Picture of the automatic blind controller and three servo motors, all in their enclosures, displayed on a table.

Automated Window Blinds Using MQTT And Home Assistant

Finnish software engineer [Toni] is on a quest to modernize his 1991 house, and his latest project was to automate the window blinds and control them using Home Assistant. Unless your blinds have built-in motors, most of the effort of such a project centers around how to integrate and attach the motor — and as [Toni] points out, there are tons of different blinds with all kinds of operating mechanisms. But once you solve that issue, half the battle is over.

These particular blinds require less than one turn of the control rod to go from fully open to fully closed, and [Toni] selects a 270-degree range-of-motion, 20 kg*cm torque servo motor to drive them. He really wanted to install the motor inside the window, but it just wouldn’t fit. Instead, each servo motor is mounted in a custom 3D-printed case installed on the window frame just below the operating rod. An ESP8266-based controller box is installed above the window, hidden behind curtains, and operates all three servos.

On the software side of things, the project is coded in C++ and uploaded using the Ardiono IDE. The blinds communicate to [Toni]’s Home Assistant network using MQTT. All the software is available on the project’s GitHub repository, and the 3D-printed case design is posted on Thingiverse. Even though your blinds may be of a completely different design, we think many parts of [Toni]’s project are still useful — do check out this project if you’re thinking about doing something similar. The notion of motorized window blinds has been around for a some time — we covered one project way back in 2013 and another in 2016. If you have added automation to your window blinds, let us know how it went down in the comments section.

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Home Automation Terminal With Cyberpunk Style

The OLKB-Terminal designed by [Jeff Eberl] doesn’t have a battery, can’t fold up (even if it seems like it could), and is only portable in the sense that you can literally pick it up and move it somewhere else. So arguably it’s not really a cyberdeck per se, but it certainly does look the part. If you need to be furiously typing out lines of code in a dimly lit near-future hacker’s den, this should do you nicely.

[Jeff] has provided everything you’d need to recreate this slick little machine on your own, though he does warn that some of the hardware decisions were based simply on what he had on-hand at the time, and that better or cheaper options may exist. So for example if you don’t want to use the Raspberry Pi 4, you can easily swap it out for some other single-board computer. Though if you want to change something better integrated, like the LCD panel, it will probably require modifications to the 3D printed components.

The rear electronics tray offers plenty of room for expansion.

The slim mechanical keyboard that [Jeff] used for the OLKB-Terminal, which in some ways set the tone for the whole design, is actually a completely separate open source project from [Victor Lucachi]. The VOID30 is a 3D printed, 30% handwired ortholinear keyboard that runs the popular QMK firmware on an Arduino Pro Micro. He’s implemented a couple tweaks, namely using a USB-C equipped Arduino clone, but otherwise it’s the same as upstream. So if you’re not in the market for a little bedside cyberpunk terminal but love its sleek keyboard, you’re in luck.

Software wise, [Jeff] has the OLKB-Terminal hooked into his larger Home Assistant system. This gives him an attractive status display of the whole network, and with just a tap on the terminal’s seven inch touch screen, he’s able to directly control devices around the home. That said, at the end of the day it’s just a Raspberry Pi, so it could really run whatever you want.

While cyberdeck builds might be all the rage right now, we do appreciate projects that bring those same design tenets to the desktop. From the gorgeous faux-retro designs of [Oriol Ferrer Mesià] to modernized pieces of vintage hardware, truly personal computers that can be easily upgraded and repaired don’t have to be limited to something you can lug around with a guitar strap.

ESP32 Soil Monitors Tap Into Ultra-Low Power Mode

Soil moisture sensors are cheap and easy to interface with, to the point that combining one with an Arduino and blinking an LED when your potted plant is feeling a bit parched is a common beginners project. But what about on the long term? Outside of a simple proof of concept, what would it take to actually read the data from these sensors over the course of weeks or months?

That’s precisely the question [derflob] recently had to answer. The goal was to build a device that could poll multiple soil sensors and push the data wirelessly into Home Assistant. But since it would be outside on the balcony, it needed to run exclusively on battery power. Luckily his chosen platform, the ESP32, has some phenomenal power saving features. You just need to know how to use them. Continue reading “ESP32 Soil Monitors Tap Into Ultra-Low Power Mode”

Is Your Echo Flex Listening?

We are always surprised that Amazon or Google doesn’t employ Kelsey Grammer — TV’s Frasier — as a spokesman for their smart home devices. After all, his catchphrase was, “I’m listening…” Maybe they don’t want to remind you that the device could, theoretically, be sending everything you say to them or a nefarious hacker or government agency. Sure, there’s a mute button and it lights up a red LED.

But if you are truly paranoid, that’s not enough. After all, the same people want to eavesdrop on you would be happy to fake a red light. [Electronupdate] had the same thought and decided to answer the question: does the mute button really mute your microphone? The answer required not only some case opening and analysis, but there was even some IC decapsulation.

We were impressed with the depth of the analysis. The tiny SMD parts are marked confusingly, and if you are really paranoid you don’t believe them anyway. But looking at the actual circuit die is pretty unambiguous. The  parts in question turned out to be a Schmitt trigger, a flip flop, and a NAND gate.

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DIY ESP32 Video Doorbell Locks Out Big Brother

There’s no question that being able to see who’s at your front door from your computer or mobile device is convenient, which is why the market is currently flooded with video doorbells. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear who else has access to the images these devices capture. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued that by installing one of these Internet-connected cameras on their front door, consumers are unwittingly contributing to a mass surveillance system that could easily be turned against them.

Luckily, there’s a solution. As [Sebastian] shows in his latest project, you can build your own video doorbell that replicates the features of the commercial offerings while ensuring you’re the only one who has access to the data by leveraging open source, community developed projects such as ESPHome and Home Assistant. At the same time, modern manufacturing techniques like desktop 3D printing and low-cost PCB fabrication mean your DIY doorbell doesn’t have to look like you made it yourself.

The project starts with a custom PCB that combines the ESP32, a camera module, a capacitive touch sensor, a relay to optionally trigger an electronic door lock, and a DC-DC converter that will let you power the device from a wide range of input voltages. The board even has a spot where you can solder on an additional 8 MB of external PSRAM for the ESP32, which will enable the chip to capture higher resolution video.

The electronics are housed in a minimalistic 3D printed enclosure that would fit right in alongside similar gadgets from the likes of Ring and Arlo; especially if you have access to a CNC and can cut the front panel out of acrylic. The lighted touch sensor looks phenomenal, and really gives the device a professional feel. That said, it doesn’t look like the case would last very long if exposed to harsh weather and there are some obvious physical security issues with this approach. But to be fair, we’ve seen the same problem with commercial hardware.

Naturally with a project like this, the hardware is only half of the story. It takes a considerable amount of software poking and prodding to get things like mobile device notifications working, and as a special added annoyance, the process is different depending on which MegaCorp produced the OS your gadget is running. [Sebastian] has documented the bulk of the process in the video after the break, but the finer points will likely need some adjustment depending on how you want to set things up.

This is an exceptionally impressive project for sure, but if the whole slick futuristic look isn’t your style, you could always opt to go with the DIY video door bell that looks like it came from an alternate reality version of 1986.

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Speaker Snitch Tattles On Privacy Leaks

A wise senator once noted that democracy dies with thunderous applause. Similarly, it’s also how privacy dies, as we invite more and more smart devices willingly into our homes that are built by companies that don’t tend to have our best interests in mind. If you’re not willing to toss all of these admittedly useful devices out of the house but still want to keep an eye on what they’re doing, though, [Nick Bild] has a handy project that lets you keep an eye on them when they try to access the network.

The device is built on a Raspberry Pi that acts as a middle man for these devices on his home network. Any traffic they attempt to send gets sent through the Pi which sniffs the traffic via a Python script and is able to detect when they are accessing their cloud services. From there, the Pi sends an alert to an IoT Arduino connected to an LED which illuminates during the time in which the smart devices are active.

The build is an interesting one because many smart devices are known to listen in to day-to-day conversation even without speaking the code phrase (i.e. “Hey Google” etc.) and this is a great way to have some peace-of-mind that a device is inactive at any particular moment. However, it’s not a foolproof way of guaranteeing privacy, as plenty of devices might be accessing other services, and still other devices have  even been known to ship with hidden hardware.

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Home Assistant Get Fingerprint Scanning

Biometrics — like using your fingerprint as a password — is certainly convenient and are pretty commonplace on phones and laptops these days. While their overall security could be a problem, they certainly fit the bill to keep casual intruders out of your system. [Lewis Barclay] had some sensors gathering dust and decided to interface them to his Home Assistant setup using an ESP chip and MQTT.

You can see the device working in the video below. The code is on GitHub, and the only thing we worried about was the overall security. Of course, the security of fingerprint scanners is debatable since you hear stories about people lifting fingerprints with tape and glue, but even beyond that, if you were on the network, it would seem like you could sniff and fake fingerprint messages via MQTT. Depending on your security goals, that might not be a big deal and, of course, that assumes someone could compromise your network to start with.

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