QMESH: LoRa Mesh Networked Voice Communications

LoRa is great for sending short data packets over long ranges but is not normally suitable for voice communications. [Dan Fay] is looking to change this with QMesh, a synchronized, flooded mesh network protocol for ham radio applications.

In a flooded mesh network every node repeats every message it receives. This has the theoretical advantage of making the network self-healing if a single node stops working, but often just means that the nodes will interfere with each other. Thanks to some characteristics of LoRa, [Dan] is using several tricks to get around this packet collision problem. LoRa network can make use of the “capture effect”, which allows a receiver to differentiate between two packets if the power level difference is large enough. This is further improved by adding forward error correction and slightly changing the frequency and timing of the LoRa chirps. QMesh also implements TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) by splitting transmission into time slots, and only transmitting every third slot. This means it is operating on a 33% duty cycle, which is much higher than the 0.1%-10% allowed on license-free ISM-bands, which legally limits it to the ham bands.

On the hardware side, [Dan] has been using the STM32 NUCLEO-144 development boards with F4/L4/F7/H7 microcontrollers and a custom shield with a 1 W LoRa module and OLED screen. While [Dan] wants to eventually build handheld radios, he plans to first develop small FM repeaters that encode voice as codec2 and use QMesh as a backhaul. QMesh is still under development, but we would love to see the results of some long-range testing, and we are excited to see how it matures.

If your interested in a more basic LoRa-based human-to-human messaging system, take a look at Meshtastic. It’s been going very rapidly over the past year. To learn more about LoRa and other digital modulation schemes, check out the crash course we did with an SDR a while back.

PSA: Amazon Sidewalk Rolls Out June 8th

Whether you own any Amazon surveillance devices or not, we know how much you value your privacy. So consider this your friendly reminder that Amazon Sidewalk is going live in a few weeks, on June 8th. A rather long list of devices have this setting enabled by default, so if you haven’t done so already, here’s how to turn it off.

Don’t know what we’re talking about? Our own Jenny List covered the topic quite concretely a few months back. The idea behind it seems innocent enough on the surface — extend notoriously spotty Wi-Fi connectivity to devices on the outer bounds of the router’s reach, using Bluetooth and LoRa to talk between devices and share bandwidth. Essentially, when Amazon flips the switch in a few weeks, their entire fleet of opt-in-by-default devices will assume a kind of Borg hive-mind in that they’ll be able to share connectivity.

A comprehensive list of Sidewalk devices includes: Ring Floodlight Cam (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Wired (2019), Ring Spotlight Cam Mount (2019), Echo (3rd Gen), Echo (4th Gen), Echo Dot (3rd Gen), Echo Dot (4th Gen), Echo Dot (3rd Gen) for Kids, Echo Dot (4th Gen) for Kids, Echo Dot with Clock (3rd Gen), Echo Dot with Clock (4th Gen), Echo Plus (1st Gen), Echo Plus (2nd Gen), Echo Show (1st Gen), Echo Show (2nd Gen), Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8, Echo Show 10, Echo Spot, Echo Studio, Echo Input, Echo Flex. — Amazon Sidewalk FAQ

Now this isn’t a private mesh network in your castle, it’s every device in the kingdom. So don’t hesitate, don’t wait, or it will be too late. Grab all your Things and opt-out if you don’t want your doorbell cam or Alexa machine on the party line. If you have the Alexa app, you can allegedly opt out on all your devices at once.

Worried that Alexa is listening to you more often than she lets on? You’re probably right.

Inside Smart Meters Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 14 at noon Pacific for the Inside Smart Meters Hack Chat with [Hash]!

That electrical meter on the side of your house might not look like it, but it’s pretty packed with technology. What was once a simple electromechanical device that a human would have to read in person is now a node on a far-flung network. Not only does your meter total up the amount of electricity you use, but it also talks to other meters in the neighborhood, sending data skipping across town to routers that you might never have noticed as it makes its way back to the utility. And the smartest of smart meters not only know how much electricity you’re using, but they can also tease information about which appliances are being used simply by monitoring patterns of usage.

While all this sounds great for utility companies, what does it mean for the customers? What are the implications of having a network of smart meters all talking to each other wirelessly? Are these devices vulnerable to attack? Have they been engineered to be as difficult to exploit as something should be when it’s designed to be in service for 15 years or more?

These questions and more burn within [Hash], a hardware hacker and security researcher who runs the RECESSIM reverse-engineering wiki. He’s been inside a smart meter or two and has shared a lot of what he has learned on the wiki and with some in-depth YouTube videos. He’ll stop by the Hack Chat to discuss what he’s learned about the internals of smart meters, how they work, and where they may be vulnerable to attack.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 14 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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Get The Party Started With A Mesh WiFi Light Show

Wildly blinking LEDs may not be the ideal lighting for the average office environment, but they’ll surely spice up any party. And since a party without music is just a meeting, having both synced up is a great way to set the mood. Sure, you could simply roll out your standard LED strip instead, but that gets a bit boring, and also a bit tricky if you want to light up several places the same way. [Gerrit] might have built the perfect solution though, with his (mu)sic (R)eactive (Li)ghts, or muRLi, which are a set of individual lights that synchronize a programmable pattern over WiFi.

The system consists of muRLi itself as the base station that defines and sends the light pattern through WebSockets, and several muRLi Nodes that house a set of WS2812B LEDs to receive and display it. Both are built around a Wemos D1 Mini configured to set up a WiFi mesh network, and depending what’s in reach, the nodes connect either to the base station or other nodes, giving the system definitely enough reach for any location size. The music is picked up by a MAX4466-amplified microphone inside the base station — adding some more flexibility to positioning the system — and analyzed for volume and audio spectrum, which is also shown on an OLED.

The best part however is how the light patterns are programmed. Instead of hard-coding it into the firmware, [Gerrit] went for a modular approach with little ROM cartridges to plug into the muRLi base station. The cartridge itself contains just an I2C EEPROM, storing JavaScript code that is interpreted by the firmware using mJS. The scripts have access to the analyzed audio data and amount of LEDs within the network, and can dynamically generate the patterns as needed that way. Everything is neatly housed in 3D-printed enclosures, with all the design and source files available on the project’s GitHub page — but see for yourself in the video after the break.

If you don’t care about the wireless part but enjoy light synced up with music, have a look at a plain MIDI solution for that. As for [Gerrit], we’re definitely looking forward to seeing his next endeavor one day, since we also enjoyed his last one.

Continue reading “Get The Party Started With A Mesh WiFi Light Show”

LoRa Mesh Network With Off-the-Shelf Hardware

An ideal application for mesh networking is off-grid communication; when there’s no cellular reception and WiFi won’t reach, wide-area technologies like LoRa can be used to create ad hoc wireless networks. Whether you’re enjoying the outdoors with friends or conducting a rescue operation, a cheap and small gadget that will allow you to create such a network and communicate over it would be a very welcome addition to your pack.

That’s exactly the goal of the Meshtastic project, which aims to take off-the-shelf ESP32 LoRa development boards and turn them into affordable mesh network communicators. All you need to do is buy one of the supported boards, install the firmware, and starting meshing. An Android application that will allow you to use the mesh network to send basic text messages is now available as an alpha release, and eventually you’ll be able to run Signal over the LoRa link.

Navigating to another node in the network.

Developer [Kevin Hester] tells us that these are still the very early days, and there’s plenty of work yet to be done. In fact, he’s actively looking to bring a few like-minded individuals onto the project. So if you have experience with the ESP32 or mobile application development, and conducting private communications over long-range wireless networks sounds like your kind of party, this might be your lucky day.

From a user’s perspective, this project is extremely approachable. You don’t need to put any custom hardware together, outside of perhaps 3D printing a case for your particular board. The first time around you’ll need to flash the firmware with esptool.py, but after that, [Kevin] says future updates can be handled by the smartphone application.

Incidentally, the primary difference between the two boards is that the larger and more expensive one includes GPS. The mesh networking side of things will work with either board, but if everyone in your group has the GPS-equipped version, each user will be able to see the position of everyone else in the network.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen LoRa used to establish off-grid communications, and it surely won’t be the last. The technology is perfect for getting devices talking where there isn’t any existing infrastructure, and we’re excited to see more examples of how it can be used in this capacity.

Zombies Ate Your Neighbors? Tell Everyone Through LoRa!

As popular as the post-apocalyptic Zombie genre is, there is a quite unrealistic component to most of the stories. Well, apart from the whole “the undead roaming the Earth” thing. But where are the nerds, and where is all the apocalypse-proof, solar-powered tech? Or is it exactly this lack of tech in those stories that serves as incentive to build it in the first place? Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be the end of the world to seek for ways to cope with a collapse of our modern communication infrastructure either. Just think of natural disasters — an earthquake or hurricane causing a long-term power outage for example. The folks at [sudomesh] tackle exactly this concern with their fully open source, off-grid, solar-powered, LoRa mesh network, Disaster Radio.

The network itself is built from single nodes comprising of a battery-backed solar panel, a LoRa module, and either the ESP8266 or ESP32 for WiFi connectivity. The idea is to connect to the network with your mobile phone through WiFi, therefore eliminating any need for additional components to actually use the network, and have the nodes communicate with each other via LoRa. Admittedly, LoRa may not be your best choice for high data rates, but it is a good choice for long-range communication when cellular networks aren’t an option. And while you can built it all by yourself with everything available on [sudomesh]’s GitHub page, a TTGO ESP32 LoRa module will do as well.

If the idea itself sounds familiar, we did indeed cover similar projects like HELPER and Skrypt earlier this year, showing that LoRa really seems to be a popular go-to for off-grid communication. But well, whether we really care about modern communication and helping each other out when all hell breaks loose instead of just primevally defending our own lives is of course another question.

Particle Mesh Powers The Internet Of Fans

With the winter months not far off, [Ben Brooks] was looking for a way to help circulate the heat from his wood-burning fireplace throughout his home. Rather than go with a commercial solution, he decided to come up with his own automated air circulation system powered by the mesh networking capabilities of one of his favorite pieces of tech, the Particle Photon.

Particle Xeon remote sensor

The idea here is pretty simple: use a remote temperature sensor to tell a fan located behind the fireplace when it’s time to kick on and start sharing some of that warmth with the rest of the house. But as usual, it ended up being a bit trickier than anticipated. For one, when [Ben] took a close look at the Vornado 660 fan he planned on using, he realized that its speed controller was “smart” enough that simply putting a relay on the AC line wouldn’t allow him to turn it on and off.

So he had to do some reverse engineering to figure out how the Sonix SN8P2501B microcontroller on the board was controlling the fan, and then wire the Photon directly to the pins on the chip that corresponded with the various physical controls. This allows the Photon to not only “push” the buttons to trigger the different speeds, but also read the controls to see if a human is trying to override the current setting.

For the remote side [Ben] is using a Particle Xenon, which is specifically designed for Internet of Things endpoints and sensor applications. Combined with a TMP36 temperature sensor and 3.7 V 500 mAh battery, this allowed him to easily put together a wireless remote thermometer that will publish the current temperature to the Photon’s mesh network at regular intervals.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Particle Photon used to augment an unassuming piece of hardware. We’ve previously seen one get grafted into a coffee maker, and if you can believe it, somebody even stuck one inside an umbrella to create a mobile weather station.