FCC Introduces Rules Banning WiFi Router Firmware Modification

For years we have been graced by cheap consumer electronics that are able to be upgraded through unofficial means. Your Nintendo DS is able to run unsigned code, your old XBox was a capable server for its time, your Android smartphone can be made better with CyanogenMod, and your wireless router could be expanded far beyond what it was originally designed to do thanks to the efforts of open source firmware creators. Now, this may change. In a proposed rule from the US Federal Communications Commission, devices with radios may be required to prevent modifications to firmware.

The proposed rule only affects devices operating in the U-NII bands; the portion of the spectrum used for 5GHz WiFi, and the proposed rule only affects the radios inside these devices. Like all government regulations, the law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head, and the proposed rules effectively ban Open Source router firmware.

The rules require all relevant devices to implement software security to ensure the radios of devices operating in this band cannot be modified. Because of the economics of cheap routers, nearly every router is designed around a System on Chip – a CPU and radio in a single package. Banning the modification of one inevitably bans the modification of the other, and eliminates the possibility of installing proven Open Source firmware on any device.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Smart Battery Analyzer

[K.C. Lee]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize won’t cure cancer, wipe a disease from the planet, stop an alien invasion, or save the world. His battery charger and analyzer is, however, a useful little device for determining the charge and discharge characteristics of batteries, and can also be used as dual channel electronic load, current source, or power supply.

Inside [K.C.]’s device are all the tools required for charging and discharging lithium-ion, lead acid, and NiMH batteries. He’s doing this with a few slightly unusual circuits, including a SEPIC DC to DC converter, and an ‘analog’ PWM controller. these two techniques together mean [K.C.] can get away with smaller caps and inductors in his design, which also means less ripple on the output. As far as battery chargers and dischargers go, this one is very well designed.

Control of battery discharging and charging happens through a SILabs 8051-based microcontroller with USB. The UI is a simple Nokia LCD and an app running in Windows. If you want to save the world, this isn’t the project for you. If you need to test a few rechargeable batteries, this is a great device to have on the workbench.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Links: August 30, 2015

A month ago, we ran a post about [Jim]’s rare and strange transparent microchips. He’s back at it again, this time taking a look at the inner workings of MOSFETs

The Unallocated Space hackerspace is moving, and they’re looking for a few donations to get the ball rolling.

Yes, it’s a Kickstarter for a 3D printer, but the LumiPocket is interesting, even if only on the basis of the engineering choices. It’s a UV laser resin printer, and they’re using a SCARA arm to move the laser around. They’re also doing a top-down resin tank; it requires more resin, but it seems to work well enough.

Around DC or northern Virginia? We’re going to be there on September 11th through the 13th. We’re holding a Hackaday Prize Worldwide meetup at Nova Labs in Reston, Virgina. Sign up now! Learn KiCAD with [Anool]! Meet [Sudo Bob]! It’ll be a blast.

Not around DC or NOVA? This Wednesday we’ll be hosting another chat on .io.

The GEnx is one of the most beautiful and advanced engines in the world, and that means [Harcoreta] oven on the RC groups forums has made one of the most beautiful electric ducted fans in the world. On the outside, it looks like a GEnx, including reverse thrust capabilities, but inside it’s pure electronics: a brushless motor rotates a 100mm, 18-blade fan. He’s hoping to mount it on a Bixler (!). We can’t wait for the video of the maiden.

Stuffing Everything on a DIP32 Package

Putting an full microcontroller platform in a DIP format is nothing new – the Teensy does it, the Arduino nano does it, and a dozen other boards do it. [Alex] and [Alexey] aren’t content with just a simple microcontroller breakout board so they’re adding a radio, an OLED, an SD card reader, and even more RAM to the basic Arduino platform, all in a small, easy to use package.

The DIPDuino, as [Alex] and [Alexy] are calling it features an ATmega1284 processor. To this, they’re adding a 128×32 pixel OLED, a micro SD slot, and 1Mbit of SRAM. The microcontroller is a variant that includes a 2.4 GHz Zigbee radio that allows for wireless connections to other DIPDuinos.

What are [Alex] and [Alexey] going to do with their cool little board? They’re planning on using the OLED for a watch, improve their software so the firmware can be updated from the SD card, and one of [Alex]’s friends wants to build a RepRap controller with one of these. There’s a lot of potential with this board, and we’re interested in seeing where the guys take the project from here.

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Better Smart Plug

Walk into any home improvement store, and you’ll find dozens of smart accessories, home automation equipment, and WiFi-connected ephemera. The Belkin WeMo Insight is one of these devices, giving anyone with $60 and a WiFi network the ability to switch lights and appliances on and off over a network. [John] picked up one of these WiFi plugs, but it didn’t work exactly as he would like. Instead of building a smart plug from scratch, [John] replaced the controller board for a WeMo Insight for his Hackaday Prize entry, making it far more useful and a replacement for devices like the Kill-a-Watt.

In its stock form, the WeMo can only be used though the smartphone app provided by Belkin or through a few third-party services like IFFT. All of these solutions have a limited API, and don’t provide advanced power metrics. To solve this problem, [John] replaced the smart controller board inside the Belkin WeMo with one of their own design.

By volume, most of the electronics inside the WeMo are a transformer, caps, and a relay; the smarts of this smart plug are just a daughterboard. By re-engineering this daughterboard with a new microcontroller, an ESP8266, and a microSD card connector, [John] can replicate the functionality of the WeMo while adding some new features. SD card datalogging for up to four years is now possible, a RTC now provides precise time stamps on all data collected, and a few simple calculations on the microcontroller enable power factor, line frequency, and total energy metering. With the ESP, all this data can be sent up to the cloud with a vastly improved API.

It’s a great project, and something that Belkin should seriously consider for their next revision of the WeMo. For anyone stuck with a stock WeMo, [John] has made all his design files and code available, allowing anyone to replicate this build

You can check out [John]’s Hackaday Prize entry video below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Portable A/C

Many people with Multiple Sclerosis have sensitivity to heat. When the core body temperature of an MS sufferer rises, symptoms get worse, leading to fatigue, weakness, pain, and numbness. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, [extremerockets] is finding a solution. He’s developing a wearable, personal cooling device that keeps the wearer at a comfortable temperature.

The device is based on a wearable shirt outfitted with small tubes filled with a cooling gel. This setup is extremely similar to the inner garments worn by astronauts on spacewalks, and is the smallest and most efficient way to keep a person’s core body temperature down.

Unlike a lot of projects dealing with heating and cooling, [extremerockets] isn’t working with Peltiers or thermoelectric modules; they’re terribly inefficient and not the right engineering choice for something that’s going to be battery-powered. Instead, [extremerockets] is building a miniature refrigeration unit, complete with a real refrigeration cycle. There are compressors, valves, and heat exchanges in this build, demonstrating that [extremerockets] has at least some idea what he’s doing. It’s a great project, and one we can’t wait to see a working prototype of.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: