Automate Your Home From the Clearance Rack

The month or so after the holidays have always been a great time to pick up some interesting gadgets on steep clearance, but with decorations and lights becoming increasingly complex over the last few years, the “Christmas Clearance” rack is an absolute must see for enterprising hackers. You might just luck out like [ModernHam] and find a couple packs of these dirt cheap wireless light controllers, which can fairly easily be hacked into the start of a home automation system with little more than the Raspberry Pi and a short length of wire.

In the video after the break, [ModernHam] walks the viewer through the start to finish process of commanding these cheap remote plugs. Starting with finding which frequencies the remotes use thanks to the FCC database and ending with using cron to schedule the transmission of control signals from the Pi, his video really is a wealth of information. Even if you don’t have this particular model of remote plug, or don’t necessarily want to setup a home automation system, there’s probably some element of this video that you could still adapt to your own projects.

The first step of the process is figuring out how the remote is communicating to the plugs. [ModernHam] noticed there was no frequency listed on the devices, but using their FCC IDs he was able to find the relevant information. In the United States, devices like these must have their FCC IDs visible (though they could be behind a battery door) by law, so the searchable database is an invaluable tool to do some basic reconnaissance on a poorly documented gadget.

An RTL-SDR receiver is then used to fine tune the information gleaned from the FCC filing. [ModernHam] found that the signals for all four of the remote plugs were being broadcast on the same frequency, which makes controlling them all the easier. Using the rtl-sdr command, he was able to capture the various signals from the transmitter and save them to separate files. Then it’s just a matter of replaying the appropriate file to get the plugs to do your bidding.

Of course, the RTL-SDR can’t transmit so you’ll have to leave your dongle behind for this last step. Luckily all you need to transmit is the rpitx package created by [F5OEO], along with a supported Raspberry Pi and a small length of wire attached to the appropriate GPIO pin. This package contains the tool sendiq which can be used to replay the raw captures made in the previous step. With some scripting, it’s fairly straightforward to automate these transmissions to control the remote plugs however you wish from the Pi.

The RTL-SDR Blog put together their own guide for “brute forcing” simple remote control devices like this as well, and we’ve even seen similar techniques used against automotive key fobs in the past. Amazing what a piece of wire and some clever code can pull off.

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Have Yourself a Recursive Little Christmas: Ornament That Prints Ornaments

Sure there are the occasional functional Christmas tree ornaments; we had one that plugged into the lights and was supposed to sound like a bird gently trilling its song, but was in fact so eardrum-piercing that we were forbidden from using it. But in general, ornaments are just supposed to be for looks, right? Not so fast — this 3D-printed ornament has a 3D-printer inside that prints other ornaments. One day it might just be the must-have in functional Christmas decor.

Given that [Sean Hodgins] had only a few days to work on this tree-dwelling 3D-printer, the questionable print quality and tiny print volume can be overlooked. But the fact that he got this working at all is quite a feat. We were initially surprised that he chose to build a stereolithography (SLA) printer rather than the more common fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer, but it makes sense. SLA only requires movement in the Z-axis, provided in this case by the guts of an old DVD drive. The build platform moves in and out of a tiny resin tank, the base of which has a small LCD screen whose backlight has been replaced by a bunch of UV LEDs. A Feather M0 controls the build stage height and displays pre-sliced bitmaps on the LCD, curing the resin in the tank a slice at a time.

Results were mixed, with the tiny snowflake being the best of the bunch. For a rush job, though, and one that competed with collaborating on a package-theft deterring glitter-bomb, it’s pretty impressive. Here’s hoping that this turns into a full-sized SLA build like [Sean] promises.

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An IoT Christmas Tree You’re Invited to Control

We love IoT gadgets, but are occasionally concerned that they might allow access to the wrong kind of hacker. In this case, [Kevin] has created an IoT tree that allows anyone to control the pattern of lights, and he’s invited you to do so!

We played with the tree a bit, and the web interface is fairly powerful. For each LED, you can select either a random color or a keyframe-defined pattern. For the keyframe LEDs, you can create a number of “keyframes”, each of which is defined by a color and a transition, which can be either linear, quarter sine wave, or instantaneous (“wall”). Additional keyframes can be added for each LED, and if don’t specify a pattern for all the LEDs, the system repeats those you have defined to fill the entire string. There are also a few preset patterns you can choose if you prefer. If you, too, want to play with the tree, don’t delay: it’s only available through the first week of 2019!

Behind the scenes, an aging Raspberry Pi provides the local brains driving the LED controller and streaming the video, while a cloud server running a Redis instance allows communication with the web. The interface to the string of WS2811 LEDs uses [Kevin]’s Kinetis LK26 breakout board, which he managed to get working despite the state of tools and documentation for the Kinetis ARM family. You can read a good discussion of the system on his blog; there are a surprisingly large number of pieces that need to work together. As usual, he provides all the source code for this project on GitHub.

We’ve seen [Kevin]’s work before, including his 73-LED wristwatch, and adventures developing on an STM32 from scratch.

But, if it’s IoT Christmas trees that have got you thinking, you can check out this one from last year.

LEDs and Pi Let You Virtually Decorate This Online Christmas Tree

Anyone who has decorated a Christmas tree knows that the lights are what really make the look. But no matter how many strings you wrap around it, there never seems to be enough. Plus the standard sets either sit there and do nothing, or just blink on and off at regular intervals. Yawn.

But hackers aim higher, and [leo.currie]’s interactive “paintable” Christmas tree takes the lighting game a step beyond. The standard light strings are replaced with strings of WS2811 RGB LEDs which are wired to an ESP8266. A camera connected to a Raspberry Pi is setup up to stream images of the tree to all and sundry on the Interwebz, but with a special twist: it also creates a map of every light on the tree. That allows the lights to be controlled individually in response to user inputs on a web page hosted on the Pi. The upshot is that you can paint the tree with any color you like in real time, or upload various animated GIFs to display on the tree. You can play with the tree directly, or watch a replay on the video below when that Pi inevitably gets hugged to death.

Imagine the possibilities with this. Why not hang a lot of LED strings vertically from the eaves of your house and make a huge, low-resolution display? We’ve featured plenty of large, interactive LED Christmas displays before, and we’d love to see what you come up with.

Continue reading “LEDs and Pi Let You Virtually Decorate This Online Christmas Tree”

We’re Dreaming of a Circuit Sculpture Christmas

Whether or not you chose to believe our claim that we planned it this way, the holidays happen to fall right smack in the middle of our ongoing Circuit Sculpture Contest, which challenges hackers to build circuits that double as bona fide works of art. It’s become almost too easy to spin up your own PCB, so why not try your hand at building in three dimensions and without a net? The holidays are a perfect time for it as it’s not only a reprieve from the work, school, or forced labor camp that usually ties up our waking hours, but can also be a source of inspiration.

Case in point, this festive LED Christmas tree entry that comes our way courtesy of [Vincent Mkes]. This one really has it all: a recognizable theme, fantastic wire work, copious amounts of LEDs, and in a touch that is sure to delight even the electronics Scrooges amongst our readership, he does it all with the venerable 555 timer. It’s really what the Circuit Sculpture Contest is all about: taking a circuit that might otherwise be pretty ordinary and turning it into something truly unique.

The astute Hackaday reader (as if there was any other type) will likely notice there are actually two NE555 timers under the tree, each blinking their respective bank of LEDs at a different frequency. This makes the final result a bit more vibrant, and through some last-minute revisions, [Vincent] was able to hook them both up to a single power supply to really capture the minimalist spirit of the Contest.

As an early Christmas gift to us all, [Vincent] has done an excellent job documenting this build so anyone who wishes to infuse their end of year party with a little diode-driven holiday cheer can follow along. He’s included build instructions as well as diagrams of the circuit, though we encourage anyone looking to make one of their own to experiment a bit and put their own spin on it. After all, this is supposed to be art.

There’s still plenty of time to get your own entry into the Circuit Sculpture Contest, Yule-related or otherwise. Just document your build on Hackaday.io and submit it before the January 8th, 2019 deadline. Remember that entries can’t just look cool, they still need to be functional. Words to live by in general, but doubly important when they’re the rules of a contest.

Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree

It’s that time of year again, and the Christmas hacks are flooding in thick and fast. To get into the Christmas spirit,  the FoxGuard team wanted a custom ornament to hang from the tree. They may have gotten more than they bargained for.

It’s a simple build that demonstrates the basic techniques of working with DACs and scopes in a charming holiday fashion. A Tektronix T932A analog oscilloscope is pressed into service as a display, by operating in XY mode. A Teensy 3.5 was then chosen for its onboard digital to analog converters, and used to output signals to draw a Christmas tree and star on the screen.

Old-school coders will appreciate the effort taken to plot the graphics out on graph paper. While the hack doesn’t do anything cutting edge or wild, it’s impressive how quick and easy this is thanks to modern development methods. While the technology to do this has existed for decades, a hacker in 1998 would have spent hours breadboarding a PIC microcontroller with DACs, let alone the coding required. We’ve come a long way.

It’s a bit of fun, but we highly recommend you don’t try and hang an analog scope off your tree at home. These WiFi-controlled ornaments are perhaps more suitable. Video after the break. Continue reading “Incredibly Heavy Ornament Likely Inappropriate To Hang On Tree”

Christmas POV Display Makes Viewer do the Work

Hackaday readers have certainly seen more than a few persistence of vision (POV) displays at this point, which usually take the form of a spinning LED array which needs to run up to a certain speed before the message becomes visible. The idea is that the LEDs rapidly blink out a part of the overall image, and when they get spinning fast enough your brain stitches the image together into something legible. It’s a fairly simple effect to pull off, but can look pretty neat if well executed.

But [Andy Doswell] has recently taken an interesting alternate approach to this common technique. Rather than an array of LEDs that spin or rock back and forth in front of the viewer, his version of the display doesn’t move at all. Instead it has the viewer do the work, truly making it the “Chad” of POV displays. As the viewer moves in front of the array, either on foot or in a vehicle, they’ll receive the appropriate Yuletide greeting.

In a blog post, [Andy] gives some high level details on the build. Made up of an Arduino, eight LEDs, and the appropriate current limiting resistors on a scrap piece of perfboard; the display is stuck on his window frame so anyone passing by the house can see it.

On the software side, the code is really an exercise in minimalism. The majority of the file is the static values for the LED states stored in an array, and the code simply loops through the array using PORTD to set the states of all eight digital pins at once. The simplicity of the code is another advantage of having the meatbag human viewer figure out the appropriate movement speed on their own.

This isn’t the only POV display we’ve seen with an interesting “hook” recently, proving there’s still room for innovation with the technology. A POV display that fits into a pen is certainly a solid piece of engineering, and there’s little debate the Dr Strange-style spellcaster is one of the coolest things anyone has ever seen. And don’t forget Dog-POV which estimates speed of travel by persisting different images.

[Thanks to Ian for the tip.]