Tag Archives: hardware

An SDK for the ESP8266 WiFi Chip

via Hackaday » » hardware

ESP The ESP8266 is a chip that turned a lot of heads recently, stuffing a WiFi radio, TCP/IP stack, and all the required bits to get a microcontroller on the Internet into a tiny, $5 module. It’s an interesting chip, not only because it’s a UART to WiFi module, allowing nearly anything to get on the Internet for $5, but because there’s a user-programmable microcontroller in this board. If only we had an SDK or a few libraries…

The ESP8266 SDK is finally here. A complete SDK for the ESP8266 was just posted to the Expressif forums, along with a VirtualBox image with Ubuntu that includes GCC for the LX106 core used in this module.

Included in the SDK are sources for an SSL, JSON, and lwIP library, making this a solution for pretty much everything you would need to do with an Internet of Things thing. As far as LX106 core is concerned, there’s example code for using the spare pins on this board as GPIOs, I2C and SPI busses, and a UART.

This turns the ESP8266 into something much better than a UART to WiFi module; now you can create a Internet of Things thing with just $5 in hardware. We’d love to see some examples, so put those up on hackaday.io and send them in to the tip line.


Filed under: hardware

FTDI Screws Up, Backs Down

via Hackaday » » hardware

ftdi-explosion

A few days ago we learned chip maker FTDI was doing some rather shady things with a new driver released on Windows Update. The new driver worked perfectly for real FTDI chips, but for counterfeit chips – and there are a lot of them – the USB PID was set to 0, rendering them inoperable with any computer. Now, a few days later, we know exactly what happened, and FTDI is backing down; the driver has been removed from Windows Update, and an updated driver will be released next week. A PC won’t be able to communicate with a counterfeit chip with the new driver, but at least it won’t soft-brick the chip.

Microsoft has since released a statement and rolled back two versions of the FTDI driver to prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. The affected versions of the FTDI driver are 2.11.0 and 2.12.0, released on August 26, 2014. The latest version of the driver that does not have this chip bricking functionality is 2.10.0.0, released on January 27th. If you’re affected by the latest driver, rolling back the driver through the Device Manager to 2.10.0.0 will prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. You might want to find a copy of the 2.10.0 driver; this will likely be the last version of the FTDI driver to work with counterfeit chips.

Thanks to the efforts of [marcan] over on the EEVblog forums, we know exactly how the earlier FTDI driver worked to brick counterfeit devices:

ftdi_evil

[marcan] disassembled the FTDI driver and found the source of the brick and some clever coding. The coding exploits  differences found in the silicon of counterfeit chips compared to the legit ones. In the small snippet of code decompiled by [marcan], the FTDI driver does nothing for legit chips, but writes 0 and value to make the EEPROM checksum match to counterfeit chips. It’s an extremely clever bit of code, but also clear evidence FTDI is intentionally bricking counterfeit devices.

A new FTDI driver, presumably one that will tell you a chip is fake without bricking it, will be released next week. While not an ideal outcome for everyone, at least the problem of drivers intentionally bricking devices is behind us.


Filed under: hardware, news

Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

via Hackaday » » hardware

ftdi-explosion

The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.


Filed under: hardware, news

Introducing the F*Watch, a Fully Open Electronic Watch

via Hackaday » » hardware

As one of their colleagues was retiring, several CERN engineers got together after hours during 4 months to develop his gift: a fully open electronic watch. It is called the F*Watch and is packed with sensors: GPS, barometer, compass, accelerometer and light sensor. The microcontroller used is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 SiLabs Giant Gecko which contains 128KB of RAM and 1MB of Flash. In the above picture you’ll notice a 1.28″ 128×128 pixels Sharp Memory LCD but the main board also contains a micro-USB connector for battery charging and connectivity, a micro-SD card slot, a buzzer and a vibration motor.

The watch is powered by a 500mA LiPo battery. All the tools that were used to build it are open source (FreeCAD, KiCad, GCC, openOCD, GDB) and our readers may make one by downloading all the source files located in their repository. After the break is embedded a video showing their adventure.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, ARM, hardware, wearable hacks

Introducing USB Armory, a Flash Drive Sized Computer

via Hackaday » » hardware

usb armory

[Andrea] tipped us about USB armory, a tiny embedded platform meant for security projects. It is based on the 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 Freescale i.MX53 together with 512MB of DDR3 SRAM, includes a microSD card slot, a 5-pin breakout header with GPIOs/UART, a customizable LED and is powered through USB.

This particular processor supports a few advanced security features such as secure boot and ARM TrustZone. The secure boot feature allow users to fuse verification keys that ensure only trusted firmware can be executed on the board, while the ARM TrustZone enforces domain separation between a “secure” and a “normal” world down to a memory and peripheral level. This enables many projects such as electronic wallets, authentication tokens and password managers.

The complete design is open hardware and all its files may be downloaded from the official GitHub repository. The target price for the final design of the first revision is around €100.


Filed under: hardware

Writing a Message in Hypnotizing Style

via Hackaday » » hardware

splitflapsign

If you’ve ever encountered a rapidly spinning split-flap displays at an airport terminal, it’s hard not to stop and marvel at them in action for a few extra seconds. Because of this same fascination, [M1k3y] began restoring an old one-hundred and twenty character sign, which he outlines the process of on his blog.

Finding documentation on this old relic turned out to be an impossibility; the producers of the model themselves didn’t even keep it off-hand any longer. In spite of that, [M1k3y] was able to determine the function of the small amount of circuitry driving the sign through process of elimination by studying the components. After nearly a year of poking at it, he happened across a video by the Trollhöhle Compute Club, demonstrating the successful use of the same display model. Luckily, they were kind enough to share their working source code. By reverse engineering the serial protocol in their example, he was able to write his own software to get the sign moving at last.

Once up and running, [M1k3y] learned that only eighty of the sign’s characters were still operable, but that is plenty to make a mesmerizing statement! Here is a video of the cycling letters in action:


Filed under: hardware, misc hacks

Art from Brainwaves, Antifreeze, and Ferrofluid

via Hackaday » » hardware

Screen-Shot-2014-09-08-at-18.57

Moscow artist [Dmitry Morozov] makes phenomenal geek-art. (That’s not disrespect — rather the highest praise.) And with Solaris, he’s done it again.

The piece itself looks like something out of a sci-fi or horror movie. Organic black forms coalesce and fade away underneath a glowing pool of green fluid. (Is it antifreeze?) On deeper inspection, the blob is moving in correspondence with a spectator’s brain activity. Cool.

You should definitely check out the videos. We love to watch ferrofluid just on its own — watching it bubble up out of a pool of contrasting toxic-green ooze is icing on the cake. Our only wish is that the camera spent more time on the piece itself.

Two minutes into the first video we get a little peek behind the curtain, and of course it’s done with an Arduino, a couple of motors, and a large permanent magnet. Move the motor around with input from an Epoc brain-activity sensor and you’re done. As with all good art, though, the result is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

[Dmitry's] work has been covered many, many times already on Hackaday, but he keeps turning out the gems. We could watch this one for hours.


Filed under: hardware, misc hacks

Apollo, the Everything Board

via Hackaday » » hardware

The best projects have a great story behind them, and the Apollo from Carbon Origins is no exception. A few years ago, the people at Carbon Origins were in school, working on a high power rocketry project.

Rocketry, of course, requires a ton of sensors in a very small and light package. The team built the precursor to Apollo, a board with a 9-axis IMU, GPS, temperature, pressure, humidity, light (UV and IR) sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card logging, a microphone, an OLED, and a trackball. This board understandably turned out to be really cool, and now it’s become the main focus of Carbon Origins.

There are more than a few ways to put together an ARM board with a bunch of sensors, and the Apollo is extremely well designed; all the LEDs are on PWM pins, as they should be, and there was a significant amount of time spent with thermal design. See that plated edge on the board? That’s for keeping the sensors cool.

The Apollo will eventually make its way to one of the crowdfunding sites, but we have no idea when that will happen. Carbon Origins is presenting at CES at the beginning of the year, so it’ll probably hit the Internet sometime around the beginning of next year. The retail price is expected to be somewhere around $200 – a little expensive, but not for what you’re getting.


Filed under: hardware, Microcontrollers

Making an Inductor Saturation Current Tester

via Hackaday » » hardware

inductor saturation tester

[Kalle] tipped us about a quick project he made over a couple of evenings: an inductor saturation current tester. All the components used for it were salvaged from a beefy telecom power supply, which allows the tester to run currents up to 100A during 30us in the inductors to be characterized.

Knowing the limits of an inductor is very convenient when designing Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPS) as an inadequate choice may result in very poor performances under high loads. [Kalle]‘s tester simply consists in a N-Mosfet switching power through a load while a shunt allows current measurements. The saturation point is then found when the current going through the inductor suddenly peaks. As you can see from the picture above, 16 4700uF electrolytic caps are used to compensate for the sudden voltage drop when the Mosfet is activated. A video of the system in action is embedded after the break.


Filed under: hardware, tool hacks

Bluetooth Thingies at Maker Faire

via Hackaday » » hardware

In case you haven’t noticed, one of the more popular themes for new dev boards is Bluetooth. Slap a Bluetooth 4.0 module on a board, and you really have something: just about every phone out there has it, and the Low Energy label is great for battery-powered Internets of Things.

Most of these boards fall a little short. It’s one thing to throw a Bluetooth module on a board, but building the software to interact with this board is another matter entirely. Revealing Hour Creations is bucking that trend with their Tah board. Basically, it’s your standard Arduino compatible board with a btle module. What they’ve done is add the software for iOS and Android that makes building stuff easy.

Putting Bluetooth on a single board is one thing, but how about putting Bluetooth on everything. SAM Labs showed off their system of things at Maker Faire with LEDs, buttons, fans, motors, sensors, and just about every electrical component you can imagine.

All of these little boards come with a Bluetooth module and a battery. The software for the system is a graphical interface that allows you to draw virtual wires between everything. Connect a button to a LED in the software, and the LED will light up when the button is pressed. Move your mouse around the computer, and the button will turn on a motor when it’s pressed.

There are a few APIs that also come packaged into the programming environment – at the booth, you could open a fridge (filled with cool drinks that didn’t cost five dollars, a surprise for the faire) and it would post a tweet.


Filed under: hardware

Freescale and Texas Instruments Goodies and World Maker Faire

via Hackaday » » hardware

Freescale was very kind to Hackaday at Maker Faire this weekend, showing off a few boards and answering a few questions about why old Motorola application notes aren’t available on the Internet.

The Hummingboard from SolidRun comes in an oddly familiar form factor to anyone who has ever handled a Raspberry Pi. It also has an interesting feature: the CPU is on a small module, allowing anyone to upgrade the chipset to something significantly more powerful. In the top of the line configuration, it has a two core iMX6 CPU with a Gig of RAM, LVDS output, and Gigabit Ethernet. All the complex bits for this board are on a single module, allowing anyone to take the module and put it in another project, a la the Intel Edison.

Also in the Freescale booth was the pcDuino, a dual core ARM Cortex A7 with Ethernet, WiFi, and a SATA, with Arduino form factor pinouts. It’s a somewhat niche product, but being able to stack shields on something comparable to a Raspi or BeagleBone is a nice feature.

[Trey German] from Texas Instruments showed off some very cool stuff, including a quadcopter board for a Launchpad microcontroller. This isn’t a board with an IMU and a few servo outputs; this is the whole shebang with a frame, motors, and props. The frame was cut from some odd composite that’s usually used for road signs, and even though it wasn’t flying at the Faire (nothing was flying, by the way), it’s pretty light for a quad made at a board house.

Also from TI was their CC3200 dev board. This is a single chip with an ARM Cortex M4 and a WiFi radio that we’ve seen before. The CC3200 runs TI’s Wiring/Arduino inspired development environment Energia, and at about $30 for the CC3200 Launchpad board, it’s an easy and cheap way to build an Internet of Things thing.


Filed under: Featured, hardware

Experience the “Farmer’s Market” of Vintage Electronics

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electronics-swap-meet-montage

Normally when you think of a Farmer’s Market, fresh produce grown nearby comes to mind. This experience was similar in that much of the produce was conceived locally, but the goal is to be anything but fresh. I had the opportunity last weekend to attend the final Electronics Flea Market of 2014. I can’t speak for everyone, but there is an obvious affinity for vintage electronics equipment in just about any condition. The people you run into are as interesting as the equipment being swapped, and the social outing tends to continue even after the swap meet closes.

Analog meters Amp and Volt meters Sony rack-mount video cassette equipment If you like to dig $5 scope Vintage radios

Electronics plus

Strolling around there’s a lot of stuff to take in. I was mainly interested in the electronic offerings (specifically bench equipment) but there was everything from a booth selling honey to a gentleman making custom tags for your pet’s collar. The swap meet is located in one of the parking lots of De Anza College of Cupertino, California. You can get in for free, parking cost me $3.

A great old Kodak projector Some type of rack-mount patch boards? another great radio This wasn't the only reel-to-reel I saw DSC_0181 I don't know what a ratiometer is IM-ME, a hacking classic No table necessary HP5216 counter has Nixies for the display, nice! A variety of dials Calculator collector Beowulf cluster waiting to happen?

I wandered about for 40 minutes or so before bumping into [Charles Alexanian]. I had pinged him before my visit as he sometimes has a booth of his own at the swap meet. He’s the one who told me that all the cool stuff is gone by 7am… I was roughly three hours late for that benchmark.

It was great to see that [Charles] wasn’t just swapping equipment. He brought along some show and tell. Here are some vacuum tubes he design and built himself. Most of the raw materials came from leftovers for mass producing other tubes. I’m hoping he’ll write a post for us detailing his fabrication techniques.

[Charles Alexanian] posing with his custom tube Tubes on exhibit along with a few uCs for sale

There’s an after-party

[Charles] and I had a plan to go to St. John’s with some other regulars after the market closed for what are billed as Silicon Valley’s best burgers. I wandered around a bit more to see the rest of the aisles. The sun is vicious so make sure to slather on the sunscreen if you plan to spend some real time digging for deals.

Audio Equipment Enigma machine (kidding of course!) Loose parts Sockets and ICs Resistors and connectors CRT Close view of the CRT Atari 810 Floppy Drives Atari 800 collection More hardcore equipment DSC_0209 DSC_0210 DSC_0211

You never know who you’ll run into

After making the rounds I was sitting on the tailgate of [Charles'] truck when [Windell] of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories spotted me. We had initially met at Maker Faire Bay Area back in May. I didn’t get to mingle with him at the Bring a Hack dinner on that one (looks like [Brian] and [Adam] are making up for that in New York this weekend).

He and [Lenore] asked if I was going to the breakfast afterward and I assumed they meant St. John’s trip previously mentioned. Not so. It seems social outings after the flea market abound as there’s an Engineer’s Breakfast hosted by [Paul Ranko] at Bobbi’s Cafe in Cupertino. [Charles] said he didn’t see a lot of the regular St. John’s attendees anyway so we decided to change plans, but not before one last sweep of the vendor area.

Cellphone bin Calculator Bin Camera bin SLR table Rations? Dated 1962 Art Meters and dials Meter panel

The Engineers’ Breakfast

The patio at Bobbi’s cafe is the gathering spot for a dozen or so engineers after each swap meet. I met [Paul Rako] who took three of the images below but he and I pose in the fourth. Also found in the pictures are [Windell Oskay] and [Lenore Edman], cofounders of EMSL. They later gave me a tour of their lair, which I’ll save for another post.

What a wonderful morning and fantastic adventure. If you do find yourself at the Engineer’s Breakfast next year I recommend the corn beef hash.

Mike Szczys [left] and Paul Rako [right] DSC_0217 DSC_0216 DSC_0215
Filed under: Featured, hardware

A Proof of Concept Project for the ESP8266

via Hackaday » » hardware

weather

It’s hardly been a month since we first heard of the impossibly cheap WiFi adapter for micros, the ESP8266. Since then orders have slowly been flowing out of ports in China and onto the workbenches of tinkerers around the world. Finally, we have a working project using this module. It might only be a display to show the current weather conditions, but it’s a start, and only a hint of what this module can do.

Since the ESP8266 found its way into the storefronts of the usual distributors, a lot of effort has gone into translating the datasheets both on hackaday.io and the nurdspace wiki. The module does respond to simple AT commands, and with the right bit of code it’s possible to pull a few bits of data off of the Internet.

The code requests data from openweathermap.org and displays the current temperature, pressure, and humidity on a small TFT display. The entire thing is powered by just an Arduino, so for anyone wanting a cheap way to put an Arduino project on the Internet, there ‘ya go.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, hardware

Build Your Own Retrocomputer with Modern Chips

via Hackaday » » hardware

F2J850II00TI11R.LARGE

If you’ve ever wanted to get started in retrocomputing, or maybe the Commodore 64 you’ve been using since the 80s just gave up the ghost, [Rick] aka [Mindrobots] has just the thing for you: a retrocomputer based on a PIC microcontroller and a Parallax Propeller.

The two chips at the heart of the computer are both open source. The Propeller is the perfect board to take care of the I/O, video, and audio outputs because it was purpose-built to be a multitasking machine. The microcontroller is either a PIC32MX150 or a PIC32MX170 and is loaded with a BASIC interpreter, 19 I/O pins, a full-screen editor, and a number of communications protocols. In short, everything you would ever want out of a retro-style minicomputer.

The whole computer can be assembled on a PCB with all the outputs you can imagine (VGA, PS/2, etc) and, once complete, can be programmed to run any program imaginable including games. And, of course, it can act as a link to any physical devices with all of its I/O because its heart is a microcontroller.

Retrocomputing is quite an active arena for hackers, with some being made from FPGAs and other barebones computers being made on only three chips. It’s good to see another great computer in the lineup, especially one that uses open chips like the Propeller and the PIC.


Filed under: classic hacks, hardware

Afroman Demonstrates Boost Converters

via Hackaday » » hardware

boosIf you need to regulate your power input down to a reasonable voltage for a project, you reach for a switching regulator, or failing that, an inefficient linear regulator. What if you need to boost the voltage inside a project? It’s boost converter time, and Afrotechmods is here to show you how they work.

In its simplest form, a boost converter can be built from only an inductor, a diode, a capacitor, and a transistor. By switching the transistor on and off with varying duty cycles, energy is stored in the inductor, and then sent straight to the capacitor. Calculating the values for the duty cycle, frequency, inductor, and the other various parts of a boost converter means a whole bunch of math, but following the recommended layout in the datasheets for boost and switching converters is generally good enough.

boostconverter

[Afroman]‘s example circuit for this tutorial is a simple boost converter built around an LT1370 switching regulator. In addition to that there’s also a small regulator, diode, a few big caps and resistors, and a pot for the feedback pin. This is all you need to build a simple boost converter, and the pot tied to the feedback pin varies the duty cycle of the regulator, changing the output voltage.

It’s an extremely efficient way to boost voltage, measured by [Afroman] at over 80%. It’s also exceptionally easy to build, with just a handful of parts soldered directly onto a piece of perfboard.

Video below.


Filed under: hardware, parts