Teardown: The Guts of a Digital Sentry

I have a home alarm system that has me wondering if I can make it better with my maker Kung-fu. Recently we had to replace our system, so I took the time to dissect the main controller, the remote sensors, and all the bits that make a home security system work.

To be precise, the subject of today’s interrogation is a Zicom brand Home Alarm that was quite famous a decade ago. It connects to a wired telephone line, takes inputs from motion, door, and gas sensors, and will make quite a racket if the system is tripped (which sometimes happened accidentally). Even though no circuits were harmed in the making of this post, I assure you that there are some interesting things that will raise an eyebrow or two. Lets take a look.

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Motion Activated Super-Squirter Stands Guard

Thieves beware. If you prowl around [Matthew Gaber]’s place, you get soaked by his motion activated super-squirter. Even if he’s not at home, he can aim and fire it remotely using an iPhone app. And for the record, a camera saves photos of your wetted-self to an SD card.

ESPino, ArduCAM UNO and voltage converter boards
ESPino, ArduCAM UNO and voltage converter boards

The whole security system is handled by three subsystems for target acquisition, photo documentation, and communications. The first subsystem is centered around an ESPino which utilizes a PIR sensor to detect motion. It then turns on a windscreen washer pump and uses pan and tilt servos to squirt water in a pattern toward the victim.

The target acquisition hardware also sends a message to the second subsystem, an ArduCAM ESP8266 UNO board. It takes a burst of photos using an ArduCAM Mini Camera mounted beside the squirter outlet. The UNO can also serve up a webpage with a collection of the photos.

The final subsystem is an iPhone app which talks to both the ESPino and the UNO board. It can remotely control the squirter and provide a video feed of what the camera sees.

One detail of the build we really enjoyed is the vacuum relief valve he fabricated himself. It prevents siphoning through the pump when it’s not on. Don’t miss a demo of the squirter in action after the break.

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Cheap Modules Upgrade Home Security System

[gw0udm] had an ancient monitored alarm system fitted to their home, and decided it was time to upgrade to something a little more modern. They chose a system from Texecom, but when it came time to hook it up to their computer, they were alarmed at the costs – £40 for what amounted to a USB-to-Serial cable! There were other overpriced modules too. But [gw0udm] wanted to upgrade, so it was time to hack the system.

The first step was grabbing a £4 USB-to-Serial board and wiring it up – a simple job for the skilled hacker.  As we always say – everything speaks serial. [gw0udm] then set their sights higher – they wanted the Ethernet interface but weren’t about to cough up the coin. After some research, it was determined that a Raspberry Pi could be used with a utility called ser2net with the existing serial interface to do pretty much the same job. It was a simple matter of figuring out the parity and messaging format to get things up and running.

From there, the project moves on to tackling the creation of a GSM module for monitoring in the absence of a local network, and on flashing the firmware of the system itself. It’s great to see a project continually grow and expand the functionality of a product over time.

We see a lot of security systems here at Hackaday – high prices and proprietary hardware tend to inspire the hacker spirit. Check out this reverse engineering of an obsolete 1980s system, resplendent with Eurostile font.

Reverse Engineering An Obsolete Security System

[Veghead] recently went to a surplus warehouse filled with VHS editing studios, IBM keyboards, electronic paraphernalia from 40 years ago, and a lot of useless crap. His haul included a wooden keypad from an old alarm system that exuded 1980s futurism, and he figured it would be cool to hook this up to an alarm system from 2015. How did he do that? With software defined radio.

After pulling apart the alarm panel, [Veghead] found only a single-sided board with a 9V battery connector. There were no screw terminals for an alarm loop, meaning this entire system was wireless – an impressive achievement for the mid-80s hardware. A quick search of the FCC website showed this alarm panel was registered to two bands, 319MHz and 340MHz, well within the range of an RTL-SDR USB TV tuner dongle.

After capturing some of the raw data and playing it back in Audacity, [Veghead] found a simple OOK protocol that sends two identical binary patterns for each key. A simple program takes the raw bit patterns for each key press and codes them into a map for each of the twelve buttons.

Although the radio still works, [Veghead] found the waveforms captured by his RTL-SDR were an abomination to RF. All the components in this security system are more than 30 years old at this point, and surely some of the components must be out of spec by now. Still, [Veghead] was able to get the thing working again, a testament to the usefulness of a $20 USB TV tuner.

Thanks [Jose] for sending this one in

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Arduino Alarm System

The last few years have seen an incredible increase in the marketing for home automation devices. Why this tech is just picking up now is something we’ll never understand – home automation systems have been around for decades, mostly in the form of security systems. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [IngGaro] is building an Arduino-based security system that does everything you would expect from a home automation system, from closing the shutters to temperature monitoring.

[IngGaro]’s system is built around a shield for an Arduino Mega. This shield includes connections to an alarm system, a GSM modem, temperature and humidity sensors, an Ethernet module, and IR movement sensors. This Arduino Mega attaches to a control box mounted near the front door that’s loaded up with an LCD, an NFC and RFID reader, and a few buttons to arm and disarm the system.

This project has come a long way since it was featured in last year’s Hackaday Prize. Since then [IngGaro] finally completed the project thanks to a change in the Ethernet library. It’s much more stable now, and has the ability to completely control everything in a house that should be automated. Now all [IngGaro] needs to do is create a cool PCB for the project, but in our opinion you can’t do much better than the mastery of perfboard this project already has.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Clever Reed Switch Catches Thief

When [Abhimanyu Kumar] noticed money going missing from his small bookshop, he decided to set up a little trap to catch the thief.

The problem was that the bookshop’s money was stored inside a cupboard in their house (back end of the shop), which meant that the culprit was likely one of their own employees. They already have a CCTV system installed in the actual store, and although he could simply add another camera in the house, [Abhimanyu] didn’t really want to do that.

He instead devised a simple security trap: dubbed the Jugaad Security System. In Hindi, Jugaad quite literally means “hack”. He added a small magnetic reed switch to the cupboard where the money is stored—well, was stored—which is then linked directly to an intervalometer. This then connects to an inconspicuous DSLR sitting on one of the work benches. He aimed the camera at the cupboard and, in case the lights are out when the system is tripped, set it to an extremely high ISO.

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Stealth peephole camera watches your front door

In this week’s links post we mentioned an over-powered DSLR peephole that purportedly cost $4000. So when we saw this tip regarding a relatively inexpensive digital peephole, we thought some of you might be a bit more interested.

The hardware is quite simple; a decent webcam, a Raspberry Pi, and a powered USB hub. The camera gets stripped down to its PCB and hidden inside the door itself. Even if you see this from the inside it’s just a suspicious-looking wire which wouldn’t make most people think a camera was in use.

On the software side of things, [Alex] set up his Raspberry Pi as a 24/7 webcam server to stream the video online. Unlike using a cheap wireless CCTV camera, his video signals are secure. He then runs Motion, a free software motion detector to allow the camera to trigger events when someone comes sneaking by. It can be setup to send you a text, call you, play an alarm, take a picture, record a video… the list goes on. His blog has a full DIY guide if you want to replicate this system. We just hope you have a stronger door!

We covered a similar project back in 2011, but it had made use of real server instead of an inexpensive Raspberry Pi.

[Thanks Alex!]