LoRa System Commands Drones From A Distance

LoRa has been making quite a stir in hacker circles over the past couple of years, as it offers a fascinating combination of long range, low power, and low cost. It does this by using spread spectrum techniques on unlicensed frequency bands, meaning it can send data a surprising distance and that you don’t need a radio license to use it. It is mainly used for Internet of Things things, but [Paweł Spychalski] has other ideas: he’s building a system to use it to control a quadcopter drone over distances of 5 kilometers or more. That’s an ambitious aim, considering that the parts he is using cost only a few bucks.

He’s using an off-brand Adafruit Feather LoRa board and a couple of home-made antennas with his own software that takes the data from the Taranis control port of the RC controller, encodes it and chirps it out over the LoRa radio. At the other end, a similar radio receives and decodes the data, feeding it out to the drone.

This is definitely still a work in progress, but he has got it working, flying his drone over the link, keeping control of it out to several hundred meters. At the moment, he can’t go much further as it seems that his LoRa radio is being overwhelmed by the video link on the drone, but he is working on changing the frequency spread & hopping and using a better antenna to provide longer range. We’ve seen some interesting stuff from [Pawel] before, like his DIY telemetry system, so this project is worth keeping an eye on if you are a drone fan.

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Giving An LED Bulb Some Smarts

How many of your projects been spawned purely out of bored daydreaming? For want of something more productive to do, [dantheflipman] hacked a standard LED bulb from Wal-Mart into a smart bulb.

After pulling it apart, they soldered wires to the threaded socket and added a connector for a Hi-Link hlk-pm01 power module. The output caps at 5 V and 600 mA, but who says this was going to be a searchlight? A Wemos D1 Mini clone slides nicely beside the power module, and stacked on top is a NeoPixel Jewel 7. [dantheflipman] admits he has yet to add a capacitor to ahead of the Jewel, so we’ll see how long the LEDs last. Crammed back together, the bulb is controlled via a prototype Blynk app. Good enough for a quick hack.

[dantheflipman] is upfront about messing with mains voltages: don’t do it unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. In this case, he has taken care with their soldering and epoxied all wire and solder joints to be sure nothing will come loose and short, and a ‘stress test’ is forthcoming.

Smart bulbs are cool no matter how you slice it, so a little more insight into how smart bulbs work with some of the nitty gritty that goes into hacking them might sate your thirst for knowledge.

[Via /r/arduino]

A Mobile Terminal for Guerrilla Communications

We use the Internet to do everything from filing our taxes to finding good pizza, but most critically it fulfills nearly all of our communication needs. Unfortunately, this reliance can be exploited by those pulling the strings; if your government is trying to do something shady, the first step is likely to be effecting how you can communicate with the outside world. The Internet is heavily censored and monitored in China, and in North Korea the entire country is effectively running on an intranet that’s cutoff from the wider Internet. The need for decentralized information services and communication is very real.

While it might not solve all the world’s communication problems, [::vtol::] writes in to tell us about a very interesting communication device he’s been working on that he calls “Hot Ninja”. Operating on the principle that users might be searching for accessible Wi-Fi networks in a situation where the Internet has been taken down, Hot Ninja allows the user to send simple messages through Wi-Fi SSIDs.

We’ve all seen creatively named Wi-Fi networks before, and the idea here is very much the same. Hot Ninja creates a Wi-Fi network with the user’s message as the SSID in hopes that somebody on a mobile device will see it. The SSID alone could be enough depending on the situation, but Hot Ninja is also able to serve up a basic web page to devices which actually connect. In the video after the break, [::vtol::] even demonstrates some rudimentary BBS-style functionality by presenting the client devices with a text field, the contents of which are saved to a log file.

In terms of hardware, Hot Ninja is made up of an Arduino Mega coupled to three ESP8266 boards, and a battery to keep it all running for up to eight hours so you can subvert a dictatorship while on the move. The user interface is provided by a small OLED screen and a keyboard made entirely of through-hole tactile switches, further reinforcing the trope that touch-typing will be a must have skill in the dystopian future. It might not be the most ergonomic device we’ve ever seen, but the fact it looks like something out of a Neal Stephenson novel more than makes up for it in our book.

This is not the first time we’ve seen Wi-Fi SSIDs used as a method of communication, thanks largely to how easy the ESP8266 makes it. For his part, [::vtol::] has previously experimented with using them to culturally enrich the masses.

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Umbrella and Tin Cans Turned into WiFi Dish Antenna

There’s something iconic about dish antennas. Chances are it’s the antenna that non-antenna people think about when they picture an antenna. And for many applications, the directionality and gain of a dish can really help reach out and touch someone. So if you’re looking to tap into a distant WiFi network, this umbrella-turned-dish antenna might be just the thing to build.

Stretching the limits of WiFi connections seems to be a focus of [andrew mcneil]’s builds, at least to judge by his YouTube channel. This portable, foldable dish is intended to increase the performance of one of his cantennas, a simple home-brew WiFi antenna that uses food cans as directional waveguides. The dish is built from the skeleton of an umbrella-style photographer’s flash reflector; he chose this over a discount-store rain umbrella because the reflector has an actual parabolic shape. The reflective material was stripped off and used as a template to cut new gores of metal window screen material. It’s considerably stiffer than the reflector fabric, but it stretches taut between the ribs and can still fold up, at least sort of. An arm was fashioned from dowels to position the cantenna feed-horn at the focus of the reflector; not much detail is given on the cantenna itself, but we assume it’s similar in design to cantennas we’ve featured before.

[andrew] hasn’t done rigorous testing yet, but a quick 360° scan from inside his shop showed dozens of WiFi signals, most with really good signals. We’ll be interested to see just how much this reflector increases the cantenna’s performance.

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Raspberry Pi W Antenna Analysis Reveals Clever Design

The old maxim is that if you pay peanuts, you get a monkey. That’s no longer true, though: devices like the Raspberry Pi W have shown that a $10 device can be remarkably powerful if it is well designed. You might not appreciate how clever this design is sometimes, but this great analysis of the antenna of the Pi W by [Carl Turner, Senior RF Engineer at Laird Technology] might help remind you.

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Reprogramming Cheap WiFi Outlets

If you want to retrofit your home with smart outlets and lightbulbs, bust out your wallet. You can easily spend forty dollars for a smart light bulb at your local home supply store, and strips of smart sockets could cost sixty. When [coogle] found a WiFi-enabled four-outlet power strip on Amazon, he couldn’t resist. Sure, the no-name strip would be locked down behind a stupid iPhone interface and will probably turn your house into a botnet, but never mind that: you can easily reprogram these power strips to be whatever you want.

After receiving these power strips and tearing them open, [coogle] found exactly what you would expect from a no-name white goods manufacturer. There’s a board with an Espressif chip and a WiFi antenna, and a second board with a few relays, with a few wires connecting the two. You only need to browse AliExpress for a few minutes to figure out what’s going on here. The brains of the outfit are in the ESP8266, and if you can control that, you have your own Internet of Power Strips.

The problem, then, was reprogramming the ESP8266. This was a version of the chip [coogle] hadn’t seen before, but a quick query with the Google Mother Brain revealed it was a WT8266-S1 module, with all the pins required for programming easily accessible on a convenient header. After connecting this header up to an ESP programming board, [coogle] had all the relevant information including the capacity of the Flash. There’s still a bit more work to make this a functional WiFi power outlet, namely figuring out which GPIOs and wires connect to which relays, but this is effectively a completely Open IoT device right now. All you have to do is bring your own firmware.

Mc Lighting Takes the Pain out of Blinking

If you want to blink a ton of WS2812-alike LED pixels over WiFi, the hardware side of things is easy enough: an LED strip, and ESP8266 unit, and a beefy enough power supply to feed them. But the software side — that’s where it can be a bit of a pain.

Enter Mc Lighting. It makes the software side of things idiot-proof. Flash the firmware onto the ESP8266, and you’ve got your choice of REST, WebSockets, or MQTT to get the data in. This means that it’ll work with Homekit, NodeRed, or an ESP-hosted web interface that you can pull up from any smartphone.

The web interface is particularly swell, and has a bunch of animations built in. (Check out the video below.) This means that you can solder some wires, flash an ESP, and your least computer-savvy relatives can be controlling the system in no time. And speaking of videos, Mc Lighting’s author [Tobias] has compiled a playlist of projects that use the library, also just below. The docs on GitHub are great, and also check out the wiki.

So what are you waiting for? Do you or your loved ones need some blink in your life? And while you’re ordering LED strips, get two. You’re going to want to build TWANG! as well.

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