A Solar-Powered Headset From Recycled Parts

Solar power has surged ahead in recent years, and access for the individual has grown accordingly. Not waiting around for a commercial alternative, Instructables user [taifur] has gone ahead and built himself a solar-powered Bluetooth headset.

Made almost completely of recycled components — reducing e-waste helps us all — only the 1 W flexible solar panel, voltage regulator, and the RN-52 Bluetooth module were purchased for this project. The base of the headset has been converted from [taifur]’s old wired one, meanwhile a salvaged boost converter, and charge controller — for a lithium-ion battery — form the power circuit. An Apple button makes an appearance alongside a control panel for a portable DVD player (of all things), and an MP4 player’s battery. Some careful recovery and reconfiguration work done, reassembly with a little assistance from the handyman’s secret weapon — duct tape — and gobs of hot glue bore a wireless fruit ready to receive the sun’s bounty.

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Dummies Guide to Reverse Engineering

[Juan Carlos Jiménez] has reverse engineered a router — specifically, a Huawei HG533. While that in itself may not sound substantial, what he has done is write a series of blog posts which can act as a great tutorial for anyone wanting to get started with sniffing hardware. Over the five part series, he walks through the details of identifying the hardware serial ports which open up the doors to the firmware and looking at what’s going on under the hood.

The first part deals with finding the one or several debug ports on the hardware and identifying the three important pins – Rx, Tx and GND. That’s when he shows novices his first trick – shining a flashlight from under the PCB to find the pins that have trace connections (most likely Rx and Tx), those that don’t have any connections (most likely CTS and DTR) and those that have connections to the copper pour planes (most likely VCC and GND). The Tx signal will be pulled up and transmitting data when the device is powered up, while the Rx signal will be floating, making it easy to identify them. Finding the Baud rate, though, will require either a logic analyser, or you’ll have to play a bit of a guessing game.

Once you have access to the serial port and know its baud rate, it’s time to hook it up to your computer and use any one of the several ways of looking at what’s coming out of there — minicom, PuTTY or TeraTerm, for example. With access to the devices CLI, and some luck with finding credentials to log in if required, things start getting interesting.

Over the next part, he discusses how to follow the data paths, in this case, looking at the SPI signals between the main processor and the flash memory, and explaining how to use the logic analyser effectively and decode the information it captures. Moving further, he shows how you can hook up a USB to SPI bridge, connect it to the flash memory, take a memory dump of the firmware and read the extracted data. He wraps it up by digging in to the firmware and trying to glean some useful information.

It’s a great series and the detailed analysis he does of this particular piece of hardware, along with providing a lot of general tips, makes it a perfect starting point for those who need some help when getting started on debugging hardware.

Thanks, [gnif] for posting this tip.

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Wood and Rubber Band Pinball

As pinball has evolved, it has gone from a simple gravity based game to an electromechanical one.  As the 20th century came to a close, pinball games added digital elements as well, matrix displays replaced electromechanical scoreboards, and LEDs replaced incandescent bulbs. While the game got more creative as new technologies became available, the basics of the pinball never changed – keep the ball alive using your skill with the flippers (and the occasional nudge.) [Garagem Fab Lab] has taken the basics of the pinball machine and, with some wood and elastic bands, has created a very nice desktop pinball machine.

The plans for the game require getting the wood cut by a CNC mill, but they could probably be easily created using a jigsaw. Instead of electrical buttons and solenoids, pieces of wood push the flippers out and elastics reset them when released. The bumpers, too, are simple dowels with rubber bands wrapped around them. The launching mechanism is a bit of bungee cord tied onto a piece of wood and used like a flipper to speed the ball into the play area.

The build is a throwback to the earliest pinball machines. Sure, there’s no reaction from the bumpers when they’re hit, they’re just passive, but the game looks fun. It would be a great base to add in some sensors, a microcontroller, and a display to keep track of scores if one was so inclined. Other DIY pinball machines we’ve seen are this pinball game built with Meccano and lasers, as well as this completely 3D-printed machine.

A Micro RC Plane Builder Shares His Tricks

There are individuals who push tools, materials, and craftsmanship to the limit in the world of micro RC aircraft, and [Martin Newell] gives some insight into the kind of work that goes into making something like a 1:96 scale P-51 Mustang from scratch. The tiny plane is 100% flyable. It even includes working navigation lights and flashing cannons (both done with 0402 LEDs) and functional, retractable landing gear. It weighs an incredible 2.9 grams. Apart from the battery, everything in the plane was built or assembled from scratch. A video is embedded below.

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Blow Up Your Face

[Yuji Hayashi] and some of his buddies in Tokyo did a fun project at the Tokyo Maker Faire last August that proved to be a big hit. They built a cardboard box which enlarged the wearers face when it was worn. It’s an amazing effect — high resolution and impossible to look at without plastering your face with a huge smile!

Low Poly paper face mask
Low poly paper face mask which prompted this new technique

This work was the result of their frustration with a previous project they did early last year. They would take multiple pictures of a person’s head and use software to stitch up the images. The resulting print on a large sheet of paper was then cut, folded and glued to create a low-poly 3D paper mask of the person. Their bottleneck was that the whole process took well over 2 hours for each mask. Even reducing the mask mesh complexity, and omitting the back of the head didn’t make it much faster. But the activity was so fun, that they had to figure out a way to repeat it but in a simpler and faster way.

Obviously, a different tack was needed. A team member was visiting a research institute and saw a Fresnel lens lying around. He took a picture of himself behind the lens and shared it with the team. They inquired with a lens manufacturer and obtained a sample. After some fiddling to get the right focal distance, it seemed like they had a winner. Attaching the lens to a cardboard box and fixing it to a volunteer head raised another problem. The inside of the box was too dark for the wearers face to be seen clearly. Nothing that some LED strips couldn’t solve. The initial LEDs were cool white and gave a ghostly, pale blue tinge to the wearers face. Warm white LEDs created a much better effect. Finally, it was time to trim the Fresnel lens (done easily using a sharp blade) and to wrap up the project. On the day the Maker Faire opened, they had a set of four of these “face magnifiers” available for visitors to have fun with. As the pictures show, the result was awesome, and way better than the original, paper mask idea. Not surprising, given that the Japanese love their Animé and Manga comics and are great fans of Cosplay.

If this project stirs up your creativity, then let us goad you towards Hackaday’s 2017 Sci-Fi Contest where you can submit an awesome Sci-Fi Project to win some cool prizes.

Creating A PCB In Everything: Upverter

For the last five months, I’ve been writing a series of posts describing how to build a PCB in every piece of software out there. Every post in this series takes a reference schematic and board, and recreates all the elements in a completely new PCB tool.

There are three reasons why this sort of review is valuable. First, each post in this series is effectively a review of a particular tool. Already we’ve done Fritzing (thumbs down), KiCad (thumbs up), Eagle (thumbs up), and Protel Autotrax (interesting from a historical perspective). Secondly, each post in this series is a quick getting started guide for each PCB tool. Since the reference schematic and board are sufficiently complex for 90% of common PCB design tasks, each of these posts is a quick how-to guide for a specific tool. Thirdly, this series of posts serves as a basis of comparison between different tools. For example, you can do anything you want in KiCad and most of what you want in Eagle. Fritzing is terrible, and Autotrax is the digital version of the rub-on traces you bought at Radio Shack in 1987.

With that introduction out of the way, let’s get cranking on Upverter.

A little bit about Upverter

Upverter was founded in 2010 as an entirely web-based EDA tool aimed at students, hobbyists, and Open Hardware circuit designers. This was one of the first completely web-based circuit design tools and Upverter’s relative success has been a bellwether for other completely web-based EDA tools such as circuits.io and EasyEDA.

I would like to take a second to mention Upverter is a Y Combinator company (W11), which virtually guarantees this post will make it to the top of Hacker News. Go fight for imaginary Internet points amongst yourselves.

Upverter is a business after all, so how are they making money? Most EDA suites offer a free, limited version for personal, hobbyist, and ‘maker’ projects, and Upverter is no exception. The professional tier offers a few more features including CAM export, 3D preview, an API, simulation (coming soon), BOM management, and unlimited private projects for $125 per seat per month, or $1200 per seat per year.

To give you a basis of comparison for that subscription fee, Eagle CAD’s new license scheme gives you everything – 999 schematic sheets, 16 layers, and unlimited board area – for $65 per month, or $500 per year. Altium’s CircuitStudio comes in at $1000 for a one-year license. There are more expensive EDA suites such as Altium Designer and OrCAD, but you have to call a sales guy just to get a price.

Upverter is positioning itself as a professional tool at a professional price. There are better tools out there, of course, but there are thousands of businesses out there designing products with tools that cost $500 to $1000 per seat per year. In any event, this is all academic; the Hackaday crowd gravitates towards the free end of the market, whether that means beer or speech.

A big draw for Upverter is their Parts Concierge service. You’ll never have to create a part from scratch again, so the sales copy says. Apparently, Upverter is using a combination of very slick scripts to pull part layouts off a datasheet and human intervention / sanity check to create these parts. Does it work? We’re going to find out in the review below.

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Creating A PCB In Everything: Creating A Custom Part In Fritzing

This is the continuation of a series of posts where I create a schematic and PCB in various EDA tools. Already, we’ve looked at Eagle CAD, KiCad, and took a walk down memory lane with one of the first PCB design tools for the IBM PC with Protel Autotrax. One of the more controversial of these tutorials was my post on Fritzing. Fritzing is a terrible tool that you should not use, but before I get to that, I need to back up and explain what this series of posts is all about.

The introduction to this series of posts laid it out pretty bare. For each post in this series, I will take a reference schematic for a small, USB-enabled ATtiny85 development board. I recreate the schematic, recreate the board, and build a new symbol and footprint in each piece of software. That last part — making a new symbol and footprint — is a point of contention for Fritzing users. You cannot create a completely new part in Fritzing. That’s a quote straight from the devs. For a PCB design tool, it’s a baffling decision, and I don’t know if I can call Fritzing a PCB design tool now.

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