Hacking a Device That Lives Inside the Matrix

[Gerardo Iglesias Galván] decided he wanted to try his hand at bug-bounty hunting — where companies offer to pay hackers for finding vulnerabilities. Usually, this involves getting a device or accessing a device on the network, attacking it as a black box, and finding a way in. [Gerrado] realized that some vendors now supply virtual images of their appliances for testing, so instead of attacking a device on the network, he put the software in a virtual machine and attempted to gain access to the device. Understanding the steps he took can help you shore up your defenses against criminals, who might be after more than just a manufacturer’s debugging bounty.

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LED Matrix Shades You Can Actually See Though

[Gal Pavlin] admits to enjoying the occasional dance music show. For those who have never been to one, LED one-upmanship at these shows is a real and terrible thing, so much so that an entire market exists around it. To that end, [Gal] built a pretty spiffy set of LED glasses.

It took quite a bit of work to arrive at the final design. All the circuitry and LEDs fit entirely within the envelope of the lenses on a pair of sunglass frames of dubious parentage. The batteries squeeze in between the user’s head and temples.

On top of the clever packaging is an equally impressive set of features. Each lens is a matrix of 69 LEDs. They have an accelerometer, a microphone, and a light sensor. There’s even a vibrating alert motor, which we feel is just showing off.  Best of all, you can actually see through the glasses, thanks to clever layout and very tiny LEDs.

The device requires a tag connect or soldering on a pigtail to program. If you’d like to build one yourself all the files are available on [Gavin]’s site. There’s a video of it in operation after the break.

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Web Matrix Control Proves Power of ESP8266

LED matrix projects are all over the place, but this one is interesting for its simplicity: it’s an LED matrix that is driven straight from an ESP8266 board. [Ray] put it together as a quick project for his students to teach the basics of LED programming.

It’s built using a WS2812 LED matrix board he designed himself and his own ESPToy ESP8266 dev board. But the gist of the hardware is simply an ESP8266 and some WS2812’s. Where this gets interesting is with the user interaction side of things. The ESP makes WiFi and web serving easy, and [Ray] has build a simple HTTP GET API into the firmware. This is a great combination for the web dashboard and JavaScript-based animation programs [Ray] is demonstrating in the video below.

Just get on the same network and load up the module’s WiFi address for a graphical representation of the 5×7 LED matrix. Pick a color, turn pixels on or off, or choose a predefined pattern and send it to the hardware. This is a powerful way to get use input and with this as a guide it’s fast to set up for pretty much an application you can think of. Just work your way through the documents he put together for the workshop (Zip file link), including all of the code and the slides he used to run the workshop.

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Distributed, Open Source Chat with Vector and Matrix

When it comes to chat, you have many choices. Facebook Messenger, Google Talk, Whatsapp, Kik, and Slack are all viable options. However, all of these choices are proprietary, and require you to use servers that you can’t run yourself. They’re highly centralized, closed source tools.

In the open source world, IRC has been the go to solution for chat for many years, and for good reason. Anyone can run a server, there’s many clients, and it’s built on open standards. But IRC comes from a pre-mobile world, and relies on clients to maintain persistent connections to the server. It’s not the best experience on a phone.

Matrix.org and Vector.im aim to be a modern solution to chat. Matrix is a standard for passing messages around, and Vector is a chat solution built on top, with support for iOS, Android, and your browser.

What makes this solution different is the concept of Homeservers. A Homeserver manages messages for users, recording them when they are received and providing them to users when they connect. Homeservers also “federate” to communicate amongst each other. This means anyone can run a Homeserver and connect it to the greater network of Matrix, providing a distributed approach to building a chat network.

Under the hood, Matrix is just HTTP. You send messages into the network with POST requests, and receive new messages by polling with GET requests. This means no persistent connections are required, which is perfect for mobile and low power devices.

On the topic of devices, Matrix is designed for general purpose messaging, not just chat. It should be pretty simple to connect hardware up to Matrix, which would provide a simple way to get data in and out of connected devices. Since it’s all HTTP, a device based on the ESP8266 could hop into your chat room with relative ease.

Matrix and Vector are very much in beta, but are definitely usable and worth a try. To get started, you can create an account on Vector.im and start chatting. We’re awaiting some of the features in the works, including end-to-end encryption, and hope to see some future hacks talking to the Matrix infrastructure.

Ikea Projection Lamp Makeover Adds LED Matrix and Raspberry Pi Zero

If you’re like us, it’s hard to walk through an Ikea without mentally hacking everything there into something else. The salad bowl? Parabolic antenna. Drawer slides? Linear motion rails. Storage containers? Etching tank. We admit that we still haven’t figured out what to do with that 1,000-pack of tea lights.

[Alain Mauer] pulled off an Ikea hack that we’ve always dreamed about. In particular, he took the Sprida projector lamp and wedged an 8×8 LED matrix and Raspberry Pi Zero into it.

The lamp in question is essentially a slide projector for kids. Before [Alain] got to it, it had an LED in the back, a mount for a slide in the middle, and a focusing lens on the front. His mod is simplicity itself: remove the LED and transparency, and place the LED matrix in the focal plane where the slide used to be. Reverse images on the LED in software to compensate for the lens, and you’re done.

The video says “Raspberry Pi Zero with WiFi” and the project title promises “IoT”, but we don’t see the WiFi in the build. We’re guessing that [Alain] will get around to it — it’s easily doable. (Doh! There’s a tiny USB WiFi dongle providing the obligatory wireless connection.) Anyway, the point is the projection, and we love it, and we’d be lying if we said it didn’t make us think about RGB matrices.

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FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer

[Sam Miller], [Sahil Gupta], and [Mashrur Mohiuddin] worked together on a very fast LED matrix display for their final project in ECE 5760 at Cornell University.

Real time!
Real time!

They started, as any good engineering students, by finding a way to make their lives easier. [Sam] had built a 32×32 LED matrix for another class. So, they made three more and ended up with a larger and more impressive 64×64 LED display.

They claim their motivation was the love of music, but we have a suspicion that the true reason was the love all EEs share for unnaturally bright LEDs; just look at any appliance at night and try not be blinded.

The brains of the display is an Altera DE2-115 FPGA board. The code is all pure Verilog. The FFT and LED control are implemented in hardware on the FPGA; none of that Altera core stuff. To generate images and patterns they wrote a series of python scripts. But for us it’s the particle test shown in the video below that really turns our head. This system is capable of tracking and reacting to a lot of different elements on the fly why scanning the display at about 310 FPS. They have tested display scanning at twice that speed but some screen-wrap artifacts need to be worked out before that’s ready for prime time.

The team has promised to upload all the code to GitHub, but it will likely be a while before the success hangover blows over and they can approach the project again. You can view a video interview and samples of the visualizations in the videos after the break.

Thanks to their Professor, [Bruce Land], for submitting the tip! His students are always doing cool things. You can even watch some of his excellent courses online if you like: Here’s one on the AVR micro-controller.

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Paraffin Oil and Water Dot Matrix Display

In preparation for Makerfaire, [hwhardsoft] needed to throw together some demos. So they dug deep and produced this unique display.

The display uses two synchronized peristaltic pumps to push water and red paraffin through a tube that switches back over itself in a predictable fashion. As visible in the video after the break, the pumps go at it for a few minutes producing a seemingly random pattern. The pattern coalesces at the end into a short string of text. The text is unfortunately fairly hard to read, even on a contrasting background. Perhaps an application of UV dye could help?

Once the message has been displayed, the water and paraffin drop back into the holding tank as the next message is queued up. The oil and water separate just like expected and a pump at the level of each fluid feeds it back into the system.

We were deeply puzzled at what appeared to be an Arduino mounted on a DIN rail for use in industrial settings, but then discovered that this product is what [hwhardsoft] built the demo to sell. We can see some pretty cool variations on this technique for art displays.

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