Samsung tablet with custom side loaded hack software

Smart Home Hack Breaks Down Walls Figuratively And Literally

Are you ready for a tale of poorly supported hardware, clueless contractors, and bad coding? Look no further than [Neighborino]’s excellent write-up where he details his pursuit of smart home pwnership.

[Neighborino]’s smart home system controls the windows, blinds, outlets, and HVAC. But by the time the high-rise apartment was ready for occupancy in 2015, the smart home controllers were already showing their age. You see, the contractor had installed an app to run the home’s programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on stock Galaxy Tab 3 hardware. Yes, that’s a tablet originally released in 2013. They then built the tablets into the wall of each apartment, dooming the homeowner to rely on the vendor forevermore.

It was not long before [Neighborino] and their fellow residents were dealing with stability problems. Bloatware from both Samsung and Google was causing major slowdowns, and the PLC system’s unpublished WiFi password prevented replacement of the controllers.

Being an Android developer by trade, [Neighborino] set siege to the walled garden before him. The writeup details the quest to execute what would be a straightforward hack on anything but the x86 hardware that was being targeted.

de-bloating app strips all non-essential software.
A debloating app strips all non-essential software.

The first fruit of [Neighborino]’s efforts was a hack for the aged tablets that would display the WiFi password, allowing owners to connect their own controllers to their smart homes. Of course, this is Hackaday, so you know that [Neighborino] didn’t stop there.

Despite having to deal with two different versions of Android and tablets that were built into the wall of the apartments of non-hacker neighbors, [Neighborino] succeeded in sideloading an APK. This freed them from the shackles of the company that installed the original system and gets longer life out of their Snowden-era Samsungs. A de-bloating tool frees up memory and restores the systems to a nearly performant status. A reboot scheduler keeps the x86 tablets running without user intervention, and of course the WiFi password revealer makes yard waste out of the previously walled garden.

If Smart Home hacks are your thing, we recently covered a Voice Controlled Smart Home setup, and less recently another that combined a Smart Home with a Dumb Terminal. Be sure to share your own smart home hacks with us via the Tip Line!

Robert Dunn holds a button in his hand for controlling a spot welder

Gorgeous Battery Welder Hits The Spot

Raise you’re hand if you’ve ever soldered directly to a battery even though you know better. We’ve all been there. Sometimes we get away with it when we have a small pack and don’t care about longevity. But when [Robert Dunn] needed to build a battery pack out of about 120 Lithium Ion cells, he knew that he had to do it The Right Way and use a battery spot welder. Of course, buying one is too simple for a hacker like [Robert]. And so it was that he decided to Build a Spot Welder from an old Microwave Oven and way too much mahogany, which you can view below the break.

A Battery Cell with a spot welding tab attached
Spot Welding leaves two familiar divots in the attached tab, which can be soldered or welded as need.

For the unfamiliar, a battery spot welder is the magical device that attaches tabs to rechargeable batteries. You’ll notice that all battery packs with cylindrical cells have a tab with two small dimples. These dimples are where high amperage electricity quickly heats the battery terminal and the tab until they’re red hot, welding them together. The operation is done and over in less than a second, well before any heat damage can be done. The tab can then be soldered to or spot welded to another cell.

One of the most critical parts of spot welding batteries is timing. While [Robert Dunn] admits that a 555 timer or even just a manual switch and relay could have done the job, he opted for an Arduino Uno with a 4 character 7 segment LED display that shows the welding time in milliseconds. A 3d printed trigger and welder handle wrap up the hardware nicely.

The build is topped off by a custom mahogany enclosure that is quite a bit overdone. But if one has the wood, the time, the tools and skills (and a YouTube channel perhaps?) there’s no reason not to put in the extra effort! [Robert]’s resulting build is almost too nice, but it’ll certainly get the job done.

Of course, spot welders are almost standard fare here at Hackaday, and we’ve covered The Good, The Bad, and The Solar. Do you have a battery welder project that deserves a spot in Hackaday’s rotation? By all means, send it over to the Tip Line!

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3d printed GLaDOS home assistant

GLaDOS Voice Assistant Passive-Aggressively Automates Home

With modern voice assistants we can tell a computer to play our favorite music, check the weather, or turn on a light. Like many of us, [nerdaxic] gave in to the convenience and perceived simplicity of various home automation products made by Google and Amazon. Also like many of us, he found it a bit difficult to accept the privacy implications that surround such cloud connected devices. But after selling his Home and Echo, [nerdaxic] missed the ability to control his smart home by voice command. Instead of giving in and buying back into the closed ecosystems he’d left behind, [nerdaxic] decided to open his home to a murderous, passive aggressive, sarcastic, slightly insane AI: GLaDOS, which you can see in action after the break.

Using open source designs from fellow YouTube creator [Mr. Volt], [nerdaxic] 3d printed as much of the GLaDOS animatronic model as he was able to, and implemented much of the same hardware to make it work. [nerdaxic] put more Open Source Software to use and has created a functional but somewhat limited home AI that can manage his home automation, give the weather, and tell jokes among other things. GLaDOS doesn’t fail to deliver some great one liners inspired by the original Portal games while heeding [nerdaxic]’s commands, either.

A ReSpeaker from Seeed Studio cleans up the audio sent to a Raspberry Pi 4, and allows for future expansion that will allow GLaDOS to look in the direction of the person speaking to it. With its IR capable camera, another enhancement will allow GlaDOS to stare at people as they walk around. That’s not creepy at all, right? [nerdaxic] also plans to bring speech-to-text processing in-house instead of the Google Cloud Speech-To-Text API used in its current iteration, and he’s made everything available on GitHub so that you too can have a villainous AI hanging on your every word.

Of course if having GLaDOS looming isn’t enough, you could always build a functional life size Portal turret or listen to the radio on your very own Portal Radio.

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Robert Murray Smith Discusses Rivets and Riveting

Old School Fastener Tutorial Is Riveting

Whether you’re making, repairing, or hacking something together, we all need fastners. Screws, nuts and bolts, and pop rivets are handy sometimes. Various resins and even hot glue are equally useful. In some cases however the right fastener for the job eludes us, and we need another trick up our sleeve.

[Robert Murray Smith] found himself in such a position. His goal was to join two pieces of aluminum that need a nice finish on both sides. Neither glue, pop rivets, screws, nuts or bolts would have been appropriate.  [Robert] is always flush with ideas both new and old, and he resorted to using an old school fastener as explained as explained in his video “How To Make And Use Rivets“.

In the video below the break, [Robert] goes into great detail about making a simple rivet die from a 5mm (3/16”) piece of flat steel, creating the rivet from a brass rod, and then using the flush rivet to join two pieces of aluminum. The simple tooling he uses makes the technique available to anybody with a propane torch, a vise, some basic tools, and a simple claw hammer. We also appreciate [Robert]’s discussion of cold riveting, hot riveting, and annealing the rivets as needed.

Not only is riveting a technique thousands of years old, its advancement and application during the Industrial Revolution enabled technologies that couldn’t have existed otherwise. Hackaday’s own [Jenny List] did a wonderful write up about rivets in 2018 that you won’t want to miss!

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Buoyant Aero MK4 keeps station in a tail wind

Aerodynamic Buoyant Blimp Budges Into Low Cost Cargo Commerce

Before the Wright Brothers powered their way across the sands of Kitty Hawk or Otto Lilienthal soared from the hills of Germany, enveloping hot air in a balloon was the only way to fly. Concepts were refined as time went by, and culminated in the grand Zeppelins of the 1930’s. However since the tragic end of the Zeppelin era, lighter than air aircraft have often been viewed as a novelty in the aviation world.

Several companies have come forward in the last decade, pitching enormous lighter than air machines for hauling large amounts of cargo at reduced cost. These behemoths rely on a mixture of natural buoyancy and lifting body designs and are intended to augment ferries and short haul commercial aviation routes.

It was this landscape where Buoyant Aero founders [Ben] and [Joe] saw an underserved that they believe they can thrive in: Transporting 300-600 lbs between warehouses or airports. They aim to increase the safety, cargo capacity, and range of traditional quadcopter concepts, and halve the operating costs of a typical Cessna 182. They hope to help people such as those rural areas of Alaska where high transportation costs double the grocery bill.

Like larger designs, Buoyant Aero’s hybrid airship relies on aerodynamic lift to supply one third the needed lift. Such an arrangement eliminates the need for ballast when empty while retaining the handling and navigation characteristics needed for autonomous flight. The smaller scale prototype’s outstanding ability to maneuver sharply and hold station with a tailwind is displayed in the video below the break. You can also learn more about their project on their Hacker News launch. We look forward to seeing the larger prototypes as they are released!

Perhaps this project will inspire your own miniature airship, in which case you may want to check out the Blimpduino for some low buck ideas. We recently covered some other Hybrid Airships that are trying to scale things even further. And if you have your own blimpy ideas you’d like to pass along, please let us know via the Tip Line!

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The Retro Shield, an Arduino Proto Shield for making many different circuits.

Retro Shield Replaces Springs With Jumpers, Includes Blinkenlights!

Is it an AM radio? Yes. It is a 555 LED flashing circuit? Yep. How about a hex counter with a 7 segment display? That too. Five different colored LED’s to satisfy your need for blinkenlights? Even that! What is this magical contraption? Is it one of those old school 30-in-1 or 50-in-1 “Science Fair” kits with the jumper wires and the springs? Almost!

When [grandalf]’s friend showed them a project where a 555 timer was installed on an Arduino shield, they realized two things: This whole “could have done that with a 555 timer” meme is a lot of fun, and “I’ve got an old 556 chip, I wonder if I can build one?” The answer is yes, and so much more.

Starting with the 556 timer, and inspired by the old spring-and-jumper kits of the past, [grandalf]’s “556 on a Proto Shield” project evolved into a creation they call the Retro Shield. Snowballing like so many hacker projects, it now includes several built in circuits and components. Breadboard jumpers are used to connect components through strategically placed pin headers, of which there are quite a few!

To make it all fit, some parts were substituted with more compact pieces such as an LM386 instead of an LM380.  The AM radio portion is supplied by an all-in-one radio chip, the ZN414. With the scope creep picking up steam, [grandalf] eventually added so called sidecars- bits of board that contain controls and a speaker hanging off the side of the Proto Shield.

It is not mentioned if the Retro Shield integrates with the Arduino or not. All the same, the Retro Shield has been used to pick up local AM stations, blink LED’s and amplify audio with the LM386. Like [grandalf] we’re sure that the Retro Shield can be used for much more. We hope that [grandalf] expands on the concept and inspires future hackers to answer the question “I wonder what happens if I try this.” 

If you haven’t set eyes on one of the all-in-one kits, check out this 200-in-1 kit teardown and review. And of course, if you have your own hacked up projects to share, be sure to let us know through the Tip Line!

Troubleshooting: A Method For Solving Problems The Right Way

We’ve all experienced that magic moment when, after countless frustrating hours of experimentation and racking your brain, the object of our attention starts working. The 3D printer finally produces good output. The hacked up laptop finally boots. The car engine finally purrs. The question is, do we know why it started working?

This is more important than you might think. Knowing the answer lets you confirm that the core problem was solved, otherwise you may have just fixed a symptom. And lack of understanding means fixing one problem may just create another.

The solution is to adopt a methodical troubleshooting method. We’re talking about a structured problem solving technique that when used properly can help us solve a problem at its core without leaving any loose ends. Such methodology will also leave you knowing why any solution did or didn’t work in the end, and will give you reproducible results.

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