Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams explore the coolest hacks of the past 168 hours. The big news this week: will Wink customers pony up $5 a month to turn their lights on and off? There’s a new open source design for a pick and place machine. You may not have a Vectrex gaming console, but there’s a scratch-built board that can turn you oscilloscope into one. And you just can’t miss this LED sign technology that programs every pixel using projection mapping.
Wink Labs just announced that their home automation hub, the Wink Hub, is “transitioning to a $4.99 monthly subscription, starting on May 13, 2020.” Should you fail to pay the fiver every month, you will lose access to their app, voice control, and automations, which is everything it does as far as we can tell.
This is an especially bitter pill to swallow for Hub users, because the device was just that — a hub. It speaks Bluetooth, Z-Wave, ZigBee, WiFi, Kidde, and a couple other specific device protocols, interfaces with Amazon’s Alexa, has a handy Android master panel app, and had a nice “robot” system that made the automation side of “home automation” simple for normal people. In short, with its low one-time purchase price, compatibility with many devices, nice phone app, and multiple radios, it was a great centerpiece for a home-automation setup.
“Nice home automation system you’ve got there. Would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
Many of the biggest stars are hesitant to do sequels, believing that the magic captured the first time around is hard to reproduce in subsequent productions. As I’m known (at least around the former closet that now serves as my home office) as the “Meryl Streep of Teardowns”, I try to follow her example when it comes to repeat performances. But if they could get her to come back for another Mamma Mia film, I suppose I can take a look at a second Quirky product.
This time around we’ll be looking at the Quirky Egg Minder, a smart device advertised as being able to tell you when your eggs are getting old. Apparently, this is a problem some people have. A problem that of course is best solved via the Internet of Things, because who wouldn’t pay $80 USD for a battery-powered WiFi device that lives in their refrigerator and communicates vital egg statistics to an online service?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is “most people”. The Egg Minder, like most of its Quirky peers, quickly became a seemingly permanent fixture of retailer’s clearance shelves. This particular unit, which I was able to pick up new from Amazon, only cost me $9.99. This is still more than I would have paid under normal circumstances, but such sacrifices are part and parcel with making sure the readers of Hackaday get their regular dose of unusual gadgetry.
You may recall that our last Quirky device, the “Refuel” propane tank monitor, ended up being a fantastically engineered and built piece of hardware. The actual utility of the product was far from certain, but nobody could deny that the money had been spent in all the right places.
What will the internals of the Egg Minder reveal? Will it have the same level of glorious over-engineering that took us by surprise with the Refuel? Will that zest for form over function ultimately become the legacy of these Quirky devices, or was it just a fluke? Let’s crack this egg and find out.
Regular Hackaday readers will know that the clearance section of your local big box retailer is a great place to pick up oddball gadgets and gizmos for dirt cheap. In an era where manufacturers are rushing to make their products “smart” whether they need to be or not, the occasional ideas which fail to gain traction are just the cost of doing business. If you keep an eye out, you’re almost guaranteed to see one of these Internet of Things rejects collecting dust on a back aisle, often selling for pennies on the dollar.
Case in point, the “Refuel” propane tank monitor from Wink. Though there’s also logos for Quirky and GE on the package as well, and even a picture of the guy who came up with the idea. Essentially what we have here is a digital scale that reports the current weight of your grill’s propane tank to your phone via the Internet. A trick we might consider a fairly simple hack with a load cell and an ESP8266 under normal circumstances, but as this is a commercial product with an MSRP of $49.99 USD, its naturally been over-complicated to the point of absurdity.
Of course, one could simply lift the propane tank and get a decent estimate of its contents; a trick mastered by weekend grill masters since time immemorial. But then you wouldn’t have to make an account with Wink, or go through the very strange process of attempting to configure the device by using the flashing light of your smartphone’s screen (seriously). All so you can check how much propane is left in your grill while you’re away from home. You know, as one does.
Frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine who would actually have purchased such a thing at full retail. But of course, that’s likely why I was able to pick it up for the princely sum of $5. At that price, we can’t afford not to take a peek into this gizmo from Wink, Quirky, GE, and Anthony from Boston.
Spend enough time looking at home automation setups, and you’ll quickly find there are two competing philosophies. The first wants to put an Arduino on every light socket, with everything connected by cheap eBay radio modules. The second home automation philosophy requires astonishingly expensive hardware to talk to other expensive modules. The Arduino solution is a system that can be infinitely customizable, and the commercial solution talks to ‘the cloud’ for some strange reason. There is no middle ground. At least there wasn’t until [Eric] started poking around and looked at a few hardware solutions.
[Eric] was looking to control some GE Link bulbs through his phone, computer, or through the Internet. They’re supposed to be the best bulb on the market in terms of price and performance, but they can only be controlled with a Zigbee. This lead [Eric] to an interesting hack that gave all owners of the Wink Hub local control of their devices. From [Eric]’s research, this was the only way his lighting wasn’t dependent on ‘the cloud’.
Local control of the Wink was only possible after [Eric] read a post on rooting the Wink (and this post from a few days ago). Because the device could be rooted, and the fact that [Eric] already has a few things in his house integrated with OpenHAB, the choice on how to proceed with controlling a few Zigbee enabled lights was easy.
Once [Eric] got the light bulbs talking to the Wink, integrating them with the rest of the devices in his home was easy. The new bulbs are activated with his Arduino motion sensors, door sensors, and can be controlled via smartphone or by voice control. The Wink can also be completely disconnected from the Internet. A good idea, because the ability to turn a light on and off should not be dictated by the quality of your Internet connection.
Earlier methods of rooting the Wink involved passing commands via URLs – something that’s not exactly secure. The new method leverages what’s already installed on the Wink, specifically Dropbear, to generate public keys on the Wink hub and getting that key onto another computer securely. The complete exploit is just a few lines in a terminal, but once that’s done you’ll have a rooted Wink hub.
Even though the Wink hub has been rooted a few times before, we haven’t seen anything that leverages the capabilities of this hardware. There isn’t another device with a bunch of IoT radios on the market for $50, and we’re dying to see what people can come up with. If you’ve done something with your Wink, send it in on the tip line.