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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Space Garbage Truck Passes its First Test

Back in April we reported on the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station which carried, along with supplies and experiments for the orbiting outpost, the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft. Developed by the University of Surrey, RemoveDEBRIS was designed as the world’s first practical demonstration of what’s known as Active Debris Removal (ADR) technology. It included not only a number of different technologies for ensnaring nearby objects, it even brought along deployable targets to use them on.

Orbital debris (often referred to simply as “space junk”) is a serious threat to all space-faring nations, and has become even more pressing of a concern as the cost of orbital launches have dropped precipitously over the last few years, accelerating number and frequency of new objects entering orbit. The results of these first of their kind tests have therefore been hotly anticipated, as the technology to actively remove debris from Low Earth orbit (LEO) is seen by many in the industry to be a key element of expanding access to space for commercial purposes.

Six months after its arrival in space we’ve now starting to see the first results of the groundbreaking tests performed by the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft, and so far it’s very promising.

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Bringing the Shark to the Bee

Wireshark, a tool recognized universally as being one of the best network analyzers available, has long been used by legitimate network professionals as well as a shadier crowd (and everywhere in between). While useful for analyzing both wired and Wi-Fi traffic, monitoring 802.15.4 protocols (such as Zigbee) have not been a common use in the past. [Akiba] of FreakLabs has brought us a solution which works around the normal limitations of Wireshark’s libpcap base, which does not accept simple serial input from most homebrew setups that use FTDI or Arduinos to connect to Zigbee devices. Using named pipes and a few custom scripts, [Akiba] has been able to coax Wireshark into accepting input from one of FreakLabs Freakduino boards.

While there are certainly professional wireless analyzing tools out there that connect directly into Wireshark, we at Hackaday love showing off anyone who takes the difficult, cheap, out of the way method of doing things over the neat, expensive, commercial method any day.

Record eight 1seg stations at once

multiple_tv_mpeg2_stream_capture

[Aaron] tipped us off about a project over at mobilehackerz. They built something of a PVR for 1seg broadcast stations (Google translation). The 1seg broadcast standard is aimed at mobile video service and available in countries like Japan and Brazil. Their terrestrial TV signals (ISDB-T) are divided into 13 segments per channel but the HD broadcasts only use 12 of those segments. This allows the 1seg data to be broadcast in the 13th segment.

mobilehackerz wanted to record each station’s complete daily broadcast. So they picked up a bunch of USB tuner fobs and chained them together with two powered USB hubs. The video is delivered in a type of MPEG2 format so once pulled out of the air the stream can be dumped directly onto disk. It seems they’ve got some code available for this system but even with the translated page we can’t really figure out what it does. If you’re Japanese skills are strong, fill us in with a comment.

At 3000 yen (about $34) per tuner this is not the most economical PVR capture system we’ve seen. Add to that the 15 fps broadcast and we’re not sure this is of all that much use. But then again, if you have to ask “what is it for?” you’re missing the essence of the hack.