[Arko] was compelled to purchase an iclicker to use in some of his college courses. It’s similar in size to a television remote control except it only has six buttons and it communicates via radio frequency instead of infrared light. The idea is that classrooms have a base station that the instructor uses, and he or she can ask questions of the class and have instant feedback. Results are often projected on a screen for all to see but only the instructor can get at the breakdown of who answered in what way. In [Arko's] case, the class awards participation points that you can only get by using this device. He decided to actually learn something from the expenditure by reverse engineering the device.
Preliminary hardware inspection told him that it uses an ATmega8 microcontroller and there’s a standard 6-pin ISP footprint just waiting to be populated with a surface mount pin header. Once he soldered on that header, he tried to read out the firmware but the iClicker reset itself. He guessed that there was something going on with the power and ground lines so he soldered directly to them and was able to dump the data–the security fuses are not set. He goes on to snoop in the EEPROM to find where the device ID is stored, and then to watch some of the SPI communications to see what the microcontroller is sending to the radio chip. But there’s a lot left to discover and he’s planning at least two follow-up post to share what he finds.
Just looking to repair your dead device? Check out this tip on battery problems with the iclicker.