Review: Inkplate 6PLUS

While the price of electronic paper has dropped considerably over the last few years, it’s still relatively expensive when compared to more traditional display technology. Accordingly, we’ve seen a lot of interest in recovering the e-paper displays used in electronic shelf labels and consumer e-readers from the likes of Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Unfortunately, while these devices can usually be purchased cheaply on the second hand market, liberating their displays is often too complex a task for the average tinkerer.

Enter the Inkplate. With their open hardware ESP32 development board that plugs into the e-paper displays salvaged from old e-readers, the team at e-radionica is able to turn what was essentially electronic waste into a WiFi-enabled multipurpose display that can be easily programmed using either the Arduino IDE or MicroPython. The $99 Inkplate 6 clearly struck a chord with the maker community, rocketing to 926% of its funding goal on Crowd Supply back in 2020. A year later e-radionica released the larger and more refined Inkplate 10, which managed to break 1,000% of its goal.

For 2021, the team is back with the Inkplate 6PLUS. This updated version of the original Inkplate incorporates the design additions from the Inkplate 10, such as the Real-Time-Clock, expanded GPIO, and USB-C port, and uses a display recycled from newer readers such as the Kindle Paperwhite. These e-paper panels are not only sharper and faster than their predecessors, but also feature touch support and LED front lighting; capabilities which e-radionica has taken full advantage of in the latest version of their software library.

With its Crowd Supply campaign recently crossing over the 100% mark, we got a chance to go hands-on with a prototype of the Inkplate 6PLUS to see how e-radionica’s latest hacker friendly e-paper development platform holds up.

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APRS Implemented At Low Cost And Small Size

Before smartphones and Internet of Things devices were widely distributed, the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) was the way to send digital information out wirelessly from remote locations. In use since the 80s, it now has an almost hipster “wireless data before it was cool” vibe, complete with plenty of people who use it because it’s interesting, and plenty of others who still need the unique functionality it offers even when compared to more modern wireless data transmission methods. One of those is [Tyler] who shows us how to build an APRS system for a minimum of cost and size.

[Tyler]’s build is called Arrow and operates on the popular 2 metre ham radio band. It’s a Terminal Node Controller (TNC), a sort of ham radio modem, built around an ESP32. The ESP32 handles both the signal processing for the data and also uses its Bluetooth capability to pair to an Android app called APRSDroid. The entire module is only slightly larger than the 18650 battery that powers it, and it can be paired with a computer to send and receive any digital data that you wish using this module as a plug-and-play transceiver.

While the build is still has a few limitations that [Tyler] notes, he hopes that the project will be a way to modernize the APRS protocol using methods for radio transmission that have been improved upon since APRS was first implemented. It should be able to interface easily into any existing ham radio setup, although even small balloon-lofted radio stations can make excellent use of APRS without any extra equipment. Don’t forget that you need a license to operate these in most places, though!

Developing A Power Over Ethernet Stack Light

A common sight on factory floors, stack lights are used to indicate the status of machinery to anyone within visual range. But hackers have found out you can pick them up fairly cheap online, so we’ve started to see them used as indicators in slightly more mundane situations than they were originally intended for. [Tyler Ward] recently decided he wanted his build own network controlled stack light, and thought it would double as a great opportunity to dive into the world of Power Over Ethernet (PoE).

Now the easy way to do this would be to take the Raspberry Pi, attach the official PoE Hat to it, and toss it into a nice enclosure. Write some code that toggles the GPIO pins attached to the LEDs in the stack light, and call it a day. Would be done in an afternoon and you could be showing it off on Reddit by dinner time. But that’s not exactly what [Tyler] had in mind.

An early Arduino-based prototype.

He decided to take the scenic route and designed his own custom PCB that combines an Ethernet interface, PoE hardware, and the ESP32 into one compact unit. It’s no great secret that it only takes a few extra components to plug the ESP32 into the network rather than relying on WiFi, but it’s still not something we see done very often by hobbyists. Rarer still is seeing somebody roll their own PoE solution, but thanks to the in-depth documentation [Tyler] has provided for his circuit, that may change in the future.

On the software side [Tyler] has developed a firmware for the ESP32 that supports both Art-Net and RDM protocols, which are subsets of the larger DMX protocol. That means the controller should be compatible with existing software designed for controlling theatrical lighting systems. If you’d rather take a more direct approach, the firmware also sports a web interface and simple HTTP API to provide some additional flexibility.

While it’s exceptionally impressive, not everyone will need such a robust solution. If you just want a quick and easy way to fire up your stack light, a USB controlled relay and some Python can get you where you need to go.

Gesture-Detecting Macro Keyboard Knows What You Want

[jakkra] bought a couple of capacitive touchpads from a Kickstarter a few years ago and recently got around to using them in a project. And what a project it is: this super macro pad combines two touchpads with a 6-pack of regular switches for a deluxe gesture-sensing input device.

Inside is an ESP32 running TensorFlow Lite to read in the gestures from the two touchpads. The pad at the top is a volume slider, and the square touchpad is the main input and is used in conjunction with the buttons to run AutoHotKey scripts within certain programs. [jakkra] can easily run git commands and more with a handful of simple gestures. The gestures all seem like natural choices to us: > for next media track, to push the current branch and to fetch and pull the current branch, s for git status, l for git log, and the one that sounds really useful to us — draw a C to get a notification that lists all the COM ports. One of the switches is dedicated to Bluetooth pairing and navigating menus on the OLED screen.

We love the combination of inputs here and think this looks great, especially with the double touchpad design. Be sure to check out the gesture demo gif after the break.

Gesture input seems well-suited to those who compute on the go, and a gesture glove feels like the perfect fit.

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Recreating The Intercom From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a pop culture classic, and remains one of the standout teen films of the era. Notably, titular character Ferris was somewhat of a hacker himself, with the movie showcasing several contraptions the teenager used to get out of a day of school. Among them was the intercom, which [Aaron] faithfully recreated with modern technology.

For those who haven’t seen the film, the intercom was hooked up to a cassette player to feign a believable response to anyone that visited the house while Ferris was away. Rather than do things the old fashioned way, [Aaron] built his replica using an ESP32 fitted with a sound chip instead. When visitors ring the intercom, it plays back sound clips from the movie, while also signalling another ESP microcontroller inside [Aaron]’s house to let him know he has visitors.

The build is a charming tribute to the classic film, and all the more fun for [Aaron’s] efforts to make it look the part as well, choosing to build it inside a period-correct intercom housing. To avoid confusion for those who haven’t seen the film, however, he’s been careful to place a sign up to clarify the intercom is not as it seems.

We’ve seen other movie replicas in the same vein before – like this great Star Trek build. Video after the break.

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Retro Useless Clock Eventually Shows You The Time

It’s true; hackers like clocks. And hackers like useless machines. But would they like an intersection of the two? We’re thinking yes, probably, though we would argue that this QR clock was at no point fully useless. Yes, a QR clock as in, whip out your phone and, ignoring the conveniently-available phone time, open the bar code reader so you can check the time on this thing. So, it’s semi-useless. But at least it doesn’t detect cameras and then hide the QR code. That would be evil.

This project started life as a display piece for the hex wall down at [megardi]’s hackerspace, but, state of the world being what it is, [megardi] hasn’t made it down there yet. And meanwhile this little guy was looking cuter and cuter, so [megardi] decided to make him more useful and freestanding. The ESP32 inside gets the official time from NIST and displays it on the 1.5″ OLED screen. It also has a single alarm now, along with some other non-QR code clock faces that display the time in various ways.

We really like the look of this clock. Honestly, with those uniform tics around the edge, it sort of reminds us of the doomsday clock — you know, the ‘minutes to midnight’ quarter clock face that shows the current perceived threat level of how close we are to destroying the world with the technologies we’ve created. That clock is kind of cute, too, which is a little bit weird considering what it represents.

Speaking of our delicate planet, here’s a gorgeous little Earth clock that casts a shadow on whatever slice of the planet is currently shrouded in darkness.

WiFi Penetration Testing With An ESP32

WiFi is one of those technologies that most of us would have trouble living without. Unfortunately, there are several vulnerabilities in the underlying 802.11 standards that could potentially be exploited. To demonstrate just how simple this can be, [risinek] developed the ESP32 Wi-Fi Penetration Tool that runs on cheap dev boards and can execute deauthentication and Denial of Service attacks, and capture handshakes and PMKIDs.

The main challenge in this project is to implement these attacks while using the ESP-IDF development framework. The closed source WiFi libraries of the ESP-IDF block specific arbitrary frames like deauthentication frames. To get around this [risinek] used two different approaches. The first is to bypass the declaration of the blocking function at compile-time, which is borrowed from the esp32-deauther project. The second approach doesn’t require any modifications to the ESP-IDF. It works by creating a rogue access point (AP) identical to the targeted access point, which will send a deauthentication frame whenever one of the devices tries to connect to it instead of the real AP.

WPA/WPA2 handshakes are captured by passively listening for devices connecting to the target network, or running a deauth attack and then listening for when devices reconnect. PMKIDs are captured from APs with the roaming feature enabled, by analyzing the first message of a WPA handshake. ESP32 Wi-Fi Penetration Tool will also format the captured data into PCAP and HCCAPX files ready to be used with Wireshark and Hashcat. To manage the tool, it creates a management access point where the target and attack type is selected, and the resulting data can be downloaded. Pair the ESP32 with a battery, and everything can be done on the go. The project is part of [risinek]’s master’s thesis, and the full academic article is an educating read. Continue reading “WiFi Penetration Testing With An ESP32”