Framing an #IOT thing of beauty

A picture can tell a thousand words. That’s just what I wanted to achieve by placing my Raspberry Pi into a picture frame. This all started with a long trip to IKEA over the weekend. One of those trips where you get to the car and realise you have way too much to fit it all in the car. During this long trip, I spotted a thick picture frame. My mind jumped at the thought of placing a working Raspberry Pi within it. Well, this evening I decided to give it a try and went about trying to house a Raspberry Pi in the picture frame and succeeded.

I researched how others might have tackled this. My searches returned examples where people have made a digital picture frame as opposed to housing or framing a Raspberry Pi in a traditional picture frame. Bizarrely the one example I did find, Digital PI-cture Frame by David Park, was from IKEA Hackers. Great minds! This, although some years old was what I had pictured in my head.

IKEA Ribba picture frame

I love my tech and whilst I appreciate the clean, tidy and organised side of life. Sometimes I hate hiding things away too. This isn’t just any Raspberry Pi, this is one that is the hub of our home automation. One that should be out on display for everyone to see.

I was really torn whether I should house a Raspberry Pi 3b or a Raspberry Pi Zero within the picture frame. They are both absolutely beautiful and remarkable devices. In the end, I decided on the Raspberry Pi (RPi) 3b as it is such a significant device to our home. I may add another frame to house a RPi Zero for another project in a few months. For now, the frame currently sits on my desk but I plan to hang this on a significant wall in the house and make a feature of it including some internal lighting.

A picture frame as a Raspberry Pi case

The list below is a summary of bits I used:

  • Picture Ribba frame – IKEA £3.50
  • Black backboard – cut from a recycled notepad
  • Mounting nuts/bolts – taken from a spare Raspberry Pi case

OpenHab

For those wanting to know what that other bit is that is included in the picture frame. It’s a RF transmitter (315MHz). This RPi runs OpenHab where I have some rules that trigger my projector blind to come down or go back up when using my Logitech Harmony remote. Personally I think the picture frame looks better for having something alongside the RPi rather than having it sat there by itself. I’ll have some more posts on this topic very soon!

My Raspberry Pi at work sending RF codes

Battery powered portable Sonos Play:1

Well my Sonos Play:1 warranty is now void less than 24 hours after being delivered. This isn’t going to be one of those sexy extreme unboxing  it instead my personal experience in making my first Sonos speaker more portable and more accessible by powering it via USB. In short I stripped apart a new Sonos Play:1 speaker and added the circuitry to power the unit using USB.

I love music and listening to a few stations on the radio. We have radios scattered throughout house. This tends to result in me not listening to any of my music or playlists because of the convenience of having a radio in almost every room in the house. I’d say I listen to music or the radio far more than I watch TV. Sonos speakers have always been a ‘thing’ on my ‘for the house’ list and after experiencing them while visiting some friends recently (who highly recommended them mind) I decided to buy a Play:1 and give Sonos a try!

Battery powered Sonos Play:1
A Sonos Play:1 you can move anywhere you like using a portable battery.

I’m now in love with Sonos speakers and question why it has taken me so long to buy one. They’re amazing!

The build quality is great (inside and out!) and more importantly the sound quality is superb (okay so maybe the bass is a bit over driven on the Play:1 which causes excess bass driven vibrations at times). They kick the ass out of any of my other Bluetooth speakers. I will no doubt buy more Sonos speakers to have throughout the house but until then, I just have the one Play:1 to play with. Which is why I wanted more flexibly to move this Sonos Play:1 around the house – from the study to the kitchen to the bathroom, garden and bed room. This is the reason for this post.

I have plenty of sockets I could power the Sonos Play:1 from both inside the house and out, but I felt USB powered comments would give me the greatest flexibility to move it around. We even have those power outlets with USB included in them which this was another reason to add USB power. Plus I just love tearing things apart I guess.

Struggling with power with volume above 80%

So what gives, nothing other than volume at the top end. I have the same issue with the power consumption of the Play:1, if the volume is above 80% the unit requires more power than what can be supplied. This causes sound distortion and is demonstrated in one of the videos that inspired me to do this hack in the first place (Sonos PLAY:1 USB powered, how-to!!). Anything above 80% volume is really kicking it in the first place so I’m not troubled by this compromise.

The wireless performance of a portable Play:1 is really impressive. I moved it throughout the house and garden and I’ve yet to experience the Play:1 stop streaming due to connectivity issues. This in part is down to the quality of my home network but credit where credit is due Sonos have done a great job here. When I travel, I travel with my trusted MiFi device. It replicates my home SSID. This means any of my devices connect just like they would at home and don’t need any more config. I could therefore take my Sonos speaker with me when on the road, staying away or travelling, assuming you have an amazing data plan or a music library accessible by the Sonos speaker!

Hacking apart the Sonos Play:1

I won’t detail the specific steps involved, in part I don’t want to be hit with the bill for replacement Sonos speakers. But also because I managed perfectly by watching two YouTube videos – Sonos PLAY:1 USB powered, how-to!! and Howto open Sonos PLAY:1 – Part 1. Happy for you to reach out to me for any questions or help if you’re trying this out yourself.

Basically I took the Sonos Play:1 apart, carefully pulled the circuitry out. I then added a micro USB socket and step up convertor that takes the 5.5V current from a USB input and increases it to 24V to power the Sonos speaker. The only thing I did differently from these videos was that I included the micro USB socket. This makes the cable detachable like most other devices. I intend to use the Play:1 in various locations and didn’t want to lose the figure eight mains power lead nor have a USB cable attached all the time. Win, win!

Inside a Sonos Play:1
Step up convertor fixed inside a Sonos Play:1

What I used to pull this off.

  1. Micro USB PCB board (remember power out from a USB requires pin VCC to Positive and GND to GND)
  2. Dremal used to drill and shape the hole used for the micro USB socket on both the speak enclosure and the speaker cage cover
  3. Power step up convertor to increase the USB power from 5V to 24V
  4. 5.5mm USB to power socket for testing power from a USB power source
  5. Solderless 5.5mm female socket, again for testing with the above lead
  6. Glue gun – the cables and terminals inside the Sonos Play:1 are very well insulated with what appears to be a PVA like glue gun insulation – I did similar with my soldering joints and used the glue gun to secure the step up convertor
  7. Soldiering skills
  8. Good set of Torx screw drivers
  9. A jenga like mind to work out the best place for the extra step up convertor component and micro USB socket while still being able to put it all back together again
  10. Dappy looking zip bag to enclose the speaker and battery and make it even more transportable and big buggy pram clip – for example hanging the Sonos under the garden parasol
  11. USB power source or a USB battery and micro USB lead to make your Sonos speaker portable – my current battery is a Repower PB19 a 4.5amp 17000MaH
  12. Heavy duty Velcro to stick the battery to the speaker
Portable Sonos Play:1
Portable Sonos Play:1 powered with a USB battery pack in front of my fire place.
Sono Play:1 with battery attached using velcro
Sono Play:1 with battery attached using Velcro

My portable Play:1 will live on.

I completely get why you would have a Sonos in almost every room. Until a time when I have do, this solution will suffice perfectly thank you. Once I am fully Sonos’ed in every room, my Portable Sonos Play:1 will live on with its dappy looking pull string bag.

Philips Hue LED kit extension lead hack

With most of the house HUE’d up, I thought I would add Hue lighting under the cupboards in our kitchen. I love cooking but am often frustrated because of the poor lighting on the work surface in the kitchen. The trouble is the Philips Hue LED kit is only available in two sizes, the 2m main kit and in 1m extensions. Our kitchen cupboards are split in two by our cooker hob extractor. This leaves me with cupboard lengths of 1.4m and 1.6m. I did some research but could not find an extension lead for the Philips Hue lightstrips so rather than shedding out on two kits, I decided to hack together a solution to create my own extension lead.

Philips Hue lightstrip extension lead hack
Philips Hue lightstrip extension lead hack

Appreciating the risks and potential cost of replacement involved if I failed, I took off and carefully hacked my own extension lead together. Below is a list of what you’ll need to do this yourself and the steps involved to make your own extension lead for your Hue lightstrips.

What you’ll need to hack your own Hue lightstrip extension lead together

  • Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting 2 m Lightstrip Plus
  • Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting 1 m Lightstrip Plus Extension
  • Wire cutters and a good wire stripper
  • Heat shrink to protect any exposed cables once we finish
  • Soldering iron and solder to join the extension lead wires onto the Philips Hue lightstrip
  • Desired length of cable (this will be your extension) – I couldn’t find a wire with six cores so used two five metre lengths of four core wire. Far less attractive but good enough for the hack this time round
  • Optional connector terminals and a crimp tool (male/female spade terminals) – these allowed me to pass the extension lead through backs of my cupboards more easily
  • Optional staple gun to tack the leads to the cupboards.
The tools you'll need to create the extension lead.
The tools you’ll need to create the extension lead.

The steps involved…

  1. Plan and test the placement of your lightstrip and where you will attach the extension lead.
  2. Work out the route of your extension lead – in my case I went through the backs of the cupboards and then up and over the top of my extraction fan. This required few holes to be drilled into the cupboards.
  3. Prepare your extension lead. Strip and tin each of the with with the soldering iron.
  4. Decide if you will include a connector to allow you to separate the extension lead from the lightstrip. If you are going to add one, cut, strip and crimp the wires with your connector – in my case I used a set of spade terminals.
  5. Grandad always said measure twice cut once – so run through your placement and cabling route once more.
  6. And don’t be silly – remember to power off the lightstrip before the next step!
  7. Cut the lightstrip at the nearest cut joint because this is where we will solder our extension lead wires onto.
  8. Carefully cut back some of the outer plastic on the lightstrip so that you can solder your wires onto the terminals. Make sure you don’t forget to include some heat shrink to protect these joints once you have terminated the wires.
  9. Test the lights work correctly before fitting in your desired place.
  10. Tip! If placing under cupboards, place the lightstrip at the back for the best effect.
  11. Optionally use a cable staple gun to tack the extension lead throughout its route to make it extra secure.

Grandad always said, measure twice cut once.

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Product improvement idea

Philips could avoid this problem altogether and avoid any hacking at all. Firstly they should offer an official 6 core extension lead. Secondly, they could alter the cut joint they include at various points throughout the lightstrip. Making each cut joint made up of a male and female connector under the plastic. To extend the lightstrip you would then simply cut over the joint and use the official Philips Hue lightstrip extension lead. The extension lead would have a male and female connector at each end, allowing you to simple connect it to the section you have just cut.

extensionlead

That aside, kudos to the Philips team for creating amazing lights and for placing cut joints throughout the lightstrip. This made my hack so much easier to pull off.

The Philips Hue light strip at it's brightest.
The Philips Hue light strip at it’s brightest.

I’m really impressed with the outcome of the Philips Hue LED lightstrips and my custom extension lead hack. I hope you find this article helpful and it inspires others to extend Hue lightstrips more easily. This post is part of my home automation series. If you liked this hack, be sure to check out some of my other home automation hacks.