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.

Teardown: LED Bulb Yields Tiny UPS

Occasionally you run across a product that you just know is simply too good to be true. You might not know why, but you’ve got a hunch that what the bombastic phrasing on the package is telling you just doesn’t quite align with reality. That’s the feeling I got recently when I spotted the “LED intellibulb Battery Backup” bulb by Feit Electric. For around $12 USD at Home Depot, the box promises the purchaser will “Never be in the dark again”, and that the bulb will continue to work normally for up to 3.5 hours when the power is out. If I could repurpose that to make a tiny UPS for a microcontroller project of my own, it could be even more useful.

Now an LED light bulb with a battery in the base isn’t exactly rocket science, we can understand the product conceptually at a glance. But as they say, the devil is in the details. The box claims the bulb consumes 8.5 watts, but a battery with enough capacity to run such a load for 3.5 hours would be far too large to fit inside of a light bulb. Obviously there’s more to the story.

On the side of the box, in the smallest font used on the whole package, we get our clue. The bulb drops down to 200 lumens when in battery backup mode, or roughly as bright as a cheap LED flashlight. Now things are starting to come together. Without even opening the device, we can be fairly sure it will contain two separate arrays of LEDs: one low set for battery, and a brighter set to run when the bulb has AC power.

Still, I tend to be of the opinion that anything less than $20 or so is worth cracking open to see what makes it tick. Even if the product itself is underwhelming, there’s a chance the internal components could be useful or interesting. With that in mind, let’s see what’s inside a battery backup light bulb, and what we might be able to do with it.

Continue reading “Teardown: LED Bulb Yields Tiny UPS”

Great Emergency Lights from Not-So-Great UPS

We know your shame. Like you, we wanted to save some scratch and bought the bottom-of-the-range UPS, only to discover that it is no use to man or beast as it lacks the power to perform any reasonable task. It’s now sitting in a corner, to gather dust as its batteries deteriorate.

Not so fast with the UPS abandonment! [rue_mohr] came up with a modification for a small APC UPS that turned it into something a little more useful. Removing the mains inverter from the picture with a few displaced wires and PCB mod, the UPS is now a 12V battery with a mains charger and power outage detection built-in. In this state it’s the perfect power pack for some 12V LED strips used for emergency lighting. There is a handy 3D print that fits the rear socket cut-outs on the US version of the device and provides apertures  for a pair of DC power jacks.

This is a relatively simple hack, but we like it for taking the focus away from the obvious part of the UPS, its mains inverter, and turning to the batteries as the main event. It’s a relatively tiny device, but in the past we’ve featured a UPS at the other end of the scale being used for power back-up to a whole house. Meanwhile we’d like to take a leaf from the [BOFH]’s book, and recommend that the most important piece of infrastructure requiring a UPS is the sysadmin’s coffee machine.

Gas Heater Gets A Battery Backup

With the availability of cheap modules, it has become easy to hack/make stuff at home and home appliances see the most creative hacks of all. In one such hack, [Vadim] takes the DIY route to adding battery backup to his gas heater.

His existing unit operates on two D-type batteries which need to be replaced once they are depleted. [Vadim] wanted to implement a reversible method since he lives in a rented place. He replaced the original cells with battery adaptors and brought out the connections using two wires. He then proceeded to add two cellphone batteries with a TPS54233 regulator so as to supply the desired voltage to the gas heater. This is interesting since the module used is an official Texas Instruments EVM instead of the traditional eBay purchase.

The batteries in question are charged using modules based on the TP4056 which in turn are fed 5V from power supply modules. The DC voltage is coupled with a LM1117 to provide power to the heater from the mains and the switch over is accomplished using an SPDT relay. The enclosure is a humble box which resembles a plastic food container and is fitted with PG9 cable glands along with a fuse holder to boot. Take a look at the original post for a plethora of images and details of construction.

This an excellent example of a project that came together using available parts to solve a problem without the frills. The DIY fish feeder is another example of a project with functional design and is a great example of DIY.

Hackaday Prize Entry: LiFePO4wered/Pi+

For some of you the title might seem familiar, as [Patrick Van Oosterwijck] LiFePO4wered/Pi project is a quite successful Hackaday.io project. Now he’s designing from scratch the plus version to fill in some gaps and solve some of the challenges that affected the initial project. So what exactly is LiFePO4wered/Pi+ and what can it do?

In a nutshell, it’s a smart UPS for the Raspberry Pi. The standard version allows a Model A+ and Pi Zero to run on battery for over 2 hours, and the B+, B2 and B3 to run for at least an hour (it maybe less, depending on the system load, of course). It implements two-way communications between the power system and the Raspberry Pi (running the open-source daemon) over the I2C bus. This allows for continuous measurement of the battery voltage and load voltage, with user programmable thresholds for boot, clean shutdown and hard power down. There’s a touch pad that provides clean boot/shutdown capability even in a headless setup, a wake timer allowing the Raspberry Pi to be off for low duty cycle applications and an auto-boot feature to maximize uptime by making the Raspberry Pi run whenever there is sufficient battery power.

That’s the standard version, which we covered last year… what else could the plus version have?

Well, to start, it brings more current to run complete systems with LCD screen and hard drives, the previous version was limited when it came to current. It will provide the option for a wider range of input power sources, such as solar panels, which is pretty nice. The on/off button and the power led will no longer be soldered on the main board so they can ‘relocated’ elsewhere, for example, when making a custom enclosure. Detection of input power to trigger automatic boot and shutdown will be added and last, but not least, a real-time clock with absolute time wake up.

So there it is, the new LiFePO4wered/Pi+ version, with all bells and whistles for the Raspberry Pi enthusiast.