[Neighborino]’s smart home system controls the windows, blinds, outlets, and HVAC. But by the time the high-rise apartment was ready for occupancy in 2015, the smart home controllers were already showing their age. You see, the contractor had installed an app to run the home’s programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on stock Galaxy Tab 3 hardware. Yes, that’s a tablet originally released in 2013. They then built the tablets into the wall of each apartment, dooming the homeowner to rely on the vendor forevermore.
It was not long before [Neighborino] and their fellow residents were dealing with stability problems. Bloatware from both Samsung and Google was causing major slowdowns, and the PLC system’s unpublished WiFi password prevented replacement of the controllers.
Being an Android developer by trade, [Neighborino] set siege to the walled garden before him. The writeup details the quest to execute what would be a straightforward hack on anything but the x86 hardware that was being targeted.
The first fruit of [Neighborino]’s efforts was a hack for the aged tablets that would display the WiFi password, allowing owners to connect their own controllers to their smart homes. Of course, this is Hackaday, so you know that [Neighborino] didn’t stop there.
Despite having to deal with two different versions of Android and tablets that were built into the wall of the apartments of non-hacker neighbors, [Neighborino] succeeded in sideloading an APK. This freed them from the shackles of the company that installed the original system and gets longer life out of their Snowden-era Samsungs. A de-bloating tool frees up memory and restores the systems to a nearly performant status. A reboot scheduler keeps the x86 tablets running without user intervention, and of course the WiFi password revealer makes yard waste out of the previously walled garden.
It’s a tragedy every time a modern smartphone is tossed into e-waste. We prefer to find another life for these bundles of useful hardware. But given all the on-board barriers erected by manufacturers, it’s impractical to repurpose smartphones without their support. A bit of good news on this front is Samsung testing the waters with a public beta of their “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” program, turning a few select devices into SmartThings sensor nodes.
More devices and functionality are promised, but this initial release is barely a shadow of what Samsung promised in 2017. Missed the announcement back then? Head over to a “How it started/How it’s going” comparison from iFixit, who minced no words starting with their title Galaxy Upcycling: How Samsung Ruined Their Best Idea in Years. They saw a bunch of Samsung engineers at Bay Area Maker Faire 2017, showing off a bunch of fun projects reusing old phones as open hardware. The placeholder GitHub repository left from that announcement still has a vision of a community of makers dreaming up novel uses. This is our jam! But sadly it has remained a placeholder for four years and, given what we see today, it is more likely to be taken down than to become reality.
The stark difference between original promise and actual results feel like an amateur Kickstarter, not something from a giant international conglomerate. Possibly for the same reason: lack of resources and expertise for execution. It’s hard to find support in a large corporate bureaucracy when there is no obvious contribution to the bottom line. Even today’s limited form has only a tenuous link of possibly helping to sell other SmartThings-enabled smart home devices.
Introduced in Android 11, the power menu is a way to quickly interact with smart home gadgets without having to open their corresponding applications. Just hold the power button for a beat, and you’ll be presented with an array of interactive tiles for all the gadgets you own. Well that’s the idea, anyway.
[Mat] of “NotEnoughTech” wasn’t exactly thrilled with how this system worked out of the box, so he decided to figure out how he could create his own power menu tiles. His method naturally requires quite a bit more manual work than Google’s automatic solution, but it also offers some compelling advantages. For one thing, you can make tiles for your own DIY devices that wouldn’t be supported otherwise. It also allows you to sidestep the cloud infrastructure normally required by commercial home automation products. After all, does some server halfway across the planet really need to be consulted every time you want to turn on the kitchen light?
The first piece of the puzzle is Tasker, a popular automation framework for Android. It allows you to create custom tiles that will show up on Android’s power menu, complete with their own icons and brief descriptions. If you just wanted to perform tasks on the local device itself, this would be the end of the story. But assuming that you want to control devices on your network, Tasker can be configured to fire off a command to a Node-RED instance when you interact with the tiles.
In his post, [Mat] gives a few examples of how this combination can be used to control smart devices and retrieve sensor data, but the exact implementation will depend on what you’re trying to do. If you need a bit of help getting started, our own [Mike Szczys] put together a Node-RED primer last year that can help you put this flow-based visual programming tool to work for you.
Step one was to determine the frequency the fan’s remote used. Although public FCC records will reveal the frequency of operation, [River] thought it would be faster to use an inexpensive USB RTL-SDR with the Spektrum program to sweep the range of likely frequencies, and quickly found the fans speak 304.2 MHz.
Next was to reverse-engineer the protocol. Universal Radio Hacker is a tool designed to make deciphering unknown wireless protocols relatively painless using an RTL-SDR. [River] digitized a button press with it and immediately recognized it as simple on-off keying (OOK). With that knowledge, he digitized the radio commands from all seven buttons and was quickly able to reverse-engineer the entire protocol.
[River] wanted to use a Raspberry Pi to bring the fans into his home automation system, but the Raspberry Pi doesn’t have a 304.2 MHz radio. What it does have is user-programmable GPIO and the rpitx package, which converts a GPIO pin into a basic radio transmitter. Of course, the Pi’s GPIO pin’s aren’t long enough to efficiently transmit at 304.2 MHz, so [River] added a proper antenna, as well as a low-pass filter to clean up the transmitted signal. The rpitx package supports OOK out of the box, so [River] was quickly able get the Pi controlling his fan in no time!
There’s no question that being able to see who’s at your front door from your computer or mobile device is convenient, which is why the market is currently flooded with video doorbells. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear who else has access to the images these devices capture. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation have argued that by installing one of these Internet-connected cameras on their front door, consumers are unwittingly contributing to a mass surveillance system that could easily be turned against them.
Luckily, there’s a solution. As [Sebastian] shows in his latest project, you can build your own video doorbell that replicates the features of the commercial offerings while ensuring you’re the only one who has access to the data by leveraging open source, community developed projects such as ESPHome and Home Assistant. At the same time, modern manufacturing techniques like desktop 3D printing and low-cost PCB fabrication mean your DIY doorbell doesn’t have to look like you made it yourself.
The project starts with a custom PCB that combines the ESP32, a camera module, a capacitive touch sensor, a relay to optionally trigger an electronic door lock, and a DC-DC converter that will let you power the device from a wide range of input voltages. The board even has a spot where you can solder on an additional 8 MB of external PSRAM for the ESP32, which will enable the chip to capture higher resolution video.
The electronics are housed in a minimalistic 3D printed enclosure that would fit right in alongside similar gadgets from the likes of Ring and Arlo; especially if you have access to a CNC and can cut the front panel out of acrylic. The lighted touch sensor looks phenomenal, and really gives the device a professional feel. That said, it doesn’t look like the case would last very long if exposed to harsh weather and there are some obvious physical security issues with this approach. But to be fair, we’ve seen the same problem with commercial hardware.
Naturally with a project like this, the hardware is only half of the story. It takes a considerable amount of software poking and prodding to get things like mobile device notifications working, and as a special added annoyance, the process is different depending on which MegaCorp produced the OS your gadget is running. [Sebastian] has documented the bulk of the process in the video after the break, but the finer points will likely need some adjustment depending on how you want to set things up.
Like many modern smart home gadgets, Belkin’s Wemo brand of smart plugs has a tendency to phone home every time you turn on a lamp. [Gigawatts] wasn’t having it, so they figured out how to flash the device with OpenWRT and replicated its original functionality with a web interface. Unfortunately this stopped working after awhile, and rather than trying to diagnose the issue, it seemed the time would be better spent simplifying the whole thing.
As [Gigawatts] explains, there are actually two separate boards inside the Wemo plug. One holds the relay to do the high-voltage switching, and the other provides the control. They are linked with a three wire connector, making it exceptionally simple to swap out the original controller for something different. The connector supplies 5 V and ground, all you’ve got to do is pull the third wire high to flick the switch.
While more and more consumer products are rushing to include WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, the simplicity and reliability of infrared has kept it in the game in the game far longer than many might have thought. Despite being thinner and sleeker, the IR remote control that comes with your brand new smart TV isn’t fundamentally different than what we were using in the 1980s.
But that doesn’t mean IR devices can’t enjoy some modern conveniences. Sick of misplacing his remote, [Sasa Karanovic] decided to come up with a way he could emulate it to control his TV over the network. Now with nothing more exotic than a web browser on his phone or computer, he can tap away at a visual representation of a remote to control the TV from anywhere in the house. As you might expect, this project could readily be adapted to control whatever IR gadget you might have in mind.
Admittedly, this isn’t exactly breaking any new ground. We’ve seen plenty of people come up with similar IR gateways in the past with varying levels of complexity. But what we really like about this project is that not only has [Sasa] shared the source code that turns an ESP32 into a network-controlled IR transmitter, but he’s put together a concise video that demonstrates how easy it is so spin up your own version. The 3D printed enclosure that looks like a traditional IR remote was a nice touch too.
The hardware for this project is little more than an ESP32 development board and an LED, but if you’re looking for something a bit more built for purpose, we recently saw a very slick open hardware IR gateway that might fit your needs.