John Elliott

Reverse Engineering a Bluetooth Fridge

How it started

This year I’ve been spending more time on outdoor adventures, so I got a small portable fridge for the car to skip the hassle of dealing with ice in traditional coolers.

The fridge is pretty much a cooler with buttons and a 12v power cord. I had no idea the fridge had Bluetooth when I ordered it, much less that I’d be digging deep into the guts of how it worked on yet another Raspberry Pi project.

cardboard box with fridge logo

Fridge arrival

Again, I had no plans to make this a project, but I estimated it’d be a simple device code-wise, and the little screen and buttons would make it easy to confirm what data changes happened. I decided it’d be the perfect opportunity to use Go to create a daemon that managed a bunch of sub-procedures, something I’ve been wanting to practice.

Later I found out the Go ecosystem had suitable libraries and I had the energy to build out a HomeKit device I actually use now. I’ll summarize the results below.

How it went

I finally got to know Bluetooth as a protocol and the general design of devices after brushing up against it over the years using Node.js or Arduino. This time was the right combination of interest and reasonable scope. I was pleasantly surprised to find the fridge had a small, quirky data representation that controlled everything via a single Bluetooth characteristic1. All I had to do was serialize data and write data frames to the Bluetooth stack.

What I arrived at after more probing with Wireshark was a near-complete understanding of how the fridge manufacturer’s Bluetooth app talked to the fridge. That’s codified in a Go package containing the fridge protocol.

From there I was able to build my fridge daemon for the Raspberry Pi, find some great software to expose my Bluetooth client as a HomeKit bridge, and build a basic deployment system using Ansible and the musl cross-compiler to develop and deploy features all from my mac.

The source code is on GitHub here: https://github.com/johnelliott/alpicoold

I’m trying to avoid starting big, time-sucking Raspberry Pi projects these days, yet this one was fruitful on these fronts:

Being able to start my fridge and see my home from afar is cool too :)

What’s next

I may go into more detail in later posts, but I’ll leave this one as a summary for now. For good measure, here is what the fridge and UI look like:

raspi taped to side of fridge

Taped and powered

phone screenshot showing homekit accessories and camera

The HomeKit UI


  1. A Bluetooth characteristic is a bit like an REST endpoint ↩︎

  2. Needing to compile Go with libftdi for Windows in 2019 played a part in abandoning a previous project ↩︎