Automatic Soap Dispenser Hides Arduino Board

If you’ve been hanging out here at Hackaday for awhile, you’ve certainly seen projects that were based around the concept of putting a miniature computer inside the carcass of some other piece of electronics. In fact at this point it’s something of a running joke, certainly we must have seen an Arduino or Raspberry Pi shoehorned into every type of consumer gadget ever built by this point. But if you thought this would be another example of that common trope by the headline, you might be in for something of a surprise.

[zapta] didn’t put an Arduino inside this GOJO LTX-7 soap dispenser, it was already in there to begin with. That’s right, apparently we’ve hit the point that even cheap soap dispensers are now running on programmable microcontrollers. While we can’t blame those of you who are no doubt groaning and/or rolling their eyes thanks to this particular case of computational gluttony, it does mean we’re able to report with a straight face something which frankly would have passed as an April Fool’s joke in previous years: the development of an open source soap dispensing firmware.

So how does one upload a new Arduino sketch to their GOJO soap dispenser? It’s not like the thing has a USB port on the side for convenient hacking. As explained by [zapta], it involves stripping the dispenser all the way down until the electronics board is free, and then adding in a programming header to make subsequent firmware fiddling a bit easier. Writing a new firmware to the ATTiny48 powered board will require an external ISP (the Atmel AVRISP MKII was used for this hack, though any should work), but it’s otherwise pretty painless.

[zapta] has done an excellent job documenting the different components on the board, and reverse engineered enough of the critical aspects (such as the motor controller and proximity sensor) to write a new open source firmware which can be flashed to the GOJO LTX-7. Beyond allowing you to “Open Source All the Things”, using this new firmware does have some practical advantage in that you can configure how much soap is dispensed per activation. Going further, we’d be exceptionally interested in hearing about anyone who manages to come up with a firmware that enables some hitherto impossible soap dispensing trickery.

We’ve seen hacks involving dispensers of all types, from Halloween games that spit out candy to gadgets which let dogs get their own treats, but a soap dispenser hack is something truly new for us. More proof that there’s still plenty of hardware out there just waiting to be hacked!

One Man’s Journey To Becoming His Own ISP

America is a BIG country. There are pockets all across the land where broadband Internet is slow-to-nonexistent, and many individuals are left with wireless cell service as their only means of internet connection. This is the situation [Brandt Kuykendall] found himself in upon moving his family to Dillon Beach, CA. So he started up his own fiber ISP. (YouTube, embedded below.)

“Cell phone service was really our only option, but that proved to be extremely expensive. My wife came home with the bill (of) $707, and that was the last straw.”

Despite being a mere two hours from the technological hub of San Francisco [Brandt] found himself dissatisfied with the level of service he was receiving from his provider. However, instead of shredding his current contract altogether he decided to go directly to the source. He tracked down the location of the AT&T cell tower in his area and made every call he could in order to find out who was in charge of “opening up the taps”. Months of negotiation between AT&T and [Brandt] ensued and eventually resulted in a fiber line being installed directly into his garage.

The story didn’t stop there, because [Brandt] took it upon himself to spread the wealth by providing his neighbors with Wi-Fi access to the fiber optic line in exchange for a small monthly fee. Employing the use of industrial-grade small cell transmitters he essentially created a point-to-point network along his neighbors’ roofs. [Brandt’s] garage serves as the network monitoring hub enabling him to diagnose any traffic issues. What began as one man seeking decent internet speeds burgeoned into a journey to becoming his own ISP which now serves over 100 other residents of the Dillon Beach area.

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Classroom Gadget Turned Arduino Compatible

Cheap second-hand hardware is usually a fertile ground for hacking, and by looks of this project, the digital classroom aids that were all the rage a few years back are no exception. [is0-mick] writes in to tell us how he managed to hack one of these devices, a SMART Reponse XE, into an Arduboy compatible game system. As it turns out, this particular gadget is powered by an ATmega128RFA, which is essentially an Arduino-compatible AVR microcontroller with a 2.4GHz RF transceiver tacked on. This makes it an extremely interesting platform for hacking, especially since they are going for as little as $3 USD on eBay.

There’s no USB-Serial converter built into the SMART Response XE, so you’ll need to provide your own external programmer to flash the device. But luckily there’s a labeled ISP connector right on the board which makes it pretty straightforward to get everything wired up.

Of course, getting the hardware working was slightly more complicated than just flashing an Arduino Sketch onto the thing. [is0-mick] has provided his bootloader and modified libraries to get the device’s QWERTY keyboard and ST7586S controlled 384×160 LCD working.

Playing games is fun, but when his friend [en4rab] sent him the SMART Response XE to fiddle with, the goal was actually to turn them into cheap 2.4 GHz analyzers similar to what was done with the IM-ME. It seems they’re well on their way, and [is0-mick] invites anyone who might be interested in filling in some of the blanks on the RF side to get involved.

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MicroPython learns a new trick – ISP for AVRs

One of the reasons why the Arduino became so popular was the ability to program it with ease. It meant the end of big parallel programmers that would cost an arm and a leg. The latest installment of CircuitPython from [Lady Ada] and the team over at Adafruit is a library for programming AVR microcontrollers without a dedicated PC.

For the uninitiated, in-system programming or ISP for AVR controllers employ the SPI bus to write the compiled binary to the flash memory of the controller. The discount on the number of pins used itself is a benefit though getting the timings right was a bit tricky in the good old days. Most dedicated ISPs handle this nicely, though they are normally slaves to a host PC where an ‘upload’ button initiates the process.

With CircuitPython (a derivative of MicroPython), programming microcontrollers does not require going through the code-compile-flash cycle. It can be run on a number of processors, however, AVRs are not among them so this neat little library offers the next best thing. Wire-up an Atmega328P or ATmega2560 to a board like the ESP8266 that does run CircuitPython, and you can write firmware on the fly.

There is a complete tutorial on the subject thanks to [Phillip Torrone] and [Lady Ada] which includes some demo files for testing out the functionality. This opens up a lot of possibilities where OTA firmware updates for an AVR co-processor. We expect to see some keychain AVR programmers in the near future taking a hint from the ESP8266 based Two-Factor Authentication featured previously.

Becoming Your Own ISP, Just for Fun

When moving into a new house, it’s important to arrange for the connection of basic utilities. Electricity, water, and gas are simple enough, and then it’s generally fairly easy to set up a connection to an ISP for your internet connection. A router plugs into a phone line, or maybe a fiber connection and lovely packets start flowing out of the wall. But if you’re connected to the internet through an ISP, how is the ISP connected? [Kenneth] answers this in the form of an amusing tale.

It was during the purchase of data centre rack space that [Kenneth]’s challenge was laid down by a friend. Rather then simply rely on the connection provided by the data centre, they would instead rely on forging their own connection to the ‘net, essentially becoming their own Internet Service Provider.

This is known as creating an Autonomous System. To do this involves several challenges, the first of which is understanding just how things work at this level of networking. [Kenneth] explains the vagaries of the Border Gateway Protocol, and why its neccessary to secure your own address space. There’s also an amusing discussion on the routing hardware required for such a feat and why [Kenneth]’s setup may fall over within the next two years or so.

It’s not for the faint hearted, and takes a fair bit of paperwork, but [Kenneth] has provided an excellent guide to the process if you really, really just need to own your own corner of the internet. That said, there are other networking tricks to cut your teeth on if you’d like a simpler challenge, like tunneling IP over ICMP.


Interfacing a Retro Controller using the USBASP

An ISP dongle is a very common piece of equipment on a maker’s bench. However, its potential as a hackable device is generally overlooked. The USBASP has an ATmeg8L at its heart and [Robson] decided that this humble USB device could be used as an interface between his PC and a SNES Joypad.

A SNES controller required three pins to communicate with a host: clock, data and latch. In his hack, [Robson]  connects the controller to the ISP interface using a small DIY adaptor and programs the AVR using the V-USB library. V-USB is a software USB library for small microcontrollers and comes in pretty handy in this instance.

[Robson] does a pretty good job of documenting the entire process of creating the interface which includes the USB HID code as well as the SNES joypad serial protocol. His hack works on both Windows and Linux alike and the code is available on GitHub for download.

Simple implementation like this project are a great starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes in the DIY USB device pool. Veterans may find a complete DIY joystick more up their alley and will be inspired by some plastic techniques as well.

Solving ISP problem with a Homebrew LTE Yagi

We’ve heard reports that internet connectivity in Australia can be an iffy proposition, and [deandob] seems to back that up. At the limit of a decent DSL connection and on the fringe of LTE, [deandob] decided to optimize the wireless connection with this homebrew Yagi antenna.

Officially known as the Yagi-Uda after its two Japanese inventors from the 1920s, but generally shortened to the name of its less involved but quicker to patent inventor, the Yagi is an antenna that provides high gain in one direction. That a homebrew antenna was even necessary at all is due to [deandob]’s ISP using the 2300MHz band rather than the more popular 2400MHz – plenty of cheap 2.4GHz antennas out there, but not so much with 2.3GHz. With multiple parallel and precisely sized and spaced parasitic elements, a Yagi can be a complicated design, but luckily for [deandob] the ham radio community has a good selection of Yagi design tools available. His final design uses an aluminum rod for a boom, 2mm steel wire for reflectors and directors, and a length of coax as the driven element. The result? Better connectivity that pushes his ISP throttling limit, and no more need to mount the modem high enough in his house to use the internal antenna.

People on the fringes of internet coverage go to great lengths to get connections, like this off-grid network bridge. Or if you’d rather use a homebrew Yagi to listen to meteors, that’s possible too.