Hackaday Prize 2023: Sleek Macro Pad Makes 2FA A Little Easier

We all know the drill when it comes to online security — something you know, and something you have. But when the “something you have” is a two-factor token in a keyfob at the bottom of a backpack, or an app on your phone that’s buried several swipes and taps deep, inconvenience can stand in the way of adding that second level of security. Thankfully, this “2FA Sidecar” is the perfect way to lower the barrier to using two-factor authentication.

That’s especially true for a heavy 2FA user like [Matt Perkins], who typically needs to log in and out of multiple 2FA-protected networks during his workday. His Sidecar is similar in design to many of the macro pads we’ve seen, with a row of Cherry MX key switches, a tiny TFT display — part of an ESP32-S3 Reverse TFT Feather — and a USB HID interface. Pressing one of the five keys on the pad generates a new time-based one-time password (TOTP) and sends it over USB as typed keyboard characters; the TOTP is also displayed on the TFT if you prefer to type it in yourself.

As for security, [Matt] took pains to keep things as tight as possible. The ESP32 only connects to network services to keep the time synced up for proper TOTP generation, and to serve up a simple web configuration page so that you can type in the TOTP salts and service name to associate with each key. He also discusses the possibility of protecting the ESP32’s flash memory by burning the e-fuses, as well as the pros and cons of that maneuver. The video below shows the finished project in action.

This is definitely a “use at your own risk” proposition, but we tend to think that in the right physical environment, anything that makes 2FA more convenient is probably a security win. If you need to brush up on the risks and benefits of 2FA, you should probably start here.

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The International Space Station Is Always Up There

Thanks to its high orbital inclination, the International Space Station (ISS) eventually passes over most inhabited parts of the Earth. Like other artificial satellites, though, it’s typically only visible overhead during passes at sunrise and sunset. If you’d like to have an idea of where it is beyond the times that it’s directly visible, take a look at this tabletop ISS tracking system created by [dpelgrift].

The tracker uses an Adafruit Feather inside its enclosure along with a Featherwing ESP32 WiFi co-processor. Together they direct a 3D printed rocket-shaped pointing device up and down by way of a SG90 micro-servo, while a 28BYJ-48 stepper motor provides rotation.

This setup allows it to take in all of the information required to calculate the Station’s current position. The device uses the current latitude and longitude, as well as its compass heading, and combines that with data pulled off the net to calculate which direction it should be pointing.

While it might seem like a novelty or programming challenge, this project could be useful for plenty of people who just want to keep track so they know when to run outside and see the Station pass by, or even by those who use the radio repeater aboard the ISS. The repeater on the ISS and plenty of other satellites are available to amateur radio operators for long-distance VHF and UHF communication like we’ve seen in projects like these.

A robotic machine turning the wheel of a safe

Adventures In Robotic Safe Cracking

When [Zach Hipps] was faced with a locked safe and no combination, it seemed like calling a locksmith was the only non-destructive option. Well, that or doing something crazy like building a safe-opening robot. Since you’re reading this on Hackaday, we bet you can guess which path he took.

So far, [Zach] has managed to assemble the custom chuck and spindle for the safe cracker. This construction is then mated with an appropriately precise Trinamic controller for the motor, which is perfect for this heist project. After some early consternation around the motor’s stall detection capabilities, the project was able to move forward with extra microcontroller code to ensure that the motor disengages when sensing a ‘hard stop’ during cracking.

Precision is absolutely essential in a project like this. When dealing with a million potential combinations, any potential misconfiguration of the robot could cause it to lose its place and become out-of-sync with the software. This was encountered during testing — while the half-assembled robot was (spoilers) able to open a safe with a known combination, it was only able to do so at slow speed. For a safe with an unknown combination, this slow pace would be impractical.

While the robot isn’t quite ready yet, the Part 1 video below is a great introduction to this particular caper. While we wait for the final results, make sure to check out our previous coverage of another auto dialing robot cracking the code in less than a minute.

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Launch And Track Your Model Rockets Via Smartphone

Building and flying model rockets is great fun. Eventually, though, the thrill of the fire and smoke subsides, and you want to know more about what it’s doing in the air. With a thirst for knowledge, [archy587] started building a project to monitor the vital stats of rockets in flight. 

The project mounts an M0 Feather microcontroller board into the rocket, along with a 900 MHz LoRa transmitter and a GPS module. This allows the rocket’s journey to be measured and logged, and is particularly useful for when a craft floats off downrange during parachute recovery. There’s also a relay module onboard, which dumps power from a dedicated separate battery into the rocket motor igniter. This allows the rocket to be fired wirelessly.

On the ground, the setup uses an ESP32 fitted with another LoRa module to receive signals from the rocket. It’s designed to hook up to an Android smartphone over its USB-C port. This allows data received from the rocket to be displayed in an Android app, including the rocket’s GPS location overlaid on Google Maps.

Being able to remotely ignite your rockets and track their progress brings some high-tech cool to the launch pad. You’ll be upgrading your rockets with micro flight controllers and vectored thrust in no time. Just be sure whatever tech you’re using is compliant with the rules for model rocketry in your local area.

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Prepare For Wildfire Season With An Air Quality Monitor

For some reason, wildfire seasons in Australia, North America, and other places around the world seem to happen more and more frequently and with greater and greater fervor. Living in these areas requires special precautions, even for those who live far away from the fires. If you’re not sure if the wildfires are impacting your area or not, one of the tools you can build on your own is an air quality meter like [Costas Vav] shows us in this latest build.

The air quality indicator is based around an Adafruit Feather RP2040 which is in turn based on the 32-bit Cortex M0+ dual core processor. This makes for a quite capable processor in a small package, and helps accomplish one of the design goals of a rapid startup time. Another design goal was to use off-the-shelf components so that anyone could easily build one for themselves, so while the Feather is easily obtained the PMS5003 PM2.5 air quality sensor needed to be as well. From there, all of the components are wrapped up in an easily-printed enclosure and given a small (and also readily-available) OLED screen.

[Costas Vav] has made all of the files needed to build one of these available, from the bill of materials to the software running on the Pi-compatible board to the case designs. It’s a valuable piece of technology to have around even if you don’t live in fire-prone areas. Not only can wildfire smoke travel across entire continents but simple household activities such as cooking (especially with natural gas or propane) can decimate indoor air quality. You can see that for yourself with an army of ESP32-based air quality sensors.

A Pull Chain To End Your Zoom Pain

Yay! Another videoconference call is in the books, so that must mean that it’s time to fumble around awkwardly for the hang-up button with a fading smile. [lanewinfield] knew there had to be a better way, and looked to the pull chain switch for salvation. Sure, this could just as easily be a button, but what’s the fun in that? Besides, few buttons would be as satisfying as pulling a chain to a Zoom call.

The pull chain switch is connected to an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Express that’s emulating a Bluetooth keyboard. Firmware-wise it sends command + F6, which triggers an AppleScript that manually exits and and all Zoom calls and kills Chrome tabs pointed to meet.google.com. He’s using Apple’s hotkey wizard Alfred, but this could be handled just as easily with something like AutoHotKey.

Pull chain switches are neat little mechanisms. The chain is connected to a cam that engages a wheel with copper contacts on half the outside. When you pull the chain, the wheel moves 90° and the wheel contacts connect up with the fixed contacts inside the housing to make a connection. Pulling the chain again moves the wheel which slides to the half without the contacts. Check it out in the video below.

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Bee Counter Will Have You Up To Your Nectar In Hive Data

While we admit that free honey sounds pretty good, beekeeping is not some set-it-and-forget-it hobby where you can just put bees in a box and come back in a month to collect the goods. With the world’s bee population in decline, it’s more important than ever to monitor the health of hives.

One way to do that is to count the bees as they leave and reenter the hive. You can use the data to determine how many workers are working, or to compare activity between multiple hives. If you notice the bees are gone for longer and longer periods, it’s probably because their nearby nectar sources are dwindling and they have to travel farther to find flowers.

This open-source bee counter built by [hydronics2] is designed to fit the opening of a standard hive. The bees can only buzz themselves back in by flying through one of 24 little IR break-beam gates. Our favorite thing about this build is the way [hydronics2] created the individual gates by sandwiching two boards together with headers as spacers. It’s such a simple and perfect solution.

It’s also pretty cool that the board is designed to be compatible with any Feather or ItsyBitsy board, so there are a lot of options for data handling. Check out the brief demo we planted after the break, and stick around for the build video. If you’d prefer a more hands-off approach, try computer vision.

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