Serial Telemetry To Wi-Fi With An ESP8266

Hackaday.io user [J. M. Hopkins] had a problem with his rocketry. Telemetry from the rockets came down to Earth via a 433MHz serial link, but picking just the bits he needed from a sea of data for later analysis on a laptop screen on bright sunny days was getting a little difficult.

His solution was to bring the serial data from his transceiver module to an ESP8266, and from that both share it over WiFi and display pertinent information via I2C to an LCD for easy reference. And he’s put the whole lot with a power supply in a rather splendid wooden case with an SMA socket on the back to attach his Yagi.

All information received from the telemetry is passed to a client connecting via Telnet over the WiFi, but pertinent information for the LCD is selected by sending it from the rocket enclosed in square brackets. We hope that the source code will be forthcoming in time.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured rocket telemetry here at Hackaday. And we’d be missing a trick if we didn’t point out that this project is using our own Hackaday-branded Huzzah ESP8266 breakout board from the Hackaday Store.

Social Engineering Your Way To The Target PA System

If we were to express an official view of the what these guys did once they hacked into a Target store’s PA system, we’d have to go with definitely uncool. However, it’s good to know that phone phreaking and good ol’ social engineering isn’t dead yet. Many of us got our start by playing with the systems around us.

Anyone could call into a Target store and request to be transferred to the PA’s extension code, which was the same everywhere. If the person transferring the call wasn’t quick on their feet, the caller would then be patched directly into the stores PA system. The kicker? Target had no way of stopping the PA until the caller hung-up. It’s the way the system was designed.

The hack itself is embarrassingly simple. The PA is attached to the in-store phone network. This is pretty standard. We’ve all seen a sales associate go up to phone in a store, dial a number, and make an announcement throughout the store. Where Target went wrong is improper separation of systems, and poorly thought out standardization.

The weakest link in security is always the people it’s designed for, not the one’s it’s designed to keep out. It’s a fun little prank, and hopefully Target has it sorted out now.

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Start Your Day the Arduino Way with this IoT Shower Controller

No longer content with adding value to the thermostat in the hallway or making your fridge smarter than it should be, IoT vendors are pushing into the inner sanctum of homes, the holy of holies – the bathroom. Sure, you can spend big bucks on an electronically controlled valve to turn your shower into a remote-controlled spa that shares your bathing habits with the cloud, but if you’re on a more modest budget and have the hacker spirit, you might want to check out this DIY automated shower valve with IoT features.

When we last ran into [TVMiller], he was opening gates using Jedi mind tricks, and before that he was shrinking a floating golf green to a manageable size. Such hacks work up a sweat, and while a clean hacker is a happy hacker, all that pesky valve-twisting and temperature-fiddling is so annoying. So with a few parts acquired from the waste stream, like an acrylic box, some salvaged servos, popsicle sticks, and a hell of a lot of caulk, [TVMiller] hacked together a feature-packed controller for his existing shower valves. An Arduino MKR1000 reads the water temperature and controls the servos that allow him to start the shower from his phone. Time and temperature data are sent to the cloud using ThingSpeak. You can see the whole thing in action in the mildly-NSFW video after the break.

Admittedly, this is a pretty janky setup, but it falls under the universal hacker disclaimer of “it’s just a prototype.” Still, we like the idea of retrofitting standard shower valves, and the popsicle-stick parallelograms for increasing leverage is a neat trick. We’ll be watching to see where this goes next.

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Arduino Makerbeam Live Plotter Controlled By HTML5 Canvas and Java Website

We’ve never seen someone build a plotter out of buzzwords, but [roxen] did a really good job of it. The idea is simple, place the plotter over a sheet of paper, open a website, draw, and watch the plotter go. Check out the video below the break.

The user draws in an HTML5 Canvas object which is read by a Java Web Server. From there it gets converted to serial commands for an Arduino which controls the steppers with two EasyDrivers.

The build itself is really nice. It perfectly meets the mechanical requirements of a pen plotter without a lot of fluff. The overall frame is T-shaped, for the x- and y-axis. The movements are produced by two steppers and acetal rack and pinion sets. The pen is lifted up and down by a hobby servo.

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Rescuing The World’s First Preserved Railway

Preserved railways are now an established part of the tourist itinerary. It doesn’t matter if you call it a railroad, railway, chemin de fer, Eisenbahn or whatever, the chances are that somewhere near you there will be a line rescued from dereliction on which you can spend a Saturday afternoon in vintage rolling stock being hauled by a locomotive long ago withdrawn from regular service. They are established enough to have become an industry in their own right, with the full range of support services to maintain hundred-year-old machinery and even build entire new locomotives.

So we’ve become used to seeing preserved railways in a state of polished perfection. Sometimes a little too perfect, there was a wry observation in a recent BBC documentary on the subject that a typical British preserved railway represents an average day in the 1950s when the Queen was about to visit. Anyone who lived through that era will tell you the reality was a little different, how run down the system was after World War II and just how dirty everything became when exposed to decades of continuous coal smoke.

A particularly worn-out section of railway in those days could be found at Tywyn, on the Welsh coast. A 2’3″ narrow-gauge line built in the 1860s to serve a slate quarry and provide a passenger service to local communities, the Tal-y-Llyn Railway (Welsh pronunciation help) had been in continuous decline for decades and on the death of its owner in 1950 faced closure. With only one of its two locomotives operational and its track in a parlous state it attracted the attention of the author Tom Rolt, already famous for kick-starting the preservation of Britain’s inland waterway system. A preservation society was formed, and in a joint enterprise with the former owner’s estate the line was saved. The world’s first preserved railway had commenced operations.

"Lawnmower" Locomotive in 1952 [Source: talyllyn.co.uk]
“Lawnmower” Locomotive in 1952 [Source: talyllyn.co.uk]
In a country reeling from the economic effects of fighting a world war there was no infrastructure for a group of enthusiasts rescuing a near-derelict railway. Nobody had ever done this before, there was no body of expertise and certainly no handy suppliers to call when parts were required. To rebuild their line the Tal-y-Llyn volunteers had to reach into their own well of initiative gained over the “Make do and Mend” war years and build their own way out of any challenges they encountered. In case you were wondering what the relevance to Hackaday readers has been in the last few paragraphs there’s your answer: what would you do if you were handed seven and a quarter miles of run-down track and a single barely serviceable locomotive that is one of the oldest in the world still running?

We are fortunate that in 1953 an American film maker, Carson “Kit” Davidson, visited the line, and through his affectionate short film we have a portrayal of the railway’s state in the early stages of preservation. When the footage was shot they had secured a second serviceable locomotive courtesy of the nearby and recently closed Corris Railway, but had yet to replace the majority of the worn-out and overgrown track. It’s a treat to watch, and sets the stage very well for the home-made machinery that is to follow.

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3D Laser Carving with the Smoothieboard

Expensive laser cutters have a 3D engraving mode that varies the laser power as it is etching a design, to create a 3D effect. [Benjamin Alderson] figured this could be replicated on a cheap Chinese laser — so he made his own program called SmoothCarve.

He’s got one of those extra cheap blue-box 40W CO2 lasers you can nab off eBay for around $600-$800, but he’s replaced the control board with a SmoothieBoard as an easy upgrade. He wrote the program in MatLab to analyze a grey scale image and then assign power levels to the different shades of grey. You can see the software and try it yourself over at his GitHub.

The resulting application is pretty handy — watch it carve the Jolly RancherWrencher after the break!

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Wiring was Arduino before Arduino

Hernando Barragán is the grandfather of Arduino of whom you’ve never heard. And after years now of being basically silent on the issue of attribution, he’s decided to get some of his grudges off his chest and clear the air around Wiring and Arduino. It’s a long read, and at times a little bitter, but if you’ve been following the development of the Arduino vs Arduino debacle, it’s an important piece in the puzzle.

Wiring, in case you don’t know, is where digitalWrite() and company come from. Maybe even more importantly, Wiring basically incubated the idea of building a microcontroller-based hardware controller platform that was simple enough to program that it could be used by artists. Indeed, it was intended to be the physical counterpart to Processing, a visual programming language for art. We’ve always wondered about the relationship between Wiring and Arduino, and it’s good to hear the Wiring side of the story. (We actually interviewed Barragán earlier this year, and he asked that we hold off until he published his side of things on the web.)

The short version is that Arduino was basically a fork of the Wiring software, re-branded and running on a physical platform that borrowed a lot from the Wiring boards. Whether or not this is legal or even moral is not an issue — Wiring was developed fully open-source, both software and hardware, so it was Massimo Banzi’s to copy as much as anyone else’s. But given that Arduino started off as essentially a re-branded Wiring (with code ported to a trivially different microcontroller), you’d be forgiven for thinking that somewhat more acknowledgement than “derives from Wiring” was appropriate.

screenshots_comparo
See what we mean?

The story of Arduino, from Barragán’s perspective, is actually a classic tragedy: student comes up with a really big idea, and one of his professors takes credit for it and runs with it.

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