ESP32 Makes Not-So-Smart Lights Smart

Long taken for granted – lights are a basic necessity of modern life. From the time of the first light bulb, we’ve been able to navigate the dark without the use of fire. With the advent of the Internet of Things, it has become somewhat of a requirement to bring a little intelligence to lights before labeling yourself as a hardware hacker. There are many ways to do this; one of the most common being making use of an ESP32. [Luca Dentella] is somewhat of an ESP32 expert, and has written a fantastic tutorial on how to use the chip. The tutorial builds up to making a set of lights controllable from a smartphone web browser as well a light intensity sensor.

Now before you brush this off as simple n0Ob stuff – consider the following. He’s using a Lolin32 lite dev board, a BH1750 light intensity sensor and a relay to interface with mains for the lights. He wrote his own firmware and gets into the gritty details of developing the HTTP interface and flashing code to the correct memory.

We’ve seen a lot of ESP32 projects here at Hackaday, including this most interesting clock. Be sure to check out the video below to see the smart lights in action.

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Bark Back IoT Pet Monitor

Does your pet get distressed when you’re not home? Or, perhaps their good behaviour slips when you’re not around and they cause a ruckus for the neighbours. Well, [jenfoxbot] has just such a dog, so she built a ‘bark back’ IoT pet monitor to keep an eye on him while she’s out.

The brains and backbone of the pet monitor is the ever-popular Raspberry Pi 3. A Sparkfun MEMS microphone breakout board listens for any unruly behaviour, with an MCP3002 analog to digital converter chip reading the mic input. Some trial-and-error coding allowed her to set a noise threshold that — once exceeded — will trigger an audio file, shushing her dog. It also logs events and uploads any status updates to a CloudMQTT server to be monitored while away from home. Her Imgur build album can be found here, and the GitHub project page is here if you want to build your own!

Check out the demo video after the break, that was probably confusing for her good dog, Marley.

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An IoT Christmas Tree For Your Hacker-Mas Celebrations

Smart Christmas trees may soon come to mean something more than a fashionably decorated tree. Forging ahead with this new definition, [Ayan Pahwa], with help from [Akshay Kumar], [Anshul Katta], and [Abhishek Maurya] turned their office’s Christmas Tree into an IoT device you can watch live!

As an IoT device, the tree relies on the ever-popular ESP8266 NodeMCU — activated and controlled by Alexa, as well as from a web page. The LEDs for the tree — and the offline-only tree-topper controlled by an Arduino Pro Mini — are the similarly popular Neopixels.

For those viewing online, a Raspberry Pi and camera have been attached to this project to check out the tree’s lighting. To make that possible, [Pahwa] had to enlist the use of ngrok to make the Pi’s –normally — LAN-only camera server accessible over the internet. The aforementioned web page was coded in Javascript/CSS and hosted on a server running an instance of Ubuntu 16.04.

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Sonoff Factory Tour is a Lesson on Life in Shenzhen

Judging by the popularity of “How It’s Made” and other shows of the genre, watching stuff being made is a real crowd pleaser. [Jonathan Oxer] from SuperHouse is not immune to the charms of a factory tour, so he went all the way to China to visit the factory where Sonoff IoT devices are made, and his video reveals a lot about the state of electronics manufacturing.

Test jig for six units at once

For those interested only in how Sonoff devices are manufactured, skip ahead to about the 7:30 mark. But fair warning — you’ll miss a fascinating discussion of how Shenzhen rose from a sleepy fishing village of 25,000 people to the booming electronics mecca of 25 million that it is today. With growth supercharged by its designation as a Special Economic Zone in the 1980s, Shenzhen is now home to thousands of electronics concerns, including ITEAD, the manufacturers of the Sonoff brand. [Jonathan]’s tour of Shenzhen includes a trip through the famed electronics markets where literally everything needed to build anything can be found.

At the ITEAD factory, [Jonathan] walks the Sonoff assembly line showing off an amazingly low-tech process. Aside from the army of pick and places robots and the reflow and wave soldering lines, Sonoff devices are basically handmade by a small army of workers. We lost count of the people working on final assembly, testing, and packaging, but suffice it to say that it’ll be a while before robots displace human workers in electronic assembly, at least in China.

We found [Jonathan]’s video fascinating and well worth watching. If you’re interested in Sonoff’s ESP8266 offerings, check out our coverage of reverse engineering them. Or, if Shenzhen is more your thing, [Akiba]’s whirlwind tour from the 2016 Superconference will get you started.

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The Bedside Light App That Phones Home

Desiring a bedside lamp with a remote control, [Peadar]’s wife bought a Xiaomi Yeelight, an LED model with an accompanying Android app. And since he’s a security researcher by trade, he subjected the app to a close examination and found it to be demanding permissions phoning home to a far greater extent than you’d expect from a bedside light.

His write-up is worth a read for its fascinating run-through of the process for investigating any Android app, as it reveals the level to which the software crosses the line from simple light-controller into creepy data-slurper. The abilities to create accounts on your device, download without notification, take your WiFi details and location, and record audio are not what you’d expect to be necessary in this application. He also looks into the Xiaomi web services the app uses to phone home, revealing some interesting quirks along the way.

This story has received some interest across the Internet, quite rightly so since it represents a worrying over-reach of corporate electronic intrusion. It is interesting though to see commentary whose main concern is that the servers doing the data-slurping are in China, as though somehow in this context the location is the issue rather than the practice itself. We’ve written before about how some mildly sinister IoT technologies seem to bridge the suspicion gap while others don’t, it would be healthy to see all such services subjected to the same appraisal.

As a postscript, [Peadar] couldn’t get the app to find his wife’s Yeelight, let alone control it. That the spy part of the app works while the on-the-surface part doesn’t speaks volumes about the development priorities of its originator.

Image: Xiaomi Yeelight website.

Control a Quadcopter over Websockets

The interface

Everyone’s favourite IOT module, the ESP8266, is often the go-to choice for any project that needs quick and cheap control over the web. [Andi23456] wanted to control his quadcopter using the luxury of his mobile phone and thought permanently tethering an ESP12-E module to the quadcopter was exactly what he required.

The ESP8266, really showcasing its all-round prowess, hosts both a web server for a HTML5 based joystick and a Websockets server so that a client, such as a phone, could interact with it over a fast, low latency connection. Once the ESP8266 receives the input, it uses interrupts to generate the corresponding PPM (Pule Position Modulation) code which the RC receiver on the quadcopter can understand. Very cool!

What really makes this realtime(ish) control viable is Websockets, a protocol that basically allows you to flexibly exchange data over an “upgraded” HTTP connection without having to lug around headers each time you communicate. If you haven’t heard of Websockets you really should look really check out this library or even watch this video to see what you can achieve.

The Smartest Air Freshener In The Room

Many automatic air fresheners are wasteful in that they either ceaselessly spritz the room, and manual ones need to be — well — manually operated. This will not do in an era of smart products, so Instructables user [IgorF2] has put together an air freshener that does more than check if you’re around before freshening things up.

The air freshener uses a NodeMCU LoLin and an MG 995 servomotor, with a NeoPixel ring acting as a status light. Be aware — when the servo is triggered there is a significant spike in current, so be sure you aren’t powering the air freshener from a PC USB port or another device. After modeling the air freshener’s case in Fusion 360 — files available here — [IgorF2] wired the components together and mounted them inside the 3D printed case.

Hardware work completed, [IgorF2] has detailed how to set up the Arduino IDE and ESP8266 support for a first-time-user, as well as adding a few libraries to his sketch. A combination of an Adafruit.IO feed and ITTT — once again, showing the setup steps — handles how the air freshener operates: location detection, time specific spritzing, and after tapping a software button on your phone for those particularly lazy moments.

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