A Tinfoil-Free Internet Of Ceiling Fans

Putting everything on the Internet is getting easier and easier, what with the profusion of Internet-ready appliances as well as cheap and plentiful IoT modules to integrate legacy devices. Think IoT light bulbs, refrigerators and dishwashers that can be controlled from a smartphone, and the ubiquitous Sonoff modules. But once these things are on the net, what are they talking about? Are they saying things behind your back? Are they shipping data about your fridge contents off to some foreign land, to be monetized against your will?

Maybe, maybe not, but short of a tinfoil helmet the only way to protect yourself is to build your own system. This IoT control for ceiling fans is a good example, with the added benefit that most wireless ceiling fan remotes are kind of lousy. [microentropie] didn’t like the idea of going the Sonoff route, so his custom controller is based on that IoT workhorse, the ESP8266. There are two versions, one switching the light and fan loads with relays, and one with triacs. The ESP serves up its own web page for control rather than using a cloud service, and is capable of setting up the fan to turn on and off automatically at preset times or temperatures. Everything sits in an unobtrusive box on the ceiling near the fan, but we bet this could be miniaturized enough to fit right inside the fan housing.

If some of [microentropie]’s code looks familiar, it might be because he borrowed it from his IoT rice cooker project.

Arduino BabyTV is Big Fun at Low Resolution

What kind of TV do you have? An older 720p model, or the now standard 1080p? Perhaps you’ve made the leap to the next generation, and are rocking a 4K display in the living room. All those are are fine and dandy if you just want to watch the local sportball contest, but where’s the challenge in that? With all the technology and modular components we have access to anymore, nowadays all the real hackers are making their own TVs.

Of course, when [Nikolai] built his very own LED TV, he did have to make a few concessions. For one thing, there’s no tuner on this model. Oh, and there’s the small issue of only having a 16×16 resolution. It might not be your idea of the perfect display, but it’s just perfect for his newborn son.

That’s right, [Nikolai] got his entry for the “Hacker Parent of the Year” award in early, and built an LED display for his son that he’s calling “BabyTV”.

Rather than the shows, trash, advertisements that they play on the kid channels, this TV only shows animated characters from retro games. We’ll concede that this project might be an elaborate Clockwork Orange style attempt at hypnotizing his son to instill an appreciation for classic gaming. But we’ll allow it.

To make his BabyTV go, [Nikolai] used a 16×16 WS2812B LED panel and an Arduino Nano. Two rotary encoders are used to allow adjusting brightness and change the character currently being shown on the screen. As a particularly clever hack, the Arduino has an IR sensor attached and is constantly watching for any signals. If an IR signal is detected, the BabyTV switches to the next image. So if Junior has a standard IR remote in his hands, any button he presses will cause the display to change to the next “channel”.

Historically speaking we haven’t seen much stuff for children here at Hackaday, but 2018 seems to be changing that. Recent projects like the incredible scratch built mini excavator and gorgeous AT-ST high chair would seem to indicate we’re currently witnessing a generation of hackers become parents. Don’t panic folks, but we might be getting old.

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ESP-01 Bridges the Gap Between IR and WiFi

[Emilio Ficara] dropped us a line recently about his efforts to drag his television and receiver kicking and screaming into the modern era. His TV is old enough that it needs an external tuner, which means it requires two separate remotes to properly channel surf. He wanted to simplify the situation, and figured that while he was at it he might as well make the whole thing controllable over WiFi.

To begin the project, [Emilio] had to capture the IR signals from the two remotes he wanted to emulate. He put together a quick little IR receiver out of parts he had in the junk bin which would connect up to his computer’s microphone port. He then used an open source IR protocol analyzer to capture the codes and decode them into hex values.

As a proof of concept he came up with a little device that combines an ESP-01 with an ATmega88. The ESP-01 runs a minimal web server that receives hex codes as URL query strings. These hex codes are then interpreted by the ATmega88 and sent out over the IR LED. [Emilio] notes that driving the IR LED directly off of the ATmega pin results in fairly low range of around one meter, but that’s good enough for his purposes. If you want to drive the IR LED with more power, you’ll need to add a transistor to do the switching.

Passing the hex code 0x0408 to turn off the TV

Now that he can decode the signals from his original remotes and transmit them over WiFi via his bridge device, he has all the groundwork he needs to come up with a streamlined home entertainment controller. A native application for his smartphone or perhaps a minimal web interface is the last piece of the puzzle.

This project reminds us of a similar attempt at controlling legacy IR devices from a smartphone via Bluetooth. If you’re looking for more information about wrangling IR signals from your microcontroller, this primer from 2013 is still a great look at the subject.

Alexa, Hack My TV

If you have an Alexa, one of the best things you can buy to go with it is a Harmony Hub remote. Sure, you get a universal remote to control all your home theater equipment, but you’ll hardly use it because the Alexa can virtually push the Harmony buttons for you. The negative word in this paragraph, though, is “buy.” The Harmony Hub isn’t inexpensive. Fortunately [Michael Higginis] has you covered. He has an ESP8266 universal remote that you can control with Alexa. You can see a video of setting the system up below.

On the one hand, the idea is fairly simple. An ESP8266 has plenty of horsepower to read and recreate IR codes. However, we were very impressed with the web portal used to configure the device and integrating it with Alexa is a neat trick.

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HackBusting: Can you Fake a TV Remote with a Lighter and some Paper?

We recently published an article where someone apparently controlled their TV by simulating a remote with merely a lighter and a sheet of paper. The paper had a barcode like cutout for a supposed “Universal Standby Signal”. The video rightfully attracted a substantial crowd, some awestruck by its simplicity, others sceptical about its claims.

Coming from some generic “Viral Life Hack” production house, the characteristic blare of background music, more suited to an underground rave than a technical video, certainly did not do it any favours. As any moderately experienced campaigner would know, modern televisions and remotes have been carefully engineered  to prevent such mishaps. Many of us at Hackaday, were under the impression that it would take something slightly more sophisticated than a fluorescent-bodied lighter and a crisp sheet of A4 to deceive the system. So we tested it out. Our verdict? Unlikely, but not impossible. (And we’re pretty sure that the video is a fake either way.) But enough speculation, we’re here to do science.

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Faking TV Remote Control with Paper and a Lighter

Cut slots into a piece of paper to represent the IR remote control bitstream for putting your TV into standby. Insert it between your TV’s IR receiver and the flame from a lighter, and pull the slots along to generate the coded pattern. Get it just right and you have a paper and lighter remote control. That’s just what [ViralVideoLab] did and you can see it in action in the video below.

Think of this as just the germ of an idea. Imagine how you’d automate this and extend it to include more commands. A wheel with the various bitstreams cut into the circumference comes to mind. A servo would turn the wheel to the desired command and something else would fire up the lighter just as the slots pass by. Now take it a little further. You already have a remote control with keypad and IR light. Hack that to talk to a microcontroller which would control the servo and the IR light. And there you go. A useless but fun hack (hint hint).

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Hacklet 118 – Infrared and Universal Remote Controls

The first remote control for a TV was the Zenith Space Command back in the 1950’s. Space Command used sounds at ultrasonic frequencies to control the set. It wasn’t until the 1980’s and the Viewstar cable box that infrared entered the picture. Remote controls spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long before every piece of consumer electronics had one. Coffee tables were littered with the devices. It didn’t take long for universal remotes to hit the scene. [Woz] himself worked on the CL9 Core device, back in 1987. Even in today’s world of smart TV’s and the internet of things, universal remotes are still a big item. Hackers, makers, and engineers are always trying to build a device that works better for them. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best universal and IR remote projects on Hackaday.io!

smoteWe start with [Harikrishna] and zmote. Zmote is an open source WiFi enabled, infrared,  360° remote control. That’s a mouthful. It might be easier to say it’s an ESP8266 and some IR LEDs. An ESP-01 module connects the device to WiFi and provides the 32-bit processor which runs the show. Learning functionality comes courtesy of a TSOP1738 modulated infrared receiver. The beauty of the Zmote is in the software. REST and MQTT connectivity are available. Everything is MIT licensed, and all the code is available on Github.

 

easton

Next up is [Benjamin Kenobi] with TV Remote Control, Limited. Not everyone can operate the tiny buttons on a modern remote. [Benjamin] built this device for Easton, a special kid with a disability that impairs his motor skills. The 3D printed case holds two buttons – one for power, and one to change the channel. An Arduino Nano running [Ken Shirriff’s] IR library is the brains of the operation. The IR signal timing is hard coded for simplicity. One problem [Ben] ran into was the Nano’s high current draw, even in sleep mode. Batteries wouldn’t last a week. A simple diode circuit with a reed relay keeps the Nano shut down until Easton presses a button.

 

openirNext we have [Nevyn] with OpenIR – Infrared Remote Control. A dead DSLR remote shutter release was all the motivation [Nevyn] needed to start work on his own universal remote control. OpenIR can be connected to (and controlled by) just about anything with a UART – a PC via an FTDI cable, a Bluetooth module, even an ESP8266. The module can be programmed by entering pulse length data through a custom Windows application. The Windows app even allows the user to view the pulses graphically, like a scope. The data is stored on an EEPROM on OpenIR’s PCB. Once programmed, the OpenIR board is ready to control the world.

onebuttonFinally, we have [facelessloser] with One button TV remote. This project may be the simplest open source remote control this side of TV-B-GONE. He wanted to build a simple remote control for his young daughter to scan between the various kids channels. A simple toggle switch turns the device on, and one button performs the rest of the magic. [Facelessloser] wanted to “move up” from an Arduino to an ATtiny85. This project became part of his ATtiny education. A custom PCB from OSH Park ties things together. A simple black project box keeps the electronics safe from tiny fingers – at least until she’s old enough to use a screwdriver.

If you want to see more IR and universal remote projects, check out our new infrared and universal remote projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!