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!

A Very, Very Small IMU

The reason we’re playing with quadcopters, flight controllers, motion controlled toys, and hundreds of other doodads is the MEMS revolution. A lot is possible with tiny accelerometers and gyroscopes, and this is looking like the smallest IMU yet. It’s an 18mm diameter IMU, with RF networking, C/C++ libraries, and a 48MHz ARM microcontroller – perfect for the smallest, most capable quadcopter we’ve ever seen.

The build started off as an extension of the IMUduino, an extremely small rectangular board that’s based on the ATMega32u4. While the IMUduino would be great for tracking position and orientation over Bluetooth, it’s still 4cm small. The Femtoduino cuts this down to an 18mm circle, just about the right size to stuff in a model rocket or plane.

Right now, femtoIO is running a very reasonable Kickstarter for the beta editions of these boards with a $500 goal. The boards themselves are a little pricey, but that’s what you get with 9-DOF IMUs and altimeter/temperature sensors.

Using The Wink Hub With OpenHAB

Spend enough time looking at home automation setups, and you’ll quickly find there are two competing philosophies. The first wants to put an Arduino on every light socket, with everything connected by cheap eBay radio modules. The second home automation philosophy requires astonishingly expensive hardware to talk to other expensive modules. The Arduino solution is a system that can be infinitely customizable, and the commercial solution talks to ‘the cloud’ for some strange reason. There is no middle ground. At least there wasn’t until [Eric] started poking around and looked at a few hardware solutions.

[Eric] was looking to control some GE Link bulbs through his phone, computer, or through the Internet. They’re supposed to be the best bulb on the market in terms of price and performance, but they can only be controlled with a Zigbee. This lead [Eric] to an interesting hack that gave all owners of the Wink Hub local control of their devices. From [Eric]’s research, this was the only way his lighting wasn’t dependent on ‘the cloud’.

Local control of the Wink was only possible after [Eric] read a post on rooting the Wink (and this post from a few days ago). Because the device could be rooted, and the fact that [Eric] already has a few things in his house integrated with OpenHAB, the choice on how to proceed with controlling a few Zigbee enabled lights was easy.

Once [Eric] got the light bulbs talking to the Wink, integrating them with the rest of the devices in his home was easy. The new bulbs are activated with his Arduino motion sensors, door sensors, and can be controlled via smartphone or by voice control. The Wink can also be completely disconnected from the Internet. A good idea, because the ability to turn a light on and off should not be dictated by the quality of your Internet connection.

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A Better Way To Hack The Wink

If you’re looking for Home Automation appliances, you might want to check out the Wink Hub. It’s fifty bucks, and has six radios on board: WiFi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and 433MHz Lutron and Kidde. That’s an insane amount of connectivity in a very cheap package. It’s been pwnzor3d before, but dinnovative has a much better solution for getting root on this device.

Earlier methods of rooting the Wink involved passing commands via URLs – something that’s not exactly secure. The new method leverages what’s already installed on the Wink, specifically Dropbear, to generate public keys on the Wink hub and getting that key onto another computer securely. The complete exploit is just a few lines in a terminal, but once that’s done you’ll have a rooted Wink hub.

Even though the Wink hub has been rooted a few times before, we haven’t seen anything that leverages the capabilities of this hardware. There isn’t another device with a bunch of IoT radios on the market for $50, and we’re dying to see what people can come up with. If you’ve done something with your Wink, send it in on the tip line.