Hardware Tribes Growing Up Around Artisanal Electronics

Consumer electronics are design beasts that must serve many masters. There’s a price point for the product itself, a ceiling for the feature set (lest it not be ‘user friendly’), and to take the risk of actually manufacturing something there needs to be proof of the market. A lot of great things make it through this process, but some really unique and special gear goes completely around it.

So is the story of this AND!XOR hardware badge being built for DEF CON 25. This is not the official conference badge, but the latest in a growing trend of hardware/firmware engineers and hackers who design their own custom gear for the conference, trying to one-up not just the official badge, but the other hardware tribes doing the same. This unique hardware excitement is a big reason that Hackaday has developed electronic badges for our conferences.

The new badge is a mashup of Bender from Futurama and Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, presents something of monstrosity to hang around your neck. That has certainly never stopped us from having one of these bouncing around our necks as we pound the cattle paths from talk to talk (and the DC23 vinyl record was way more unwieldy anyway).

Bender’s forehead display has now been upgraded from a diminutive OLED to a generous color LCD display. The 433 MHz which used the spring antenna on the previous badge has given way to a Bluetooth Low Energy. The BLE is built into the Rigado BMD-300 SOC that is now in conrol of the badge. We can’t wait to see the shenanigans unlocked with this new hardware — they’re already showing of crazy animations, retro gaming, and teasing a huge multiplayer game with all the badges. Finally, the “Secret Component” at the bottom of their components list delivers the je ne sais quoi to the whole project.

Fans of AND!XOR have already thrown their weight behind it. Unofficial badges have been unavailable to a wider group or only offered in flash-sales that pop up during the con. Last year the team was met with a huge mob throwing money at their supply of 175 badges. Now the AND!XOR team has grown to five people toiling away to make the design, the easter-egg laden firmware, and the manufacturing process better than the amazing work of last year. They just launched a crowd funding campaign on Tuesday and immediately blew past their goal about five times over.

We’re hoping to get our mitts on one of these ahead of DEF CON to give you an early look at what these hardware artists have accomplished. If you’re part of another hardware tribe building custom electronics for the love of it, we’d really like to hear from you. This goes for any conference — we know of at least one other in progress.

Laser Cutting a 3D Printer

The concept of self-replicating 3D printers is a really powerful one. But in practice, there are issues with the availability and quality of the 3D-printed parts. [Noyan] is taking a different approach by boostrapping a 3D printer with laser-cut parts. There are zero 3D-printed parts in this project. [Noyan] is using acrylic for the frame and the connecting mechanisms that go into the machine.

The printer design chosen for the project is the Prusa i3. We have certainly seen custom builds of this popular design before using laser-cut plywood for the frame. Still, these builds use 3D-printed parts for some of the more complicated parts like the extruder carriage and motor brackets. To the right is the X-carriage mechanism. It is complicated but requires no more than 6 mm and 3 mm acrylic stock and the type of hardware traditionally associated with printer builds.

With the proof of concept done, a few upgrades were designed and printed to take the place of the X-axis parts and the belt tensioner. But hey, who doesn’t get their hands on a 3D printer and immediately look for printable solutions for better performance?

We first saw a laser-cut RepRap almost nine years ago! That kit was going to run you an estimated $380. [Noyan] prices this one out at under $200 (if you know someone with a laser cutter), and of course you can get a consumer 3D printer at that price point now. Time has been good to this tool.

Hackaday Unconference this Saturday (in Triplicate)

This Saturday we’re hosting the Hackaday Unconference — three live events in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that are going to jumpstart the idea engines and enthusiasm of everyone who attends. We can’t even tell you what the Unconference is about; it’s the people who participate that make the schedule and guide the discussion. Everyone there will be ready to give a talk of at least eight minutes on something that excites them right now. As the day goes on, ideas will feed off of each other and people will give talks and lead discussions they hadn’t even thought of before hearing other presentations of the day. It’s an atmosphere that you’ve never experienced unless you’ve been to an Unconference.

If you are located near one of these events it’s not too late to sign up. We’ve expanded the RSVP limit for Chicago and Los Angeles. And San Francisco has a waiting list that will likely be released at some point this week. So sign up now!!

Those not located nearby can still peek in to see what’s happening. We’ll be covering all three events on Hackaday Twitter,  Hackaday Facebook (including some Facebook Live blips throughout the day), and Hackaday Instagram using the #HackadayUncon hashtag. While you’re looking through all the ways to stay connected with us, you should sign up for the weekly Hackaday.com newsletter to pick up any stories you might have missed and get a few hints of what is ahead.

Q Has Nothing on Naomi Wu

We’re not so much fans of James Bond as we are of Q, the hacker who supplies him with such wonderful things. There is a challenger to Q’s crown, [Naomi Wu] — code name [SexyCyborg] — built an epic gadget called the Pi Palette which hides a Linux laptop inside of a cosmetics case.

You can see the covert mode of the Pi Palette below. It resembles a clamshell cosmetics case with the makeup and applicator in the base and a mirror on the underside of the flip-up lid. The mirror hides an LCD screen in the portrait orientation, as well as a Raspberry Pi 3 running Kali Linux.

The base of the case includes a portable battery beneath the wireless keyboard/touchpad — both of which are revealed when the cosmetics tray is removed. An inductive charger is connected to the battery and [Naomi] built a base station which the Pi Palette sits in for wireless charging.

She envisions this as a covert penetration testing. For that, the Pi Palette needs the ability to put the WiFi dongle into promiscuous mode. She wired in a dual dip-switch package and really went the extra mile to design it into the case. The fit and finish of that switch is just one tiny detail the illustrates the care taken with the entire project. With such a beautiful final project it’s no wonder she took to the streets to show it off. Check that out, as well as the build process, in the video after the break.

Continue reading “Q Has Nothing on Naomi Wu”

Closer Look at Everyone’s Favorite Blinky

Admit it, you love looking at silicon die shots, especially when you have help walking through the functionality of all the different sections. This one’s really easy for a couple of reasons. [electronupdate] pointed his microscope at the die on a WS2812.

The WS2812 is an addressible RGB LED that is often called a Neopixel (a brand name assigned to it by Adafruit). The part is packaged in a 5×5 mm housing with a clear window on the front. This lets you easily see the diodes as they are illuminated, but also makes it easy to get a look at the die for the logic circuit controlling the part.

This die is responsible for reading data as it is shifted in, shifting it out to the next LED in the chain, and setting each of the three diodes accordingly. The funcitonality is simple which makes it a lot easier to figure out what each part of the die contributes to the effort. The diode drivers are a dead giveaway because a bonding wire connected to part of their footprint. It’s quite interesting to hear that the fourth footprint was likely used in testing — sound off in the comments if you can speculate on what those tests included.

We had no trouble spotting logic circuitry. This exploration doesn’t drill down to the gate level like a lot of [Ken Shirriff’s] silicon reverse engineering but the process that [electronupdate] uses is equally fun. He grabs a tiny solar cell and scopes it while the diodes are running to pick up on the PWM pattern used to fade each LED. That’s a neat little trick to keep in your back pocket for use in confirming your theories about clock rate and implementation when reverse engineering someone else’s work.

Continue reading “Closer Look at Everyone’s Favorite Blinky”

Friday Hack Chat: Mechanical Manufacturing

Join [Sylvia Wu], a Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Fictiv, for this week’s Hack Chat. [Sylvia’s] work at Fictiv gives her a unique viewpoint for modern manufacturing. The company connects engineers with rapid manufacturing by taking in a design and routing it to a shop that has the tools and time to fabricate the part quickly. This means seeing the same silly mistakes over and over again, but also catching the coolest new tricks as they pass by. She also spends time tearing apart consumer products to see how they have been manufactured, adding to their arsenal of available processes, both time-tested and newfangled.

Anyone interested manufacturing needs to get in on this Hack Chat. Mark your calendar for this Friday, 3/10 at noon PST (20:00 UTC)

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

On Friday March 17th the Hack Chat features chip design for oscilloscopes with engineers from Keysight.

Los Angeles Hackaday Unconference Happening on 3/18

Reserve your spot at the Los Angeles Hackaday Unconference on Saturday, March 18th. The Hackaday community is huge in LA and this event will fill up, so don’t delay.

The Unconference is a unique opportunity to decide the course of the day as it happens. Everyone who attends should be ready to stand and deliver at least eight minutes on a topic they find exciting right now. The energy this creates is the key to a level of involvement that can’t be matched at traditional conferences that have a divide between those presenting and those attending.

LA Joins Chicago and San Francisco

This announcement of the Los Angeles Hackaday Unconference joins two others happening the same day. Last week we announced San Francisco as a host location and the event is now full… but anyone in the area should still get their name on the waiting list. Four days ago we announced Chicago as the second location and that event will likely reach capacity today. [Shulie Tornel] and [Jasmine Brackett] are organizing things at the LA event which is being held at the Supplyframe Design Lab from 1 – 8 pm on 3/18.

Build Something that Matters

You can speak on any topic you want, but sometimes having a theme helps to get the ideas flowing. When considering your topic, keep Build Something that Matters in mind. Have you been looking into a technology, project, or idea that can make life a little (or a lot) better for the world? That would be an exquisite topic.

At the beginning of the day we’ll go around the room and get the talk title or subject from everyone there, then as a group we’ll hammer out a schedule for the day. As presentations progress, we encourage new impromptu talks to spring up, and can even split those off into a second talk space or discussion group. We’ll have food and drink on hand, as well as some interesting hardware to give out as door prizes.

The Hackaday Unconference is the ultimate idea and energy exchange in a crowd of your peers. You’ll have a hard time finding a cooler way to spend a Saturday this year. See you there!