Reverse Engineering A Huge LED Display

muchosLEDs
In a fit of awesome salvaging, [Piet] picked up a huge, 16 character, 2 line display. It’s monstrous, designed for outdoor installations; road signs, train stations, and the like. It also draws 23 Watts when nothing is being displayedmaking this the perfect piece of salvaged equipment to reverse engineer.

The display was originally connected to a computer running proprietary software. The protocol between the display and computer is also proprietary, giving [Piet] the choice of either reverse engineering the protocol, or reverse engineering the hardware and building a new driver board. For anyone with a soldering iron, the second option is the simplest.

Disassembling the display, [Piet] found each character in the display was its own board with a 7×14 array of pixels, each with four LEDs. The rows and columns of each character are addressed with a shift register, and with an Arduino, [Peit] got a single character working.

The Arduino would struggle to display all the characters in the display, so a Raspi was pulled out, a driver and frame generator written, and the whole thing connected to Twitter It’s a beautifully display that draws 200 Watts when its scanning the pixels, and a wonderful reuse of disused hardware. Video below.

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DEFCON: Blackphone

Despite being full of techies and people doing interesting things with portable devices, you don’t want to have an active radio on you within a quarter-mile of DEFCON. The apps on your phone leak personal data onto the Internet all the time, and the folks at DEFCON’s Wall Of Sheep were very successful in getting a few thousand usernames and passwords for email accounts.

Blackphone is designed to be the solution to this problem, so when we ran into a few members of the Blackphone crew at DEFCON, we were pretty interested to take a quick peek at their device.

The core functionality for the Blackphone comes from its operating system called PrivatOS. It’s a fork of Android 4.4.2 that is supposed to seal up the backdoors found in other mobile phones. There’s also a bundle of apps from Silent Circle that give the Blackphone the ability to make encrypted phone calls, texts (with file sharing), and encrypted and password protected contact lists.

The hardware for the Blackphone is pretty impressive; a quad-core Nvidia Tegra provides all the power you need for your apps, video, and playing 2048, a 2000mAh battery should provide enough juice to get you through a day or two (especially since you can turn off cores), and the usual front/rear cameras, GPS, 802.11bgn and GSM and HSPA+/WCDA radios means this phone will be useable on most networks.

THP Semifinalst: Laser Solder Paste

laser

A relative latecomer to The Hackaday Prize, [AltMarcxs] has nevertheless come up with a very interesting tool for fabrication, the likes of which no one has ever seen before. It’s a rotating laser soldering paste applicator, meant to be an add-on to a CNC machine. What does it do? RIght now it looks extremely cool while being an immense time sink for [AltMarcxs], but the potential is there for being much more than that, ranging from a pick and place machine that also dispenses solder paste, to the closest thing you’ll ever get to a carbon fiber printer.

[AltMarcxs]‘s build consists of two 3W laser diodes focused just beyond the tip of the syringe. The syringe dispenses solder paste, and rotating the diodes around, [Alt] is able to put a melted solder blob anywhere on a piece of perfboard. He put up a reasonably well focused video demonstrating this.

With a few homebrew pick and place machines making the semifinalist cut for The Hackaday Prize, it’s easy to see the utility of something like this: Putting a board in a machine, pressing a button, and waiting a bit for a completely populated and soldered board is a dream of the electronic hobbyist rivaled only by a cheap and easy way to make PCBs at home. [AltMarxcs]‘s machine could be one step on the way to this, but there are a few other ideas he’d like to explore first.

The build also has wire feeders that allow a bit of copper wire to be soldered to the newly formed metal blob. There are plans to replace this with a composite fiber, replace the paste in the syringe with a UV resin, cut the fiber and cure the resin with the laser, and build something much better than other carbon fiber 3D printers we’ve seen before.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize. 

New Chip Alert: The ESP8266 WiFi Module (It’s $5)

NewChip

Every so often we run across something in the Hackaday tip line that sends us scurrying to Google, trying to source a component, part, or assembly. The ESP8266 WiFi module is the latest, made interesting because it pretty much doesn’t exist outside China.

Why is it cool? It’s a WiFi module with an SOC, making it somewhat similar to TI’s CC300 in conception (A.K.A. the thing that makes the Spark Core so appealing), in that a microcontroller on the module takes care of all the WiFi, TCP/IP stack, and the overhead found in an 802.11 network. It’s addressable over SPI and UART, making this an exceptionally easy choice for anyone wanting to build an Internet of Things thing; you can simply connect any microcontroller to this module and start pushing data up to the Internet. Oh, it’s also being sold for $5 in quantity one. Yes, for five dollars you can blink a LED from the Internet. That’s about half the price as the CC3000 itself, and a quarter of the price if you were to build a CC3000 breakout board.

There’s a catch, right, there’s always a catch. Yep. About two hours after this post is published it will be the number one English language Google result for “ESP8266.” As far as the English-speaking world is concerned, there is absolutely nothing to be found anywhere on the Internet on this module.

Seeed Studio recently sold a few of these modules for $7 and has some documentation, including a full datasheet and an AT command set. All the documentation is in Chinese. There’s also an “ESP8266 IoT SDK”, but from a quick glance at the code, this appears to be an SDK for the SOC on the module, not a simple way to connect the module to a microcontroller.

Anyone wanting to grab one of these modules can do so on Ali Express. Anyone wanting to do something with one of these modules will have a much more difficult time, most likely poking and prodding bits randomly with the help of Google translate. Should someone, or even a group of people, want to take up the task of creating a translation of the datasheet and possibly a library, we have a pretty collaborative project hosting site where you can do that. You may organize in the comments below; we’ll also be taking bets as to when a product using the ESP8266 will be found on Kickstarter. My guess is under a month.

EDIT: Here’s a translation of the datasheet and AT command set.

Edit two: [bafeigum] is writing a library go help him out.

Thanks [Liam] for the tip.

PiAware, Automated Airliner Tracking On The Raspberry Pi

FlightAware

For the sufficiently geeky aviation nerd there’s FlightAware, a website that tracks just about every airliner and most private planes currently in flight. The folks at FlightAware compile all the information with the help of a few thousand volunteers around the world that have a bit of hardware to listen to ADS-B transmissions and relay them to the FlightAware servers. Now you can do this with a Raspberry Pi, and as a nice little bonus FlightAware is giving away free enterprise accounts to anyone who does.

Listening in on ADS-B transponders is something Raspberry Pis have been doing for a while, but doing anything useful with the altitude, speed, heading, and registry numbers of various planes flying overhead is pretty much FlightAware’s only reason for existing, and the reason they’ve developed an easy to use software package for the Pi.

Setting everything up requires getting dump1090 running on the Pi, the only hardware required being an RTL-SDR USB TV tuner, a GPS module, and an antenna for 1090 MHz. From there, just send all the data to FlightAware and you get a free enterprise account with them. Not a bad deal for the aviation nerds out there.

Chromecast Is Root

Chromecast

Image from [psouza4] on the xda-developers forum

Chromecast is as close as you’re going to get to a perfect device – plug it in the back of your TV, and instantly you have Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and a web browser on the largest display in your house. It’s a much simpler device than a Raspi running XBMC, and we’ve already seen a few Chromecast hacks that stream videos from a phone and rickroll everyone around you.

Now the Chromecast has been rooted, allowing anyone to change the DNS settings (Netflix and Hulu users that want to watch content not available in their country rejoice), and loading custom apps for the Chromecast.

The process of rooting the Chromecast should be fairly simple for the regular readers of Hackaday. It requires a Teensy 2 or 2++ dev board, a USB OTG cable, and a USB flash drive. Plug the Teensy into the Chromecast and wait a minute. Remove the Teensy, plug in the USB flash drive, and wait several more minutes. Success is you, and your Chromecast is now rooted.

Member of Team-Eureka [riptidewave93] has put up a demo video of rooting a new in box Chromecast in just a few minutes. You can check that out below.

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Hackaday Links: August 24, 2014

hackaday-links-chain

Remember those ‘cocktail’ arcade cabinets? The Ikea Lack table has existed for years, so why not make one into an arcade table? Raspberry Pi with RetroPie as the brains,  and an ancient 4:3 monitor as the display.

Old Unixes! Running on PDPs, Novas, and IBMs! Thanks to Simh, you can emulate these old machines. [Matt] put up a guide to getting Simh running on a Pi that includes running Unix V5 on an emulated PDP-11.

Ever wanted to run your own telecom? The folks at Toorcamp did just that, 50 lines, 10,000 feet of 1-pair, and 1,500 feet of 2-pair. There’s a facebook album of all the pics.

Remember last week when Sparkfun said they shipped 2000 Microviews without a bootloader? Make interviewed [Marcus Schappi], the guy behind the MicroView. There’s also a tutorial on how to fix the issue.

Barbie needs an exorcism.

Remember the [Lord Vetinari] clock from way back when? It’s a clock that ticks 86400 times a day, but the interval between each second is just slightly random and enough to drive people insane. Here’s a kit on Tindie that makes it pretty easy to build a Ventinari clock, or a variety of other clocks that are sufficiently weird. There’s also a martian clock that’s 39 minutes and 36 seconds longer than normal, perfect for the folks at JPL.

0x1f 0x000 IZO EMESS 1407981609

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