ColibriNANO USB SDR Receiver Reviewed

At first glance, the ColibriNANO SDR looks like another cheap SDR dongle. But after watching [Mile Kokotov’s] review (see video below), you can see that it was built specifically for software defined radio service. When [Mile] takes the case off, you notice the heavy metal body which you don’t see on the typical cheap dongle. Of course, a low-end RTL-SDR is around $20. The ColibriNANO costs about $300–so you’d hope you get what you pay for.

The frequency range is nominally 10 kHz to 55 MHz, although if you use external filters and preamps you can get to 500 MHz. In addition to a 14-bit 122.88 megasample per second A/D converter, the device sports an Altera MAX10 FPGA.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: USB Packet Snooping

Sometimes you run into a few problems when developing your own hardware, and to solve these problems you have to build your own tools. This is exactly how [KC Lee]’s USB Packet Snooper was created. It’s a small device that allows for capturing and analyzing Full Speed USB traffic to debug one of [KC]’s other Hackaday Prize entries.

[KC] is building an HID Multimedia Dial for this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s kind of like the Microsoft Surface Dial or the ubiquitous Griffin PowerMate that has been on the market for the better part of two decades. This multimedia dial is bitbanging USB with an STM8, which means [KC] needs a tool to capture raw USB packets.

The design of this USB Packet Snooper is split up into two parts. The first is either a dongle or a pass-through device that simply serves as a tap between a USB device and a USB host. The logging and analysis board attaches to this dongle, and uses a rather fast ARM microcontroller to listen in on USB packets and send everything over serial to a PC.

This is a rather novel device; V-USB is limited to Low Speed USB, and other USB capture tools are far out of reach of the hobbyist budget. Software solutions on a PC obviously won’t work because [KC] doesn’t even know if he’s sending valid USB packets. This is a great tool that finally brings hobbyist-level USB analysis up to Full Speed USB.

Interfacing a Retro Controller using the USBASP

An ISP dongle is a very common piece of equipment on a maker’s bench. However, its potential as a hackable device is generally overlooked. The USBASP has an ATmeg8L at its heart and [Robson] decided that this humble USB device could be used as an interface between his PC and a SNES Joypad.

A SNES controller required three pins to communicate with a host: clock, data and latch. In his hack, [Robson]  connects the controller to the ISP interface using a small DIY adaptor and programs the AVR using the V-USB library. V-USB is a software USB library for small microcontrollers and comes in pretty handy in this instance.

[Robson] does a pretty good job of documenting the entire process of creating the interface which includes the USB HID code as well as the SNES joypad serial protocol. His hack works on both Windows and Linux alike and the code is available on GitHub for download.

Simple implementation like this project are a great starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes in the DIY USB device pool. Veterans may find a complete DIY joystick more up their alley and will be inspired by some plastic techniques as well.

A Universal USB To Quadrature Encoder

Computer mice existed long before the Mac, and most of the old 8-bit computers had some software that could use a mouse. These mice had balls and quadrature encoders. While converters to turn these old mice into USB devices exist, going the other way isn’t so common. [Simon] has developed the answer to that problem in the form of SmallyMouse2. It turns a USB mouse into something that can be used with the BBC Micro, Acorn Master, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga, Atari ST and more.

The design of the SmallyMouse2 uses an AT90USB microcontroller that supports USB device and host mode, and allows for a few GPIOs. This microcontroller effectively converts a USB mouse into a BBC Micro user port AMX mouse, generic quadrature mouse, and a 10-pin expansion header. The firmware uses the LUFA USB stack, a common choice for these weird USB to retrocomputer projects.

The project is completely Open Source, and all the files to replicate this project from the KiCad project to the firmware are available on [Simon]’s GitHub. If you have one of these classic retrocomputers sitting in your attic, it might be a good time to check if you still have the mouse. If not, this is the perfect project to delve into to the classic GUIs of yesteryear.

Hackaday Prize Entry: USB GSM GPS 9DOF SD TinyTracker Has All the Acronyms

[Paul] has put together an insanely small yet powerful tracker for monitoring all the things. The USB TinyTracker is a device that packages a 48MHz processor, 2G modem, GPS receiver, 9DOF motion sensor, barometer, microphone, and micro-SD slot for data storage. He managed to get it all to fit into a USB thumb drive enclosure, meaning that you can program it however you want in the Arduino IDE, then plug it into any USB port and let it run. This enables things like remote monitoring, asset tracking, and all kinds of spy-like activity.

One of the most unusual aspects of his project, though, is this line: “Everything came together very nicely and the height of parts and PCBs is exactly as I planned.” [Paul] had picked out an enclosure that was only supposed to fit a single PCB, but with some careful calculations, and picky component selection, he managed to fit everything onto two 2-layer boards that snap together with a connector and fit inside the enclosure.

We’ve followed [Paul’s] progress on this project with an earlier iteration of his GSM GPS Tracker, which used a Teensy and fit snugly into a handlebar, but this one is much more versatile.

USB Charger Fooled into Variable Voltage Source

USB chargers are everywhere and it is the responsibility of every hacker to use this commonly available device to its peak potential. [Septillion] and [Hugatry] have come up with a hack to manipulate a USB charger into becoming a variable voltage source. Their project QC2Control works with chargers that employ Quick Charge 2.0 technology which includes wall warts as well as power banks.

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge is designed to deliver up to 24 watts over a micro USB connector so as to reduce the charging time of compatible devices. It requires both the charger as well as the end device to have compatible power management chips so that they may negotiate voltage limiting cycles.

In their project, [Septillion] and [Hugatry] use a 3.3 V Arduino Pro Mini to talk to the charger in question through a small circuit consisting of a few resistors and diodes. The QC2.0 device outputs voltages of 5 V, 9 V and 12 V when it sees predefined voltage levels transmitted over the D+ and D- lines, set by Arduino and voltage dividers. The code provides function calls to simplify the control of the power supply. The video below shows the hack in action.

Quick Charge has been around for a while and you can dig into the details of the inner workings as well as the design of a compatible power supply from reference designs for the TPS61088 (PDF). The patent (PDF) for the Quick Charge technology has a lot more detail for the curious.

Similar techniques have been used in the past and will prove useful for someone looking for a configurable power supply on the move. This is one for the MacGyver fans.

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DIY USB Power Bank

USB power banks give your phone some extra juice on the go. You can find them in all shapes and sizes from various retailers, but why not build your own?

[Kim] has a walkthrough on how to do just that. This DIY USB Power Bank packs 18650 battery cells and a power management board into a 3D printed case. The four cells provide 16,000 mAh, which should give you a few charges. The end product looks pretty good, and comes in a bit cheaper than buying a power bank of similar capacity.

The power management hardware being used here appears to be a generic part used in many power bank designs. It performs the necessary voltage conversions and manages charge and discharge to avoid damaging the cells. A small display shows the state of the battery pack.

You might prefer to buy a power bank off the shelf, but this design could be perfect solution for adding batteries to other projects. With a few cells and this management board, you have a stable 5 V output with USB charging. The 2.1 A output should be enough to power most boards, including Raspberry Pis. While we’ve seen other DIY Raspberry Pi power banks in the past, this board gets the job done for $3.