CERN Shows Off New KiCad Module Editor

Photo from video demo of new KiCad module editor

CERN, the people that run a rather large particle collider, have just announced their most recent contributions to the KiCad project. This work focused on adding new features to the module editor, which is used to create footprints for parts.

The update includes support for DXF files, which will make it easy to import part drawings, or use external tools for more complex designs. New distribute tools make it easy to space out pads evenly. The copy and paste function now allows you to set a reference point, making it easy to align blocks. Finally, the pad enumeration tool lets you quickly set pin numbers.

CERN has already implemented a new graphics engine for KiCad, and demonstrated a new push and shove routing tool. The work plan for CERN’s KiCad contributions shows their long term goals. If you’re interested in what CERN is doing with KiCad, you can check out the CERN KiCad Developers Team on Launchpad.

After the break, watch a quick run through of the new features.

[Read more...]

Carpool DeVille: The World’s Fastest Hot Tub

The Carpool DeVille Hot Tub Car

Back in 1996, a group of engineering students at McMaster University set out to build a fully functional hot tub housed in a working car. They chopped up an abandoned 1982 Chevy Malibu and converted it into The Carpool.

That group of students graduated, and began work on the Carpool DeVille. Six years later, they’re ready to take it to Bonneville Salt Flats to claim the title of “world’s fastest hot tub.”

There has been some substantial modifications to the vehicle to make the Carpool a reality. A custom fibreglass tub was built to drop into the passenger compartment, and heat exchangers were added to the stock engine system to heat the water. The plumbing and pumps for the tub reside in the truck, while the original V8 engine is up in the front. A custom air suspension system allows them to carry the massive volume of water. There’s even a marine throttle to control gas and brake from the driver’s seat in the tub.

The folks behind the Carpool DeVille ran a Kickstarter to fund their race costs. The campaign is over, but you can still check out the story and pictures of the conversion. Since it was a successful campaign, we’re looking forward to seeing this custom vehicle out on the salt flats.

Proper Debugging for Energia Sketches

Moving a sketch from Energia to Code Composer Studio

Energia is a tool that brings the Arduino and Wiring framework to Texas Instruments’ MSP430 microcontrollers and the MSP430 Launchpad development board. This allows for easy development in an Arduino-like environment while targeting a different microcontroller family.

One problem with Energia and Arduino is the difficulty of debugging. Usually, we’re stuck putting a Serial.println(); and watching the serial port to trace what our program is doing. Other options include blinking LEDs, or using external displays.

Code Composer Studio, TI’s official development tool, allows for line-by-line debugging of applications. You can set breakpoints, watch the value of variables, and step through an application one instruction at a time.

The good news is that the latest version of Code Composer Studio supports importing Energia sketches. Once imported, you can step through the code and easily debug your application. This is a huge help to people developing more complex software using Energia, such as libraries.

TI gives us an overview of the new feature in a video after the break.

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip!]

[Read more...]

Pi Musicbox 0.5 Released

Pi MusicBox Logo


Have an extra Raspberry Pi kicking around? Pi MusicBox provides a way to quickly turn it into a standalone streaming device that can fetch music from tons of sources. The latest release of Pi MusicBox adds a bunch of new features.

We took a look at this software over a year ago, and noted that it made streaming Spotify easy, and had support for controlling tracks using Music Player Daemon (MPD). The newest release supports AirPlay, DNLA, Google Music, SoundCloud, and several other music sources.

Since the analog audio output on the Pi isn’t great, Pi MusicBox includes support for a variety of USB sound cards. It’s also possible to use the HDMI port for digital audio output, which can be connected into your home theatre system.

If you want to build a standalone music device, this looks like a great place to start. The user community has built a variety of projects that run this software, which are featured on the Pi MusicBox homepage.

Android Doorbell Notifier

Breadboarded circuit to detect when doorbell rings

It’s always unfortunate to find a FedEx tag on your door saying you missed a delivery; especially when you were home the whole time. After having this problem a few times [Lee] decided to rig up a doorbell notifier for his Android phone.

[Lee]‘s doorbell uses a 10 VAC supply to ring a chime. To reduce modifications to the doorbell, he added an integrated rectifier and a PNP transistor. The rectifier drives the transistor when the bell rings, and pulls a line to ground.

An old Netgear router running OpenWRT senses this on a GPIO pin. Hotplugd is used to run a script when the button push is detected.

The software is discussed in a separate post. The router runs a simple UDP server written in C. The phone polls this server periodically using SL4A: a Python scripting layer for the Android platform. To put it all together, hotplugd sends a UNIX signal to the UDP server when the doorbell is pushed. Once the phone polls the server a notification will appear, and [Lee] can pick up his package without delay.

Stealing WiFi From LED Lightbulbs


Back in 2012, the LIFX light bulb launched on Kickstarter, and was quite successful. This wireless LED lightbulb uses a combination of WiFi and 6LoWPAN to create a network of lightbulbs within your house. Context Information Security took a look into these devices, and found some security issues.

The LIFX system has a master bulb. This is the only bulb which connects to WiFi, and it sends all commands out to the remaining bulbs over 6LoWPAN. To keep the network up, any bulb can become a master if required. This means the WiFi credentials need to be shared between all the bulbs.

Looking into the protocol, an encrypted binary blob containing WiFi credentials was found. This binary could easily be recovered using an AVR Raven evaluation kit, but was not readable since it was encrypted.

After cracking a bulb apart, they found JTAG headers on the main board. A BusBlaster and OpenOCD were used to communicate with the chip. This allowed the firmware to be dumped.

Using IDA Pro, they determined that AES was being used to encrypt the WiFi credentials. With a bit more work, the key and initialization vector was extracted. With this information, WiFi credentials sent over the air could be decrypted.

The good news is that LIFX fixed this issue. Now they generate an encryption key based on WiFi credentials, preventing a globally unique key from being used.

[via reddit]

Overwriting a Protected AVR Bootloader

Logo for the FIgnition 8 bit computer project

A bootloader is typically used to update application code on a microcontroller. It receives the new program from a host, writes it to flash, verifies the program is valid, and resets the microcontroller. Perhaps the most ubiquitous example is the Arduino bootloader which allows you to load code without an AVR programmer.

The bootloader resides in a special part of memory, which is protected. On the AVR, it isn’t possible to write to the bootloader memory from the application code. This is to prevent you from accidentally breaking the bootloader and bricking the device.

However, it can be useful to write to the bootloader memory. The best example would be when you need to update the bootloader itself. To accomplish this, [Julz] found a workaround that defeats the AVR bootloader protection.

The challenge was to find a way to execute the Store Program Memory (spm) instruction, which can only be executed by the bootloader. [Julz] managed to make use of the spm instruction in the existing bootloader by counting cycles and modifying registers at the right time.

Using this technique, which [Julz] calls BootJacker, the Fignition 8 bit computer could have its bootloader updated. However, this technique would likely allow you to modify most bootloaders on AVR devices.


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