Author Archives: Brian Benchoff

DEFCON: Blackphone

via Hackaday » » hardware

Despite being full of techies and people doing interesting things with portable devices, you don’t want to have an active radio on you within a quarter-mile of DEFCON. The apps on your phone leak personal data onto the Internet all the time, and the folks at DEFCON’s Wall Of Sheep were very successful in getting a few thousand usernames and passwords for email accounts.

Blackphone is designed to be the solution to this problem, so when we ran into a few members of the Blackphone crew at DEFCON, we were pretty interested to take a quick peek at their device.

The core functionality for the Blackphone comes from its operating system called PrivatOS. It’s a fork of Android 4.4.2 that is supposed to seal up the backdoors found in other mobile phones. There’s also a bundle of apps from Silent Circle that give the Blackphone the ability to make encrypted phone calls, texts (with file sharing), and encrypted and password protected contact lists.

The hardware for the Blackphone is pretty impressive; a quad-core Nvidia Tegra provides all the power you need for your apps, video, and playing 2048, a 2000mAh battery should provide enough juice to get you through a day or two (especially since you can turn off cores), and the usual front/rear cameras, GPS, 802.11bgn and GSM and HSPA+/WCDA radios means this phone will be useable on most networks.


Filed under: Featured, hardware, security hacks

New Chip Alert: The ESP8266 WiFi Module (It’s $5)

via Hackaday » » hardware

NewChip

Every so often we run across something in the Hackaday tip line that sends us scurrying to Google, trying to source a component, part, or assembly. The ESP8266 WiFi module is the latest, made interesting because it pretty much doesn’t exist outside China.

Why is it cool? It’s a WiFi module with an SOC, making it somewhat similar to TI’s CC300 in conception (A.K.A. the thing that makes the Spark Core so appealing), in that a microcontroller on the module takes care of all the WiFi, TCP/IP stack, and the overhead found in an 802.11 network. It’s addressable over SPI and UART, making this an exceptionally easy choice for anyone wanting to build an Internet of Things thing; you can simply connect any microcontroller to this module and start pushing data up to the Internet. Oh, it’s also being sold for $5 in quantity one. Yes, for five dollars you can blink a LED from the Internet. That’s about half the price as the CC3000 itself, and a quarter of the price if you were to build a CC3000 breakout board.

There’s a catch, right, there’s always a catch. Yep. About two hours after this post is published it will be the number one English language Google result for “ESP8266.” As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be found anywhere on the Internet on this module.

Seeed Studio recently sold a few of these modules for $7 and has some documentation, including a full datasheet and an AT command set. All the documentation is in Chinese. There’s also an “ESP8266 IoT SDK”, but from a quick glance at the code, this appears to be an SDK for the SOC on the module, not a simple way to connect the module to a microcontroller.

Anyone wanting to grab one of these modules can do so on Ali Express. Anyone wanting to do something with one of these modules will have a much more difficult time, most likely poking and prodding bits randomly with the help of Google translate. Should someone, or even a group of people, want to take up the task of creating a translation of the datasheet and possibly a library, we have a pretty collaborative project hosting site where you can do that. You may organize in the comments below; we’ll also be taking bets as to when a product using the ESP8266 will be found on Kickstarter. My guess is under a month.

Thanks [Liam] for the tip.


Filed under: hardware, wireless hacks

Defcon Side Trip: Pololu And Robots

via Hackaday » » hardware

PololuDuring our trip out to Vegas for Defcon, we were lucky enough to catch up with a few of the companies that should be of interest to Hackaday readers. One of the companies based out of the area is Pololu, makers and purveyors of fine electronics and robots. In an incredible bit of lucky scheduling, LV Bots, the Las Vegas area robot builders club, was having an event the same weekend we were there. A maze challenge, no less, where builders would compete to build the best robot and write the best code to get a pile of motors and electronics through a line-following maze in the fastest amount of time.

The Bots

The LV Bots events are held in the same building as Pololu, and unsurprisingly there were quite a few Pololu employees making a go at taking the stuff they developed and getting it to run through a maze. At least one bot was based on the Zumo kit, and a few based on the 3pi platform. Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Model B+ was the brains of quite a few robots; not extremely surprising, but evidence that the LV Bots people take their line-following mazes seriously and are constantly improving their builds.

Each robot and builder ‘team’ was given three runs. For each team, the first run is basically dedicated to mapping the entire maze. A carefully programmed algorithm tries to send the robot around the entire maze, storing all the intersections in memory. For the second and third runs, the bot should – ideally – make it to the end in a very short amount of time. This is the ideal situation and was only representative of one team for that weekend’s event.

The worst case scenario is a bot that doesn’t quite have the proper mapping algorithm down. For example:

If, however, a robot can figure out all the nodes in the line following map, the second and third runs can go by pretty quick:

Pololu

Although I did arrive a bit after normal working hours, [Ryan] and [Kevin] were kind enough to take me around their shop for a small tour of the joint. It’s more or less what you would expect: one giant room with pick and place machines, giant ovens, solder paste dispensers, enough equipment for all the testing and rework, and a giant wall of filled with all their products. One of the more interesting pieces of equipment was a soldering robot. Yes, as in a robot with a soldering iron. Here are the pics:

Solderbot3 Solderbot2 Solderbot1

Being after hours, the machines were not running. [Kevin] did send me a video of the manufacturing process of their A-Star 32U4 Micro, shown below:

In addition to their huge manufacturing room, the guys took me up to their dev lab where they come up with the design of all their products. Lego abound, surprisingly in already built configuration. I’ll let the picture galleries speak for themselves, shown below.


The Bots

DSC_0009 The maze DSC_0008 DSC_0007 Setting up for a run DSC_0004 DSC_0003 Blinky again PacBot DSC_0030 LV Bots RaspiBotsB DSC_0005 DSC_0023 Blinky

Pololu

DSC_0056 "The" Pololu Truly, important stuff happens in the design lab Shop floor Thousands of dollars in pogo pins The 'wall of samples' DSC_0041 DSC_0053 Hundreds of steppers DSC_0055 DSC_0054
Filed under: hardware, Interviews

The ChipWhisperer At Defcon

via Hackaday » » hardware

We’ve seen [Colin]‘s entry to The Hackaday Prize before. After seeing his lightning talk at Defcon, we had to get an interview with him going over the intricacies of this very impressive piece of hardware.

The ChipWhisperer is a security and research platform for embedded devices that exploits the fact that all security measures must run on real hardware. If you glitch a clock when a microcontroller is processing an instruction, there’s a good probability something will go wrong. If you’re very good at what you do, you can simply route around the code that makes up the important bits of a security system. Power analysis is another trick up the ChipWhisperer’s sleeve, analyzing the power consumption of a microcontroller when it’s running a bit of code to glean a little information on the keys required to access the system. It’s black magic and dark arts, but it does work, and it’s a real threat to embedded security that hasn’t had an open source toolset before now.

Before our interview, [Colin] did a few short and sweet demos of the ChipWhisperer. They were extraordinarily simple demos; glitching the clock when a microcontroller was iterating through nested loops resulted in what can only be described as ‘counter weirdness’. More advanced applications of the ChipWhisperer can supposedly break perfectly implemented security, something we’re sure [Colin] is saving for a followup video.

You can check out [Colin]‘s 2-minute video for his Hackaday Prize entry below.


Filed under: hardware, security hacks, The Hackaday Prize

Open Source GPU Released

via Hackaday » » hardware

GPLGPU

Nearly a year ago, an extremely interesting project hit Kickstarter: an open source GPU, written for an FPGA. For reasons that are obvious in retrospect, the GPL-GPU Kickstarter was not funded, but that doesn’t mean these developers don’t believe in what they’re doing. The first version of this open source graphics processor has now been released, giving anyone with an interest a look at what a late-90s era GPU looks like on the inside, If you’re cool enough, there’s also enough supporting documentation to build your own.

A quick note for the PC Master Race: this thing might run Quake eventually. It’s not a powerhouse. That said, [Bunnie] had a hard time finding an open source GPU for the Novena laptop, and the drivers for the VideoCore IV in the Raspi have only recently been open sourced. A completely open GPU simply doesn’t exist, and short of a few very, very limited thesis projects there hasn’t been anything like this before.

Right now, the GPL-GPU has 3D graphics acceleration working with VGA on a PCI bus. The plan is to update this late-90s setup to interfaces that make a little more sense, and add DVI and HDMI output. Not bad for a failed Kickstarter, right?


Filed under: hardware, video hacks

The Arduino Yun Shield

via Hackaday » » hardware

YUN

A few years ago, the most common method to put an Arduino project on the web was to add a small router loaded up with OpenWrt, wire up a serial connection, and use this router as a bridge to the Internet. This odd arrangement was possibly because the existing Arduino Ethernet and WiFi shields were too expensive or not capable enough, but either way the Arduino crew took notice and released the Arduino Yun: an Arduino with an SoC running Linux with an Ethernet port. It’s pretty much the same thing as an Arduino wired up to a router, with the added bonus of having tons of libraries available.

Since the Yun is basically a SoC grafted onto an Arduino, we’re surprised we haven’t seen something like this before. It’s an Arduino shield that adds a Linux SoC, WiFi, Ethernet, and USB Host to any Arduino board from the Uno, to the Duemilanove and Mega. It is basically identical to the Arduino Yun, and like the Yun it’s completely open for anyone to remix, share, and reuse.

The Yun shield found on the Dragino website features a small SoC running OpenWrt, separated from the rest of the Arduino board with a serial connection. The Linux side of the stack features a 400MHz AR9331 (the same processor as the Yun), 16 MB of Flash, and 64 MB of RAM for running a built-in web server and sending all the sensor data an Arduino can gather up to the cloud (Yun, by the way, means cloud).

All the hardware files are available on the Yun shield repo, with the Dragino HE module being the most difficult part to source.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, hardware

Changing Unipolar Steppers To Bipolar

via Hackaday » » hardware

steppers

If you’ve been a good little hacker and have been tearing apart old printers like you’re supposed to, you’ve probably run across more than a few stepper motors. These motors come in a variety of flavors, from the four-wire deals you find in 3D printer builds, to motors with five or six wires. Unipolar motors – the ones with more than four wires – are easier to control, but are severely limited in generating torque. Luckily, you can use any unipolar motor as a more efficient bipolar motor with a simple xacto knife modification.

The extra wires in a unipolar motor are taps for each of the coils. Simply ignoring these wires and using the two coils independently makes the motor more efficient at generating torque.

[Jangeox] did a little experiment in taking a unipolar motor, cutting the trace to the coil taps, and measuring the before and after torque. The results are impressive: as a unipolar motor, the motor has about 380 gcm of torque. In bipolar mode, the same motor has 800 gcm of torque. You can check that video out below.


Filed under: hardware

An Automated Flappy Bird Player

via Hackaday » » hardware

game Flappy Bird has been ported to just about every system imaginable, including but not limited to the Apple II, Commodores, pretty much every version of the Atari, and serves as a really great demonstration of the TI-99’s graphics capabilities. Porting is one thing, but having a computer automate Flappy Bird is another thing entirely. [Ankur], [Sai], and [Ackerly] in [Dr. Bruce Land]‘s advanced microcontroller design class at Cornell have done just that. They’re playing Flappy Bird with a camera, FPGA, and a penny wired up to a GPIO pin to guide the little 8-bit-bird through Mario pipes.

The setup the team is using consists of a webcam that records the screen of a smartphone, an FPGA, and a little bit of circuitry to emulate screen taps. Inside the FPGA, the team is looking at the video stream from the phone to detect the bird, pipes, and gaps. The ‘tapper’ unit is a US penny, placed right above the ‘tap’ button, wired to a GPIO port. This was found to be the ideal contact for a capacitive touch screen – taps that were too small weren’t registered, and taps that were too big registered as two taps.

For spending an entire semester on automating Flappy Bird, the team has a lot of knowledge to show for it, but not the high score: the bird only makes it through the first pipe 10% of the time, and the second pipe 1% of the time. The high score is three. That’s alright – getting the algorithm right to play the game correctly was very, very difficult, and to nail that problem down, they estimate it would take at least another semester.


Filed under: hardware

A Router-Based Dev Board That Isn’t A Router

via Hackaday » » hardware

Here’s somethirouterng that be of interest to anyone looking to hack up a router for their own connected project or IoT implementation: hardware based on a fairly standard router, loaded up with OpenWRT, with a ton of I/O to connect to anything.

It’s called the DPT Board, and it’s basically an hugely improved version of the off-the-shelf routers you can pick up through the usual channels. On board are 20 GPIOs, USB host, 16MB Flash, 64MB RAM, two Ethernet ports, on-board 802.11n and a USB host port. This small system on board is pre-installed with OpenWRT, making it relatively easy to connect this small router-like device to LED strips, sensors, or whatever other project you have in mind.

The board was designed by [Daan Pape], and he’s also working on something he calls breakoutserver There’s a uHTTP server written specifically for the board that allows any Internet connected device to control everything on the board. There’s also an HTML5 app they’re developing which could be pretty interesting.

All in all, it’s a pretty cool little device that fits nicely in between the relatively simplistic ‘Arduino with an Ethernet shield’ and a Raspi or BeagleBone.


Filed under: hardware

Using Surface Mount Devices On A Breadboard

via Hackaday » » hardware

SOIC

[Czar] was working on a project with the Raspberry Pi using the MCP3008 analog to digital converter. The surface mount SOIC version of this chip was slightly cheaper, and there’s always a way to make that work (Portuguese, Google Translation). How [Czar] did it is fairly impressive, as it’s a bit more flexible for breadboard designs than a through-hole version, and done correctly, is an extremely sturdy hack.

A few new leads needed to be soldered onto the SOIC package, and for this [Czar] chose jumper wires. This makes each pin easy to plug into a solderless breadboard, and since [Czar] was extremely clever, all the wires for power, ground, analog, and SPI are color coded.

Simply soldering a few jumper wires onto a chip won’t last for very long. To solve this problem, [Czar] potted the entire chip and its connections with hot glue. Probably not the best solution, and a heavy-duty epoxy would have been better, but the current build is more than enough to stand up to the relatively minor abuse it will receive on the workbench.


Filed under: hardware

Reverse Engineering Unobtanium

via Hackaday» hardware

font

If you listen to [Bil Herd] and the rest of the Commodore crew, you’ll quickly realize the folks behind Commodore were about 20 years ahead of their time, with their own chip foundries and vertical integration that would make the modern-day Apple jealous. One of the cool chips that came out of the MOS foundry was the 6500/1 – used in the keyboard controller of the Amiga and the 1520 printer/plotter. Basically a microcontroller with a 6502 core, the 6500/1 has seen a lot of talk when it comes to dumping the contents of the ROM, and thus all the code on the Amiga’s keyboard controller and the font for the 1520 plotter – there were ideas on how to get the contents of the ROM, but no one tried building a circuit.

[Jim Brain] looked over the discussions and recently gave it a try. He was completely successful, dumping the ROM of a 6500/1, and allowing for the preservation and analysis of the 1520 plotter, analysis of other devices controlled by a 6500/1, and the possibility of the creation of a drop-in replacement for the unobtanium 6500/1.

The datasheet for the 6500/1 has a few lines describing the test mode, where applying +10 VDC to the /RES line forces the machine to make memory fetches from the external pins. The only problem was, no body knew how to make this work. Ideas were thrown around, but it wasn’t until [Jim Brain] pulled an ATMega32 off the top of his parts bin did anyone create a working circuit.

The code for the AVR puts the 6500/1 into it’s test mode, loads a single memory location from ROM, stores the data in PORTA, where the AVR reads it and prints it out over a serial connection to a computer. Repeat for every location in the 6500/1 ROM, and you have a firmware dump. This is probably the first time this code has been seen in 20 years.

Now the race is on to create a drop-in replacement of what is basically a 6502-based microcontroller. That probably won’t be used for much outside of the classic and retro scene, but at least it would be a fun device to play around with.


Filed under: classic hacks, hardware

Pinoccio: Mesh All The (Internet Of) Things

via Hackaday» hardware

PinnThere’s a problem with products geared towards building the Internet of Things. Everyone building hardware needs investors, and thus some way to monetize their platform. This means all your data is pushed to ‘the cloud’, i.e. a server you don’t own. This is obviously not ideal for the Hackaday crowd. Yes, IoT can be done with a few cheap radios and a hacked router, but then you don’t get all the cool features of a real Things project – mesh networking and a well designed network. Pinoccio is the first Thing we’ve seen that puts a proper mesh network together with a server you can own. The Pinoccio team were kind enough to let us drop in while we were in Rock City last weekend, and we were able to get the scoop on these tiny boards from [Sally] and [Eric], along with a really cool demo of what they can do.

The hardware on the Pinoccio is basically an Arduino Mega with a LiPo battery and an 802.15.4 radio provided by an ATmega256RFR2. The base board – technically called a ‘field scout’ – can be equipped with a WiFi backpack that serves as a bridge for the WiFi network. It’s a pretty clever solution to putting a whole lot of Things on a network, without having all the Things directly connected to the Internet.

Programming these scouts can be done through Arduino, of course, but the folks at Pinoccio also came up with something called ScoutScript that allows you to send commands directly to any or all of the scouts on the mesh network. There’s a neat web-based GUI called HQ that allows you to command, control, and query all the little nodules remotely as well.

In the video below, [Sally] goes over the basic functions of the hardware and what it’s capable of. [Eric] was in Reno when we visited, but he was kind enough to get on a video chat and show off what a network of Pinoccios are capable of by emblazoning their web page with Hackaday logos whenever he presses a button.


Filed under: hardware

Mains Power Detector For A Thing For Internet

via Hackaday» hardware

inductor The Internet of Things is fast approaching, and although no one can tell us what that actually is, we do know it has something to do with being able to control appliances and lights or something. Being able to control something is nice, but being able to tell if a mains-connected appliance is on or not is just as valuable. [Shane] has a really simple circuit he’s been working on to do just that: tell if something connected to mains is on or not, and relay that information over a wireless link.

There are two basic parts of [Shane]‘s circuit – an RLC circuit that detects current flowing through a wire, This circuit is then fed into an instrumentation amplifier constructed from three op-amps. The output of this goes through a diode and straight to the ADC of a microcontroller, ready for transmission to whatever radio setup your local thingnet will have.

It’s an extremely simple circuit and something that could probably be made with less than a dollar’s worth of parts you could find in a component drawer. [Shane] has a great demo of this circuit connected to a microcontroller, you can check that out below.


Filed under: hardware

The Disintegrated Op Amp

via Hackaday» hardware

741By now we’ve all seen the ‘Three Fives’ kit from Evil Mad Scientist, a very large clone of the 555 timer built from individual transistors and resistors. You can do a lot more in the analog world with discrete parts, and [Shane]‘s SevenFortyFun is no exception: it’s a kit with a board, transistors, and resistors making a very large clone of the classic 741 op-amp, with all the parts laid bard instead of encapsulated in a brick of plastic.

[Shane] was inspired by the analog greats – [Bob Pease], [Jim Williams], and of course [Bob Widlar], and short of mowing his lawn with goats, the easiest way to get a feel for analog design was to build some analog circuits out of individual components.

[Shane] has a few more kits in mind: a linear dropout and switching regulators are on the top of the list, as is something like the Three Fives kit, likely to be used to blink giant LEDs.


Filed under: Crowd Funding, hardware

The Cheapest Crystal Oven

via Hackaday» hardware

oven

The crystals you’ll find attached to microcontrollers or RTCs are usually accurate to 100 parts per million at most, but that still means if you’re using one of these crystals as a clock’s time base, you could lose or gain a second per day. For more accuracy without an atomic clock, a good solution is an oven controlled crystal oscillator – basically, a temperature controlled crystal. It’s not hard to build one, and as [Roman] demonstrates, can be built with a transistor and a few resistors.

The heating element for this OCXO are just a few resistors placed right on the can of a crystal. A thermistor senses the heat, and with more negative feedback than the Hackaday comments section, takes care of regulating the crystal’s temperature. A trimpot is used for calibrating the temperature, but once everything is working that can be replaced with a fixed resistor.

This deadbugged circuitry is then potted in five minute epoxy. That’s a bit unconventional as far as thermal management goes, but the results speak for themselves: [Roman] can get a clock with this circuit accurate to a few seconds per year.


Filed under: hardware