When developing a network-enabled project with the ESP8266 or ESP32, the easiest way to handle WiFi credentials is to just hardcode the access point and encryption key into the program. But that means recompiling the firmware if you ever want to use it on a different network, which isn’t really an option if you’re trying to make something that other people can easily use. If you’re expecting grandma to bust out the UART cable, we’ve got bad news for you.
There are various ways around this problem, but we think the one developed by [Pekka Lehtikoski] is particularly clever. With a simple application, network credentials can be literally “flashed” to the waiting microcontroller by rapidly blinking the flash LED on an Android device. This allows the information to be transferred quickly and easily regardless of the user’s technical proficiency. One could even make the argument that it’s more secure than some of the other methods of doing initial setup, since an eavesdropper would literally need to see you do it if they wanted to steal your encryption key.
[Pekka] has made the source code for the Android application and the “Gazerbeam” library open for anyone who wants to include the capability in their own projects. To pick up the blinking light you just need to add a phototransistor, an opamp, and a handful of passives to your circuit; making this solution cheap enough that you could even use it in a small-scale production run. The concept isn’t limited to network credentials either. Whenever we can hold conferences again, it could be an interesting way to let attendees customize their badge.
Life is full of tough decisions, such as deciding whether you want to go to the end of the drive to check if the mail has arrived. These questions are made even more arduous in the winter months, but [Catpin] has a solution. The Mail Box Alert uses an Electric Imp, a solar panel and a proximity sensor to let you know if you’ve got mail.
It’s a neat build, with the brains provided by that Electric Imp which handles most of the heavy lifting. This wakes up every five minutes and checks whether the status of a small proximity sensor has changed. If it has, it pings a website. The unit sits at the bottom of the postbox, so if your friendly neighborhood post person has put in any letters, it will have changed. The Imp is powered by a small battery, which is in turn charged by a solar panel. That means that it doesn’t require any power cables or other wiring, as long as it is in the range of WiFi. With the addition of a 15-hours overnight deep sleep, [Catpin] found that the whole thing could be run from a couple of 18650 LiPo batteries.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the writeup was discussing the problems that he found with the build, such as the fact that a LiPo battery won’t perform that well in a Wisconsin winter. So, this was replaced with a Lithium Iron Phosphate battery that should be a bit more tolerant of the chill. There is also a writeup on how to create the same project using an ESP8266 if required.
Many of the biggest stars are hesitant to do sequels, believing that the magic captured the first time around is hard to reproduce in subsequent productions. As I’m known (at least around the former closet that now serves as my home office) as the “Meryl Streep of Teardowns”, I try to follow her example when it comes to repeat performances. But if they could get her to come back for another Mamma Mia film, I suppose I can take a look at a second Quirky product.
This time around we’ll be looking at the Quirky Egg Minder, a smart device advertised as being able to tell you when your eggs are getting old. Apparently, this is a problem some people have. A problem that of course is best solved via the Internet of Things, because who wouldn’t pay $80 USD for a battery-powered WiFi device that lives in their refrigerator and communicates vital egg statistics to an online service?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is “most people”. The Egg Minder, like most of its Quirky peers, quickly became a seemingly permanent fixture of retailer’s clearance shelves. This particular unit, which I was able to pick up new from Amazon, only cost me $9.99. This is still more than I would have paid under normal circumstances, but such sacrifices are part and parcel with making sure the readers of Hackaday get their regular dose of unusual gadgetry.
You may recall that our last Quirky device, the “Refuel” propane tank monitor, ended up being a fantastically engineered and built piece of hardware. The actual utility of the product was far from certain, but nobody could deny that the money had been spent in all the right places.
What will the internals of the Egg Minder reveal? Will it have the same level of glorious over-engineering that took us by surprise with the Refuel? Will that zest for form over function ultimately become the legacy of these Quirky devices, or was it just a fluke? Let’s crack this egg and find out.
Regular Hackaday readers will know that the clearance section of your local big box retailer is a great place to pick up oddball gadgets and gizmos for dirt cheap. In an era where manufacturers are rushing to make their products “smart” whether they need to be or not, the occasional ideas which fail to gain traction are just the cost of doing business. If you keep an eye out, you’re almost guaranteed to see one of these Internet of Things rejects collecting dust on a back aisle, often selling for pennies on the dollar.
Case in point, the “Refuel” propane tank monitor from Wink. Though there’s also logos for Quirky and GE on the package as well, and even a picture of the guy who came up with the idea. Essentially what we have here is a digital scale that reports the current weight of your grill’s propane tank to your phone via the Internet. A trick we might consider a fairly simple hack with a load cell and an ESP8266 under normal circumstances, but as this is a commercial product with an MSRP of $49.99 USD, its naturally been over-complicated to the point of absurdity.
Of course, one could simply lift the propane tank and get a decent estimate of its contents; a trick mastered by weekend grill masters since time immemorial. But then you wouldn’t have to make an account with Wink, or go through the very strange process of attempting to configure the device by using the flashing light of your smartphone’s screen (seriously). All so you can check how much propane is left in your grill while you’re away from home. You know, as one does.
Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine who would actually have purchased such a thing at full retail. But of course, that’s likely why I was able to pick it up for the princely sum of $5. At that price, we can’t afford not to take a peek into this gizmo from Wink, Quirky, GE, and Anthony from Boston.
The wildfires in California are now officially the largest the state has ever seen. Over 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes, hundreds are missing, and the cost in property damage will surely be measured in the billions of dollars when all is said and done. With a disaster of this scale just the immediate effects are difficult to conceptualize, to say nothing of the collateral damage.
While not suggesting their situation is comparable to those who’ve lost their homes or families, Electric Imp CEO [Hugo Fiennes] has recently made a post on their blog calling attention to the air quality issues they’re seeing at their offices in Los Altos. To quantify the problem so that employees with respiratory issues would know the conditions before they came into work, they quickly hacked together a method for displaying particulate counts in their Slack server.
The key to the system is one of the laser particle sensors that we’re starting to see more of thanks to a fairly recent price drop on the technology. A small fan pulls air to be tested into the device, where a very sensitive optical sensor detects the light reflected by particles as they pass through the laser beam. The device reports not only how many particles are passing through it, but how large they are. The version of the sensor [Hugo] links to in his blog post includes an adapter board to make it easier to connect to your favorite microcontroller, but we’ve previously seen DIY builds which accomplish the same goal.
[Hugo] then goes on to provide firmware for the Electric Imp board that reads the current particulate counts from the sensor and creates a simple web page that can be viewed from anywhere in the world to see real-time conditions at the office. From there, this data can be plugged into a Slack webhook which will provide an instantaneous air quality reading anytime a user types “air” into the channel.
While a lot of hardware gets put on the “Internet of Things” with only marginal or questionable benefits (or with hilariously poor security), every now and then a project makes use of this new platform in a way that illustrates the strengths of IoT. [ThingEngineer] turned to this platform as a cost-effective solution for an automatic gate, since new keyfobs were too expensive and a keypad was not an option.
Using an Electric IMP, [ThingEngineer] began by installing his IoT patch into the LiftMaster gate control box. This particular gate has easily accessible points that the controller can access to determine the gate’s status, so from there, an API was written to do the heavy lifting. A web server was deployed as well, so anyone with access can use a smartphone or other device to open the gate.
For anyone else looking to deploy a similar IoT solution, [ThingEngineer] has put all of the project code, schematics, and a thorough write-up about the project on his GitHub page. There are many useful ways to get on board the Internet of Things, though; so many that it’s been possible to win a substantial prize for using it in a creative way.
The Weatherclock is more than just a clock sporting Nixie tubes and neon lamps. There is even more to it than the wonderful workmanship and the big, beautiful pictures in the build log. [Bradley]’s Weatherclock is not only internet-connected, it automatically looks up local weather and sets the backlights of the numbers to reflect current weather conditions. For example, green for roughly room temperature, blue for cold, red for warm, flashing blue for rain, flashing white for lightning, scrolling white for fog and ice, and so on.
The enclosure is custom-made and the sockets for the tubes are seated in a laser-cut plastic frame. While seating the sockets, [Bradley] noticed that an Adafruit Neopixel RGB LED breakout board fit perfectly between the tube leads. By seating one Neopixel behind each Nixie indicator, each number could have a programmable backlight that just happened to look fabulous.
With an Electric Imp board used for WiFi the capabilities of the Weatherclock were rounded out on the inside. On the outside, a custom enclosure ties it all together. [Bradley] says his family had gotten so used to having the Weatherclock show them the outside conditions that they really missed it when it was down for maintenance or work – which shouldn’t happen much anymore as the project is pretty much complete.
It’s interesting to see new features in Nixie clocks. Nixie tubes have such enduring appeal that using them alone has its own charm, and at least one dedicated craftsman actually makes new ones from scratch.