Zigbee-Based Wireless Arduinos, Demystified

Hackday regular [Akiba] is working on a series of video tutorials guiding newbies into the world of the 802.15.4 wireless protocol stack — also known as ZigBee. So far, his tutorials include a “getting started with chibiArduino”, his own Arduino-based wireless library, as well as a more basic tutorial on how radio works.

[Akiba] already made a name for himself though a large number of wireless projects, including his Saboten sensor boards, which are ruggedized for long-term environmental monitoring. The Saboten boards use the same wireless stack as his Arduino-compatible wireless development boards, his Freakduino products. The latest version features an ATmega 1284P with 8x the RAM and 4x the flash of the older, 328P-based Freakduinos. It comes in both 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz and there’s also a special 900 Mhz “Long Range” variant. The boards include some great power-saving features, including switchable status LEDs and on-board battery regulation circuity allowing one to run a full year on two AA cells while in sleep mode. They also have a USB stick configuration that is great for Raspberry Pi projects and for running straight from the PC.

For more [Akiba] goodness, check out our colleague [Sophi]’s SuperCon interview with him as well as our coverage of his Puerto Rico lantern project.

Mike Ossmann and Dominic Spill: IR, Pirates!

Mike Ossmann and Dominic Spill have been at the forefront of the recent wave of software-defined radio (SDR) hacking. Mike is the hardware guy, and his radio designs helped bring Bluetooth and ISM-band to the masses. Dominic is the software guy who makes sure that all this gear is actually usable. The HackRF SDR is still one of the best cheap choices if you need an SDR that can transmit and receive.

So what are these two doing on stage giving a talk about IR communication? Can you really turn traffic lights green by blinking lights? And can you spoof a TV remote with a cardboard cutout, a bicycle wheel, and a sparkler? What does IR have to do with pirates, and why are these two dressed up as buccaneers? Watch our video interview and find out, or watch the full talk for all of the juicy details.

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Why You Should Use Your Router As A Security Camera

A home security camera can be great for peace of mind, and keeping an eye on the house while you’re away. The popular option these days is an IP-based device that is accessible over the Internet through an ethernet or wireless connection to your home router. But what if you could cut out the middle man, and instead turn your router itself into the security camera? [Fred] is here to show us how it’s done.

The hack begins by parsing the original router’s firmware. Through a simple text search, a debug page was identified which allowed telnet access to the router to be enabled. This gives access to a root shell, allowing full control over the Linux system running the show.

After backing everything up, [Fred] grabbed the source code from Netgear and recompiled the kernal with USB video and Video4Linux2 support. This allows the router to talk to a standard USB webcam. It’s then a simple matter of using opkg to install software to set up the router to record video when motion is detected.

Overall, it’s fairly straightforward, but [Fred] came up with an ingenious twist. Because the router itself is acting as the security camera, he is able to set up the camera to only arm itself when his smartphone (and thus, [Fred] himself) is not at home. This prevents the recording of footage of [Fred] moving around the house, allowing the router to only record important footage for security purposes.

It’s possible to do great things with routers – most of them are just tiny boxes running Linux anyway. Check out this one used as an online energy meter.

Over-Engineered Clock Uses No Less Than Five ESP32s

When [Proto G] enters into an Instructables contest whose only requirement is for the project to be wireless; he does so with style. Let’s put aside for a minute that he’s using a separate ESP32 board for each of the clock’s characters – that’s one for the hour, then one for the colon, one for the minutes and other colon and then the seconds. If you’re keeping count, that’s FIVE ESP32s. But like we said… put that aside and take into account that he’s using three different wireless communication protocols to make the five ESP32s get cozy with one another:

  1. His phone is connected to a cell tower.
  2. One of the ESP is connected to his phone to get the time.
  3. Two other ESPs connect to his phone and send minutes and seconds info to two more ESPs via the board’s internal communication protocol – ESPNOW

In case you’re wondering; the boards he’s using each have an OLED, battery, USB-to-serial converter and of course the ESP32. [Proto G] felt he could add some more complication to his project by crushing the programming connector on one of the boards with his chair. He had to break out the soldering iron and some jumper wire to make a quick but effective repair.

Be sure to check out his Instructables page for more great projects!

Dumb Box? Make it Really Smart!

[Stephen Harrison]’s Really Smart Box is a great concept, it’s simultaneously a simple idea while at the same time being super clever. The Really Smart Box isn’t really a box; it’s a drop-in platform that can be made any size, intended to turn any dumb storage box into one that helps manage and track levels and usage of any sort of stock or consumable.

It does this by measuring the weight of the stuff piled on top of it, while also monitoring temperature and humidity. The platform communicates this information wirelessly to a back end, allowing decisions to be made about stock levels, usage, and monitoring of storage conditions. It’s clearly best applied to consumables or other stock that comes and goes. The Really Smart Box platform is battery-powered, but spends most of its time asleep to maximize battery life. The prototype uses the SigFox IoT framework for the wireless data, which we have seen before in a wireless swimming pool monitor.

This is still just a prototype and there are bugs to iron out, but it works and [Stephen] intends to set-and-forget the prototype into the Cambridge Makespace with the task of storing and monitoring 3D printer filament. A brief demo video is embedded below.

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Radio Apocalypse: The GWEN System

Recent developments on the world political stage have brought the destructive potential of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) to the fore, and people seem to have internalized the threat posed by a single thermonuclear weapon. It’s common knowledge that one bomb deployed at a high enough altitude can cause a rapid and powerful pulse of electrical and magnetic fields capable of destroying everything electrical on the ground below, sending civilization back to the 1800s in the blink of an eye.

Things are rarely as simple as the media portray, of course, and this is especially true when a phenomenon with complex physics is involved. But even in the early days of the Atomic Age, the destructive potential of EMP was understood, and allowances for it were made in designing strategic systems. Nowhere else was EMP more of a threat than to the complex web of communication systems linking far-flung strategic assets with central command and control apparatus. In the United States, one of the many hardened communications networks was dubbed the Groundwave Emergency Network, or GWEN, and the story of its fairly rapid rise and fall is an interesting case study in how nations mount technical responses to threats, both real and perceived. Continue reading “Radio Apocalypse: The GWEN System”

Mad Eye For The WiFi

In the Harry Potter universe, Professor Moody was, perhaps unfairly, given the nickname Mad Eye for the prosthetic eye he wore. His eye remains a challenge for technically-minded cosplayers aiming to recreate the look and feel of this unique piece of headgear. [cyborgworkshop] had already mastered the basic eye, but wanted to take things further.

The original build relied on a sub-micro servo to move the eyeball. This was done at random as an attempt to simulate the eye’s behaviour in the books and films. However, wanting more, [cyborgworkshop] decided to make the eye more reactive to its surrounding environment. Using the Adafruit Huzzah, a breakout board for the ESP8266, code was whipped up to detect the number of WiFi access points in the area. The more access points, the more frequent and erratic the movement of the eye. Occasional slower periods of movement are coded in before the eye resumes its wild darting once more, depending on just how saturated the local WiFi environment is.

It’s a great twist on the project, and [cyborgworkshop] has provided more details on the initial build, too. If you think you’re having déja vu, check out this build using recycled parts.