A Raspberry Pi 400 UPS Add-On, It’s Not All Plain Sailing

Since the recent launch of the all-in-one Raspberry Pi 400, the global hardware community have taken to the new platform and are investigating its potential for hardware enhancements. On the back it has the same 40-pin expansion connector as its single-board siblings, but it’s horizontal rather than vertical, which means that all of the conventional HATs sit in a rather ungainly upright position.

One of the first Pi 400 HATs we’ve seen comes from [Patrick Van Oosterwijck], who has made a very neat 18650-based UPS add-on that is intended to eventually fit in the back of the machine in a similar way to the home computer cartridge peripherals of old. Unfortunately not all has gone according to plan, and in finding out why that is the case we learn something about the design of the 400, and maybe even take a chance to reflect on the Pi Foundation itself.

On the face of it the 400’s interface is the same as that of its single board computer stablemates, but something this project reveals is that its 5 V pins have a current limit of 1 A. This turns out to preclude the type of plug-in Pi UPS that sits on a HAT that we’re used to, in that 1 A through the 5 V pin is no longer enough to run the computer.

This effectively puts a stop to [Patrick]’s project, though he can repurpose it for a Pi 4 and its siblings once he’s dealt with a converter chip overheating problem. He does however make a complaint about the Pi Foundation’s slowness in releasing such data about their products, and given that long-time Pi-watchers will remember a few other blips in the supply of Pi hardware data he has a point. A quick check of the Raspberry Pi GitHub repository reveals nothing related to the Pi 400 at the time of writing, and though it shares much with its Pi 4 sibling it’s obvious that there are enough differences to warrant some extra information.

Hardware hackers may not be part of the core education focus of the Pi range, but a healthy, interested, and active hardware community that feels nurtured by its manufacturer remains key to the supply of interesting Pi-related products feeding into that market. We’d like to urge the Pi Foundation to never forget the hardware side of their ecosystem, and make hardware specification an integral part of every product launch on day one.

If the Pi 400 catches your interest, you can read our review here.

A Super UPS For The Pi

One of the problems with using a Raspberry Pi or most other systems in a production environment is dealing with sudden shutdowns due to power loss. Modern operating systems often keep data in memory that should be on disk, and a sudden power cycle can create problems. One answer is an uninterruptible power supply, but maintaining batteries is no fun. [Scott] wanted to do better, so he built a UPS using supercapacitors.

A supercapacitor UPS is nearly ideal. The caps charge quickly and don’t wear out as a battery does. The capacitors also don’t care if they stay in storage for a long time. The only real downside is they don’t have the capacity that batteries can have, but for a small computer like a Pi Zero it is pretty easy to gang up enough capacitors to do the job.

Continue reading “A Super UPS For The Pi”

Fixing A Cheap UPS HAT For Your Raspberry Pi With A Tiny Daemon

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) isn’t something solely to have hooked up to your desktop PC. Your Raspberry Pi SBC might also benefit from it. Yet the available options aren’t too great, or are too expensive. This leads folk including [Joachim Baumann] to modify cheerfully cheap Chinese UPS HAT boards such as the Geekworm UPS HAT to fix its myriad of issues and missing features.

Inspired by a number of other hacks on this board which fixed things like needing to push a button on the UPS to boot the Raspberry Pi, [Joachim] set out to make a similar ATtiny-based solution that would address all issues, above all the fact that this Geekworm UPS does not detect when the connected SBC has turned off and will happily run the lithium battery pack dry. Finding a blog post by Simon who had reverse-engineered the board previously was immensely helpful. Continue reading “Fixing A Cheap UPS HAT For Your Raspberry Pi With A Tiny Daemon”

A SuperCap UPS

If you treat your Pi as a wearable or a tablet, you will already have a battery. If you treat your Pi as a desktop you will already have a plug-in power supply, but how about if you live where mains power is unreliable? Like [jwhart1], you may consider building an uninterruptible power supply into a USB cable. UPSs became a staple of office workers when one-too-many IT headaches were traced back to power outages. The idea is that a battery will keep your computer running while the power gets its legs back. In the case of a commercial UPS, most generate an AC waveform which your computer’s power supply converts it back to DC, but if you can create the right DC voltage right to the board, you skip the inverting and converting steps.

Cheap batteries develop a memory if they’re drained often, but if you have enough space consider supercapacitors which can take that abuse. They have a lower energy density rating than lithium batteries, but that should not be an issue for short power losses. According to [jwhart1], this quick-and-dirty approach will power a full-sized Pi, keyboard, and mouse for over a minute. If power is restored, you get to keep on trucking. If your power doesn’t come back, you have time to save your work and shut down. Spending an afternoon on a power cable could save a weekend’s worth of work, not a bad time-gamble.

We see what a supercap UPS looks like, but what about one built into a lightbulb or a feature-rich programmable UPS?

Investigating The Tiny Salvaged UPS From A Lightbulb

Recently I had the opportunity to do a teardown of a battery-backed LED bulb, and found some interesting details on how the device operated. Essentially, the bulb contained a low voltage DC uninterruptible power supply that would automatically switch between AC power and internal battery as needed. The implications of this seemed pretty exciting. For around $12 at big box retailers, this little bulb could be a cheap and convenient solution for providing fault tolerant power to microcontrollers and other low-power devices.

The teardown was a runaway success, with quite a bit of discussion of the UPS idea specifically. Some people hated it, others loved it. But as we’ve come to expect from Hackaday readers, the comments from both sides of the aisle contained keen observations and invaluable real-world experience. From the safety of the device to the accuracy of the manufacturer’s claims, it seems like every element of the product was addressed.

I had ended the teardown with a promise that I’d continue experimenting with the tiny salvaged UPS, but even if I hadn’t, with so much feedback it seemed revisiting the subject was all but a necessity. It this little UPS really viable? Is it too dangerous to safely implement in your project? Will the thing just blow up?

So with your comments as a guide, and free of the somewhat restrictive teardown format, I set out to conduct a more thorough investigation of this little circuit that caused so much debate last month. It’s not all good news, but it’s not in the trash either. Not yet, anyway.

Continue reading “Investigating The Tiny Salvaged UPS From A Lightbulb”

A Home Network, Security System, And A Hidden Room Behind A Bookcase

Ok, now this is something special. This is a home network and security system that would make just about anyone stop, and with jaw hanging agape, stare, impressed at the “several months of effort” it took [timekillerjay] to install their dream setup. Just. Wow.

Want a brief rundown of the diverse skill set needed to pull this off? Networking, home security, home automation, woodworking, running two thousand feet(!) of cat 6a cable, a fair hand at drywall work for the dozens upon dozens of patches, painting, staining, and — while not a skill, but is definitely necessary — an amazingly patient family.

Ten POE security cameras monitor the premises with audio recording, infrared, and motion detection capabilities. This is on top of magnetic sensors for five doors, and eleven windows that feed back to an ELK M1-Gold security system which effortlessly  coordinates with an Insteon ISY994i smart home hub; this allows for automatic events — such as turning on lights after dark when a door is opened — to occur as [timekillerjay]’s family moves about their home. The ELK also allows [timekillerjay] to control other things around the house — namely the sprinkler system — via relays. [timekillerjay] says he lost track of how many smart switches are scattered throughout his home, but there are definitely 39 network drops that service the premises.

All of the crucial components are hidden in his office, behind a custom bookshelf. Building it required a few clever tricks to disguise the bookshelf for the secret door that it is, as well as selecting components with attention to how much noise they generate — what’s the point of a hidden security system if it sounds like a bunch of industrial fans?

An uninterruptible power supply will keep the entire system running for about 45 minutes if there is a power outage, with the cameras recording and system logging everything all the while. Not trusting the entrance to his vault to something from Batman, he’s also fitted the bookshelf with a 600lb magnetic lock that engages when the system is armed and the door already closed. A second UPS will keep the door secured for 6+ hours if the house loses power. Needless to say, we think this house is well secured.

[Via /r/DIY]

Battery Backup Conceals A Pentesting Pi

Over the last few years one thing has become abundantly clear: hackers love cramming the Raspberry Pi into stuff. From classic game systems to mirrors, there’s few places that haven’t been invaded by everyone’s favorite Linux SBC. From the inspired to the bizarre, we’ve brought such projects to your attention with minimal editorialization. As we’ve said before: it’s not the job of Hackaday to ask why, we’re here to examine how.

That said, some builds do stand out from the crowd. One such project is the “Pentesting BBU Dropbox” which [b1tbang3r] has recently posted to Hackaday.io. Noticing the battery bay in a cheap Cyberpower 350VA battery backup was just about the same size as the Raspberry Pi, he decided to convert it into a covert penetration testing device. Of course the illusion isn’t perfect as the battery backup function itself doesn’t work anymore. But if you hid this thing in an office or server room, there’s very little chance anyone would ever suspect it didn’t belong.

The key to the final device’s plausibility is that from stock it had dual RJ-11 jacks for analog modem surge protection. Swapping those jacks out for RJ-45 network connectors gives the BBU Dropbox an excuse to be plugged into the network. At a cursory glance, at least. Internally there is a TRENDnet Ethernet switch which allows the Pi to get on the network when an Ethernet cable is plugged into the battery backup.

We especially like the little details [b1tbang3r] put in to make the final device look as real as possible. The “Reset” button and “Wiring Fault” LED have been connected to the GPIO pins of the Pi, allowing for an exceptionally discrete user interface. For instance the LED could be setup to blink when a scan is complete, or the button could be used to wipe the device in an emergency.

This build reminds us of the Power Pwn released back in 2012 by Pwnie Express. That device was based around a relatively bulky power strip, and the only “feature” it looks like this DIY build is missing from the professional version is the $1,300 price.