Homebrew LED Strips That Are HomeKit-Compatible

Google, Amazon and Apple are all duking it out for supremacy in the smart home space. As you’ve probably noticed, cheaper smart lights and the like typically don’t offer connectivity with Apple’s HomeKit system. However, if you want some smart lighting that works in that ecosystem without breaking the bank, you can always build your own!

This simple build uses an ESP8266-01S as the brains of the operation. It’s a cut-down board that only has two GPIO pins available, but for this job, that’s enough. It’s paired with a simple relay for switching a single-color LED strip on and off, and an MP2307 buck converter for power. The code loaded onto the ESP8266 is simple, and allows it to connect to Wi-Fi and link up with Apple HomeKit for control.

Let’s say you’re a real fancy-pants, though, and you want RGB-addressable LEDs for your HomeKit setup. No problem, you can do that too! It’s as straightforward as hooking up an ESP8266 to some WS2812B LED strip and flashing the right firmware that emulates an Elgato EVE LED strip. You can even activate special lighting effects on the via the EVE app if you so desire, to take advantage of the fully-addressable nature of the strip.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions in this space, but many of them are quite expensive for what you actually get in the box. Sometimes building your own is more fun, too. Alternatively, if you don’t like Apple’s smart home solutions, you can always try a more open alternative. Video after the break.

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ESP8266 Smart Vents Keep Tabs On Home Temps

Have you ever found that, despite having a central heating and air conditioning system, that not all the rooms in your home end up being the temperature you want them to be? Maybe the dining room gets too hot when the heater is running, or the bedroom never seems to cool off enough in the summer months. If that sounds like your house, then these motorized “smart vents” from [Tony Brobston] might be exactly what you need.

The idea here is pretty simple: an ESP8266 and a servo is built into the 3D printed vent register, which allows it to control the position of its louvers. When connected to your home automation system via MQTT, the vents allow you to control the airflow to each room individually based on whatever parameters you wish. Most likely, you’ll want to pair these vents with an array of thermometers distributed throughout the house.

While [Tony] says the design still needs some testing, he’s released smart vents in a range of sizes from 2×10 to 6×12 inches. He’s also provided excellent documentation on how to print, assemble, and program the devices. It’s clear that a lot of care and thought went into every element of this project, and we’re excited to see how it can be developed further by the new ideas and contributors that will inevitably pop up now that it’s gone public.

Want to add some automation to your HVAC, but don’t have a fancy central unit? Don’t worry, as long as your heater or air conditioner has an infrared remote, you should be able to wedge a WiFi-enabled microcontroller in into the equation.

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Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].

the dongle developed by Marcel, with a USB-A plug on one end and an SMD antenna on the other

Hackaday Prize 2022: House Ventilation Reverse-Engineered And Automated

[Marcel] thought – what if he had more control over his house ventilation system? You could add some nifty features, such as automatically ventilating your house in the mornings when everyone’s away, only creating noise when nobody’s around to hear it. Sadly, most ventilation systems are not automation-friendly at all – he was lucky, however, as his system came with a wireless remote. [Marcel] reverse-engineered this remote, created a USB dongle speaking the same protocol, and tied it into his Home Assistant setup!

The remote in question is Orcon R15, with an Atmel MCU talking to a CC1101 chip through SPI. He sniffed the SPI communications when pressing different buttons, figured out the protocol by comparing the recordings, and built a test setup with a spare Arduino and CC1101 module. It worked, and he set out to design a separate dongle, using an ATMega32U4. The dongle looks pretty neat, and fits a Hammond enclosure – what’s not to like?

Then he set out to develop the firmware, and didn’t disappoint on that front either. His code doesn’t just imitate the original remote perfectly in terms of control, it also has user-friendly pairing flow, keeps track of the system’s current state, and still lets the original remote be used in parallel. Eagle files for the PCB are available on the project page, with the code and a PDF schematic available in the GitHub repo. This entire journey is described in the Hackaday.io page, and we would recommend you check it out for all the insights it provides!

Ventilation systems don’t tend to be designed for automation, and it’s endearing to see hackers working on conquering this frontier. Last time we’ve seen a ventilation system hack, it had the additional challenge of being landlord-friendly, and we think the hacker nailed it!

Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
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Reversible Ventilation Hack Keeps The Landlord Happy

When a person owns the home they live in, often the only approval they need for modifications is from their significant other or roommate. In the worst case, maybe a permit is required. But those who rent their dwellings are far more constrained in almost every case, and when it comes to environmental controls, they are most decidedly off limits. Unless you’re a resourceful hacker like [Nik], that is, who has seamlessly integrated his apartment’s ventilation system into his smart home controller — all without any permanent modifications!

The controller itself only gives three settings to vent the apartment: Low, Medium, High, and then High for 30 minutes, with all modes having to be actuated with a manual button press. [Nik] wanted automation and integration with his smart home.

A clean 3D printed enclosure wraps things nicely

Thankfully, the engineers who designed the controller used in [Nik]’s apartment made it very convenient to reverse engineer it. A flat ribbon cable conveniently breaks out all of the buttons and 12 VDC, and he can interface directly using its connector. First hack: done.

Next, [Nik] needed a longer cable to run between the controller and his ESP8266 based control module. Finding the connector on AliExpress was easy, but finding a compatible cable of length required some more resourcefulness. The cable was eventually sourced from the airbag controller of a Renault Megane! Second hack, using a car part in a controller: well done!

Integration into his smart home wasn’t just electronic. The module looks right at home above the original controller, and if you didn’t know better you’d never think it wasn’t original equipment. Final hack: Done!

Be sure to check out his build log over at Hackaday.io, and if home automation hacks are your cup of tea, check out this automatic tea maker.

Remote control PCB next to its shell, with a breadboarded analog switch connected to the remote's onboard microcontroller, soldered to the pins responsible for button reading

Reusing Proprietary Wireless Sockets Without Wireless Hacking

Bending various proprietary devices to our will is a hacker’s rite of passage. When it comes to proprietary wall sockets, we’d often reverse-engineer and emulate their protocol – but you can absolutely take a shortcut and, like [oaox], spoof the button presses on the original remote! Buttons on such remotes tend to be multiplexed and read as a key matrix (provided there’s more than four of them), so you can’t just pull one of the pads to ground and expect to not confuse the microcontroller inside the remote. While reading a key matrix, the controller will typically drive rows one-by-one and read column states, and a row or column driven externally will result in the code perceiving an entire group of keys as “pressed” – however, a digitally-driven “switch” doesn’t have this issue!

One way to achieve this would be to use a transistor, but [oaox] played it safe and went for a 4066 analog multiplexer, which has a higher chance of working with any remote no matter the button configuration, for instance, even when the buttons are wired as part of a resistor network. As a bonus, the remote will still work, and you will still be able to use its buttons for the original purpose – as long as you keep your wiring job neat! When compared to reverse-engineering the protocol and using a wireless transmitter, this also has the benefit of being able to consistently work with even non-realtime devices like Raspberry Pi, and other devices that run an OS and aren’t able to guarantee consistent operation when driving a cheap GPIO-operated RF transmitter.

In the past, we’ve seen people trying to tackle this exact issue, resorting to RF protocol hacking in the end. We’ve talked about analog multiplexers and switches in the past, if you’d like figure out more ways to apply them to solve your hacking problems! Taking projects like these as your starting point, it’s not too far until you’re able to replace the drift-y joysticks on your Nintendo Switch with touchpads!