Reverse Engineering the Kayak Mobile API

The travel meta-search website Kayak apparently used to have a public API which is no longer available. We can’t say we mourn the loss of the interface we’d never known about. If you are someone who was automating their searches for that perfect vacation getaway deal, there’s still hope. But either way you’ll like this one. [Shubhro Saha] figured out how to access the API used by the Kayak mobile app. We like that he details how to sniff the traffic between an app and the internet and make sense of what is found.

His tool of choice is the Python package Mitmproxy. We haven’t heard of it but we have heard of Wireshark and [Shabhro] makes the case that Mitmproxy is superior for this application. As the name suggests, you set it up on your computer and use that box’s IP as the proxy connection for your phone. After using the app for a bit, there is enough data to start deconstructing what’s going on between the app and remote server which which it communicates. We could have a lot of fun with this, like seeing what info those free apps are sending home, or looking for security flaws in your own creations.

[Thanks Juan via Twitter]

Controlling Nokia Phones with Arduino

While [Ilias Giechaskiel] was waiting for his SIM900 shield to arrive, he decided to see what he could do with an old Nokia 6310i and an Arduino. He was researching how to send automated SMS text messages for a home security project, and found it was possible to send AT commands via the headphone jack of Motorola phones. But unfortunately Nokia did not support this, as they use a protocol known as FBus. With little information to go on, [Ilias] was able to break down the complicated protocol and take control with his Arduino.

With the connections in place, [Ilias] was able to communicate with the Nokia phone using a program called Gnokii — a utility written specifically for controlling the phone with a computer. Using the Arduino as an intermediary, he was eventually able tap into the FBus and send SMS messages.

Be sure to check out his blog as [Ilias] goes into great detail on how Nokia’s FBus protocol works, and provides all source code needed to replicate his hack. There is also a video demonstration at the end showing the hack in action.

Reverse-Engineering a Superior Chinese Product

It makes an Arduino look like a 555.  A 364 Mhz, 32 bit processor. 8 MB RAM. GSM. Bluetooth. LCD controller. PWM. USB and dozens more. Smaller than a Zippo and thinner than corrugated cardboard. And here is the kicker: $3. So why isn’t everyone using it? They can’t.

Adoption would mandate tier after tier of hacks just to figure out what exact hardware is there. Try to buy one and find that suppliers close their doors to foreigners. Try to use one, and only hints of incomplete documentation will be found. Is the problem patents? No, not really.

[Bunnie] has dubbed the phenomenon “Gongkai”, a type of institutionalized, collaborative, infringementesque knowledge-exchange that occupies an IP equivalent of bartering. Not quite open source, not quite proprietary. Legally, this sharing is only grey-market on paper, but widespread and quasi-accepted in practice – even among the rights holders. [Bunnie] figures it is just the way business is done in the East and it is a way that is encouraging innovation by knocking down barriers to entry. Chinese startups can churn out gimmicky trash almost on whim, using hardware most of us could only dream about for a serious project.

Continue reading “Reverse-Engineering a Superior Chinese Product”

Selfie-Bots Will Take Your Best Shots For You

Professor [Bruce Land] teaches a microcontroller class at Cornell University, and it seems like this year’s theme was selfie-taking-robots.

First up is a clever mix of technology by [Han, Bihan and Chuan]. What happens when you take an iPhone, three microphones and a microcontroller? The ultimate device in selfie-taking-technology, that’s what — Clap-on! The iPhone is mounted on a few servo motors which allows the bot to direct the camera towards, you guessed it, a clapping noise. On the second clap, the phone takes your picture. Cute.

Next up is a bit more sophisticated — a facial recognition selfie-bot. This little robot can be programmed to track faces and take pictures of you and your friends when your arm is just not long enough. Not only that, you can set all kinds of parameters so you get the perfect picture. It uses OpenCV to crunch the raw data and outputs commands to an ATmega1284 which controls the servo motors that direct the camera. This project was by [Michael and Jennifer] — two fourth year students at Cornell.

Continue reading “Selfie-Bots Will Take Your Best Shots For You”

PeriUSBoost: A DIY USB Battery Pack

If you travel often, use your mobile devices a lot, or run questionable ROMs on your phone, you likely have an external USB battery pack. These handy devices let you give a phone, tablet, or USB powered air humidifier (yes, those exist) some extra juice.

[Pedro]’s PeriUSBoost is a DIY phone charging solution. It’s a switching regulator that can boost battery voltages up to the 5 volt USB standard. This is accomplished using the LTC3426, a DC/DC converter with a built in switching element. The IC is a tiny SOT-23 package, and requires a few external passives work.

One interesting detail of USB charging is the resistor configuration on the USB data lines. These tell the device how much current can be drawn from the charger. For this device, the resistors are chosen to set the charge current to 0.5 A.

While a 0.5 A charge current isn’t exactly fast, it does allow for charging off AA batteries. [Pedro]’s testing resulted in a fully charged phone off of two AA batteries, but they did get a bit toasty while powering the device. It might not be the best device to stick in your pocket, but it gets the job done.

Using the Wrong Screw: A Painful Lesson in iPhone Repair

If you’ve ever had to repair an iPhone for a friend, you’ll know they have a ridiculous number of screws. Most companies standardize screws in their products, but since Apple doesn’t expect you to fix a phone yourself… they may have let this one slide.

You see, each of these screws is different.iPhone screws The red ones are 1.7mm long, the yellow one, 1.3mm, and the orange one, 1.2mm.

Guess what happens if you install either red or yellow screws into the orange spot, since your eyesight isn’t good enough to notice a 0.1mm difference? The screw will cut into the PCB and break several 50 micron traces, as shown in the picture above, causing a blue screen error on the phone.

Fun stuff.

[Sam Schmidt] is the owner of a repair outfit called iRepairNational, and he and his team spent a day trying to figure out the problem – it’s not exactly easy to spot. They’ve managed to repair it by cutting thin strips  of copper foil (the width of a human hair) and floating it into place using the surface tension of the flux they were using for soldering. On average it takes them around 2 hours to do the repair, though they’ve done a few in just under an hour.

Since discovering and sharing the problem, they’ve had customers around the world sending in phones for repair – often at the fault of someone else trying to repair something completely different in the phone, and then using the wrong screw as they put it all back together.

Estimating BB Gun Muzzle Velocity with a Voice Recorder and a Curtain

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[Luke Wren] just wrote in to tell us about his new science blog called Wren’s Tech — it’s only a few days old, but he’s already got some pretty cool science experiments written up! Like how to estimate the muzzle velocity of a BB gun using just a voice recorder, and a curtain!

There are many different ways you could do this. One of the easiest is using a high-speed camera with a known grid or pattern as the background — like how Mythbusters does it. Unfortunately, high-speed cameras are usually out of reach for most hobbyists. [Luke] explains a rather cool system you can build with some electronics, whereby you have two thin wires a known distance apart — run current through both and use a circuit that can detect the interrupt as your projectile breaks the wires — or, you can use a voice recorder. Continue reading “Estimating BB Gun Muzzle Velocity with a Voice Recorder and a Curtain”