothing worth doing isn’t worth overdoing, and [luma] scores points for that. Extra points too for prototyping an early iteration of his design on a RadioShack Electronics Learning Lab – the one with a manual written by Forrest Mims. [luma] started out using an Arduino with a Zigbee shield but realized the resulting circuit would have to live in an external enclosure. Switching to an ESP8266, the whole package – including optoisolators, relays, and a small wall-wart – is small enough to fit inside the kettle’s base. The end result is an MQTT device that publishes its status to his SmartThings home automation system, and now responds when he tells Alexa it’s time for tea.

Projects that hack the means of caffeine are no strangers to Hackaday, whether your preferred vector is tea, coffee, or even straight up.

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Create Cheap Philips Hue Compatible Devices

The Philips Hue range is a great way to add wirelessly controllable lighting to your home, but the protocol is proprietary which makes it difficult to add our own custom hardware. [Peter] found a way to create his own Hue compatible devices based on cheap JN5168 modules that are able to connect to the Hue bridge. This means you can roll out your own lamps using cheap RGB or White LEDs, a power supply and the JN5168 Zigbee Light Link module.

He started off by trying to clone a Zigbee Light Link device to a MeshBee — Seeed studio’s open source Zigbee Pro module based on the NXP JN5168. Even though the MeshBee used the same device as a Hue lamp, it would not connect to the Hue bridge. But another clone lamp called Innr that he purchased from the local hardware store did connect quite easily. Using NXP’s open source tools, he was able to download the flash and EEPROM contents from the Innr and copy them to the MeshBee which did the trick.

After the EEPROM transfer trick, he figured out how to modify the two keys used for the ZigBee protocol — one for Home Automation and the other for the Light Link. With this final discovery he is able to take the ZigBee Light Link demo project, edit it using Beyond Studio, and then load the binaries on the MeshBee device so it can connect to the Hue bridge.

All of this work culminates in two custom firmware binaries; one for white dimmable lights and another for RGB dimmable ones. It even runs on these cheap JN5168 breakout kits he found for a few bucks. With all of the software taken care of, and having cheap ZigBee Light Link compatible modules on hand, building low cost Hue compatible lights becomes pretty straight forward.

Thanks [wind-rider] for the tip.

OpenThread, A Solution To The WiFi Of Things

The term ‘Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999, long before every laptop had WiFi and every Starbucks provided Internet for the latte-sucking masses. Over time, the Internet of Things meant all these devices would connect over WiFi. Why, no one has any idea. WiFi is terrible for a network of Things – it requires too much power, the range isn’t great, it’s beyond overkill, and there’s already too many machines and routers on WiFi networks, anyway.

There have been a number of solutions to this problem of a WiFi of Things over the years, but none have caught on. Now, finally, there may be a solution. Nest, in cooperation with ARM, Atmel, dialog, Qualcomm, and TI have released OpenThread, an Open Source implementation of the Thread networking protocol.

The physical layer for OpenThread is 802.15.4, the same layer ZigBee is based on. Unlike ZigBee, the fourth, fifth, and sixth layers of OpenThread look much more like the rest of the Internet. OpenThread features IPv6 and 6LoWPAN, true mesh networking, and requires only a software update to existing 802.15.4 radios.

OpenThread is OS and platform agnostic, and interfacing different radios should be relatively easy with an abstraction layer. Radios and networking were always the problem with the Internet of Things, and with OpenThread – and especially the companies supporting it – these problems might not be much longer.

Which Wireless Tech is Right For You?

It seems these days all the electronics projects are wireless in some form. Whether you choose WiFi, Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, NFC, RFID, Cell, IR, or even semaphore or carrier pigeon depends a lot on the constraints of your project. There are a lot of variables to consider, so here is a guide to help you navigate the choices and come to a conclusion about which to use in your project.

We can really quickly reduce options down to the appropriate tech with just a few questions.

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Stuffing Everything on a DIP32 Package

Putting an full microcontroller platform in a DIP format is nothing new – the Teensy does it, the Arduino nano does it, and a dozen other boards do it. [Alex] and [Alexey] aren’t content with just a simple microcontroller breakout board so they’re adding a radio, an OLED, an SD card reader, and even more RAM to the basic Arduino platform, all in a small, easy to use package.

The DIPDuino, as [Alex] and [Alexy] are calling it features an ATmega1284 processor. To this, they’re adding a 128×32 pixel OLED, a micro SD slot, and 1Mbit of SRAM. The microcontroller is a variant that includes a 2.4 GHz Zigbee radio that allows for wireless connections to other DIPDuinos.

What are [Alex] and [Alexey] going to do with their cool little board? They’re planning on using the OLED for a watch, improve their software so the firmware can be updated from the SD card, and one of [Alex]’s friends wants to build a RepRap controller with one of these. There’s a lot of potential with this board, and we’re interested in seeing where the guys take the project from here.

Hacklet 55 – Home Automation Projects

Home automation – the idea of a smart home that monitors and controls the inside environment, takes commands from occupants, and generally makes living easier. Hackers, makers, and engineers have been building their own vision of the smart home for decades. Thanks to cell phones and the revolution of the “internet of things”, home automation is now in the public eye. The hackers haven’t stopped though. They’re still building dreams, one circuit and one line of code at a time. This week’s Hacklet is dedicated to some of the best home automation projects on!

jarvisWe start at the top – [IamTeknik’s] Project Jarvis has been in the top five skulled and viewed projects on for as long as we’ve been keeping records. Just like the fictional Tony Stark design which inspired its name, Jarvis is based on artificial intelligence. [IamTeknik] has created a system using the BeagleBone Black running his own custom software. He’s also creating Jarvis from the ground up – even the relay modules have been designed and built by [IamTeknik]. So far Jarvis has a great 3D printed door lock unit, and a really nice wall mounted tablet. We’re watching to see what modules [IamTeknik] adds next!


hcs[Morrisonpiano] is no home automation noob. He’s been running his own system for two decades. HCS_IV Home Automation System is a project to update his HCS_C home automation system. For the uninitiated, the original HCS was created by [Steve Ciarcia] of Byte and Circuit Cellar fame. There have been several generations of the hardware and software since then, with plenty hackers adding their own custom features. [Morrisonpiano] is updating his system with an NXP Arm Cortex M4 CPU, three big Altera Cyclone FPGAs, and plenty of flash storage. Why use a FPGA on a home automation system? I/O of course! HCS uses a ton of I/O. There are 16 RS485 ports and 10 RS232 serial ports. Going with an FPGA makes things flexible as well. Want to add CAN bus? Just drop in some CAN HDL code and you’re golden!


[Sswitchteven] is giving the smart home more senses with Squirco Smart Home System – Sensor Network. Rather than just have a temperature sensor at the thermostat, or a motion detector in the front foyer, [Steven] wants a network of unobtrusive sensors to blanket the home. He’s doing this by replacing the common light switch with a smart module that has sensors for temperature, humidity, and human presence. [Steven] has spent quite a bit of time researching and experimenting microwave tomography as a means to detect humans. Going with microwaves means no obvious PIR windows.


bbb-haFinally, we have [Ansaf Ahmad] with BeagleBone Black Home Automation. The idea for this project came from a calculus class on optimization. [Ansaf] is putting mathematical theorems to use in the real world by monitoring usage patterns and current demands of a device. With that data, he can optimize the usage to make things greener. So far, [Ansaf] has been experimenting with a lamp. The system has a web front end which uses PHP. The GPIO pins on the board are controlled using Python and Flask. As an early project, BeagleBone Home Automation is doing great – it’s already earned [Ansaf] high grades in his computer engineering class!

If you want more smart home goodness, check out our updated home automation projects list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!