Modifying Lights For DIY Ambiance

The ESP32 and ESP8266 spread like wildfire a few years ago due to their small form factor, low price, and wireless capability. They didn’t just take over the DIY scene, though. Plenty of mass market products began to incorporate these tiny chips as well, which means that there are some interesting pre-made devices around that are ripe for modification. In this case, using an off-brand smart light bulb as a base for an semi-proprietary lighting setup.

The lighting in this build is a generic RGB light bulb with the ability to control its color over Wi-Fi. Since it has an ESP8266 chip in it, it can be made to work with Philips Hue lights with some minor modifications, allowing a much wider range of control than otherwise available. For this one, [Vadim] needed to pry open the bulb case to access the chip, then solder wires to it for reprogramming. It needed power during this step which meant plugging the resulting mess of wires back into a lamp socket, but after this step the new programming allows the bulb to be reprogrammed remotely.

After that step is complete, though, the generic bulb is ready for its inclusion into a Hue lighting system. In this case, [Vadim] is using diyHue, a Hue emulator that allows control of the bulbs without needing to use any cloud services, running on a BeagleBone. It’s a fairly comprehensive way of adding many different types and brands of bulbs to one system, and avoids any subscription models or the use of a cloud service, which is always something we can get behind.

Continue reading “Modifying Lights For DIY Ambiance”

Retrotechtacular: Philips Factory Tour, Circa 1930s

If you’ve got a half-hour or so to spare, you could do worse than this video trip through a Philips factory in the 1930s.

The film is presented without narration, but from the Dutch title cards and the fact that it’s Philips, we gather that this factory of gigantic proportions was somewhere in the Netherlands. In any case, it looks like something right out of [Fritz Lang]’s Metropolis and turned the rawest of materials into finished consumer products.

Much of the film focuses on the making of vacuum tubes; the sheer physicality of the job is what really stands out here. The upper body strength that the glassblowers had to have boggles the mind. Check out the chops — and the soon-to-be very unfashionable mustache — on the glassblower at the 12:00 mark. And it wasn’t just the gents who had mad skills — the fine motor control needed for the delicate assembly of the innards of the tubes, which seems to be mostly staffed by women, is just as impressive. We were also surprised by the amount these manual crafts were assisted by automated systems.

Especially interesting is the section where they build the luidspreker. Without narration or captions, it’s a little hard to tell what’s going on, but it appears that they used an enormous press to form chips of Bakelite into sleek covers for the speakers, which themselves are super-chunky affairs made from scratch in the factory. We’re also treated to assembly of the radios, packaging of finished products, and a group of dockworkers who clearly didn’t read the “Fragile” labels pasted on the boxes.

One can’t help but wonder if these people had the slightest inkling of what was about to sweep over them and the rest of the world. And if they did, would they even begin to comprehend how much the very products that they were making would contribute to both the slaughter of the coming war as well as to the sparing of so many lives? Likely not, but the film is still an interesting glimpse into the creation of an industry, one that relied very much on craftsmanship to get it started.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Philips Factory Tour, Circa 1930s”

LEDs From Dubai: The Royal Lights You Can’t Buy

[Clive] had an interesting video about LED lights from Philips. You can’t buy them unless you live in Dubai. Apparently inspired by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who wanted more efficient and longer-lasting bulbs. The secret? A normal LED bulb uses an LED “filament” at 1 watt each. The Dubai bulbs run at about a fourth of that which means they need more LEDs to get the same amount of light, but they should last longer and operate more efficiently.

After exploring the brightness and color of different lamps, [Clive] tears one up and finds some surprises inside. The LEDs get over 200V each and the driver circuit has a lot of pairs of components, possibly to keep the size small for the high voltages involved, although it could be to improve reliability, [Clive] wasn’t sure.

By reducing the power, [Clive] was able to count that each LED strip contains 21 LEDs. He also notes some of the oddities in construction that appear to be for reliability and ease of manufacturing. We aren’t sure how that compares to the construction of conventional bulbs. The circuit includes a bridge rectifier and a linear current regulator using a MOSFET.

The bulbs cost a bit more, but if you factor in the probable long life, their total cost over time should be reasonable. Overall, it is interesting that a nice design came from what amounts to government regulation. Of course, there is a price: in exchange for the development of the bulbs, Philips has the exclusive right to make and sell the bulbs for the next several years. They expect to sell 10 million lamps by the end of 2021, although they are only available, currently, in Dubai.

Continue reading “LEDs From Dubai: The Royal Lights You Can’t Buy”

The CD Is 40, The CD Is Dead

The Compact Disc is 40 years old, and for those of us who remember its introduction it still has that sparkle of a high-tech item even as it slides into oblivion at the hands of streaming music services.

There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)
There was a time when a rainbow motif was extremely futuristic. Bill Bertram (CC BY-SA 2.5)

If we could define a moment at which consumers moved from analogue technologies to digital ones, the announcement of the CD would be a good place to start. The public’s coolest tech to own in the 1970s was probably an analogue VCR or a CB radio, yet almost overnight they switched at the start of the ’80s to a CD player and a home computer. The CD player was the first place most consumers encountered a laser of their own, which gave it an impossibly futuristic slant, and the rainbow effect of the pits on a CD became a motif that wove its way into the design language of the era. Very few new technologies since have generated this level of excitement at their mere sight, instead today’s consumers accept new developments as merely incremental to the tech they already own while simultaneously not expecting them to have longevity.
Continue reading “The CD Is 40, The CD Is Dead”

Interfacing Philips Hue Lights With Everything

The Internet of Things is eating the world alive, and we can’t buy incandescent light bulbs anymore. This means the Internet is now in light bulbs, and with that comes some special powers. You can turn lights on and off from a botnet. You can change the colors. This is the idea for the Philips Hue system, which is well respected among people who like putting their lights on the Internet. There are other brands — and you can make your own — but the Hue system does work pretty well.

This is what led [Marius] to create software to interface various electronics with the Hue system. It’s a project called diyHue, and already there’s a vibrant community of devs creating their own smart lights and connecting them to the Internet.

The software for this project is built in Python, and is designed to run on certain single board computers. This allows the SBC to connect to the Hue bridge so Hue bulbs can be controlled, a MiLight hub so MiLight bulbs can be controlled, or, with the addition of a ZigBee radio, all those ZigBee devices can be controlled. Right now the only thing that doesn’t work is Google Home because it requires a remote API, the Home & Away feature from the Hue app (again, remote API), and the Eneco Toon.

There really are a fantastic number of devices this software works with, and if you’re building out your Internet-connected home lighting solution, this is one piece of software you need to check out. Thanks to [cheesemarathon] for bringing our attention to this. He also liked it so much he’s now contributing to the GitHub. Very cool.

Create Cheap Philips Hue Compatible Devices

The Philips Hue range is a great way to add wirelessly controllable lighting to your home, but the protocol is proprietary which makes it difficult to add our own custom hardware. [Peter] found a way to create his own Hue compatible devices based on cheap JN5168 modules that are able to connect to the Hue bridge. This means you can roll out your own lamps using cheap RGB or White LEDs, a power supply and the JN5168 Zigbee Light Link module.

He started off by trying to clone a Zigbee Light Link device to a MeshBee — Seeed studio’s open source Zigbee Pro module based on the NXP JN5168. Even though the MeshBee used the same device as a Hue lamp, it would not connect to the Hue bridge. But another clone lamp called Innr that he purchased from the local hardware store did connect quite easily. Using NXP’s open source tools, he was able to download the flash and EEPROM contents from the Innr and copy them to the MeshBee which did the trick.

After the EEPROM transfer trick, he figured out how to modify the two keys used for the ZigBee protocol — one for Home Automation and the other for the Light Link. With this final discovery he is able to take the ZigBee Light Link demo project, edit it using Beyond Studio, and then load the binaries on the MeshBee device so it can connect to the Hue bridge.

All of this work culminates in two custom firmware binaries; one for white dimmable lights and another for RGB dimmable ones. It even runs on these cheap JN5168 breakout kits he found for a few bucks. With all of the software taken care of, and having cheap ZigBee Light Link compatible modules on hand, building low cost Hue compatible lights becomes pretty straight forward.

Thanks [wind-rider] for the tip.

Root On The Philips Hue IoT Bridge

Building on the work of others (as is always the case!) [pepe2k] managed to get root access on the Philips Hue Bridge v2 IoT light controller. There’s nothing unusual here, really. Connect to the device over serial, interrupt the boot process, boot up open firmware, dump the existing firmware, and work the hacker magic from there.

Of course, the details are the real story. Philips had set U-Boot to boot the firmware from flash in zero seconds, not allowing [pepe2k] much time to interrupt it. So he desoldered the flash, giving him all the time in the world, and allowing him to change the boot delay. Resoldering the flash and loading up his own system let him dump the firmware.

The “hacker magic” glossed over in the intro consisted of poking around until he found a script that was called on every boot. This is how [pepe2k] gets around not knowing the root password. The script compares the hash of the typed password with an environment variable, set with the hash of the correct password. Changing that environment variable to the hash of his favorite password (“root”) made him master of the box.

And just in case you’re one of the few Hackaday readers who doesn’t understand why we do these things, besides the fact that it’s just fun, consider Philips’ (eventually retracted) clampdown on the interoperability of this very device, or Google’s red bricks. The fatal flaw of IoT devices is that they place you at the whims of companies who may decide that they’re not making enough money any more, and shut them down. Keep your hacking skills sharp.

Thanks [Jan] for the great tip!