Scroll Through ESPHome With IPod-style Click Wheel

While you’d be hard pressed to find a Hackaday writer that feels any nostalgia for the DRM nonsense the iPod helped to introduce, we’ve got to admit that we miss that click wheel. Spinning your way through long lists was a breeze, and the tactile response made it easy to stop exactly where you wanted. These days, we’re stuck fumbling our way through touch screen interfaces that make simple tasks like seeking to a particular spot in a song or video all but impossible to do with any kind of accuracy.

If you too yearn to once again feel that subtle thumping under your thumb, then check out this project from [landonr]. Technically the handheld gadget is intended to be used as a wireless remote for a home automation system powered by ESPHome, but that’s only one possible application for this particular combination of off-the-shelf components.

If you must, there’s a version with buttons.

Building your own version of the handheld device is a simple as mounting a LILYGO ESP32 T-Display TTGO, an ANO Rotary Navigation Encoder from Adafruit, and a battery pack to a scrap of perfboard. We’d probably look into 3D printing a case to make it a bit less…pokey, but that’s up to you. The result actually bears quite a resemblance to Apple’s iconic media player, but without that pesky walled garden to hold you back.

As mentioned previously, [landonr] wrote the firmware with the intention of controlling a home automation system. So there’s a lot of stuff in there about turning on lights and such. But there are also functions for media playback that look very promising. Whatever software you end up running on it, one thing is for sure: running through the menus is going to feel like a dream.

We’ve covered several other home automation remotes over the years. This handsome wooden model kept things simple with just a few physical buttons, while this somewhat more whimsical approach repurposed Nintendo’s Zapper light gun.

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This Pico-W IoT Starter Project Gets You Into Home Assistant Quick As A Flash

Many of us hacker types with some hardware knowledge and a smattering of embedded experience would like to get into home automation, but there can be quite a learning curve. If you’re looking for a hackable starting point; something to deploy, learn about and then later expand upon, then look no further than the PicoW Home Assistant Starter project from [Danilo Campos].

The project is based upon the arduino-pico core, which supports a whole pile of RP2040-based boards, so you don’t need to restrict yourself to the “official” Pico-W, so long as you have working networking, Wi-Fi or otherwise. Integration is provided by the arduino-home-assistant library, which acts as the bridge between your sensors and other widgets, MQTT, and thence the network beyond. Events and sensor data on the end-point are packaged up with MQTT and published out to the broker via the network provided, all for minimal initial effort. Once you’ve got the basic connectivity to your Home Assistant instance working, there are many code examples in the arduino-home-assistant GitHub page to give you a helping start to connect whatever tickles your fancy.

It turns out we’ve covered HA quite a bit on these fair pages, like for example, these sweet automated window blinds. Another hack uses load cells under the bed legs to detect if someone is in bed or not, and if this isn’t your thing, maybe your idea of a home assistant is a bit more like this one?

ESP8266 Smart Vents Keep Tabs On Home Temps

Have you ever found that, despite having a central heating and air conditioning system, that not all the rooms in your home end up being the temperature you want them to be? Maybe the dining room gets too hot when the heater is running, or the bedroom never seems to cool off enough in the summer months. If that sounds like your house, then these motorized “smart vents” from [Tony Brobston] might be exactly what you need.

The idea here is pretty simple: an ESP8266 and a servo is built into the 3D printed vent register, which allows it to control the position of its louvers. When connected to your home automation system via MQTT, the vents allow you to control the airflow to each room individually based on whatever parameters you wish. Most likely, you’ll want to pair these vents with an array of thermometers distributed throughout the house.

While [Tony] says the design still needs some testing, he’s released smart vents in a range of sizes from 2×10 to 6×12 inches. He’s also provided excellent documentation on how to print, assemble, and program the devices. It’s clear that a lot of care and thought went into every element of this project, and we’re excited to see how it can be developed further by the new ideas and contributors that will inevitably pop up now that it’s gone public.

Want to add some automation to your HVAC, but don’t have a fancy central unit? Don’t worry, as long as your heater or air conditioner has an infrared remote, you should be able to wedge a WiFi-enabled microcontroller in into the equation.

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LoRa Helps With Remote Water Tank Level Sensing

[Renzo Mischianti]’s friend has to keep a water tank topped up. Problem is, the tank itself is 1.5 km away, so its water level isn’t typically known. There’s no electricity available there either — whichever monitoring solution is to be used, it has to be low-power and self-sufficient. To help with that, [Renzo] is working on a self-contained automation project, with a solar-powered sensor that communicates over LoRa, and a controller that receives the water level readings and powers the water pump when needed.

[Renzo] makes sure to prototype every part using shields and modules before committing to a design, and has already wrote and tested code for both the sensor and the controller, as well as created the PCBs. He’s also making sure to document everything as he goes – in fact, there’s whole seven blog posts on this project, covering the already completed software, PCB and 3D design stages of this project.

These worklogs have plenty of explanations and pictures, and [Renzo] shows a variety of different manufacturing techniques and tricks for beginners along the way. The last blog post on 3D designing and printing the sensor enclosure was recently released, and that likely means we’ll soon see a post about this system being installed and tested!

[Renzo] has been in the “intricately documented worklogs” business for a while. We’ve covered his 3D printed PCB mill and DIY soldermask process before, and recently he was seen adding a web interface to a 3D printer missing one. As for LoRa, there’s plenty of sensors you can build – be it mailbox sensors, burglar alarms, or handheld messengers; and now you have one more project to draw inspiration and knowledge from. [Renzo] has previously done a LoRa tutorial to get you started, and we’ve made one about LoRaWAN!

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Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].

Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
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The Virtue Of Wires In The Age Of Wireless

We ran an article this week about RS-485, a noise resistant differential serial multidrop bus architecture. (Tell me where else you’re going to read articles like that!) I’ve had my fun with RS-485 in the past, and reading this piece reminded me of those days.

You see, RS-485 lets you connect a whole slew of devices up to a single bundle of Cat5 cable, and if you combine it with the Modbus protocol, you can have them work together in a network. Dedicate a couple of those Cat5 lines to power, and it’s the perfect recipe for a home, or hackerspace, small-device network — the kind of things that you, and I, would do with WiFi and an ESP8266 today.

Wired is more reliable, has fewer moving parts, and can solve the “how do I get power to these things” problem. It’s intrinsically simpler: no radios, just serial data running as voltage over wires. But nobody likes running cable, and there’s just so much more demo code out there for an ESP solution. There’s an undeniable ease of development and cross-device compatibility with WiFi. Your devices can speak directly to a computer, or to the whole Internet. And that’s been the death of wired.

Still, some part of me admires the purpose-built simplicity and the bombproof nature of the wired bus. It feels somehow retro, but maybe I’ll break out some old Cat5 and run it around the office just for old times’ sake.