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#33: Sonoff Mini and S55: ALMOST perfect

The new Sonoff Mini DIY and Sonoff S55 are (so far) the best Sonoff devices that ITEAD has made. Flash them with Tasmota, and they get even better.

Resources

Background

The original Sonoff Basic didn’t have any provision for an external button or switch. One of the most common hacks is to add a switch, so ITEAD decided to make it easy and put screw terminals right there on the Mini.

The Mini is also the smallest Sonoff model so far, which makes it ideal for retrofitting behind an existing switch. Combined with the screw terminals to connect the switch, the Mini is probably the best general-purpose Sonoff for anyone wanting to retrofit home automation to an existing home.

The S55 is an exterior-rated GPO (General Purpose Outlet) or power point. It allows you to have both local control of the power point using a button, and also control from your home automation system.

Both are nice devices, but they become even better when the amazing Open Source Tasmota firmware is installed on them.

Over the years there have been many methods developed to do OTA (Over The Air) replacement of the existing Sonoff firmware with an alternative such as Tasmota. However, I’ve found that these methods are either frustratingly complex or just stop working because ITEAD change things with new releases. I don’t even bother trying these methods anymore: I just go straight to connecting a USB-to-Serial adapter to the programming pins on the Sonoff’s processor. It can be tricky to get the connections sometimes, but it’s guaranteed to work every time single time.

Warning: Do not attempt to connect a programming adapter to any Sonoff model while mains power is connected. ALWAYS disconnect the Sonoff and power it ONLY through the 3.3V connection.

Install Tasmota on Sonoff Mini

The programming connections for the Sonoff Mini are provided on tiny flat pads on the bottom of the PCB:

The button on the top of the PCB is connected to GPIO0, so if you connect to GND, 3.3V, TX, and RX, you can put the Sonoff Mini into programming mode by holding down the button while connecting power from the programmer.

Unfortunately the pads on the PCB are very small, so soldering jumper wires onto them is tricky. If you have a small soldering iron and good eyesight (or magnification) you can solder wires directly onto the pads.

Just be careful you don’t apply too much heat, because the pads can come away from the PCB!

To get around that problem I used my 3D printer to make a programming jig using a design published on Thingiverse. This programming jig uses “pogo pins”, which are spring-loaded pins that can make temporary connections to a PCB. Pogo pins come in a variety of sizes and shapes. I used P75-B1 pins, which means they have a 0.75mm diameter pin with a simple conical point:

This design has 3 parts: a base that holds 4 pogo pins, a small spacer that slips over the pins to help keep them aligned, and a top that goes over the pins and then provides alignment guides for the Sonoff Mini.

I used super-glue to attach the top to the base, once I’d checked everything was aligned:

The Sonoff Mini can be attached using an elastic band:

The pogo pins push against the pads on the PCB:

Hold down the button on the PCB while plugging in the programming adapter to force the Sonoff to go into programming mode, then you can use Esptool or whatever other method you prefer to load the Tasmota binary. In my case I used Esptool, and the command looked like this:

esptool.py -p /dev/tty.usbmodem141101 write_flash -fm dout 0x0 sonoff-6_6_0.bin

However, this command is specific to the USB port that I used on my computer. You may need to adjust the command to suit your needs. This is all documented well on the Tasmota site.

Because the Sonoff Mini has different pin arrangements to a normal Sonoff Basic, and it’s designed to use a normal switch instead of a button, you need to load a special configuration for it.

After you’ve been through the normal Tasmota setup process and connected it to your WiFi as described in the Tasmota docs, go to the Tasmota templates site at blakadder.github.io/templates/ and search for “Mini”. You’ll find a template that looks like this:

{"NAME":"Sonoff Mini","GPIO":[17,0,0,0,9,0,0,0,21,56,0,0,255],"FLAG":0,"BASE":1}

In the Tasmota interface, go to Configuration -> Configure Other and paste the template into the “Template” field.

Make sure the “Activate” check-box is ON, then click “Save”.

Your Sonoff Mini will now operate as expected, with the external switch operating in the normal way.

Install Tasmota on Sonoff S55

The Sonoff S55 doesn’t have a “DIY mode” jumper, so that’s not an option. Luckily, the usual programming header is provided on the PCB ready for you to solder on wires, solder on a header, or just press connections against it. The button for external control is linked to GPIO0, so it’s very easy to put it into programming mode.

The header is in the normal 0.1″ pitch so it’s large enough to solder on a header directly. There’s no need to use a complex pogo pin programming jig.

Solder some hookup wires directly onto the pads, or solder on a header:

I soldered a 4-way 0.1″ header socket onto the pads, with the pins bent a little sideways to make the head sit almost horizontal with the PCB. This makes it easy to plug in a Sonoff Programming Adapter, or use jumper wires to your own USB-to-serial converter.

Hold down the GPIO0 button while you connect the programming header to put it into programming mode, then follow the normal instructions for installing Tasmota. This is very well documented on the Tasmota site.

There’s no specific device profile for the S55 in Tasmota, but it uses the same pinouts as the Sonoff S26 and other mains-plug adapters. Simply select “Sonoff S2x” as the module type in the configuration interface, and it will work as expected.

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Vlog #65: SuperHouse now has a Discord server!

I’ve resisted for ages, so viewer Lorenzo took matters into his own hands and set up a Discord server for SuperHouse 🙂

Within 24 hours of being announced, there are now more than 200 people on the server! To join the discussion about SuperHouse projects, home automation, MQTT, Home Assistant, OpenHAB, Tasmota, and many other things, go to this link for an invitation:

www.superhouse.tv/discord

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Upcoming livestream: EAGLE managed libraries and Fusion 360 integration

Livestreams are back! My new Internet connection is working, so it’s time to warm up the camera and get back into live-streaming.

EAGLE’s “managed libraries” feature and its Fusion 360 integration are two of the biggest and most important changes to EAGLE in years, but they’re still very frustrating to use and a bit rough around the edges. The first time I tried using managed libraries I almost rage-quit in frustration, but now that I’ve figured out the magic workflow I’ve come to love them.

To demonstrate both managed libraries and Fusion 360 integration, I’m going to take one of my older designs (the Freetronics EtherTen) which hasn’t been touched in years, and give it a major makeover:

  • Replace all the parts in the design with parts in managed libraries
  • Make sure all the parts have associated 3D models
  • Sync the design with Fusion 360 so it can be used as the basis of a 3D design

Come and join me at 9am Saturday morning (Melbourne time, GMT+10) to see how badly I can stuff this up! Subscribe and click the bell icon on my channel to be notified when the livestream starts:

www.youtube.com/user/SuperHouseTV

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Vlog #64: New version of the Sonoff Programming Adapter

My original design for the Sonoff Programming Adapter had a power switch on it, but the switches turned out to be rubbish quality so I put on pin headers instead.

Now I’ve updated the design based on feedback in the forum, so they’ll have a normally-closed button in the power line and will ship with both a socket and a pin header so that you can decide which one you want to install.

The Sonoff Programming Adapter page will be updated soon with the new model.

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iLife Robot Hoover Automation in Home Assistant with Wemos & IR Shield

Colin Hickey has an interesting YouTube channel that features some of his cool home automation projects. What I like about his videos is that he doesn’t just show the end result: he goes through his setup step by step so that you can do the same thing yourself.

If you go back through his videos you’ll find plenty of fascinating information about his home-made PowerWall and battery management system.

His latest video should be interesting to anyone who has an iLife robot vacuum cleaner, so check it out and make sure you subscribe to his channel:

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#32: Rock solid WiFi for home automation, part 1

WiFi is a critical part of most home automation systems, but many people simply install the WiFi router that came with their Internet plan and forget about it. However, setting up a good home WiFi network that will handle dozens of IoT devices and still keep your home secure takes a bit more work.

Resources

Planning your network

The typical home network uses an all-in-one router to provide many different network services, including:

  • Router
  • Firewall
  • WiFi access point
  • Ethernet switch
  • Media streaming
  • VPN server
  • DNS resolution
  • DHCP server
  • Printer sharing
  • File serving
  • … and more

This usually results in a network topology that looks like this:

All-in-one WiFi routers try to do too much, so they end up being terrible at everything.

Well structured networks generally separate critical services into different devices that are optimised to do that job, and do it well. Access points don’t try to be file servers, and DHCP servers aren’t Ethernet switches.

Learning from the way that small corporate networks are structured is a great way to improve your home network and improve its reliability, performance, and security.

A better way to structure a home network is like this:

To convert the typical network into the improved network, we’re going to make changes in a series of steps.

For this tutorial I’m using parts from the UniFi range from Ubiquiti Networks, which is a range of networking products designed to be installed across small to medium corporate networks. It uses a management system that provides a single interface to control all your devices, even if they’re installed in physically separate locations.

Shopping list

The specific devices that I installed included:

  • 1 x UniFi Security Gateway
  • 2 x UniFi UAP-AC-Pro access points (probably should have got Nano HD though)
  • 1 x Raspberry Pi 3 B+ (or you can use a UniFi Cloud Key)
  • 1 x UniFi US-8-60W 8-port managed Ethernet switches (not shown in this episode: will feature in Part 2)
  • 2 x UniFi US-24 24-port managed Ethernet switches (not shown in this episode: will feature in Part 2)

Step 1: Set up management system

Ubiquiti Networks provides management software called UniFi Network Controller. It has a web interface, so you run the UniFi Network Controller software on a computer somewhere on your network (or even outside your network) and then access it using a web browser.

The UniFi Network Controller can be run in three different ways:

  1. On your local computer. You can download the software and run it on your Mac, Windows, or Linux computer. This is a great way to test it out and see how it works, but if your computer is turned off the management software will also stop running. If you have a computer that you leave on all the time, such as a home media server, you can run the UniFi Network Controller on it. Download it for your computer from Ubiquiti Networks.
  2. On a UniFi Cloud Key. This is a tiny embedded computer a bit like a Raspberry Pi, which comes with the UniFi Network Controller software preinstalled. You just plug it into your network, open a web browser on your own computer, and log into it. The Cloud Key is a low-power device so you can leave it running continuously.
  3. On a Raspberry Pi or other low power computer. This is what I’m doing. A board such as a Raspberry Pi B+ has plenty of power to run the UniFi Network Controller and still do other things as well, such as run PiHole or other services. Effectively this is just like a DIY version of the Cloud Key, but it’s cheaper and you can do other things with it.

Step 1a: Install Raspbian on a Raspberry Pi

Start with a standard installation of Raspbian, and update all the packages in the usual way. I won’t go into detail of this because it’s very well documented elsewhere. You can either follow the official guide to installing OS images, or use NOOBS to install Raspbian.

Step 1b: Change network settings and password

After installation, make sure your Raspberry Pi is connected to wired Ethernet (not just to WiFi) and log in to the Raspberry Pi as the default “pi” user. The default password is “raspberry”.

Set a static IP address so that the Raspberry Pi will always boot up with the same address, to make it easier for you to log into it in future. Do this by editing the file /etc/dhcpcd.conf:

sudo nano /etc/dhcpcd.conf

Go to the bottom of the file, and add lines similar to this:

interface eth0
static ip_address=192.168.1.2/24
static routers=192.168.1.1
static domain_name_servers=192.168.1.1

Those particular settings suit my network, which has the gateway running at 192.168.1.1 and also providing DNS resolution. You may need to change the values to suit your network.

Press Control-X to exit, then save the file.

Now run the “raspi-config” utility:

sudo raspi-config

Use the menu system to select “Change User Password”, and set a strong password.

Then go into the “Hostname” section, and change the hostname from “raspberrypi” to something more specific. I changed mine to “controller“.

Exit from raspi-config, and allow it to reboot.

A minute or so later your Raspberry Pi should come back up on the network. Now it will be at the IP address you specified above, it will have hostname you set, and the password will have changed.

Step 1c: Install UniFi Network Controller software

Install the haveged daemon to provide a good source of entropy. This isn’t essential, but it will help the UniFi Network Controller boot up faster, because it will be able to generate cryptographic keys more quickly:

sudo apt install haveged -y

Install a version of Java that works nicely with the Controller:

sudo apt install openjdk-8-jre-headless -y

Add the Ubiquiti Networks software repository and GPG key:

echo 'deb http://www.ubnt.com/downloads/unifi/debian stable ubiquiti' | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/100-ubnt-unifi.list
sudo wget https://dl.ubnt.com/unifi/unifi-repo.gpg -O /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/unifi-repo.gpg

Those lines above may have wrapped in the browser. It should be 2 lines, with the second line starting with “sudo”.

Now update the list of available packages, and install the UniFi Network Controller package:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install unifi -y

In future you can update the Controller package just like you would with any other Raspbian package. If you regularly update your Raspberry Pi using the following commands, it will stay up to date along with all the other packages:

sudo apt update
sudo apt dist-upgrade

Step 1d: Log in to Controller software

After the installation finishes and the Controller software has finished booting, you can log in using a web browser. Use your browser to open the IP address you configured for your Controller, but make sure you prefix it with “https” and use port 8443. With the example configuration I gave above, the URL is:

https://192.168.1.2:8443

Your browser will complain because it doesn’t trust the SSL certificate being used by the Controller. You can click through and load it anyway.

Step through the setup wizard and answer each question. There aren’t many questions and they’re fairly simple to work out. You can skip the WiFi configuration and do it later, as I show in the video.

Click around and explore the Controller interface if you like. There won’t be anything much happening in it because there aren’t any devices configured.

Step 1e: Plan your access point placement

The UniFi Network Controller has an interesting feature that lets you create a plan of the physical layout of your house, and place network devices on the plan. It can then use obstructions such as walls to do estimates of the signal strength in different parts of your house.

Go to the “MAP” menu item on the left, and you’ll see an example map. Edit the example or create a new map and upload a plan of your house, then use the Map Designer tool to draw lines where all your walls are located. Place access points, turn on coverage display in the “Layers” menu, and experiment with different locations for your APs.

Step 2: Replace all-in-one router with dedicated router

If your Internet connection uses a technology such as ADSL, or Cable, or optical fibre, you need to have it terminated in a way that gives you a simple Ethernet connection. A device that does this is called a Network Termination Unit, or NTU. The NTU is specific to the type of connection that your ISP provides.

In some cases, your ISP will have provided an NTU so that you can simply plug your new router straight into it. If that’s the case, you can skip ahead to installing your dedicated router. I’m going to use a UniFi Security Gateway (USG) as my new dedicated router for the rest of this example.

I have a Cable internet connection that comes in on coaxial cable, so it needs a device to convert the coaxial connection into an Ethernet connection. Instead of using an NTU, I used the original Telstra Gateway Max that was provided by my provider, and changed its configuration to put it into “bridge” mode.

Bridge mode is a simplified mode that turns off almost all the features of your existing router and turns it into a dumb adapter that just passes data through without trying to manage it. Effectively this is like taking a router and giving it a lobotomy to turn it into an NTU. This will also disable any WiFi functionality, so it won’t be useful as an access point anymore.

The specifics of how to do this depend entirely on your ISP setup and your existing router, so I can’t provide instructions here.

Once you have converted your ISP’s router into a bridge or replaced it with an NTU, it won’t provide any of the normal services that you need such as routing and DHCP. That will now by done by your dedicated router.

Disconnect everything from your existing router except the ISP connection.

Use an Ethernet cable to connect the “WAN” port of your new router to one of the “LAN” ports of the old router. The connection will then go:

Your ISP -> Your NTU / bridge -> New router [REPLACE WITH IMAGE]

Connect from the “LAN” port of your new router to an Ethernet switch, so that you have somewhere to connect wired devices to your network. This will include the Raspberry Pi that is now running the UniFi Network Controller software!

ADD IMAGE HERE

Turn on the new router, wait for it to start up, and then go back into the management interface on the Controller. If you’re using a UniFi compatible router such as the UniFi Security Gateway (USG) that I show in the video, the Controller should now see that you have a new device on the network. You can “adopt” the new device, which sets up a secure communication link between the Controller and the USG.

The rest of the setup of the gateway is done through the Controller interface. There’s no need to log in directly to the USG itself, because it receives its configuration from the Controller.

Step 3: Install dedicated access points

Ubiquity specialise in WiFi, so they have a huge range of access points available. In my case I stuck to the UniFi range because I wanted APs that could be managed using the UniFi Network Controller. I chose UAP-AC-Pro models because they seemed the best for my needs, but I’ve been told that I probably should have got the nanoHD model instead.

The particular APs that I got use PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) instead of plugging in a power supply directly. This means you can run a single Ethernet cable from your Ethernet switch to your AP, and the AP will take its power from the cable.

If you have a PoE Ethernet switch, there’s nothing else you need to do. Just plug in the cable, and the AP will receive power.

If you have a non-PoE switch, you can use a POE injector mounted near the Ethernet switch as an intermediary, to provide the power source. My APs came with PoE injectors included in the box, but some models of UniFi AP can be bought both with and without the injector in case you already have a PoE switch.

If you want a bit more background on Power-over-Ethernet, I did an introduction to it way back in episode #3! Check it out here:

SuperHouse Episode #3: Power-over-Ethernet for Arduino home automation

I also wrote a tutorial about it on the Freetronics site:

Power-over-Ethernet for Arduino

Once your APs are plugged in and powered up, go back into the UniFi Network Controller interface to find them listed as new devices. You can then adopt them, just like you did with the Security Gateway.

However, don’t configure them directly unless you want to achieve something specific. The simplest thing is to leave them on default settings, which allows them to inherit the settings that you can apply to the entire site. In this context, “site” means your physical premises. The UniFi Network Controller is designed to scale up to installations with many devices across many physical sites, such as a group of remote branch offices, all managed through one central interface. For domestic use, you’ll probably only have one site.

To create a WiFi network that will be advertised through your fancy new access points, go to the “SETTINGS” menu item in the very bottom left of the Controller screen, then select “Wireless Networks“.

Click “CREATE NEW WIRELESS NETWORK“, and enter the details:

  1. Set “Name/SSID” for the WiFi name that you want.
  2. Leave the “Enabled” box ticked. Obviously!
  3. Change the “Security” setting to “WPA Personal“. This is the common authentication type that most domestic WiFi networks use, with a single shared password for all devices.
  4. Type the WiFi password that you want to use in the “Security Key” box.
  5. Leave “Guest Policy” un-ticked, unless you’re specifically creating a guest network. Your first WiFi network will almost certainly be a normal network, not a guest network.

You don’t need to worry about the ADVANCED OPTIONS section for now. We’ll be coming back here in Part 2, when we look at more advanced things that you can do to improve the security of your network and provide compartmentalisation for troublesome devices.

Click the green SAVE button, and your new WiFi network will be created. This will also be automatically applied to all the access points that you have linked to your Controller, so it will become visible and you’ll be able to connect devices to the new network.

That’s all for now, but come back for Part 2 where I’ll show you how to apply more advanced concepts to really make your home network the best it can be.

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High security package vault

Defeat package thieves with a combination of technology and steel!

Having packages stolen from your doorstep can be a big problem in a normal suburban neighbourhood, but when your front gate is at the end of a very long driveway in a remote area it’s even worse. Your packages could sit exposed by the side of the road for hours when you don’t even know they’ve been delivered.

SuperHouse forum member Guru_Of_Nothing was sick of package thieves taking his deliveries, so he’s started building a super-strong, high tech package vault:

The design is very clever because it covers various contingencies, including being able to open the box mechanically if there is a power failure, and handling multiple deliveries in a single day.

This is just the start of the project, so follow Guru’s progress on the forum at https://discourse.superhouse.tv/t/a-new-item-to-automate-the-mailbox/245/9

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De-clouding IoT

One of my pet peeves is devices that operate physically within my own house or network, but require an external cloud service to control. There are a big list of reasons why it’s a really bad idea to make your Internet connection a critical part of the control system for the devices around you, which is why a blog post by RevK made me want to stand up and cheer.

I’ve ranted about this on video before, but RevK’s post is definitely worth reading because he lays out the problems and also his plan to “de-cloud” his devices. This is a great idea, and I hope the term “de-clouding” starts to pop up more regularly.

See RevK’s post: De-clouding IoT

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Vlog #63: Australia, worst place in the world for DIY home automation

Is it true that DIY electrical work can invalidate your home insurance policy? Can you go to prison for replacing the plug on a power board?

In Australia: yes. With the harshest restrictions in the world, Australian regulations don’t let you do anything unless you complete a 4 year apprenticeship, complete some certifications, and become a licensed electrician. It doesn’t matter that I’ve designed satellite payloads and that products I’ve designed have had more than a million units manufactured. Without completing a 4 year apprenticeship, there is no legal path for me to become certified to replace the plug on a power board.

Crazy.

And to top it off, clauses in your insurance policy that don’t seem to have anything to do with electrical safety can allow your insurer to refuse any claims that could be related to DIY electrical work.

If you’re into home automation, check out Rob’s YouTube channel, The Hook Up.