Home Depot Is Selling Power Tools That Require Activation In-Store

Shoplifting is a major problem for many brick-and-mortar retail stores, and it seems that stealing and then selling power tools is a lucrative enterprise for some criminals. To combat this, Home Depot is starting to sell power tools that will not work unless they are activated at the checkout counter.

According to a 2020 survey in the US, “organized retail crime” cost retailers $719,548 per $1 billion dollars in revenue. One thief was recently arrested after stealing more than $17,000 worth of power tools from Home Depot. While many stores put high value items in locked display cases, Home Depot felt that this tactic would negatively affect sales, so they partnered with suppliers to add an internal kill switch. Although persistent criminals might find a way to deactivate this feature, it sounds like Home Depot is hoping that will be just enough trouble to convince most criminals to look for easier targets somewhere else.

We would be really interested in getting our hands on one of these power tools to see what this kill switch looks like and how it works. Something like a Bluetooth activated relay is one option, or maybe even something that is integrated directly in the motor controller. If it were up to us, we would probably pick something that receives power wirelessly using a coil and requires a unique code. For their sake, we hope it’s not something that can be deactivated with just a large magnet.

Thanks for the tip [Garth Bock]!

Teardown: AppLights Personalized Projection

Listen, it hurts to hear, but somebody needs to say it. It’s over, OK? You’ve got to admit it and move on. Sure, you could get away with it for a week or two in January, but now it’s just getting weird. No matter how hard you fight it, the facts are the facts: the holidays are over. It’s time to pack up all those lights and decorations before the neighbors really start talking.

Fun Fact: It can’t actually do this

But don’t worry, because there’s an upside. Retailers are now gearing up for their next big selling season, which means right now clearance racks the world over are likely to be playing home to holiday lights and decor. That wouldn’t have been very interesting to the average hacker or maker a few years ago, after all, there’s only so much you can do with a string of twinkle lights. But today, holiday decorations are dripping with the sort of high-tech features you’d expect from gadgets that are actively aiming to be obsolete within the next ten months or so.

Case in point, the “AppLights Personalized Projection” which I found sulking around the clearance section of the Home Depot a couple weeks back. This device advertises the ability to project multi-color custom messages and animations on your wall, and is configured over Bluetooth with a companion application on your Android or iOS device. At a minimum we can assume the device must contain a fairly powerful RGB LED, an LCD to shine the light through, and some sort of Bluetooth-compatible microcontroller. For $20 USD, I thought it was worth taking a shot on.

Around this time last year, the regular Hackaday reader may recall I did a teardown for a Christmas laser projector. Inside we found red, green, and blue lasers of considerable power, as well as all the optics and support hardware to get them running. It was a veritable laser playground for $14. Let’s see if the AppLights projector turns out to be a similar electronic cornucopia, and whether or not we’ve got a new Hackaday Holiday tradition on our hands.

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Finding ESP8266 Inside Big-Box Store IoT Plugs

When we buy new shiny toys, we usually open them up to at least have a look. [Scott Gibson] does the same, apparently. He found an ESP8266 module inside the EcoPlug brand WiFi-controlled wall switches.

The original device was intended to be controlled by a (crappy) app. He sniffed the UDP packets enough to send the on-off signals to an unmodified device, but where’s the fun in that? [Scott] gave it an upgrade by replacing the ESP8266’s firmware with his own¬†and now he’s got a much more capable remote switch, one that speaks MQTT like the rest of his home automation system.

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