How To Build A Fully Offline Smart Home, Or Why You Should Not

So-called ‘smart home’ appliances and gadgets have become an ever-more present thing the past years, with nary a coffeemaker, AC unit or light bulb for sale today that doesn’t have an associated smartphone app, cloud service and/or subscription to enable you to control it from the beach during your vacation, or just set up automation routines to take tedium out of your busy schedule. Yet as much as [Calvin Wankhede] loves home automation, he’d very much like for it to not stop working the moment his internet connection goes down, or the company running the service goes bankrupt. This is where his journey to create an off-line alternative smart home based around Home Assistant and other (open) software began.

Although Home Assistant (HA) itself has become significantly easier to use, what becomes readily apparent from [Calvin]’s journey is that setting up and managing your own smart home infrastructure is a never-ending project. A project that involves finding compatible hardware that can tie into HA, whether or not without reflashing the firmware, resolving configuration issues and other assorted fun. If you are into this kind of thing, it is of course a blast, and it’s a good feeling when it finally all works.

Unfortunately, interoperability across smart home and similar IoT devices is still a far-off dream, even with the introduction of Thread and Matter (which incidentally are among the worst product names to search for, period), as Matter’s uptake is pretty abysmal. This thus leaves off-line smart homes mostly as the domain of the tech-inclined in search of a hobby.

AI Pet Door Rejects Dead Mice

If you have pet with a little access door to the outside world, and that pet happens to be a cat, you’re likely on the receiving end of all kinds of lifeless little lagniappes. Don’t worry, it’s CES season out in Las Vegas and a company called Flappie has the solution — an AI-powered cat door that rejects dead mice and other would-be offerings.

Image by Nathan Ingraham via Engadget

It works about like you might expect — there’s a motion sensor and a night-vision camera on the exterior side of the door. Using Flappie’s “unique and proprietary” dataset, the door distinguishes between Tom and Jerry and keeps out unwanted guests with more than 90% accuracy. To do this, Flappie collected video of a lot of cats and prey in a variety of lighting conditions. There’s even a chip detection system that will reject all other cats.

Thankfully, it’s not all automation. The prey detection system can be turned off entirely, and there are manual switches on the inside for locking and unlocking the door at will. You don’t even have to hook it up to the Internet, it seems.

Americans will have to wait a while, as the company is rolling out the door in Switzerland and Germany first. No word on when the US launch will take place, but interested parties can expect to pay around $399.

Of course, this problem can be solved without AI as long as you’re willing to review the situation and unlock the door yourself.

FLOSS Weekly Episode 765: That Ship Sailed… And Sank

This week Jonathan Bennett and Aaron Newcomb talk with Randal Schwartz, the longest running host of FLOSS Weekly, Perl’s biggest cheerleader, and now Dart and Flutter expert. What’s new with Randal since his last FLOSS Weekly episode in May 2020? Why should you look at Dart and Flutter? And how do you avoid becoming a security martyr?

Randal has been busy since handing over the reigns of FLOSS Weekly, adding to his Perl credentials a solid claim to being a Dart Flutter expert. The Dart language has some real appeal, taking the best features from JIT languages like JavaScript, and also offering binary compilation like a real systems language should. Then the Flutter framework lets you write your code once, and literally run it on any screen. Sure, there have been some growing pains along the way, and listen to the episode to hear Randal describe the “45-degree turns” the language/framework duo has taken through the years.

Then as almost a bonus at the end of the episode, Randal quickly covered his now-expunged conviction for “doing his job with too much enthusiasm”, and covered some basic pointers to keep other security researchers out of trouble. This week is a nostalgia trip for long-time listeners, as well as a real treat for everyone else.

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X1Plus: Open Source Bambu Lab X1 Firmware

Recently [Michael] over at the [Teaching Tech] YouTube channel got access to the X1Plus firmware, and takes us through what it may mean for Bambu Lab X1 owners. X1Plus is alternative firmware for the Bambu Lab X1 FDM 3D printer that was developed by X1 owners who felt that there were some features that they were missing, such as a detailed report on automatic bed leveling, input shaping calibration response graphs and more.

Perhaps most interesting is that this firmware does not replace the Bambu Lab firmware, but rather runs completely from a microSD card that’s inserted into the display’s SD card reader. This means that only the bootloader of the printer’s boot medium is changed, and the printer thus retains the ability boot to the OEM firmware as needed. Whether you want to try it on your own X1 depends on a few factors, first of all being that it only works with the OEM firmware up to and including version 1.7.0.

Since the bootloader modification relies on an exploit that was patched in newer firmware, a lot depends on whether Bambu Lab allows such tinkering, much like Prusa does with the Mini printer, or allows flashing of older firmware which would enable the exploit on newer X1 printers. Depending on Bambu Lab’s response, the imminent public release of this open source firmware may as a result run into some pretty big hurdles.

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Vulcan Nails First Flight, But Peregrine Falls Short

For those with an interest in the history of spaceflight, January 8th promised to be a pretty exciting day. Those who tuned into the early morning live stream were looking forward to seeing the first flight of the Vulcan Centaur, a completely new heavy-lift booster developed by United Launch Alliance. But as noteworthy as the inaugural mission of a rocket might be under normal circumstances, this one was particularly special as it was carrying Peregrine — set to be the first American spacecraft to set down on the lunar surface since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

Experience has taught us that spaceflight is hard, and first attempts at it doubly so. The likelihood of both vehicles performing as expected and accomplishing all of their mission goals was fairly remote to begin with, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Even in the event of a complete failure, valuable data is collected and real-world experience is gained.

Now, more than 24 hours later, we’re starting to get that data back and finding out what did and didn’t work. There’s been some disappointment for sure, but when everything is said and done, the needle definitely moved in the right direction.

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A Compact SMD Reflow Hotplate Powered By USB-PD

When it comes to home-lab reflow work, there are a lot of ways to get the job done. The easiest thing to do perhaps is to slap a PID controller on an old toaster oven and call it a day. But if your bench space is limited, you might want to put this compact reflow hotplate to work for you.

There are a lot of nice features in [Toby Chui]’s build, not least of which is the heating element. Many DIY reflow hotplates use a PCB heater, where long, thin traces in the board are used as resistive heating elements. This seems like a great idea, but as [Toby] explains in the project video below, even high-temperature FR4 substrate isn’t rated for the kinds of temperatures needed for some reflow profiles. His search for alternatives led him to metal ceramic heaters (MCH), which are commonly found in medical and laboratory applications. The MCH he chose was rated for 20 VDC at 50 watts — perfect for powering with USB-PD.

The heater sits above the main PCB on a Kapton-wrapped MDF frame with a thermistor to close the loop. While it’s not the biggest work surface we’ve seen, it’s a good size for small projects. The microcontroller is a CH552, which we’ve talked about before; aside from that and the IP2721 PD trigger chip needed to get the full 60 watts out of the USB-PD supply, there’s not much else on the main board.

This looks like a nice design, and [Toby] has made all the design files available if you’d like to give it a crack. Of course, you might want to freshen up on USB-PD before diving in, in which case we recommend [Arya]’s USB-PD primer.

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A Very 21st Century Receiver For A Very 20th Century Band

The FM broadcast band has been with us since the middle of the 20th century, and despite many tries to unseat it, remains a decent quality way to pick up your local stations. It used to be that building an FM broadcast receiver required a bit of RF know-how, but the arrival of all-in-one receiver chips has made that part a simple enough case of including a part. That’s not to say that building a good quality FM broadcast receiver in 2024 doesn’t involve some kind of challenge though, and it’s one that [Stefan Wagner] has risen to admirably with his little unit.

Doing the RF part is an RDA5807MP single chip radio, but we’d say the center of this is the CH32V003 RISC-V microcontroller and its software. Twiddling the dial is a thing of the past, with a color display and all the computerized features you’d expect. Rounding it off in the 3D printed case is a small speaker and a Li-Po pouch cell with associated circuitry. This really is the equal of any commercially produced portable radio, and better than many.

Even with the all-in-one chips, there’s still fun in experimenting with FM the old way.