[Ben Heck] builds his smallest 360 laptop ever

[Ben Heck] is no stranger to building Xbox 360 laptops. Over the years he’s built dozens, but for this week’s episode of The Ben Heck Show he’s throwing down the gauntlet and building the smallest Xbox laptop ever.

The latest and greatest Xbox laptop build is based around the newest and smallest  $199 4 Gig Xbox. A few compromises had to be made to turn this console into a laptop, though: The power that would have gone to a Kinect was repurposed to power the very thin 15.6″ LED LCD, while the port that would power a hard drive was used to drive a perfboard stereo amplifier. You can check out the official [Ben Heck] blog post here.

The final build is extremely compact and much smaller than [Ben Heck]‘s previous Xbox laptop builds. At just 2.125″ thick and 16 ” wide and 9 ” long, it’s quite possibly the smallest Xbox that’s possible to build. Without a new hardware revision from Microsoft (which seems unlikely at this point), this is probably the smallest an Xbox 360 laptop can be. We tip our hat to [Ben], and wish him luck in the next season of The Ben Heck Show.

Rasperry Pi: Now mostly open source

If you’ve been following the developments of building Android, Chromium, and other OSes for the Raspberry Pi, you’ll come across a common theme. The drivers for the Raspi’s chip are closed source and protected by Broadcom with an NDA. This limits the ability of devs to take on projects that involve messing around deep inside the CPU.

Today, this is no longer the case. The CPU on the Raspberry Pi is now the first ARM-based system with fully functional, vendor-provided drivers.

Previously, the drivers for OpenGL ES, OpenMax, and other goodies inside the ARM chip have been closed source, available only to the Raspberry Pi foundation and those willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Broadcom. With this release, the drivers are open source, allowing the devs behind the Android, Chromium, Haiku, *BSD, and the RISC OS to dig deep into the Broadcom drivers and get their projects working.

The new files are available in the Raspberry Pi git, just waiting for devs to take a look at it.

Launching a balloon and not landing in the ocean

In just a few short hours, the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association will launch their 4th high altitude balloon project into the rarefied air of the stratosphere and with any luck bring back pictures of the view high above Connecticut  Long Island, Rhode Island, and Martha’s Vineyard.

Inside their surprisingly strong unibody chassis is two GoPro cameras and a triple-redundant telemetry system consisting of a custom radio system capable of transmitting over 40 miles, a cell-phone based comms system and a SPOT satellite tracker.

There is one very large problem the Yale Aerospace team has had to cope with; Because they’re launching their Skyview balloon from the eastern seaboard of the US, it’s very likely their payload could end up taking a drink in the Atlantic. To solve this problem, the team developed a novel cut-down solution: a piece of nichrome heater wire is wrapped around the line tying the payload to the balloon. If the hardware receives a signal from the ground, or has a software problem, or runs out of battery power, the nichrome circuit will release the balloon from its launch vehicle to hopefully return it to solid ground.

The Yale Aerospace team has also written a custom iOS app allowing the chase cars to track the balloon in real time – a great feature if you’re trying to communicate with several cars going down the highway. You can check out the live data from the balloon on the Yale Aerospace tracking site or just head over to their twitter to read the latest news about the flight.

Building a better software defined radio (and transmitting as well)

By now most Hackaday readers should be familiar with this year’s latest advance in software defined radio. With a simple USB TV tuner dongle, it’s possible to receive FM broadcasts, GPS data from satellites, and even telemetry from aircraft flying overhead. There is one limitation to this setup, though: it’s receive only. Hacker extraordinaire [Michael Ossmann] is looking to make a better software defined radio called the HackRF.

The HackRF is an incredibly ambitious project – able to receive just about anything between 100 MHz and 6 GHz (this includes everything from the top of the FM radio band to cordless phones, cell phones, WiFi, and basically any radio technology that has been commercialized in the last 15 years), the HackRF is also able to transmit. Yes, with the HackRF it’s possible to build your own software-defined WiFi module, or just broadcast bogus GPS information.

Compared to the $20 TV tuner SDR dongles we’ve played around with, the HackRF isn’t exactly cheap. [Mossmann] figures he’ll be able to sell the device for about $300. A fair bit of change, but much, much less than professional, commercial SDR solutions.

A very cool advance in the state of SDR, but reason dictates we must suggest that everyone who wants a HackRF to start studying for their amateur radio exam now. Being a licensed radio operator won’t stop you from any sort of malicious intent, but with at least with licensing comes with the possibility of knowing what evil you’re doing.

You can check out the wiki for the HackRF over on the gits along with the current hardware design

Super Serious Garage Door Opener

Tired of cheap plastic garage door openers? [Yetifrisstlama]‘s is probably the most serious garage door opener that we’ve seen. The case is an old emergency stop switch, which has plenty of space for the circuitry and features a big red button.

This build log starts with details on reverse engineering the original door opener’s protocol. It’s an amplitude-shift keying (ASK) signal that sends a 10 bit code to authenticate. The main components inside are a PIC16LF819 microcontroller, a MAX7057 ASK/FSK transmitter, and some RF circuitry needed to filter the signal. There’s a mix of through hole and surface mount components mounted on a prototyping board, requiring some crafty soldering.

[Yetifrisstlama] says that the next step is to add a power amplifier to increase the range. The code and project files are also provided for anyone interested in working with ASK. While the hack looks awesome, it might make bystanders think you’re doing something more sinister than opening a garage door.