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Hacking the City with Public IoT

One of the things IoT can be good for is hacking public infrastructure. Think of someone who has issues taking stairs and instead has to rely on a functioning elevator, fathers with their kids, people with a wheelchair, elder people etc. – in these cases the question whether a specific elevator is working properly at the moment can be absolutely crucial.

So we were delighted to get an invitation by Raul Krauthausen, Founder of Sozialhelden e.V. , a Berlin based non profit organization that wants to address exactly this: accessibility.

The goal was to check whether current IoT technology can be used to hack an elevator, so that data from it can be made available on the web. We specifically wanted to find a way not to rely on the manufacturer or the owner of the guy, but rather take a real hacking approach where an elevator just get’s IoT-tagged without permission.

And it worked!


What you can see here is a combination of several technologies: A Calliope mini (a kind of german microbit) is being used to prototype the sensor part – it has a built in Accelerometer (Bosch BMX055) and can be programmed very easy with a block-based visual language (it’s designed for 8year old kids). The code on this part can be found on hackster. Besides being a cool Beginner-Board for Kids it can be used as a prototyping tool for makers as well. When it detects acceleration it activates a small LoRa-Board via UART (we used the awesome Nexus Board from Ideetron) that sends out a status over 868Mhz Ultra-Long-Range LoRa Radio module. This is being processed by the things network, an open source initiative for a public IoT Network. On their backend we configured an IFTTT node that sends a status into an app on the smartphone. Of course later we will aggregate that data on a map and make it accessible from everywhere. There is even the idea to create Alexa-Integrations etc. (“Alexa, are there any problems on my way to Berlin Alexanderplatz?”).


Above (in the video) there is another technology that was tested in parallel. A shiny ubirch ubridge-board that transfers the data over 2G GSM radio-frequency. This also worked fine – we will combine it with a Calliope as a detector later as well. The ubirch board does not only detect movement of the elevator but also records air-pressure (which has altitude built in), temperature and humidity. We will see to what extent this helps to improve the status recording even more (e.g we can think of usage patterns of an elevator).


We were amazed by the fact that both radio technologies were able to send data from within the elevator easily. LoRa clearly has advantages because it consumes less power, GSM has more reliability and coverage. We will figure out what combination of both technologies makes the best product in this case. Power consumption and harvesting energy from the elevator (the light is always turned on!) are future topics on our roadmap for this project.

Of course this is not only a feasibility thing – you can imagine that we are planning to take this a little bit further. Stay tuned and we will provide a couple of updates on that project soon. Thanks Raul and the team of Sozialhelden, it was a pleasure working with you.

If your are interested in hacking a city as well – join us on the next City Makeathon at Startplatz Cologne on the 20th of March.

Name of author

Name: Stephan Noller

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