LEDs Turn This Paper Map into a Tram Tracker

Subway radar

Public transit can be a wonderful thing. It can also be annoying if the trains are running behind schedule. These days, many public transit systems are connected to the Internet. This means you can check if your train will be on time at any moment using a computer or smart phone. [Christoph] wanted to take this concept one step further for the Devlol hackerspace is Linz, Austria, so he built himself an electronic tracking system (Google translate).

[Christoph] started with a printed paper map of the train system. This was placed inside what began as an ordinary picture frame. Then, [Christoph] strung together a series of BulletPixel2 LEDs in parallel. The BulletPixel2 LEDs are 8mm tri-color LEDs that also contain a small controller chip. This allows them to be controlled serially using just one wire. It’s similar to having an RGB LED strip, minus the actual strip. [Christoph] used 50 LEDs when all was said and done. The LEDs were mounted into the photo frame along the three main train lines; red, green, and blue. The color of the LED obviously corresponds to the color of the train line.

The train location data is pulled from the Internet using a Raspberry Pi. The information must be pulled constantly in order to keep the map accurate and up to date. The Raspberry Pi then communicates with an Arduino Uno, which is used to actually control the string of LEDs. The electronics can all be hidden behind the photo frame, out of sight. The final product is a slick “radar” for the local train system.

Raiders of the Lost ROM

ROM dump

Once upon a time, arcades were all the rage. You could head down to your local arcade with a pocket full of quarters and try many different games. These days, video arcades are less popular. As a result, many old arcade games are becoming increasingly difficult to find. They are almost like the artifacts of an ancient age. They are slowly left to rot and are often lost or forgotten with time. Enter, MAME.

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is a software project, the goal of which is to protect gaming history by preventing these arcade machines from being lost or forgotten. The MAME emulator currently supports over 7000 titles, but there are still more out there that require preservation. The hackers who work on preserving these games are like the digital Indiana Jones of the world. They learn about lost games and seek them out for preservation. In some cases, they must circumvent security measures in order to accurately preserve content. Nothing as scary as giant rolling boulders or poison darts, but security nonetheless.

Many of the arcade cabinets produced by a publisher called NMK used a particular sound processor labeled, “NMK004″. This chip contains both a protected internal code ROM and an unprotected external ROM that controls the sound hardware. The actual music data is stored on a separate unprotected EEPROM and is different for each game. The system reads the music data from the EEPROM and then processes it using the secret data inside the NMK004.

The security in place around the internal ROM has prevented hackers from dumping its contents for all this time. The result is that NMK games using this chip have poorly emulated sound when played using MAME, since no one knows exactly how the original chip processed audio. [trap15] found it ridiculous that after 20 years, no one had attempted to circumvent the security and dump the ROM. He took matters into his own hands.

The full story is a bit long and contains several twists and turns, but its well worth the read. The condensed version is that after a lot of trial and error and after writing many custom tools, [trap15] was able to finally dump the ROM. He was able to accomplish this using a very clever trick, speculated by others but never before attempted on this hardware. [trap15] exploited a vulnerability found in the unprotected external ROM in order to trick the system into playing back the protected internal ROM as though it were the sound data stored on the EEPROM. The system would read through the internal ROM as though it were a song and play it out through the speakers. [trap15] recorded the resulting audio back into his PC as a WAV file. He then had to write a custom tool to decode the WAV file back into usable data.

[trap15] has released all of his tools with documentation so other hackers can use them for their own adventures into hardware hacking. The project was a long time in the making and it’s a great example of reverse engineering and perseverance.

[Thanks Ryan]

Inductive Charger Mod Allows for Non-Stop Wireless Rocking

Inductive charger

When you want to jam out to the tunes stored on your mobile devices, Bluetooth speakers are a good option. Battery power means you can take them on the go and the Bluetooth connection means you don’t have to worry about cables or wires dangling around. Unfortunately the batteries never seem to last as long as we want them too. You can always plug the speaker back in to charge up the battery… but when you unhook those cords they always seem to end up falling back behind the furniture.

[Pierre] found himself with this problem, but being a hacker at heart meant that he was able to do something about it. He modified his JAM Classic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker to include an inductive charger. It used to be a lot of work to fabricate your own inductive charging system, or to rip it out of another device. But these days you can purchase kits outright.

The JAM speaker was simply put together with screws, so no cracking of the plastic was necessary. Once the case was removed, [Pierre] used a volt meter to locate the 5V input line. It looks like he just tapped into the USB port’s power and ground connections. The coil’s circuit is soldered in place with just the two wires.

All [Pierre] had left to do was to put the speaker back together, taking care to find space for the coil and the new circuit board. The coil was taped to the round base of the speaker. This meant that [Pierre] could simply tape the charging coil to the underside of a glass table top. Now whenever his Bluetooth speaker gets low on battery, he can simply place it on the corner of the table and it will charge itself. No need to mess with cables.



End Table Kegerator Hides the Tap when You’re Not Looking


What’s better than an ordinary end table? How about an end table that can serve you beer? [Sam] had this exact idea and used his skills to make it a reality. The first step of the build was to acquire an end table that was big enough to hold all of the components for a functional kegerator. This proved to be a bit tricky, but [Sam] got lucky and scored a proper end table from a garage sale for only $5.00.

Next, [Sam] used bathroom sealant to seal up all of the cracks in the end table. This step is important to keep the inside cold. Good insulation will keep the beer colder, while using less electricity. Next, a hole was cut into the top of the table for the draft tower.

The draft tower is mounted to a couple of drawer slides. This allows the tower to raise up and down, keeping it out of sight when you don’t want it. The tower raises and lowers using a simple pulley system. A thin, high strength rope is attached to the tower. The other end is attached to a spool and a small motor. The motor can wind or unwind the spool in order to raise and lower the tower.

The table houses an Arduino, which controls the motor via a homemade H bridge. The Arduino is hooked up to a temperature sensor and a small LCD screen. This way, the users can see how cold their beer will be before they drink it.

To actually keep the beer cold, [Sam] ripped apart a mini fridge. He moved the compressor and condenser coils to the new table. He had to bend the coils to fit, taking care not to kink them. Finally he threw in the small keg, co2 tank and regulator. The final product is a livingroom gem that provides beer on demand.

Demo video (which is going the wrong way) can be found after the break.

[Read more...]

Arduino Powered Digital Kaleidoscope


[Jose's] latest project brings an old visual effect toy up to date with digital electronics. Most of us are familiar with inexpensive kaleidoscope toys. Some of us have even built cheap versions of them with paper tubes, mirrors, and beads. [Jose] wanted to try to recreate the colorful pattern effects created by a kaleidoscope using an Arduino and an addressable LED strip.

The build is actually pretty simple. The base is a disc of PVC cut to just a few inches in diameter. [Jose] started with an addressable LED strip containing 60 LEDs. He then cut it into 12 sections, each containing five LEDs. The smaller strips were then mounted to the disc, similar to spokes on a bicycle wheel. The LED strip already has an adhesive backing, so that part was trivial.

The final step was to add some kind of diffuser screen. The LED strips on their own are not all that interesting. The diffuser allows the light to blend together, forming interesting patterns that are more reminiscent of the patterns you might see in a real kaleidoscope. Without the diffuser you would just see individual points of light, rather than blended color patterns.

The whole thing is controlled by a small Arduino. [Jose] has made the code available at the bottom of his blog post. Be sure to watch the video of the system in action below. [Read more...]

Voice Controlled RGB LED Lamp

Voice Controlled Lamp

[Saurabh] wanted a quick project to demonstrate how easy it can be to build devices that are voice controlled. His latest Instructable does just that using an Arduino and Visual Basic .Net.

[Saurabh] decided to build a voice controlled lamp. He knew he wanted it to change colors as well as be energy-efficient. It also had to be easy to control. The obvious choice was to use an RGB LED. The LED on its own wouldn’t be very interesting. He needed something to diffuse the light, like a lampshade. [Saurabh] decided to start with an empty glass jar. He filled the jar with gel wax, which provides a nice surface to diffuse the light.

The RGB LED was mounted underneath the jar’s screw-on cover. [Saurabh] soldered a 220 ohm current limiting resistor to each of the three anodes of the LED. A hole was drilled in the cap so he’d have a place to run the wires. The LED was then hooked up to an Arduino Leonardo.

The Arduino sketch has several built-in functions to set all of the colors, and also fade. [Saurabh] then wrote a control interface using Visual Basic .Net. The interface allows you to directly manipulate the lamp, but it also has built-in voice recognition functionality. This allows [Saurabh] to use his voice to change the color of the lamp, turn it off, or initiate a fading routing. You can watch a video demonstration of the voice controls below. [Read more...]

Raspberry Pi Backup Scripts

Raspberry Pi

[Matthew's] recent blog post does a good job explaining the basics of the Raspberry Pi’s file system. The Linux operating system installed on a Pi is generally installed on two different partitions on an SD card. The first partition is a small FAT partition. All of the files on this partition are used for the initial booting of the Pi. This partition also includes the kernel images. The second partition is the root file system and is generally formatted as ext4. This partition contains the rest of the operating system, user files, installed programs, etc.

With that in mind you can deduce that in order to backup your Pi, all you really need to do is backup all of these files. [Matt] has written some scripts to make this a piece of cake (or pie). The first script will simply copy all of the files into a gzipped archive. You can save this to an external SD card, USB drive, or network share.

The second script is perhaps more interesting. This script requires that you have one free USB port and a USB SD card reader. The script will automatically format the extra SD card to contain the two critical partitions. It will then copy the “boot” files to the new boot partition and the root file system files to the new SD card’s root partition. When all is said and done, you will end up with an SD card that is an exact copy of your current running file system.

This can be very handy if you have multiple Pi’s that you want to run the same software, such as in a Pi cluster. Another good example is if you have spent a lot of time tweaking your Pi installation and you want to make a copy for a friend. Of course there are many ways to skin this cat, but it’s always fun to see something custom-built by a creative hacker.


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