WiFi Controlled Plane Is Cheap Flying Fun

The world of radio controlled aircraft used to be an expensive and exclusive hobby, limited to those with the time and money to invest in difficult builds and pricey radio gear. More recently, the hobby has become more accessible, with cheap ready to fly planes available that can be flown in smaller spaces like suburban parks. [Ravi Butani] has built just such a plane, and you can even fly it with your smartphone!

An ESP8266 does double duty here as both the brains and the communication system. A custom smartphone app communicates with the plane over WiFi. Touching the screen increases the throttle, while steering is achieved through tilting the phone. There’s also monitoring of signal strength and battery level, with the phone vibrating if the plane is getting out of range or low on battery.

Flight control is via differential thrust, with power coming courtesy of two small DC motors controlled by tiny SMD MOSFETs. The plane flies remarkably well in still conditions, and the WiFi connection is stable in an open park environment. [Ravi] reports that control is possible at a range of around 70 meters using a Motorola G5S smartphone.

Despite the simplicity of the build and the low cost of the components, the final product performs admirably. It would be a great weekend project, and at the end of it, you get to go and fly your new plane! If you’re worried about keeping your batteries charged, don’t worry – there’s a solution for that. Video after the break.

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Pocket-Sized Deauther Could Definitely Get You In Trouble

Interfering with radio communications, whether through jamming, deauthing attacks, or other meddling, is generally considered a crime, and one that attracts significant penalties. However, studying such techniques should provide a useful edge in the electronic wars to come. In this vein, [Giorgio Filardi] has recently built a WiFi deauther the size of a credit card.

The device has a simple interface, consisting of 3 buttons and a small OLED screen. It can also be accessed remotely and controlled through a web interface. A NodeMCU ESP8266 board runs the show, using [spacehuhn]’s deauther firmware. The point-to-point construction probably won’t hold up to much rough and tumble out in the field, but it’s fine for a bench test. We’d recommend constructing an enclosure if it was to be used more regularly.

There’s plenty of functionality baked in – the device can scan for networks, perform deauth attacks, and even create spoof networks. It’s a tricky little device that serves to highlight several flaws in WiFi security that are yet to be fixed by the powers that be.

Using one of these devices for nefarious purposes will likely get you into trouble. Experimenting on your own networks can be educational, however, and goes to show that wireless networks are never quite as safe as we want them to be.

If you’re wondering as to the difference between deauthentication and jamming, here’s your primer.

Library Makes ESP Over the Air Updates Easy

Potentially, one of the great things about having a device connected to the network is that you can update it remotely. However, how do you make that happen? If you use the Arduino setup for the ESP8266 or ESP32, you might try [scottchiefbaker’s] library which promises to make the process easy.

Adding it looks to be simple. You’ll need an include, of course. If you don’t mind using port 8080 and the path /webota, you only need to call handle_webota() from your main loop. If you want to change the defaults, you’ll need to add an extra call in your setup. You also need to set up a few global variables to specify your network parameters.

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Does WiFi Kill Houseplants?

Spoiler alert: No.

To come to that conclusion, which runs counter to the combined wisdom of several recent YouTube videos, [Andrew McNeil] ran a pretty neat little experiment. [Andrew] has a not inconsiderable amount of expertise in this area, as an RF engineer and prolific maker of many homebrew WiFi antennas, some of which we’ve featured on these pages before. His experiment centered on cress seeds sprouting in compost. Two identical containers were prepared, with one bathed from above in RF energy from three separate 2.4 GHz transmitters. Each transmitter was coupled to an amplifier and a PCB bi-quad antenna to radiate about 300 mW in slightly different parts of the WiFi spectrum. Both setups were placed in separate rooms in east-facing windows, and each was swapped between rooms every other day, to average out microenvironmental effects.

After only a few days, the cress sprouted in both pots and continued to grow. There was no apparent inhibition of the RF-blasted sprouts – in fact, they appeared a bit lusher than the pristine pot. [Andrew] points out that it’s not real science until it’s quantified, so his next step is to repeat the experiment and take careful biomass measurements. He’s also planning to ramp up the power on the next round as well.

We’d like to think this will put the “WiFi killed my houseplants” nonsense to rest – WiFi can even help keep your plants alive, after all. But somehow we doubt that the debate will die anytime soon.

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Mayak Turns WiFi Traffic Into Sound

Dial-up modems were well known for their screeching soundtrack during the connection process. Modern networking eschews audio based communication methods, so we no longer have to deal with such things. However, all is not lost. [::vtol::]’s Mayak installation brings us a new sound, all its own.

The installation consists of four WiFi routers, connected to four LTE modems. These are configured as open hotspots that anyone can connect to. [::vtol::] was careful to select routers that had highly responsive activity LEDs. The activity LEDs are wired to an Arduino, which processes the inputs, using them to trigger various sounds from an attached synthesizer.

As users connect to the routers and go about their business on the Internet, the activity LEDs flash and the synthesizer translates this into an otherworldly soundtrack. The hardware is all hung on a beautiful metal and acrylic frame, which stands as a striking form in the sparse gallery.

The piece creates a very electronic soundscape, but you may prefer your installations to have a more mechanical racket. Video after the break.

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Blink An LED On The Internet Of Things

Blinking an LED is generally considered the hardware equivalent of the classic “Hello World” project. It’s a quick and simple test to show that you’ve got the basics worked out, and a launching point for bigger and better things. So why should it be any different in this glorious new Internet of Things era?

The “WiFi HDD LED” created by [Limbo] is essentially just that, a status LED that can be triggered remotely thanks to the WiFi capability of the ever-popular ESP8266. Don’t think there’s much use for a wireless LED that blinks when your computer’s hard drive is thrashing around? Maybe not, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for a good way to get your feet wet in the world of ESP hacking.

On the hardware side, this is exactly what you’d expect: an LED hanging off the digital pin of an ESP8266 module. If you go with the bare ESP-01 like [Limbo], things are somewhat more complex due to the need for a voltage regulator, but if you’re using one of the more common ESP development boards then there’s nothing else you need to add. Really, as a proof of concept you could even use the built-in LED on those boards.

As you might imagine, this project is more about the software than the hardware. The code on both sides of the equation has been released as open source for your hacking pleasure, and is more capable than you’d probably expect. The LED is actually an extension of a system activity monitor that [Limbo] had previously developed and includes a binding function to make sure you’re talking to the right blinking ESP. It’s probably overkill for many purposes, but it’s a good example of how to do more robust UDP connections than we’re used to seeing.

This project is one of many that prove there’s more than one way to accomplish a particular goal, and that there’s something to be learned from even the most eccentric of hacks.

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When Will Our Cars Finally Speak the Same Language? DSRC for Vehicles

At the turn of the 21st century, it became pretty clear that even our cars wouldn’t escape the Digital Revolution. Years before anyone even uttered the term “smartphone”, it seemed obvious that automobiles would not only become increasingly computer-laden, but they’d need a way to communicate with each other and the world around them. After all, the potential gains would be enormous. Imagine if all the cars on the road could tell what their peers were doing?

Forget about rear-end collisions; a car slamming on the brakes would broadcast its intention to stop and trigger a response in the vehicle behind it before the human occupants even realized what was happening. On the highway, vehicles could synchronize their cruise control systems, creating “flocks” of cars that moved in unison and maintained a safe distance from each other. You’d never need to stop to pay a toll, as your vehicle’s computer would communicate with the toll booth and deduct the money directly from your bank account. All of this, and more, would one day be possible. But only if a special low-latency vehicle to vehicle communication protocol could be developed, and only if it was mandated that all new cars integrate the technology.

Except of course, that never happened. While modern cars are brimming with sensors and computing power just as predicted, they operate in isolation from the other vehicles on the road. Despite this, a well-equipped car rolling off the lot today is capable of all the tricks promised to us by car magazines circa 1998, and some that even the most breathless of publications would have considered too fantastic to publish. Faced with the challenge of building increasingly “smart” vehicles, manufacturers developed their own individual approaches that don’t rely on an omnipresent vehicle to vehicle communication network. The automotive industry has embraced technology like radar, LiDAR, and computer vision, things which back in the 1990s would have been tantamount to saying cars in the future would avoid traffic jams by simply flying over them.

In light of all these advancements, you might be surprised to find that the seemingly antiquated concept of vehicle to vehicle communication originally proposed decades ago hasn’t gone the way of the cassette tape. There’s still a push to implementĀ Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), a WiFi-derived protocol designed specifically for automotive applications which at this point has been a work in progress for over 20 years. Supporters believe DSRC still holds promise for reducing accidents, butĀ opponents believe it’s a technology which has been superseded by more capable systems. To complicate matters, a valuable section of the radio spectrum reserved for DSRC by the Federal Communications Commission all the way back in 1999 still remains all but unused. So what exactly does DSRC offer, and do we really still need it as we approach the era of “self-driving” cars?

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