Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?


Our tips line is on fire with suggestions for us to cover the modular cell phone concept named Phonebloks. The phone’s designer states the problem as follows:

A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Although it’s often just one part which killed it we throw everything away since it’s almost impossible to repair or upgrade.

His solution is the above pictured phone, with modular components for each feature: wifi, camera, battery, etc. Rather than upgrade your entire phone, upgrade just the parts you need. A wave of followers have thrown their support behind this concept, and perhaps their hearts are in the right place hoping to reduce waste and cost. Behind the scenes here at Hackaday, however, the response has been a unanimous facepalm. The primary objection (other than design implausibilities) should be obvious: dividing the phone into exchangeable bits does not inherently reduce waste. Those bits have to go somewhere.

Now, don’t rush to the comments section to identify additional problems; there’s a juicy Reddit thread for that. Instead, we want to take the high road: Can we do better? Can we make a phone for the future that is less wasteful to produce, more easily recycled, and possibly upgradable? What would be included in its features, and how would we do it? Check out a video of the concept phone and tell us your alternatives after the break.

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Galaxy S4 inductive charging hack keeps everything inside the case


We’ve seen this hack a bunch of times, but this does a great job of internalizing all of the phone-side inductive charging components.

It uses the Palm Pixi wireless charging hardware which seems to be the most popular system out there. We’ve already seen that you can add this to any phone that uses USB for charging. But we don’t like the idea of opening the phone to solder connections to the USB header. We also don’t want a USB plug sticking out the bottom of the phone all the time.

This hack satisfies both issues, and it’s actually thanks to the manufacturer. The Samsung Galaxy S4 just happens to have two contacts available inside the removable back plate which are designed for Samsung’s own inductive charging hardware. Contact with the Palm charging hardware is made by pressing copper foil into place. Mating foil traces on the inside of the back cover patch this into the Touchstone receiver hardware which is a direct transplant from a Palm case.

This is touted as a solution that costs under $30. That beats the current price of a genuine Samsung inductive charging kit by a wide margin.

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Arduino cellphone


The fact that you can build a cellphone around an Arduino is pretty neat. But we’re drawn to this project more as a testament to the advancement of hobby electronics. An [Average Joe] can build this thing with a minimum or background knowledge and without breaking the bank. Wow.

Of course this isn’t the first DIY cellphone we’ve come across. One of our favorites is this one which resides on a home etched PCB. There was even another Arduino offering with similar components back in September. But the one seen above really pulls it all together into a package that is usable for everyday life. The components include and Arduino Uno, GPRS shield from Seeed Studios, a TFT touch screen, Lithium battery and charging circuit, and a few other bobbles. All of it is mounted inside of a 3D printed case.

A simple phone calls for a simple UI and that’s included as well. The main menu has two buttons, one for placing a call, the other for sending a text. From there you get the virtual keypad seen above for typing out the phone number or composing a message.

[Thanks Victorzie]

Adding wireless charging to any phone


The wireless charging options available on flagship phones is a great feature, but most of us aren’t rocking the latest and greatest cellphone. [Daniel] came up with a great mod that adds wireless charging to just about every cellphone ever, at a very low price and a few bits and bobs ordered off eBay.

[Daniel] used a Palm Touchstone inductive charger – available for a few bucks on eBay – along with an inductive charging circuit from a Palm Pixi. This charging circuit was designed to complement the Touchstone charger, and is simple enough to wire up; all [Dan] needed to do was put the coil and charging circuit near the charge, and it output 5 Volts to charge any phone.

To get the power from the charging circuit into his phone’s battery, [Daniel] simply wired the output of the coil’s circuit to the USB in on the phone. The space inside his S2 was pretty tight but he was able to come up with two ways to install the charging circuit, for use with either the stock back cover or a third-party case.

For anyone with a soldering iron, it’s a quick bit of work to add wireless charging to any phone. We’re loving [Dan]‘s solution, as the Palm gear he used is so readily available on eBay and junk drawers the world over.

Giving the Nexus 4 a serial port


Having a serial port on any Linux box is always useful, but with the tiny computers we’re carrying around in our pockets now, that isn’t always an option. Some of the more advanced phones out there break out a UART on their USB OTG port, but the designers of the Nexus 4 decided to do things differently. They chose to put the Nexus 4’s serial port on the mic and headphone input, and [Ryan] and [Josh] figured out how to access this port.

Basically, the Nexus 4 has a tiny bit of circuitry attached to the microphone input. If the Nexus detects more than 2.8 Volts on the mic, it switches over to a hardware UART, allowing everything from an Arduino to an old dumb terminal to access the port.

The guys used a USB to serial FTDI board wired up to a 3.5 mm jack with a few resistors to enable the hardware UART on their phone. With a small enclosure, they had a reasonably inexpensive way to enable a hardware serial port on a mobile device with GPS, cellular, a camera, and a whole bunch of other sensors that any portable project would love.

EDIT: An anonymous little bird told us this: “You should add a note to the Nexus 4 serial cable post that TX and RX need to be 1.8V.  If you use 3.3V USB cables, you will likely eventually fry something.  FTDI makes 1.8V IO cables that work – you just need to make the trigger voltage for the mic line.” Take that for what you will.

IR Based Augmented Reality


For a final design project, [Frank] and his group took on an augmented reality project. The goal was to make objects interactively controllable by pointing a smartphone at them. Their solution was Augmented Reality Universal Controller and Identifier (ARUCI).

The system locates controllable objects by sensing IR beacons that contain identifiers for each object. The IR is received by a Wiimote sensor, which has been integrated into a custom PCB. This board sits in a 3D printed enclosure, and mounts to the back of a smartphone. The electronics are powered by tapping off of the phone’s battery.

Commands are sent to devices using a custom 2.4 GHz protocol which was implemented using the ATmega128RFA1. Each device has another ATmega to receive the signal and control the real world object. In their demo, the group shows the system controlling devices including a TV, a radio, and an RC car.

The system provides an interesting way to interact with objects, and the hardware integration is quite impressive. After the break, watch [Frank] give a demo.

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A clever solution for constantly locking workstations


[Vasilis] works at CERN, and like any large organization that invented the World Wide Web, they take computer security pretty seriously. One ‘feature’ the IT staff implemented is locking the desktop whenever the screen saver runs. When [Vasilis] is in his office but not at his battlestation, the screen saver invariably runs, locking the desktop, and greatly annoying [Vasilis].

The usual Hackaday solution to this problem would be a complex arrangement of RFID tags, webcams, and hundreds, if not thousands of lines of code. [Vasilis] came up with a much better solution: have the computer ping his phone over Bluetooth. If the phone is detected by the computer, kill the screen saver.

The code is up on Github. It’s not much – just 20 lines of a Bash script – but it’s just enough to prevent the aggravation of typing in a password dozens of times a day.


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