Putting some Smarts into an Electric Car Charger

Many electric cars feature a timer capability that allows the owner to set which hours they want the vehicle to start pulling a charge. This lets the thrifty EV owner take advantage of the fact that the cost of electricity generally goes down late at night when the demand is lower. The Renault Zoe that [Ryan Walmsley] owns has this feature, but not only does it cost him extra to have it enabled, it’s kind of a hassle to use. So being an enterprising hacker, he decided to implement his own timer in the charger itself.

Now controlling high voltages with a lowly microcontroller might sound dangerous, but it’s actually not nearly as tricky as you might think. The charger and the vehicle actually communicate with low-voltage signals to determine things like the charge rate, so it turns out you don’t need to cut into the AC side of things at all. You just need to intercept the control signals between the two devices and modify them accordingly.

Or do you? As [Ryan] eventually realized, he didn’t need to bother learning how the control signals actually worked since he wasn’t trying to do anything tricky like set the charge rate. He just wanted to be able to stop and start the charging according to what time it was. So all he had to do was put the control signal from his car through a relay controlled by a Particle Photon, allowing him to selectively block communication.

The charger also had an optional key lock, which essentially turns the controller off when the contacts are shorted. [Ryan] put a relay on that as well so he could be absolutely sure the charger cuts the juice at the appropriate time. Then it was just a matter of getting the schedule configured with IFTTT. He mentions the system could even be tweaked to automatically control the charger based on the instantaneous cost of electricity provided by the utility company, rather than assuming overnight is always the most economical.

We’ve seen a fair amount of electric car hacking, but with only a few exceptions, the projects always steer clear of modifying the actual chargers themselves. In general hackers feel a lot safer playing around in the world of DC, but as [Ryan] has shown, safely hacking your EV charger is possible if you do your homework.

Yell At Your Desk To Get Up In The Morning

Standing desks are great conversation starters in the office – whether you like it or not. How do you know someone’s got a standing desk? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. Standing desks have their benefits, but for maximum flexibility, many people choose a desk that can raise and lower depending on their needs. [Wassim] had just such a desk, but found pushing the buttons too 20th century for his tastes. Naturally, Google Assistant integration was the key here.

[Wassim] started out intending to capture and then spoof the desk controller’s signals to the motors, before realising it was likely easier to simply spoof button presses instead. This was achieved through a handful of NPN transistors and an Onion Omega2+ microcontroller board. Then it was a simple case of coding the controller to press the various buttons in response to HTTP requests received over WiFi. Google Assistant integration was then handled with IFTTT, though [Wassim] also discusses the possibility of implementing the full Smart Home API.

It’s entertaining to watch [Wassim] issue commands and have the desk slowly rise in response. Of course, there are other approaches, like this sneaky use of PVC to hack the office furniture.

View story at Medium.com

Google Assistant, Now Available On Ham Radio

Depending on who you talk to, Google Assistant is either a tool capable of quickly and clearly answering audio queries in natural langauge, or a noisier and less useful version of Wolfram Alpha. [William Franzin] decided it would be particularly cool to make the service available over ham radio – and that’s exactly what he did.

[William] got the idea for this project after first playing with the Internet Radio Linking Project, a system which uses VoIP technologies to link radio networks over the internet. Already having an IRLP node, it seemed only natural to make it into a gateway to the wider internet through integration with Google Assistant. Early work involved activating the assistant via DTMF tones, but [William] didn’t stop there – through the use of Picovoice, it became possible to use the system with the custom wakeword “Bumblebee”.

[William]’s project could prove particularly useful for when he’s out of cell coverage, but needs a little information like a weather report or a piece of trivia to settle an argument round the campfire. Additionally, it’s even possible to control the IRLP node through voice commands, too.

If you’re just getting started with ham radio, check out this build to get you started for under $100. Video after the break.

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ESP8266 Powered Tank With Voice Control

The high availability of (relatively) low cost modular components has made building hardware easier than ever. Depending on what you want to do, the hardware side of a project might be the hacker equivalent of building with LEGO. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if it literally involved building with LEGO. In any event, easy and quick hardware builds leave more time for developing creative software to run the show. The end result is that we’re starting to see very complex systems broken down into easy-to-replicate DIY builds that would have been nearly impossible just a few years ago.

[igorfonseca83] writes in to share with us his modular tank platform that uses the ESP8266 and a handful of software hacks to allow for voice control from the user’s mobile device. Presented as a step-by-step guide on Hackaday.io, this project is perfect for getting started in Internet-controlled robotics. Whether you just want to experiment with Google Assistant integration or use this as a blank slate to bootstrap a remotely controlled rover, this project has a lot to offer.

The chassis itself is a commercially available kit, and [igorfonseca83] uses a L298N dual channel H-bridge module to control its two geared motors. A Wemos D1 serves as the brains of the operation, and three 18650 3.7V batteries provide the juice to keep everything running. There’s plenty of expansion capability to add sensors and other gear, but for this project getting it rolling was the only concern.

Software wise, there are a number of pieces that work together to provide the Google Assistant control demonstrated in the video after the break. It starts by interfacing the ESP8266 board Adafruit.IO, which connects to IFTTT, and then finally Google Assistant. By setting up a few two variable phrases in IFTTT that get triggered by voice commands in Google Assistant, you can push commands back down to the ESP8266 through Adafruit.IO. It’s a somewhat convoluted setup, admittedly, but the fact that involves very little programming makes it an interesting solution for anyone who doesn’t want to get bogged down with all the minutiae of developing your own Internet control stack.

[igorfonseca83] is no stranger to building remotely controlled rovers. Last year we covered another of his creations which was commanded through a web browser and carried an Android phone to stream video of its adventures.

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ESP8266 Zelda Heart Responds To Tweets

It might not be enough to make you the Hero of Time, but this piece of Hylian interactive art would still be a worthy addition to your game room. [Jeremy Cook] writes in to tell us about how he put together this 8-bit style heart display, and goes into enough detail on the hardware and software sides of things that you shouldn’t have any problem adapting his design for your own purposes.

The build is pretty simple overall but it does assume you have a CNC to cut the basic shape out of MDF. You could cut the shape by hand if you had to, but if you don’t have a CNC the next best thing might be to 3D print the case. You’d potentially have to print it in two parts right down the center though, depending on how big your bed is. Whichever way you create the case, you’ll then need to cut the shape out of a piece of acrylic to make the face.

In any event, once the pieces are cut out [Jeremy] adds in a Wemos D1 Mini, a power supply, and some red LED strips. He provides a wiring diagram, but it’s fairly straightforward stuff. With a couple of 2N2222 transistors he controls the LED strips right from the digital pins of the ESP8266.

The software side is setup to be controlled via IFTTT by way of Adafruit.io. When IFTTT sees one of the keywords on Twitter, it passes a message to Adafruit.io which ultimately talks to the ESP8266 and gets the heart going. The software supports three states (on, off, and half) and gives a good example of a basic IoT implementation on the ESP8266 if you’re looking for some inspiration.

This hack seems like it would fit in perfectly with the Zelda home automation project we covered last year.

Build a Wi-Fi Smart Scale

There are plenty of ways to monitor changes in your weight. You can get a vague idea from the fit of your pants or the notch on your belt. But anyone who’s serious about getting or staying in shape must step on the scale to get the cold, hard truth in pounds or kilograms.

Instead of just buying one, [igorfonseca83] decided to burn a few calories and build his own smart scale that uses IFTTT to send weight data to his fitness tracker. It’s made from four 50kg load cells that are sandwiched between two pieces of plywood. An HX711 sensor module reads the load cells, and a FireBeetle ESP8266 uploads the data to Adafruit IO. His weight is simultaneously displayed on a FireBeetle LED matrix.

We applaud [igorfonseca83]’s efforts to make this an easy, educational project that anyone can replicate. The instructions are great, the pictures are clear, and there’s even a CAD animation of all the pieces coming together. Jog past the break to see the build video, and weigh in down below.

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ESP8266 Keeps Tabs on the Kid’s Tablets

Assuming you have a child and it’s no longer womb-bound, there’s a fairly high chance they’ve already had some experience with the glowing beauty that is the LCD display; babies of only a few months old are often given a tablet or smartphone to keep them occupied. But as the child gets to the age where they are capable of going outside or doing something more constructive, staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed at their tablet becomes a concern for many parents.

[Richard Garsthagen] is one such parent. He wanted a way to monitor and control how much time his children were using their iPad, so he came up with an automated system based on the ESP8266. Not only does it keep track of how long the tablet is being used, it even includes a reward system which allows the parent to add extra usage time for good behavior.

At the most basic level, the device is a sort of “holster” for the child’s tablet. When the tablet is placed in the slot, it presses a microswitch at the bottom of the cavity which stops the timer. When the switch is open, the LED display on the front of the device counts down, and the ESP8266 pushes notifications about remaining time to the child’s device via IFTTT.

Time can be added to the clock by way of RFID cards. The cards are given out as a reward for good behavior, completion of chores, etc. The child only needs to pass the card in front of the system to redeem its value. Once the card has been “spent”, the parent can reset it with their own special card.

It’s a very slick setup, making perfect use of the ESP8266. Reading the RFID cards, updating the timer, and using IFTTT’s API keeps the little board quite busy; [Richard] says it’s completely maxed out.

You might be wondering what happens when the clock reaches zero. Well, according to the video after the break…nothing. Once the time runs out, a notification simply pops up on the tablet telling them to put it away. Some might see this as a fault, but presumably it’s the part of the system where humans take over the parenting and give the ESP8266 a rest.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a microcontroller used to get the little hackers on schedule. At least (so far) none of them have gone full Black Mirror and started tracking when the kiddos are watching it.

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