Author Archives: Elliot Williams

Making a Cheap Radar Unit Awesome

via hardware – Hackaday

[JBeale] squeezed every last drop of performance from a $5 Doppler radar module, and the secrets of that success are half hardware, half firmware, and all hack.

On the hardware side, the first prototype radar horn was made out of cardboard with aluminum foil taped around it. With the concept proven, [JBeale] made a second horn out of thin copper-clad sheets, but reports that the performance is just about the same. The other hardware hack was simply to tack a wire on the radar module’s analog output and add a simple op-amp gain stage, which extended the sensing range well beyond the ten feet or so that these things are usually used for.

With all that signal coming in, [JBeale] separates out the noise by taking an FFT of the Doppler frequency-shift signal. Figuring that people walk around 2.2 miles per hour, [JBeale] focuses on the corresponding 70 Hz frequency bin and finds that the radar will detect people out to 80 feet. Wow!

This trick of taking an el-cheapo radar unit and amplifying the signal to do something useful isn’t new to Hackaday. [Mathieu] did it with the very same HB-100 unit way back in 2013, and then again with a more modern CDM324 model. But [JBeale]’s hacked horn and clever backend processing push out the limits of what you can expect to do with these cheap units. Kudos.

[via PJRC]

Filed under: hardware, wireless hacks

Get Inside a TCXO Clock Chip

via hardware – Hackaday

[Pete] wondered how real-time clock modules could be selling on eBay for $1.50 when the main component, the Maxim DS3231 RTC/TCXO chip, cost him more like $4 apiece. Could the cheap modules contain counterfeit chips?

Well, sure they could. But in this case, they didn’t, and [Pete] has the die shots to prove it. He started off by clipping the SOIC leads rather than desoldering — he’s not going to be reusing this chip after he’s cut it in half. Next was a stage of embrittling the case by heating it up with a lighter and dunking it in water. Then he went at it with sandpaper.

It’s cool. You can see the watch crystal inside, and all of the circuitry. The DS3231 includes a TCXO — temperature-corrected crystal oscillator — and it seems to have a bank of capacitors that it connects and disconnects depending on the chip’s temperature to keep the oscillator running at the right speed. [Pete] used one in an offline situation, and it only lost sixteen seconds over a year, so we’d say that they work fine.

If you’d like to know more about how crystals are used to keep time, check out [Jenny]’s excellent article. And if sixteen second per year is way too much for you, tune up your rubidium standard and welcome to the world of the time nuts.

Filed under: hardware

Everything You Need To Know About Logic Probes

via hardware – Hackaday

We just spent the last hour watching a video, embedded below, that is the most comprehensive treasure trove of information regarding a subject that we should all know more about — sniffing logic signals. Sure, it’s a long video, but [Joel] of [OpenTechLab] leaves no stone unturned.

At the center of the video is the open-source sigrok logic capture and analyzer. It’s great because it supports a wide variety of dirt cheap hardware platforms, including the Salae logic and its clones. Logic is where it shines, but it’ll even log data from certain scopes, multimeters, power supplies, and more. Not only can sigrok decode raw voltages into bits, but it can interpret the bits as well using protocol decoder plugins written in Python. What this all means is that someday, it will decode everything. For free.

[Joel] knows a thing or two about sigrok because he started the incredibly slick PulseView GUI project for it, but that doesn’t stop him from walking you through the command-line interface, which is really useful for automated data capture and analysis, if that’s your sort of thing. Both are worth knowing.

But it’s actually the hardware details where this video shines. He breaks down all of the logic probes on his bench, points out their design pros and cons, and uses that basis to explain just what kind of performance you can expect for $20 or so. You’ll walk away with an in-depth understanding of the whole toolchain, from grabber probes to GUIs.

Indeed, toward the end, [Joel] simulates the parasitic inductance of using flying-lead connectors and demonstrates how it destroys high-frequency signals. Even if the logic analyzer were able to sample fast enough, no signal makes it that far. But he doesn’t wave his hands around the problem — he shows you. And then he mentions hard-core-hacker-friendly tricks to get up into the hundreds of megahertz, with a hat-tip to [Bunnie Huang].

In our opinion sigrok, and the el cheapo hardware logic probes that it supports deserve a place in every hacker’s toolbox. This video is the best introduction to the software, and the topic in general, that we’ve ever seen.

We’ve featured two other videos from the [OpenTechLab], one on the ICE40 FPGA and one on high-frequency synthesis, that you might also like. So put away whatever brain-rotting Hollywood blockbuster you have on the shelf, and make some popcorn for quality nerd time.

Filed under: hardware

RoGeorge Attacks a Pulse Meter

via hardware – Hackaday

The “Crivit Sports” is an inexpensive chest-strap monitor that displays your current pulse rate on a dedicated wristwatch. This would be much more useful, and presumably more expensive, if it had a logging option, or any way to export your pulse data to a more capable device. So [RoGeorge] got to work. Each post of the (so-far) three-part series is worth a read, not the least because of the cool techniques used.

In part one, [RoGeorge] starts out by intercepting the signals. His RF sniffer? An oscilloscope probe shorted out in a loop around the heart monitor. Being able to read the signals, it was time to decode them. Doing pushups and decoding on-off keyed RF signals sounds like the ideal hacker training regimen, but instead [RoGeorge] used a signal generator, clipped to the chest monitor, to generate nice steady “heartbeats” and then read the codes off the scope without breaking a sweat.

With the encoding in hand, and some help from the Internet, he tested out his hypothesis in part two. Using an Arduino to generate the pulses logged in part one, he pulsed a coil and managed to get the heart rates displayed on the watch.

Which brings us to part three. What if there were other secrets to be discovered? Brute-forcing every possible RF signal and looking at the watch to see the result would be useful, but doing so for 8,192 possible codes would drive anyone insane. So [RoGeorge] taught himself OpenCV in Python and pointed a webcam at the watch. He wrote a routine that detected the heart icon blinking, a sign that the watch received a valid code, and then transmitted all possible codes to see which ones were valid. Besides discovering a few redundant codes, he didn’t learn much new from this exercise, but it’s a great technique.

We’re not sure what’s left to do on the Crivit. [RoGeorge] has already figured out the heart-rate data protocol, and could easily make his own logger. We are sure that we liked his thorough and automated approach to testing it all, from signal-generator-as-heartbeat to OpenCV as feedback in a brute-force routine. We can’t wait to see what’s up next.

Filed under: hardware

Completely Owning the Dreamcast Add-on You Never Had

via hardware – Hackaday

If you’ve got a SEGA Dreamcast kicking around in a closet somewhere, and you still have the underutilized add-on Visual Memory Unit (VMU), you’re in for a treat today. If not, but you enjoy incredibly detailed hacks into the depths of slightly aged silicon, you’ll be even more excited. Because [Dmitry Grinberg] has a VMU hack that will awe you with its completeness. With all the bits in place, the hacking tally is a new MAME emulator, an IDA plugin, a never-before ROM dump, and an emulator for an ARM chip that doesn’t exist, running Flappy Bird. All in a month’s work!

The VMU was a Dreamcast add-on that primarily stored game data in its flash memory, but it also had a small LCD display, a D-pad, and inter-VMU communications functions. It also had room for a standalone game which could interact with the main Dreamcast games in limited ways. [Dmitry] wanted to see what else he could do with it. Basically everything.

We can’t do this hack justice in a short write-up, but the outline is that he starts out with the datasheet for the VMU’s CPU, and goes looking for interesting instructions. Then he started reverse engineering the ROM that comes with the SDK, which was only trivially obfuscated. Along the way, he wrote his own IDA plugin for the chip. Discovery of two ROP gadgets allowed him to dump the ROM to flash, where it could be easily read out. Those of you in the VMU community will appreciate the first-ever ROM dump.

On to doing something useful with the device! [Dmitry]’s definition of useful is to have it emulate a modern CPU so that it’s a lot easier to program for. Of course, nobody writes an emulator for modern hardware directly on obsolete hardware — you emulate the obsolete hardware on your laptop to get a debug environment first. So [Dmitry] ported the emulator for the VMU’s CPU that he found in MAME from C++ to C (for reasons that we understand) and customized it for the VMU’s hardware.

Within the emulated VMU, [Dmitry] then wrote the ARM Cortex emulator that it would soon run. But what ARM Cortex to emulate? The Cortex-M0 would have been good enough, but it lacked some instructions that [Dmitry] liked, so he ended up writing an emulator of the not-available-in-silicon Cortex-M23, which had the features he wanted. Load up the Cortex emulator in the VMU, and you can write games for it in C. [Dmitry] provides two demos, naturally: a Mandlebrot set grapher, and Flappy Bird.

Amazed? Yeah, we were as well. But then this is the same guy emulated an ARM chip on the AVR architecture, just to run Linux on an ATMega1284p.

Filed under: handhelds hacks, hardware

A Bright Idea for Reflow Soldering

via hardware – Hackaday

There are almost as many ways to reflow a surface-mount circuit board as there are hackers. Today, we add another method to the list. [Dasaki] converted a halogen floodlight into an SMT oven, and did so with all the bells and whistles. Check the video below the break.

We’ve actually seen the low-tech version of this hack before, but it’s nothing we would want to use on a daily basis. [Dasaki] needed to get 100 boards done, so it was worth the effort to get it right.

The floodlight was a natural choice — it’s got its own built-in chamber, and when [Dasaki] tested it out, it got up to 300 °C at 5 °C/sec and showed no sign of stopping. Contrast with toaster ovens which start complaining around 250 °C, if they make it at all. Aside from the lamp itself, the rest is standard temperature-controller fare, a SSR and a thermocouple interfaced with a microcontroller. Code is up on his GitHub.

We’re partial to skillets ourselves, but a professional halogen/IR unit is Bil Herd’s favorite. Indeed, there are so many ways to get the job done, ranging from the hacky to the nearly-professional, that you’re sure to find the reflow oven design that fits your budget and tolerance for fooling around. [Dasaki]’s halogen lamp oven looks like a worthy addition to our list.

Filed under: hardware