In The Hobbit, the sword Sting glows blue whenever Bilbo Baggins approaches orcs or goblins–a convenient feature in Middle-earth. In the real world, free wireless detection is more useful. “We’re always looking for fun projects that get people excited about DIY culture,” says Zach Supalla, whose company, Spark IO, produces hardware for making Internet-connected devices. So Supalla and his co-workers used the Spark Core, their Wi-Fi development kit, to hack a light-up toy Sting. Now it glows in the presence of unsecured Wi-Fi networks, not enemies.
Want to build your own wireless-detecting Sting? Instructions are available here.
How To Make Sting Smarter
The Spark IO team unscrewed the toy sword’s hilt to expose the electronics: the LEDs that make the blade glow, a vibration switch that detects motion, and the sound system responsible for battle noises.
Team members cut these wires and soldered them to the pins of the Spark Core board. Then they programmed the board with code that scans for unsecured networks and controls the lights and sound.
The reassembled sword lights up when it detects unsecured Wi-Fi. Swinging the weapon produces clangs and swooshing noises and prompts it to publish a message on the network announcing it’s vanquished another foe.
This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Popular Science, under the title “A Hobbit Sword That Detects Free Wi-Fi.”