Best Buy’s IoT Goes Dark, Leaving Some “Smart” Products Dumbfounded

Bad news if you bought several Insignia-branded smart devices from Best Buy. The company has decided to shut down the back end systems that make them work — or at least work as a smart device. On the chopping block are smart outlets, switches, a security camera, and an upright freezer. If you bought, say, the freezer, it will still keep things cold. But the security camera will apparently be of no use at all now that the backend systems have gone dark. The company is offering an unspecified partial refund to users of the affected devices.

Best Buy announced this in September, and the shutdown date was last week on November 6th. Not all Insignia products are impacted, just the ones that rely on their app.

Anytime we talk about cloud-based technology, there are always a few people who say something like, “I’ll never rely on anything in the cloud!” Perhaps they have a point — certainly in this case they were right. There are really two things to consider: hardware devices that rely on the cloud, and data that resides in the cloud. In some cases, one product — like a camera — might have both.

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Found Footage: Elliot Williams Talks Nexus Technologies

Back at the 2017 Superconference, Hackaday Managing Editor Elliot Williams started his talk about the so-called “Internet of Things” by explaining the only part he doesn’t like about the idea is the Internet… and the things. It’s a statement that most of us would still agree with today. If anything, the situation has gotten worse in the intervening years. Commercial smart gadgets are now cheaper and more plentiful than they’ve ever been, but it seems like precious little has been done to improve their inherent privacy and security issues.

But his talk doesn’t serve to bash the companies producing these devices or even the services that ultimately folded and left their customers with neigh useless gadgets. That’s not his style. The central theme of Nexus Technologies: Or How I Learned to Love WiFi” is that a smart home can be wonderful thing, assuming it works the way you want it to. Elliot argues that between low-cost modular hardware and open source software, the average hacker has everything they need to build their own self-contained home automation ecosystem. One that’s not only cheaper than what they’re selling at the Big Box electronics store, but also doesn’t invite any of the corporate giants to the party.

Of course, it wasn’t always so. A decade ago it would have been all but impossible, and five years ago it would have been too expensive to be practical. As Elliot details his journey towards a truly personal smart home, he explains the advances in hardware and software that have made it not just possible on the DIY level, but approachable. The real takeaway is that once more people realize how cheap and easy it is to roll your own smart home gadgets, they may end up more than willing to kick Big Brother to the curb and do IoT on their own terms.

This previously unpublished recording somehow slipped between the cracks of the editing room floor but upon recent discovery, it’s still just as relevant today. Take a look at Elliot’s view on Nexus Technologies, then join us after the break for a deeper dive. Make sure to subscribe to Hackaday’s YouTube channel to get in on the 2019 Hackaday Superconference live stream starting Saturday, November 16th.

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Mozilla WebThings: An Open Platform For Building IoT Devices

Mozilla recently officially released their IoT platform. This framework comes with “Gateway” software that can run on a Raspberry Pi and a framework that can run on any number of devices.

As we’ve seen, IoT is a dubious prospect for consumers. When you throw in all the privacy issues, support issues, and end-of-life issues; it gets even worse. Nobody wants their light bulbs to stop working because a server in faraway land shut down, but that’s an hilariously feasible scenario.

WebThings comes with a lot out of the box. It comes with a user interface, logging, rules, and an easy-to-understand API. Likewise the actual framework allows for building on many common devices and can be written in Node, Python, Java, Rust, Micropython, and used as an Arduino library. This opens it up for everything from a eBay ESP32 to a particle board.

We’ve started to notice some projects that use it trickling in on the tip line and on hackaday.io. We’re interested to see what kind of community grows around this, and are curious if it won’t be too long before easy-to-hack kits start showing up on your favorite online retailers.

There’s good documentation and of course, being open source, you can check out the source for yourself.

Reverse-Engineering Xiaomi IoT Firmware

IoT devices rarely ever just do what they’re advertised. They’ll almost always take up more space than they need to – on top of that, their processor and memory alone should be enough to run a multitude of other tasks while not necessarily compromising the task they were built to do.

That’s partially the motivation for rooting any device, but for Xiaomi devices, it’s a bit more fun – that is to say, it’s a little bit harder when you’re reverse engineering its firmware from scratch.

Similar to his other DEF CON 26 talk on modifying ARM Cortex-M firmware, [Dennis Giese] returns with a walkthrough of how to reverse-engineer Xiaomi IoT devices. He starts off talking about the Xiaomi ecosystem and the drawbacks of reusing firmware across all the different devices connected to the same cloud network before jumping into the walkthrough for accessing the devices.

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A Low-Power Solution To Streamlining Sensor Data For IoT

For home use IoT systems, getting sensor data from tons of physical locations centralized to a single Raspberry Pi can be a difficult job, especially when considering the power consumption that’s necessary for doing it all over WiFi. When you’re using an ESP8266, for instance, swapping out batteries and accounting for connectivity issues can be a major hassle for a long-term solution. The NoCAN platform, created by [Alain Pannetrat], solves this problem using a wired approach that improves the use of the CAN bus.

Since SPI and I2C only work for short distances, approaches like RS-485 and CAN bus are a better bet for this type of setup. For systems with one centralized point, RS-485 works best – thus, the CAN bus is the better approach when you’re considering using multiple masters in a single environment.

CAN devices typically need a static address, so messaging involves sending data to the known address of the destination device. With NoCAN, a dynamic address assignment scheme allows nodes to request an address from a node manager on boot-up (similar to DHCP). A command line application also allows users to send and receive message from nodes using a pub/sub implementation – a device sends messages to a channel, and every device subscribed to the channel receives the message.

The hardware for the NoCAN platform consists of a Raspberry Pi with a “PiMaster” HAT and an Arduino-compatible CANZERO board. The PiMaster HAT uses an STM32F042 ARM Cortex M0 MCU, acting as an interface between the Pi and the CAN bus as well as preventing over-current events with a software-controlled smart switch. The CANZERO is based on the the SAMD21G18 ARM Cortex M0+ running at 48MHz, similar to the Arduino MKR Zero, with CAN bus networking using the STM32F042 ARM Cortex M0. The double MCU design allows the secondary MCU to reset the primary if it gets stuck due to a programming error, with the messages sent over the CAN bus.

To join the network together, a four-wire cable daisy-chains the nodes in the bus network, providing connectivity for up to 1000 feet. Either 12V or 24V DC power runs through the network, stepping down to 5V or 3.3V at each node. The approach is similar to PoE (power over Ethernet), although it is slower and lower in cost. Overall, it seems like a good solution for environments where wireless connectivity simply doesn’t cut it.

Hackaday Podcast 039: Elliot <3 Lightning Detectors, Ikea Dark Mode, The Smartest Watch, Solar Sailing The Sky, And VAWT Controversy

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week full of hacks from the solar sailing RC plane that has zero power storage, to geeking out about lightning detectors and hacking Ikea LED controllers to unlock real dimming to building backyard wind turbines. We look up an IoT egg tray with appreciation not for the concept but certainly for the engineering, and scratch our heads on why one-hacker-smartwatch-to-rule-them-all seems like something that should happen but so far has only been a fleeting concept.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (68 MB)

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Building IoT Devices The Easy Way

Do you have a Raspberry Pi? What is it being used for right now? If you’re like the majority of people who replied to [Michael Hall’s] poll on Twitter, it’s likely yours is sitting on a shelf doing nothing too. So why not just turn it into an IoT device for your home?

[Michael] wrote an easy-to-follow guide focusing on getting the EdgeX Foundry IoT platform running on the Raspberry Pi. It is designed to be a unified multi-platform base for IoT devices hosted by the Linux Foundation, making it easy to control and integrate them into other systems. The framework for this consists of two parts, a Device Service running on your Pi, and the rest of the services running on a desktop or laptop where you’ll be monitoring it.

His guide goes into detail on how to get both parts working on your computer and your Pi using Docker for ease of installation. As for the IoT device, he uses the built-in PIR sensor example to show how to configure it without having to write any programming. You can then monitor the device’s sensors, which you can just connect straight to the Pi’s GPIO pins, from your desktop. Since the EdgeX software is designed to run on any flavor of Linux, this should make it easy to repurpose any forgotten single-board computer into the beginnings of a home automation system.

However, if you are confident in your programming skills, you’re probably looking for something slimmer such as the ESP8266 family of microcontrollers to do your bidding. Why not try an energy monitor or a smoke detector project with them?