ChipWhisperer Hits Kickstarter

Even the most well designed crypto algorithms can be broken if someone is smart enough to connect an oscilloscope to a processor. Over the last 15 years or so, an entire domain of embedded security has cropped up around the techniques of power and side channel analysis. The tools are expensive and rare, but [Colin O’Flynn] and the ChipWhisperer are here to bring a new era of hardware security to the masses.

The ChipWhisperer was the second place winner of last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s an interesting domain of security research, and something that was previously extremely expensive to study. If you’re looking for a general overview of what the ChipWhisperer does, you might want to check out when we bumped into [Colin] at DEFCON last year.

While the original goal of the ChipWhisperer was to bring the cost of the tools required for power and side channel analysis down to something a hackerspace or researcher could afford, this was still too expensive for a Kickstarter campaign. To that end, [Colin] designed the ChipWhisperer Lite, a cut-down version, but still something that does most of what the original could do.

There are two parts to the ChipWhisperer Lite – the main section contains a big microcontroller, a big FPGA, and a high gain, low noise amplifier. This is the core of the ChipWhisperer, and it’s where all the power analysis happens. The other part is a target board containing an XMega microcontroller. This is where you’ll run all your encryption algorithms, and where you’ll find out if they can be broken by power analysis. The main board and target board are held together by a break-away connection, so if you want to run a power analysis on another board, just snap the ChipWhisperer in half.

[Colin] is offering up a ChipWhisperer Lite for around $200 USD – far, far less than what these tools cost just a year ago. We’re looking forward to a successful campaign and all the neat findings people with this board will find.

PortableSDR Needs a Cinderella Story to Finish its Kickstarter

If you haven’t backed PortableSDR on Kickstarter, now’s the time to do it. [Michael Colton’s] project which frees a Software Defined Radio from being shackled to a computer is in the final three days and needs about $17,500 to make it.

We’d really like to see this one succeed, and not just because PortableSDR took 3rd place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. Many a time we’ve heard people forecast the death of amateur radio (ham if you will). The ham community is special, it’s a great way to get mentorship in electronics, and deals in more than just digital circuitry. Plus, as [Greg] has pointed out, having a license and some know-how lets you build and operate really powerful stuff!

We see the PortableSDR as one way to renew interest in the hobby. We especially like it that you don’t need a license to operate the basic model — the transmitting circuits aren’t enabled when it arrives. This means you can learn about SDR, explore what’s going on over the airwaves, and only then take the leap by applying for your license and hack the unit to transmit. To be fair, the transmitter portion of the project hasn’t been published yet, which is about the only real concern we read in the Kickstarter comments. But we have faith that [Michael] will come through with that part of it. And if he needs help we’re sure he’ll have no problem finding it.

Now’s the time… let’s pull this one out in the final days!

PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

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Anonabox: How To Fail Horribly at Kickstarter

Late last week, Anonabox hit Kickstarter, glomming on to concerns over security, privacy, and censorship. The project was picked up on the usual tech blogs, lauding this project as the pinnacle of the Open Source, Open Hardware movement and a great investment for the privacy-minded technocrat in a post-Snowden world.

Then, the creator of Anonabox did an AMA on reddit. It was quickly discovered that the entire project was an off the shelf router found on AliExpress with reflashed firmware. The router sells for $20 in quantity one, and the Anonabox Kickstarter is giving them away with a minimum $51 pledge. The new firmware is basically a standard OpenWrt installation with a few changes to the config files. The project claims to solve the problem of hardware backdoors, but ships with a backdoor root password (the password is ‘developer!’), open WiFi, and ssh open by default. The Anonabox also claims to be a plug and play solution to security and privacy on the Internet, meaning if this project ever ships, there will be a lot of people who won’t change the default configuration. That’s rather hilarious in its implications.

According to the Kickstarter campaign, the Anonabox has gone through four years of development and four generations of hardware. [August] even has a great graphic demonstrating that each successive generation has reduced the size in half and doubled the system resources:

Image taken from Kickstarter campaign

Anyone with the slightest eye for detail will quickly realize that components, like Ethernet jacks, SD cards, and CF cards are always the same size. I wonder what this graphic would look like if all the boards were scaled so they were in proportion to each other?

Image rescaled so all boards are proportional to each other

Oh. That’s not fishy at all.

As with most Kickstarters that have seen this much negative attention, the project was suspended just a few hours ago, but not before gathering more than $600,000 in pledges at its peak.


Although the Anonabox failed, there is a market for a Tor-enabled router, and luckily we have one on It’s so great that some of the copy for the Kickstarter campaign was lifted directly from this project. With a wealth of market research available, we can only hope that [CaptainStouf] runs his own campaign for the UnJailPi.

Kickstarter Monitor Will Brighten Your Day

Keeping up with a kickstarter campaign can be quite a task, especially if your project is real (looking at you, Scribble Pen!) and you’re trying to keep up with product fabrication and all the other logistics involved in bringing a product to market. [macetech] are currently in the middle of a campaign themselves and built a loud, bright alert system to notify them of any new kickstarter backers.

The project uses a LED marquee to display the current number of backers, but every time a new backer contributes to the project, a blindingly bright green arrow traffic signal is illuminated and a piezo speaker plays a celebration tune. All of these devices are controlled by an Arduino Yun which, with its built-in Atheros chipset, easily connects to the network and monitors the kickstarter page for changes.

[macetech] used some interesting hardware to get everything to work together. They used a USB-to-RS232 cable with and FTDI chip to drive the LED marquee and a PowerSwitchTail 2 from Adafruit to drive the power-hungry traffic signal. Everything was put together in a presentable way for their workshop and works great! All of the source code is available on their project page, and you can check out their RGB LED Shades kickstarter campaign too.

Scribble: Wait, Kickstarter Is Vetting Projects Now?

PenFirst rule of reading anything: if a headline is an interrogative, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This might be the one exception to that rule.

This Kickstarter is actually fairly interesting. Not because it’s an obvious scam, mind you, as there’s very, very little to actually call a scam. It’s noteworthy because it was on track to be a highly successful campaign but it was shut down by the creators just days after its launch.

Before getting to the unsavoriness of this Kickstarter campaign, a little bit of history is in order. Several years ago and before crowd funding was a thing, a designer came up with a rather clever if completely improbable idea: a color picking pen. Simply hold the end of a pen up to an object, press a button, and using technology and/or magic the pen now writes in that color. There are obvious shortcomings in the design like using red, green, and blue ink cartridges for color mixing – a classic case of confusing additive and subtractive color models. Still, this is just a design concept and over the years the idea of a color sensing pen that mixes ink has bounced around the Internet. With enough people willing to throw money at their screens in the hopes of actually getting a product as interesting as this, you just know it’s going to be on Kickstarter sooner or later.

Enter the Scribble Pen. Yes, it’s the same idea as the 5+ year-old color picking pen, with a few of the technical challenges already addressed. They’re using a CMYK (plus White) color model that can theoretically reproduce just about any color, and do so on any color paper. How are they doing this? I have no idea, but the whole campaign is super, super sketchy.

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VRcade’s The Nightmare Machine (Kickstarter Campaign)


Aiming to be the leader in Virtual Reality horror experiences is the immersive VR haunted house in Seattle called ‘The Nightmare Machine’ which promises to be one of the most terrifying events this Halloween. But they need some assistance raising money to achieve the type of scale on a large public level that the project is attempting. The goal is $70,000 within a 30 day period which is quite the challenge, and the team will need to hustle every single day in order to accomplish it.

Yet the focus of the project looks good though, which is to lower the massive barriers of entry in VR that are associated with high hardware costs and provide people with a terrifying 5 minutes of nightmare-inducing experiences. This type of fidelity and range is usually only seen in military research facilities and university labs, like the MxR Lab at USC. And, their custom-built head mounted displays bring out this technology into the reach of the public ready to scare the pants off of anyone willing to put on the VR goggles.

The headsets are completely wireless, multi-player and contain immersive binaural audio inside. A motion sensing system has also been integrated that can track movements of the users within hundreds of square feet. Their platform is a combination of custom in-house and 3rd party hardware along with a slick software framework. The technology looks amazing, and the prizes given out through the Kickstarter are cool too! For example, anyone who puts in $175 or more gets to have their head 3D scanned and inserted into the Nightmare Machine. The rest of the prices include tickets to the October showcase where demos of the VR experience will be shown.

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