Bluetooth Automation Remote Hangs Around

Using your smartphone to control your home automation system gives you a lot of flexibility. But for something as simple as turning the lights on and off, it can be a pain to go through the whole process of unlocking your phone, choosing the right browser page or app, and then finally hitting the button you need. It’d be much simpler if it could all be done at the touch of a single, physical button – but phones don’t have many of those anymore. [falldeaf] brings the solution – a four-button Bluetooth remote for your smartphone that’s wearable, to boot.

The project is built around the RFDuino, an Arduino platform used for quickly and easily building Bluetooth compatible projects. So far, so simple – four buttons wired into a microcontroller with wireless capability onboard. The real trick is the 3D-printed clothespin style case which allows you to clip the four-button remote onto your clothes. [falldeaf]’s first attempt was a palm-mounted setup that they found got in the way of regular tasks; we agree that the wearable version offers a serious upgrade in utility.

The smartphone side of things is handled with a custom app [falldeaf] coded using PhoneGap. This is where actions for the buttons can be customized, including using the buttons to navigate a menu system to enable the user to select more than just one function per button. It adds a high level of flexibility, so you can create all kinds of macros to control your whole home automation system from your button clip.

It’s really great to see a project that considers ergonomics and usability above and beyond just creating the baseline functionality. Follow this train of thought and you’ll find yourself enjoying your projects in the use phase well beyond the initial build. Another great example is this self-charging electrically heated jacket. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Bluetooth Automation Remote Hangs Around”

Stadium Sized Cellphone Light Show Is Controlled By Sound

18 months ago, [Jameson Rader] didn’t know how to code. He had an economics degree and worked for a minor league hockey team. He did have a dream, though. Broadcasting data through sound. When we say broadcast, we mean broadcast – as in one sender and thousands of receivers.

[Jameson] didn’t have the money to hire a team to build his application. So he did what any self-respecting hacker would do. He bought a few books and taught himself to code. We’re talking about a smartphone app here, so Java and Objective-C were necessary to cover Android and iOS devices. The result is XT Audio Beacons.

[Jameson] has created a light show for stadiums which requires no new hardware infrastructure. Ultrasonic cues are added to a pre-recorded soundtrack and played over the PA system. Fans attending the show simply run an app and hold up their smartphone. The app listens for the cues and turns on the camera flash. The result is a light show which can be synchronized to music, sound effects, or whatever the event calls for. Since the system relies on sound, the App only needs permissions to access the microphone. The system would still work even if the phones were in airplane mode.

Transmitting data to smartphones via ultrasonics isn’t exactly new. Amazon uses it in their Dash Buttons, and Google uses it in their OnHub. Using it as a broadcast medium in a stadium is a novel application, though. [Jameson] also has demos showing XT Audio Beacons being used for more mundane purposes – such as troubleshooting electronics, or even as an acoustic version of an iBeacon.

Most important here is that [Jameson] isn’t keeping all this new knowledge to himself. He’s published the source to his application on Github under the MIT license.

You can see the system in action – and even try it yourself, in the video after the break.

If you want to learn more about [Jameson] and his journey, definitely check out his AMA on Reddit.

Continue reading “Stadium Sized Cellphone Light Show Is Controlled By Sound”

Super Mario Run(s) — Away With Your Money

If you are an Android user and a big fan of Super Mario beware: there is no Android version! There has been no official news on the Android version yet, let alone a version of the game. There is, however, a version circulating outside of Google Play market that will steal your bank account.

Right now attackers are taking advantage of the game’s popularity and Android users despair to spread malware posing as an Android version of Super Mario Run as they did in the past for Pokemon GO. The trojan is called Android Marcher and has been around since 2013, mostly targeting mobile users financial information. After installation, the application attempts to trick users with fake finance apps and a credit card page in an effort to capture banking details. The malware also locks out Google Play until the user supplies their credit card information.

In this new variant of Marcher, it can monitor the device and steal login data of regular apps, not just banking and payment apps, and send the stolen data back to command and control (C&C) servers. Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Gmail, the Google Play store are all vulnerable. Criminals can exploit these stolen accounts to carry out additional fraud.

Zscaler researchers advice is:

To avoid becoming a victim of such malware, it is a good practice to download apps only from trusted app stores such as Google Play. This practice can be enforced by unchecking the “Unknown Sources” option under the “Security” settings of your device.

We may add to turn on “App Verification”. Verify Apps regularly checks activity on your device and prevents or warns you about potential harm. Verify Apps is on by default, as is Unknown Sources turned off. Verify Apps also checks apps when you install them from sources other than Google Play. Of course, there is a privacy trade-off. Some information has to be sent about the apps you install back to Google.

The main advice is: use common sense. It’s common practice for companies to release official apps versions through Google Play and highly unlikely to do it via any other way.

Google Scrubs Brillo, Reveals Android Things

Another week goes by and another new IoT platform surfaces. Google has announced Android Things, a build of the mobile operating system designed for smart devices rather than the latest slab of mobile eye-candy. The idea is that the same Android tools, framework and APIs that will already be familiar to app developers can be used seamlessly on IoT Things as well as in the user’s palm.

Of course, if this is sounding familiar, it’s because you may have heard something of it before. Last year they announced their Project Brillo IoT platform, and this appears to be the fruit of those efforts.

So you may well be asking: what’s in it for us? Is this just another commercial IoT platform with an eye-watering barrier to entry somewhere, or can we join the fun? It turns out the news here is good, because as the project’s web site reveals, there is support for a variety of Intel, NXP, and Raspberry Pi development boards. If you have a Raspberry Pi 3 on your bench somewhere then getting started is as simple as flashing a disk image.

The Things team have produced a set of demonstration software in a GitHub repository for developers to get their teeth into. Never one to miss an opportunity, the British Raspberry Pi hardware developer Pimoroni has released an Android Things HAT laden with sensors and displays for it to run on.

The IoT-platform market feels rather crowded at times, but it is inevitable that Android Things will gain significant traction because of its tight connections with the rest of the Android world, and its backing by Google. From this OS will no doubt come a rash of devices that will become ubiquitous, and because of its low barrier to entry there is every chance that one or two of them could come from one of you. Good luck!

Pioneer AVIC Infotainment Units Hacked to Load Custom ROMs

Pioneer’s flagship AVIC line of in-car multimedia systems is compatible with both Android Auto and Apple Car Play, and offers all manner of multimedia features to the driver of today. What’s more, these in-dash wonders have spawned their own community, dedicated to hacking the units. The ultimate infotainment hack is to develop custom ROMs for these devices.

What this means is that owners of Pioneer AVIC units will eventually be able to flash a custom ROM onto their in-car device, allowing it to operate more like any other generic Android tablet on the market. The potential is there for installing custom applications, extra hardware (such as OBD II readers), or pretty much anything else you can do with an Android device.

The hack involves a whole lot of delicate steps, beginning with using a USB stick with a special image to boot the device into a test mode. This allows the internal SD card to be backed up, then overwritten with a new image itself.

Mostly, the hack has been used to allow map files to be updated on the internal SD card — inability to update maps has been a long festering thorn in the side of in-dash navigation systems. Users have been customizing this to suit their requirements, also adding speed camera locations and other features. But overall this hack is a great example of hacking something to get full control over the things you own. At the least, this will allow drivers to ditch the phones suction-cupped to the windshield and run common apps like Waze, Uber, and Lyft directly on the infotainment screen (assuming you can rig up an Internet connection).

Check out another great Android ROM hack — using a cheap old smartphone as a low-cost ARM platform.

The Joy of the ESP8266 and Blynk

I’ll admit it. I can be a little cheap. I also find it hard to pass up a bargain. So when I saw a robot kit at the local store that had been originally $125 marked down to $20, I had to bite. There was only one problem. After I got the thing home, I found they expected you to supply your own radio control transmitter and receiver.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but lately… let’s just say a lot of my stuff is in storage and I didn’t have anything handy. I certainly didn’t want to go buy something that would double the cost of this robot that I really didn’t need to begin with.

However, I did have a few ESP8266 modules handy. Good ones, too, from Adafruit with selected 5 V I/O compatibility and an onboard regulator. I started thinking about writing something for the ESP8266 to pick up data from, say, a UDP packet and converting it into RC servo commands.

joymainSeemed like a fair amount of work and then I remembered that I wanted to try Blynk. If you haven’t heard of Blynk, it is a user interface for Android and Apple phones that can send commands to an embedded system over the Internet. You usually think of using Blynk with an Arduino, but you can also program the embedded part directly on an ESP8266. I quickly threw together a little prototype joystick.
Continue reading “The Joy of the ESP8266 and Blynk”

Smartphone Bench Instrument Apps: Disappointment or Delight?

If you are interested in electronics or engineering, you’ll have noticed a host of useful-sounding apps to help you in your design and build work. There are calculators, design aids, and somewhat intriguingly, apps that claim to offer an entire instrument on your phone. A few of them are produced to support external third-party USB instrument peripherals, but most of them claim to offer the functionality using just the hardware within the phone. Why buy an expensive oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, or signal generator, when you can simply download one for free?

Those who celebrate Christmas somewhere with a British tradition are familiar with Christmas crackers and the oft-disappointing novelties they contain. Non-Brits are no doubt lost at this point… the crackers in question are a cardboard tube wrapped in shiny paper drawn tight over each end of it. The idea is that two people pull on the ends of the paper, and when it comes apart out drops a toy or novelty. It’s something like the prize in a Cracker Jack Box.

Engineering-oriented apps follow this cycle of hope and disappointment. But there are occasional exceptions. Let’s tour some of the good and the bad together, shall we?

Continue reading “Smartphone Bench Instrument Apps: Disappointment or Delight?”