Air Conditioner Remote Reverse Engineered Despite Esoteric Protocol

Infra-red remote control is something of a Done Deal when it comes to hardware hacking, it has been comprehensively reverse engineered, and there exist libraries and software packages to seamlessly take care of all its quirks. Just occasionally though, along comes an IR remote whose protocol doesn’t follow that well-worn path

[William Dudley] found himself in this position with an air-conditioning unit remote control. He found it sent a stream of data with all settings of the machine rather than the single command codes you might expect from a familiar TV remote. The solution was to reverse engineer and reimplement the IR codes.

His reverse engineering relied on an Arduino and IR receiver which he used to sniff the packets coming out of the remote. Eventually he was able to recognise some of the functions from the remote, and create his own protocol that can recreate most of the remote’s functions. This was pushed over to a Raspberry Pi Zero which uses an IR LED to command the air conditioner, joining the ranks of his growing home automation setup.

The write-up makes for a fascinating primer on analysis of obscure IR protocols, and is well worth a read for anybody with an interest in the topic. Meanwhile if you want more IR reverse engineering stories, try this tale of a bathroom scale.

Internet of Tea: Coaster Watches for Optimum Drinking Temperature

Ah, the age-old question: at what temperature does one’s tea need to be for maximum enjoyment? It’s subjective, of course, but subjective in a way that makes everyone else’s opinion demonstrably wrong. What’s worse, the window of opportunity for optimum tea temperature is extremely narrow. What’s a tea drinker to do?

Throw a little technology at the problem, of course, in the form of this Internet of Tea smart coaster. Through careful experimentation, [Benjojo] determined the temperature of his favorite mug when the tea within was just right for drinking and designed a coaster to alert him to that fact. The coaster is 3D-printed and contains an MLX90616 IR temperature sensor looking up at the bottom of the mug. An ESP8266 lives inside the coaster too and watches for the Optimum Tea Window to open, sending an alert via Discord when the time is right. Yes, he admits that a simple blinking LED on the coaster would keep his tea habit metadata from being slurped up by the international tea intelligence community, but he claims he has nothing to hide. Good luck with that.

What’s next for [Dane]’s tea preparation? Perhaps he can close the loop and automate the whole pre-consumption process.

Improving Indoor Navigation of Robots With IR

If the booths at CES are to be believed, the future is full of home robots: everything from humanoid robots on wheels to Alexas duct taped to a Roomba. Back in reality, home robots really aren’t a thing yet. There’s an obvious reason for this: getting around a house is hard. A robot might actually need legs to get up and down stairs, and GPS simply doesn’t exist indoors, at least to the accuracy needed. How on Earth does a robot even navigate indoors?

This project for the Hackaday Prize solves the problem of indoor navigation, and it does it in an amazingly clever way. This is using QR codes for navigation, but not just any QR codes. They’re QR codes read by an infrared camera, and painted on the walls and ceilings with a special IR sensitive paint that’s invisible to the human eye. It’s navigation for robotic vision, and it’s a fantastic idea.

The basic idea behind this project is to use an IR camera — or basically any webcam with the IR blocking filter removed — and a massive amount of IR LEDs to illuminate any target. So far, the proof of concept works. A computer can easily read QR codes, and if paint is invisible to the human eye but visible to an IR camera, the entire project is merely a matter of implementation.

There have been a number of projects that try to add indoor navigation to robots. Some of them use LIDAR, some use computer vision and SLAM. These are computationally expensive. Some even use wireless beacons to navigate indoors like the SubPos Ranger from the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Using IR and QR codes is just so simple and hacker-friendly, and we think it’s fantastic.

Remote Control of Clocks is Easy as Pi

[Fatjedi007] recently acquired three programmable boxing gym-type clocks to help his developmentally disabled clients manage their time. The plan was to have timers of varying lengths fire at preset times throughout the day, with the large displays providing a view from anywhere. Unfortunately, the clocks were not nearly as programmable as he needed them to be.

Since he’d spent enough money already, [Fatjedi007] turned to the power of Raspberry Pi to devise an affordable solution. Each clock gets a Pi Zero W and a simple IR transmit/receive circuit that operates using LIRC. The clocks came with remote controls, so it was just a matter of re-programming them. From LIRC, he wrote some scripts with SEND_ONCE and schedules the timers with a cron job. No need to get out the ladder—he can program all of them from his chair over VNC.

He does have one problem, though, and that’s getting the Zeros to set themselves over NTP with static IPs. Do you have any suggestions? Put ’em in the comments and help a Jedi out.

LIRC is pretty handy for anything you want to control remotely, like a stereo system.

Thermal Camera Diagnoses Thermal Issue on a Sonoff Switch

No matter what your experience level with troubleshooting, there’s always at least a little apprehension when you have to start poking through a mains powered device. A little fear is a good thing; it keeps you focused. For some, though, the aversion to playing with high voltage is too much, which can cause problems when something fails. So what do you do when you’re reluctant to even open the case? Easy — diagnose the problem with an infrared camera.

[Bald Engineer]’s electrophobia started early, with some ill-advised experiments in transcutaneous conduction. So when his new Sonoff WiFi switch failed soon after deploying it to control a lamp in his studio, popping the top while it was powered up was out of the question. The piquant aroma of hot plastic was his first clue to the problem, so he whipped out his Flir One Thermal Camera and watched the device as it powered up. The GIF nearby shows that there was clearly a problem, with a bloom of heat quickly spreading out from the center of the unit. A few IR images of the top and bottom gave him some clues as to the culprits, but probing the board in those areas once power was removed revealed no obviously damaged components.

[Bald Engineer] hasn’t yet gotten to the bottom of this, but his current thinking is that the NCP1117 regulator might be bad, since it rapidly spikes to 115°C. Still, we think this is a nifty diagnostic technique to add to our toolkit, and a great excuse to buy an IR camera. Or, we could go with an open-source thermal camera instead.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

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.

How To Control the Lights with a TV Remote

In this day and age of the Internet of Things and controlling appliances over the internet, the idea of using an old-fashioned television remote to do anything feels distinctly 2005. That doesn’t mean it’s not a valid way to control the lights at home, and [Atakan] is here to show us how it’s done.

To the experienced electronics maker, this is yesterday’s jam, but [Atakan] goes to great lengths to hash out the whole process from start to finish, from building the circuitry to switch the lights through to the code necessary to make a PIC do your bidding. It’s rare to see such a project done with a non-Arduino platform, but rest assured, such things do exist. There’s even some SPICE simulation thrown in for good measure, if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Perhaps the only thing missing from the writeup is a primer on how to execute the project safely, given that it’s used with a direct connection to live mains wiring. We’d love to hear in the comments about any changes or modifications that would be necessary to ensure this project doesn’t hurt anyone or burn an apartment complex down. Sometimes you can switch lights without a direct connection to the mains, however – like this project that interfaces mechanically with a standard light switch.