ISPnub – A Stand-Alone AVR In-System-Programmer Module

[Thomas] tipped us about his latest project: a stand-alone AVR programmer module named ISPnub. As you can see in the picture above, it is a simple circuit board composed of a main microcontroller (ATmega1284p), one button and two LEDs. Programming a target is a simple as connecting the ISPnub and pressing the button. The flashing operation success status is then shown using the green/red LED.

ISPnub gets its power from the target circuit so no external power supply is needed. It works over a wide voltage range: 1.8V to 5.5V. The module also features a programming counter which can be used to limit the number of programming cycles. A multi-platform Java tool is in charge of embedding the target flash contents with the ISPnub main firmware. The complete project is open source so you may want to check out the official GitHub repository for the firmware and the project’s page for the schematics.

Using Bitcoin To Detect Malware


Now that you can actually buy things with bitcoins, it’s become a playground for modern malware authors. [Eric] recently lost about 5 BTC because of some malware he installed and decided to do something about it. He came up with BitcoinVigil, a web service that constantly looks at bitcoin honeypots and alerts you when bitcoins are surreptitiously removed.

The idea behind BitcoinVigil is to set up a Bitcoin wallet with a small amount of coins in it – only about $10 USD worth. When modern, Bitcoin-seeking malware is run on a computer, it looks for this ‘moneypot’ and sends an email out notifying the owner of the coins to stolen money.

[Eric] was at a LAN party a few weeks ago and ‘borrowed’ a friend’s copy of Starcraft 1. Just a few seconds after installing it, he received an alert notifying him about a few stolen bitcoins. This time [Eric] only lost a few microBTC, but better than the thousands of USD he lost before.

Google Releases Project Ara MDK

Ara Modules


It’s been a little while since we’ve heard about modular smartphones, but Google has just released the Module Developers Kit (MDK) for Project Ara. The development kit gives an overview of the inner workings of the project, and provides templates for building your own modules.

Once you’ve agreed to the license agreement and downloaded the MDK, you’ll find a large specification document. It explains how a phone will comprise of many modules loaded into an endoskeleton, giving mechanical support and electrical connections. An interface block provides each module with power and data over LVDS. Modules are held in place by an electro-permanent magnet which can be toggled by software.

When you’re finished with the specification document, you can dive into the reference designs. These include templates and actual modules for WiFi, thermal imaging, a battery pack, and more. Mechanical CAD is provided as STEP files and drawings, and electrical design files are provided as Altium projects and PDF schematics.

We discussed both Project Ara and Phonebloks on Hackaday in the past, but now we’re starting to see real details. Google’s Project Ara Developer Conference takes place on April 15th and 16th, and you can register to take part remotely for free. Is this the start of an open, modular phone? Let us know what you think.

[Thanks to Adam for the tip]

The Ancient Greeks Invented Kevlar Over 2 Millennia Ago


In 356-323 B.C. Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered almost the entire known world by military force. Surprisingly, not much is known about how he did it! An ancient and mysterious armor called Linothorax was apparently used by Alexander and his men which may have been one of the reasons for his ever so successful conquest. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) have been investigating in detail and making their own version of it.

The problem is this type of armor decomposes naturally over time unlike more solid artifacts of stone and metal — meaning there is no physical proof or evidence of its existence. It has been described in around two dozen pieces of ancient literature and seen in over 700 visuals such as mosaics, sculptures and paintings — but there are no real examples of it. It is made (or thought to be) of many layers of linen glued together, much the same way that Kevlar body armor works.

The cool thing about this project is the students are designing their own Linothorax using authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available in that time period. The samples have been quite successful, surviving sharp arrows, swords, and even swinging axes at it. If this is the secret to Alexander the Great’s success… no wonder!

The group has lots of information on the topic and a few videos — stick around to learn more!

[Read more...]

Reach Out and Touch Your Next Project with Long Range RC Controller


Long range wireless control of a project is always a challenge. [Mike] and his team were looking to extend the range of their current RC setup for a UAV project, and decided on a pair of Arduino mini’s and somewhat expensive Digi Xtend 900Mhz modems to do the trick. With a range of 40 miles, the 1 watt transceivers provide fantastic range. And paired with the all too familiar Arduino, you’ve got yourself an easy long range link.

[Mike] set the transmitter up so it can plug directly into any RC controller training port, decoding the incoming signal and converting it into a serial data package for transmitting. While they don’t provide the range of other RF transmitters we’ve seen, the 40 mile range of the modem’s are more than enough for most projects, including High Altitude Balloon missions.

The code for the Arduino transmitter and receiver sides is available at their github. Though there is no built-in error correction in the code, they have not had any issues.  Unfortunately, a schematic was not provided, but you should be able to get enough information from the images and datasheets to construct a working link.


Geodesic Structures that aren’t just Domes

Geodesic structures

[Brian Korsedal] and his company Arcology Now! have developed a great geodesic building system which makes architectural structures that aren’t just limited to domes. They 3D scan the terrain, generate plans, and make geodesic steel space frame structures which are easy to assemble and can be in any shape imaginable.

Their clever design software can create any shape and incorporate uneven terrains into the plans. The structures are really easy to construct with basic tools, and assembly is extremely straight forward because the pole labels are generated by the design software. Watch this construction time lapse video.

At the moment, ordering a structure fabricated by the company is your only option. But it shouldn’t be too hard to fabricate something similar if you have access to a hackerspace. It may even be worth getting in touch with Arcology now! as they do seem happy collaborating to make art like the Amyloid Project, and architectural structures for public spaces and festivals like Lucidity. Find out what they are up to on the Arcology Now! Facebook page.

Would this be perfect for what you’ve been thinking about building? Let us know what that ‘something’ is in the comments below. [Read more...]

BeagleBone Black and FPGA Driven LED Wall

LED Wall


This is 6,144 RGB LEDs being controlled by a BeagleBone Black and a FPGA. This gives the display 12 bit color and a refresh rate of 200 Hz. [Glen]‘s 6 panel LED wall uses the BeagleBone Black to generate the image, and the LogiBone FPGA board for high speed IO.

[Glen] started off with a single 32 x 32 RGB LED panel, and wrote a detailed tutorial on how that build works. The LED panels used for this project have built in drivers, but they cannot do PWM. To control color, the entire panel must be updated at high speed.

The BeagleBone’s IO isn’t fast enough for this, so a Xilinx Spartan 6 LX9 FPGA takes care of the high speed signaling. The image is loaded into the FPGA’s Block RAM by the BeagleBone, and the FPGA takes care of the rest. The LogiBone maps the FPGA’s address space into the CPU’s address space, which allows for high speed transfers.

If you want to drive this many LEDs, you’ll need to look beyond the Arduino. [Glen]‘s work provides a great starting point, and all of the source is available on Github.

[Thanks to Jonathan for the tip]