Ask Hackaday: Can Paper USB Business Cards Exist?

swivel business card

The swivelCard Kickstarter campaign recently received a lot of press coverage and makes some impressive claims as their goal is the development of USB and NFC business cards at a $3 unit price. While most USB-enabled business cards we featured on Hackaday were made of standard FR4, this particular card is made of paper as the project description states the team patented

a system for turning regular paper into a USB drive.

As you can guess this piqued our interest, as all paper based technologies we had seen until now mostly consisted of either printed PCBs or paper batteries. ‘Printing a USB drive on regular paper’ (as the video says) would therefore involve printing functional USB and NFC controllers.

Luckily enough a quick Google search for the patents shown in one of the pictures (patent1, patent2) taught us that a storage circuitry is embedded under the printed USB pads, which may imply that the team had an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) designed or that they simply found one they could use for their own purposes. From the video we learn that ‘each card has a unique ID and can individually be programmed’ (the card, not the UID) and that it can be setup to open any webpage URL. The latter can even be modified after the card has been handed out, hinting that the final recipient would go to a ‘www.swivelcard.com/XXXX” type of address. We therefore got confused by

Imagine giving your business card with pictures, videos, presentations, and websites for the recipient to interact with!

paragraph that the project description contains.

This leads us to one key question we have: what kind of USB drive can make a given user visit a particular website, given that he may have Linux, Windows, Mac or any other OS? They all have similar USB enumeration processes and different key strokes to launch a browser… our wild guess is that it may be detected as storage with a single html file in it. Unfortunately for us the USB detection process is not included in the video.

Our final question: Is it possible to embed both USB and NFC controllers in a thin piece of paper without worrying about broken ICs (see picture above)? NFC enabled passports have obviously been around for a long time but we couldn’t find the same for USB drives.

Possible or not, we would definitely love having one in our hands!

Edit: One of our kind readers pointed out that this campaign actually is a re-launch of a failed indiegogo one which provides more details about the technology and confirms our assumptions.

DIY USB Spectrometer Actually Works

image of diy spectrometer

When we hear spectrometer, we usually think of some piece of high-end test equipment sitting in a CSI lab. Sure, a hacker could make one if he or she put their mind to it. But make one out of a webcam, some cheap diffraction grating purchased off ebay and some scrap? Surely not.

[Renaud] pulls off this MacGyver like build with a detailed knowledge of how spectrometers work. A diffraction grating is used to split the incoming light into its component wavelengths. Much like a prism would. The wavelengths then make their way through a slit, which [Renaud] made from two pieces of highly polished brass, so the webcam sensor can see a specific wavelength. While the spectrometer-from-webcam concept isn’t new,  the build is still impressive.

Once the build was complete, [Renaud] put together some software to make sense of the data. Though a bit short on details, we hope this build will inspire you to make your own spectrometer, and document it on hackaday.io of course.

ZX Spectrum Turned Into A USB Keyboard

ZX

They’re a little hard to find in the US, but the ZX Spectrum is right up there with the Commodore 64 and the Atari 8-bit computers in England. [Alistair] wanted to recreate the feeling of sitting right in front of the TV with his Speccy, leading him to create the ZX Keyboard, a Spectrum repurposed into a USB keyboard.

While most projects that take an old key matrix and turn it into a USB keyboard use the TMK firmware, [Alistair] wanted to flex his programming muscles and wrote the firmware from scratch. It runs on an Arduino Pro Mini, scanning the matrix of five columns and eight half rows to turn combinations of keypresses into an astonishing number of commands, given the limited number of keys on the ZX.

The firmware is available on [Alistair]‘s repo, available to anyone who doesn’t want to pay the £50 a new ZX Spectrum keyboard will cost. As far as the usability of a Spectrum keyboard goes, at least [Alistair] didn’t have an Atari 400 sitting in the attic.

USB Rotary Phone: A Lync to the Past

usb rotary phone[Ivan] is fed up with all this rampant virtualization. When his company took away his physical desk phone in favor of using MS Lync, he was driven to build a USB rotary phone. His coworkers loved it and one of them asked [Ivan] to build another. The build log focuses on converting his coworker’s vintage brass and copper number that must weigh a ton.

He had to do a bit more work with this one because it had rusted out inside and a few of the contacts were bent. The good news is that the speaker and microphone were in working order and he was able to use them both. After restoring the stock functionality, he added a USB sound card and created a USB keyboard using a PIC32MX440F256H.

The rotary phone’s dial works using two switches, one that’s open and one that’s closed when no one is dialing. Once dialing is detected, the open switch closes and the closed switch clicks according to the dialed digit (ten clicks for 0). [Ivan] also reads the switch hook state and has added debouncing. This gave him some trouble because of the quick response expected by the PC bus, but he made use of interrupts and was allowed to keep his seat.

Please stay on the line. [Ivan]‘s videos will be with you shortly.

[Read more...]

Make that C64 Keyboard Work as a USB Keyboard

keyboard-to-usb-mapping

Let’s face it, we all have keyboard peculiarities. Don’t try to deny it, everyone who types a lot has an opinion of the keyboard they stroke so frequently. We know [Brian Benchoff] swears by his model M, and we’re guessing he was the one that bumped into [Evan] and convinced him to write about his conversion of a Commodore 64 keyboard for use as a USB device.

This is not [Evan's] first rodeo. We recently saw him fixing up the worn off letters of his own model M. But this time around there’s some clever microcontroller work at play. Apparently mapping 122 keys using an Atmel AVR 32u4 chip (built in USB connectivity) is quite a task. Luckily someone’s already worked out all kinds of good things and is sharing the love with the Soarer’s Keyboard Controller Firmware. Of course it handles scanning, but also includes debounce, muxing, and the trick to scan more keys than the uC has pins for. We still don’t fully understand that bit of it. But [Evan] did post the config file he’s using so perhaps after we get elbow-deep in the code we’ll have a better understanding.

If you give this a try, we want to hear about it. Anyone have any modern keyboards they’re in love with? Leave a comment below.

Solderdoodle is an Open Source, USB Rechargable Soldering Iron

solderdoodle

Battery powered soldering irons are nothing new, but what about a soldering iron that can recharge via USB? [Solarcycle] realized that it might be handy to be able to recharge a portable soldering iron using such a ubiquitous connector and power source, so he developed the Solderdoodle.

The core component of the Solderdoodle is a Weller BP645 Soldering Iron. The heating element is removed from the Weller and placed into a custom case. The case is designed to be 3d printed. The STL files for the case are available if you want to make your own.

The Solderdoodle does away with large, disposable batteries and replaces them with a lithium ion battery pack. The battery contains no built-in protection circuitry in order to save space. Instead, this circuit is added later. [Solarcycle] appears to be using a circuit of his own design. The schematic and Gerber’s are available on his website.

The Instructable walks through all of the steps to build one of these yourself if you are so inclined. If you don’t have the spare time, you can fund the project’s Kickstarter and pre-order a production model. It’s always great to see a new commercial product with an open design.

[via Reddit]

Simple Touch Controller Frees Up USB Port

touch screen demonstration using text

[typ.o] was working on a Raspberry Pi project and found himself running short on USB ports. The project required a touch screen interface, which takes up one of the ports. Since he was only using the screen in text mode, he decided to ditch the original USB controller and make his own.

The ever popular Attiny85 is deployed to handle the task, and is interfaced between the resistive touch panel and the Raspberry pi, using only three pins from the GPIO port. The Attiny85 runs off the 3 volt supply from the raspi, so no level shifter is needed, helping to keep his board super simple.

The calibration and calculation of the touched character location is done by a Python script running on the raspi. [typ.o] is a fan of the KISS principle, and it shows. Be sure to check out his site for all source code, schematics and a video demonstrating this simple but effective solution.

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