Ask Hackaday: The Latest Advances In Perfboard

It’s no secret the Hackaday tip line gets a lot of email from Kickstarter campaigns and PR firms managing Kickstarter campaigns. Most of these are terrible products. Want a five-pound battery that can’t be recharged? Yeah, stuff like that.

Every once in a while, we come across a tip that’s a completely original idea. There’s a balance between ingenuity and practicality with these ideas, and I can’t figure out where this one sits. It’s a Kickstarter for perfboard, yes, but not like any perfboard you’ve ever seen.

Busboard, or solderable breadboard
Busboard, or solderable breadboard

Before we dig into this, let’s get some definitions straight. Perfboard is a sheet with holes drilled on a 0.1″ grid. The holes are plated on both sides, and each hole is an individual electrical node. Veroboard, or stripboard is a bunch of holes on a 0.1″ grid. These holes are also plated, but all the holes in a column are a single electrical node. You can cut the tracks between holes, but the basic idea here is to reduce the number of wires needed to connect components. Busboard, seen left, is a continuation of Veroboard, and is laid out like a solderless breadboard.

And so we come to the new invention, Perf+, the perfboard reinvented. This perfboard again is a series of plated holes on a 0.1″ grid. Alongside these holes is a plated bus. This bus does not connect to any hole; instead, a little bit of solder is used to connect it to holes on the same row or column. “Selective Veroboard,” you could call it.

Now for the real trick: on one side of the board, the plated busses run vertically. On the other side of the board, the plated busses run horizontally. This means any two holes on the protoboard can be connected as one electrical node simply with a bit of solder.

If ever there was an idea you could point to and simultaneously say, “that’s clever” and “I have no idea how to use this,” there you go. I’m pretty sure this idea isn’t better than a piece of stripboard, but it is different. If you have any idea of how to used this new, strange, and otherworldly protoboard for something useful, put a note in the comments.

A Cellular Dev Kit With A Data Plan

After years of futzing around with 433 MHz radios and WiFi, we’re finally seeing a few dev boards that are focused on cellular radio modules. The Konekt Dash is the latest offering that puts a small u-blox SARA cellular module on a board with a small ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller for a complete cellular solution for any project you have in mind. Yes, until we get radios that make sense for an Internet of Things, this is the best you’re going to get.

If the Konekt sounds familiar, you’re right. A few months ago, Spark introduced the Electron, a cellular dev board based on the u-blox SARA-U260 module that includes a SIM with a 1MB of data a month. Practically, it’s not much different from the Konekt, but the Dash and Dash pro offer battery management and a battery connector, two power supplies, and encryption from the board to a server. There are slight differences for about the same price, but that’s what’s great about competition.

The Konekt Dash is now a few days in to a Kickstarter campaign that includes as rewards a board and a SIM with a six months to a year’s worth of data. There are a lot of things that can’t be done with WiFi, Bluetooth, or other radio modules, and if you have something like that in mind, you won’t do better than a Konekt or Spark Electron.

ChipWhisperer Hits Kickstarter

Even the most well designed crypto algorithms can be broken if someone is smart enough to connect an oscilloscope to a processor. Over the last 15 years or so, an entire domain of embedded security has cropped up around the techniques of power and side channel analysis. The tools are expensive and rare, but [Colin O’Flynn] and the ChipWhisperer are here to bring a new era of hardware security to the masses.

The ChipWhisperer was the second place winner of last year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s an interesting domain of security research, and something that was previously extremely expensive to study. If you’re looking for a general overview of what the ChipWhisperer does, you might want to check out when we bumped into [Colin] at DEFCON last year.

While the original goal of the ChipWhisperer was to bring the cost of the tools required for power and side channel analysis down to something a hackerspace or researcher could afford, this was still too expensive for a Kickstarter campaign. To that end, [Colin] designed the ChipWhisperer Lite, a cut-down version, but still something that does most of what the original could do.

There are two parts to the ChipWhisperer Lite – the main section contains a big microcontroller, a big FPGA, and a high gain, low noise amplifier. This is the core of the ChipWhisperer, and it’s where all the power analysis happens. The other part is a target board containing an XMega microcontroller. This is where you’ll run all your encryption algorithms, and where you’ll find out if they can be broken by power analysis. The main board and target board are held together by a break-away connection, so if you want to run a power analysis on another board, just snap the ChipWhisperer in half.

[Colin] is offering up a ChipWhisperer Lite for around $200 USD – far, far less than what these tools cost just a year ago. We’re looking forward to a successful campaign and all the neat findings people with this board will find.

Spark Goes Cellular With The Electron

A few years ago, small and cheap WiFi modules burst onto the scene and with that the Spark was born. It’s a tiny dev board with a TI CC3000 WiFi module, capable of turning any device into an Internet-connected device. It’s only the very beginning of the Internet of Things, yes, but an important step in the right direction. Now, Spark is unshackling itself from WiFi networks with the Spark Electron, a dev kit that comes with a cellular radio and data plan.

If you’ve ever tried to build a high altitude balloon, a project that will be out of range of WiFi, or anything else where cellular data would be a godsend, you’ll quickly realize Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and all the other carriers out there don’t necessarily care about your project. As far as we can tell, Spark is the first company to fix this gaping hole in what cellular can do by offering their own service – 20,000 messages for $3/month and no contracts. Officially, that’s 1MB of data spread over 20k messages that are about 50 bytes in length.

There are a few dozen companies and organizations working on the next generation of The Internet Of Things, but these require completely new silicon and spectrum allocations or base stations. Right now, there’s exactly one way of getting a Thing on the Internet without WiFi, and that’s with cellular data. We have to hand it to Spark for this one, and can’t wait to see the projects that will be possible due to a trickle of Internet everywhere.

A Wearable Space Station Notifier

If you don’t live in northern Europe, Alaska, or the extreme southern part of South America, there’s a 400-ton, $150 Billion space station flying over your head several times a day. It’s the International Space Station, and it’s the most complex and expensive construction project of all time. Look up at the right time, and you can see a point of light rising in the sky, brighter than any star, darting across to the opposite horizon.

ISS-Above is a simple tool that will tell you when you’ll be able to see the ISS passing overhead next, and the creator of the project, [Liam Kennedy] has a new crowdfunding project to turn this space station notifier into a wearable. It’s called the Pulsar, and with the help of an RFduino and a real time clock, it will alert you to an upcoming station pass with a bit of wearable electronics.

ISS
Viewing the ISS at the most recent Hackaday Pasadena Meetup.

The ISS-Above is a great device to keep tabs on the six astronauts currently orbiting our globe, but if you want to see the space station rise over the horizon… well, lugging a Raspi and an HDMI monitor outside isn’t the best solution. The Pulsar is a tiny wearable board with a ring of LEDs programmed with 50 future passes of the space station. When the station is overhead, the LEDs light up, and a bright object appears over the western horizon.

[Liam] brought his Pulsar to the most recent Hackaday Pasadena meetup, and as his wearable LEDs lit up, the ISS appeared right on cue. The evening was only tainted by a crazy lady who decided to argue the existence of the International Space Station.

Video below.

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Quadcopter Plane Transformer is Awesome

Is it a quadcopter? A plane?  No, it’s both! [Daniel Lubrich] is at it again with a vertical take off and landing transformer he calls the SkyProwler.

The SkyProwler uses a switch blade type mechanism to move from quadcopter mode to plane mode. The wings can be detached to make it a normal quad that has all the typical bells and whistles. It can follow you around with GPS, fly autonomously via way points, and has this cool gimbal mechanism that keeps the GoPro stable as the drone pitches in flight, allowing for a better video experience.

[Dan’s] ultimate goal is a full size passenger model called the SkyCruiser, which uses the same switchblade transformation mechanism as his much smaller SkyProwler. Be sure to check out the video below if you haven’t already, and let us know of any quadcopter / plane hybrids of your own.

Correction: We previously associated [Daniel Lubrich] with the ATMOS program. This was in error and has been removed from the article. The ATMOS UAV is a separate project which we previously covered.

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PortableSDR Needs a Cinderella Story to Finish its Kickstarter

If you haven’t backed PortableSDR on Kickstarter, now’s the time to do it. [Michael Colton’s] project which frees a Software Defined Radio from being shackled to a computer is in the final three days and needs about $17,500 to make it.

We’d really like to see this one succeed, and not just because PortableSDR took 3rd place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. Many a time we’ve heard people forecast the death of amateur radio (ham if you will). The ham community is special, it’s a great way to get mentorship in electronics, and deals in more than just digital circuitry. Plus, as [Greg] has pointed out, having a license and some know-how lets you build and operate really powerful stuff!

We see the PortableSDR as one way to renew interest in the hobby. We especially like it that you don’t need a license to operate the basic model — the transmitting circuits aren’t enabled when it arrives. This means you can learn about SDR, explore what’s going on over the airwaves, and only then take the leap by applying for your license and hack the unit to transmit. To be fair, the transmitter portion of the project hasn’t been published yet, which is about the only real concern we read in the Kickstarter comments. But we have faith that [Michael] will come through with that part of it. And if he needs help we’re sure he’ll have no problem finding it.

Now’s the time… let’s pull this one out in the final days!