Flashing Sonoff Devices With Tasmota Gets Easier

Tasmota is an alternative firmware for ESP boards  that provides a wealth of handy features, and [Mat] has written up a guide to flashing with far greater ease by using Tasmotizer. Among other things, it makes it simple to return your ESP-based devices, like various Sonoff offerings, to factory settings, so hack away!

Tasmotizer is a front end that also makes common tasks like backing up existing firmware and setting configuration options like, WiFi credentials, effortless. Of course, one can’t really discuss Tasmotizer without bringing up Tasmota, the alternative firmware for a variety of ESP-based devices, so they should be considered together.

Hacks based on Sonoff devices are popular home automation projects, and [Mat] has also written all about what it was like to convert an old-style theromostat into a NEST-like device for about $5 by using Tasmota. A video on using Tasmotizer is embedded below, so give it a watch to get a head start on using it to hack some Sonoff devices.

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MQTT And The Internet Of Conference Badges

Today, nearly every modern consumer device wants to connect to the Internet for some reason. From your garage door opener to each individual smart bulb, the Internet of Things has arrived in full force. But the same can’t be said for most of our beloved conference badges. Wanting to explore the concept a bit, [Ayan Pahwa] set out to create his own MQTT-connected badge that he’s calling CloudBadge.

As this was more of a software experiment, all of the hardware is off-the-shelf. The badge itself is an Adafruit PyBadge, which doesn’t normally have any networking capabilities, but does feature a Feather-compatible header on the back. To that [Ayan] added a AirLift FeatherWing which allows him to use the ESP32 as a co-processor. He also added a strip of NeoPixel LEDs to the lanyard, though those could certainly be left off if you’re not looking to call quite so much attention to yourself.

The rest was just a matter of software. [Ayan] came up with some code that uses the combined hardware of the PyPadge and ESP32 to connect to Adafruit.io via MQTT. Once connected, the user is able to change the name that displays on the screen and the colors of the RGB LEDs through the cloud service. If you used something like this for an actual conference badge, the concept could easily be expanded to do things like flashing the badge’s LEDs when a talk the wearer wanted to see is about to start.

The modern conference badge has come a long way from simple blinking LEDs, offering challenges that you’ll likely still be working on long after the event wraps up. Concerns over security and the challenge of maintaining the necessary infrastructure during the event usually means they don’t include networking features, but projects like CloudBadge show the idea certainly has merit.

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Reverse Engineering Yokis Home Automation Devices

These days, it’s hard to keep track of all the companies that are trying to break into the home automation market. Whether they’re rebrands of somebody else’s product or completely new creations, it seems like every company has at least a few “smart” gadgets for you to choose from. We hadn’t heard of the Yokis devices that [Nicolas Maupu] has been working on before today, but thanks to his efforts to reverse engineer their protocol, we think they might become more popular with the hacking crowd.

Even if you don’t have a Yokis MTV500ER dimmer or MTR2000ER switch of your own, we think the detailed account of how [Nicolas] figured out how to talk to these devices is worth a read. His first step was to connect his oscilloscope directly to the SPI lines on the remote to see what it was sending out. With an idea of what he was looking for, he then used an nRF24L01+ radio connected to an ESP8266 to pull packets out of the air so he could analyze their structure. This might seem like a very specialized process, but in reality most of the techniques demonstrated could be applicable for any unknown communications protocol of which you’ve got a hex dump.

On the other hand, if you do have some of these devices (or plan to get them), then the software [Nicolas] has put together looks very compelling. Essentially it’s an interactive firmware for the ESP8266 that allows it to serve as a bridge between the proprietary Yokis wireless protocol and a standard MQTT home automation system. When the microcontroller is connected to the computer you get a basic terminal interface that allows you to scan and pair for devices as well as toggle them on and off.

This bridge could be used to allow controlling your Yokis hardware with a custom handheld remote, or you could follow the example of our very own [Mike Szczys], and pull everything together with a bit of Node-RED.

Destroy My Vegetable Garden? Oh Hail No!

Building and maintaining a garden takes a lot of work. And unless you have a greenhouse, you’re forced to leave your hard work outside to fend for itself against the double-edged sword of the elements. Rain and sun are necessary, but hard, pelting hail is never welcome. Just ask [Nick Rogness]. He didn’t go through all the trouble of building a 12’x12′ garden and planting tasty vegetables just to have Mother Nature spew her impurity-filled ice balls on it every other night during the summertime.

[Nick] did what any of us would do: fight back with technology. His solution was to build a retractable roof that covers the garden with a heavy duty tarp. A Raspberry Pi Zero W controls pair of linear actuators via motor controllers, and [Nick] put a limit switch in each of the four corners to report on the roof status. He can run the roof manually, or control it with his phone using MQTT. The whole thing runs on a 12V marine battery that gets charged up by a solar panel, so part of the interface is dedicated to reporting the battery stats.

[Nick] ran out of time to implement all the features he wanted before the season started, but there’s always next year. He has big plans that include soil moisture sensors, rain detection sensors, and an automatic watering system that collects and uses rain water. We planted the bite-size demo video for you after the break — just wash the dirt off and you’re good to go.

Maybe someday [Nick] will create a system that can automate the entire garden, like the FarmBot. Hey, we’re just trying to plant seeds of ideas.

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Handheld MQTT Remote For Home Automation

If you’re working on a home automation project, you’re probably knee-deep into MQTT by now. If not, you should be. The lightweight messaging protocol is an ideal choice for getting your “Things” on the Internet, and controlling them all can be done easily through a simple web interface or an application on your mobile device. Or if you’re [serverframework], you make yourself a handsome little all-in-one MQTT remote.

The hardware here is pretty simple; inside there’s just a NodeMCU ESP8266 development board, some buttons, an RGB LED to give feedback, and a 3.7v 1200mAh LiPo battery with associated charging module. Everything is held inside a nice little wooden box that looks like it would fit right in with the living room decor. We’d like to see some kind of a cover over the exposed perfboard the circuit is assembled on, but that’s arguably a personal preference kind of thing.

Most of the magic in this project is actually happening on the software side. Not only does the provided source code handle all the MQTT communications with Home Assistant, but it provides a clever user interface that allows [serverframework] to perform 25 functions with just five buttons. No, you aren’t seeing things. There are actually six buttons on the device, but one of them is a dedicated “power” button that wakes the remote out of deep sleep.

If you’d like to learn more about getting this protocol working for you, our resident MQTT guru [Elliot Williams] has plenty of thoughts on the subject. From his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Supercon to his home automation tutorial series, there’s plenty of information to get you started.

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Hackaday Podcast 046: Bring Us Your Nonsense, Hacking NES Clones, Grasping FPGAs, Many A Music Hack, And Fish Tanks Full Of Random

Difference of two Vikram moon images, contrast tweaked.

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys highlight the most delightful hacks of the past week. Need a random-number showpiece for your office? Look no further than that fish tank. Maybe the showpiece you actually need is to complete your band’s stage act? You want one of Tristan Shone’s many industrial-chic audio controllers or maybe just a hacked turntable sitting between your guitar and amp.

Plus citizen science is alive and well in the astronomy realm, and piezo elements are just never going to charge your electric vehicle.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (63 MB)

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Found Footage: Elliot Williams Talks Nexus Technologies

Back at the 2017 Superconference, Hackaday Managing Editor Elliot Williams started his talk about the so-called “Internet of Things” by explaining the only part he doesn’t like about the idea is the Internet… and the things. It’s a statement that most of us would still agree with today. If anything, the situation has gotten worse in the intervening years. Commercial smart gadgets are now cheaper and more plentiful than they’ve ever been, but it seems like precious little has been done to improve their inherent privacy and security issues.

But his talk doesn’t serve to bash the companies producing these devices or even the services that ultimately folded and left their customers with neigh useless gadgets. That’s not his style. The central theme of Nexus Technologies: Or How I Learned to Love WiFi” is that a smart home can be wonderful thing, assuming it works the way you want it to. Elliot argues that between low-cost modular hardware and open source software, the average hacker has everything they need to build their own self-contained home automation ecosystem. One that’s not only cheaper than what they’re selling at the Big Box electronics store, but also doesn’t invite any of the corporate giants to the party.

Of course, it wasn’t always so. A decade ago it would have been all but impossible, and five years ago it would have been too expensive to be practical. As Elliot details his journey towards a truly personal smart home, he explains the advances in hardware and software that have made it not just possible on the DIY level, but approachable. The real takeaway is that once more people realize how cheap and easy it is to roll your own smart home gadgets, they may end up more than willing to kick Big Brother to the curb and do IoT on their own terms.

This previously unpublished recording somehow slipped between the cracks of the editing room floor but upon recent discovery, it’s still just as relevant today. Take a look at Elliot’s view on Nexus Technologies, then join us after the break for a deeper dive. Make sure to subscribe to Hackaday’s YouTube channel to get in on the 2019 Hackaday Superconference live stream starting Saturday, November 16th.

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