Bunnie Talks to Us About Novena Open Hardware Laptop

 

We made a point to stop by the Freescale booth at Maker Faire where [Bunnie Huang] was showing off the Novena laptop. His past accolades (Wikipedia page) and the rabid success of the crowd funding round — which nearly tripled its goal — meant we had to make multiple attempts to speak with him. But the third time’s a charm and it was worth the wait!

Several things struck me about seeing the hardware in person. First off, I like that there’s a little bit of room inside but the case is still reasonably small. This really is a laptop aimed at hardware hacking; I would anticipate that the majority of backers intend to roll their own hardware for it. Second, [Bunnie] showed off several expansion boards as examples which use a standard 80-pin header to get at the onboard components. The example of a man-in-the-middle attack for the flash chip on a thumb drive was extremely tasty. But it was also interesting to hear about an SDR board which will ship to original backers since the campaign made its stretch goals.

If you don’t know much about this project, you can get some background from our post when the crowd funding went live. Open design info is available from the Novena page.

Drilling Into a Laptop: Extreme Hinge Repair

final-2

What is it with laptop companies spending millions on design and aesthetics… and then using a cheap hinge design that is almost guaranteed to break? After [Peter Zotov] spent hours trying to find a replacement online, he decided to take matters into his own hands with this slightly unorthodox hinge repair.

The problems lies in the design of the hinge mounting to the lid. First, they’re using a non-standard screw sizes, slightly larger than an M2. Second, it’s threaded into cast aluminum — and to make matters worse, it doesn’t even look like there is sufficient thread engagement! A good rule of thumb is about 2 times thread diameter for aluminum — 1-1.5 times for steel. And it’s not just ASUS doing this, we’ve seen numerous laptops of different brands where the hinge goes after a year or two — what happened to cyclic stress tests?

Anyway, [Peter] decided to drill out the existing threads to allow for larger bolts. He threw his precious laptop up onto his CNC mill (a drill press would do just fine), and popped larger holes straight through the lid. This allowed him to put three standard M2 screws in place with a nut and washer. We admit it’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s saved him from getting a new laptop just because of planned corporate obsolescence.

Hacking a Mac Magsafe Jack into a PC Ultrabook

zenbookAir

Something’s fishy about the above-pictured ultrabook: it’s an Asus Zenbook that [WarriorRocker] hacked to use a MagSafe power connector typically found on Macbooks. Most of us probably consider it standard procedure to poke around inside our desktop’s tower, but it takes some guts to radically alter such a shiny new ultrabook. It seems, however, that the Zenbook’s tiny power plug causes serious frustrations, and [WarriorRocker] was tired of dealing with them.

Using information he found from an article we featured earlier this summer on a MagSafe teardown, [WarriorRocker] hit up the parts drawer for some connectors and got to work. He had to modify the MagSafe’s housing to fit his Zenbook while still holding on to the magnets, but he managed to avoid modifying the ultrabook’s case—the connector is approximately the same size as a USB port. Deciding he could live with just one USB connection, [WarriorRocker] took to the board with a pair of side cutters and neatly carved out space for the MagSafe next to the audio jack. He then soldered it in place and ran wires from the VCC and Ground pins along a the channel where the WiFi antenna is routed, connecting them to the original power jack’s input pins.

[WarriorRocker] regrets that he fell short of his original goal of getting the MagSafe’s protocol working: he instead had to hack on his own adapter. We’re still rather impressed with how well his hack turned out, and it did manage to solve the charging problems. Hit us up in the comments if you can provide some insight into the MagSafe’s otherwise obscure innerworkings.

Laptop Keyboard EL Panel Backlight

keyboard-el-panel-backlight

[nullpointr] wanted a backlit keyboard for his Asus Transformer Prime so that it would be a bit easier to use in low-light situations. He considered a few different options and ended up adding electroluminescent panels behind the keys.

Those paying close attention might wonder why we called this a laptop in the title. Well, it’s a tablet with a keyboard dock and that’s a mouthful. This actually really helps to simplify the modifications because the motherboard and other bits are all in the screen portion of the device. EL panels are also a nice choice because you can cut them to size and they still function. With a bit of case work, three panels were made to fit side-by-side.

The part that just isn’t going to make it in the original enclosure is the inverter that drives the panels. It’s the black box to the left. [nullpointr] added a USB-form-factor jack to the side of the case that allows the inverter to be disconnected quite easily. This way the Transformer Prime can still go with him on the road, it just won’t light up unless he also hauls around that add-on.

Way way back we saw someone do this with fiber optics and an LED. Unfortunately that project link seems to be dead so we figure it’s about time someone revisited the concept.

Laptop to all-in-one PC conversion

laptop2allinone

You probably have an old laptop shoved into a far, dark corner of your closet, gathering dust as it sits there alone and unwanted. Show it some love like [Oakkar7] and hack it into a desktop all-in-one PC. He had his work cut out for him, though: dead motherboard, busted case, worthless battery. [Oakkar7] starts by taking the case apart and removing the LCD screen. He removes the motherboard to discover two toasted capacitors in need of replacement. A short solder job later and the computer springs to life.

[Oakkar7] needs the LCD to face outwards while sitting against the rest of the laptop. The connecting cable doesn’t reach, so he carefully removes it, and flips it around to get the extra length needed. The final step is to fashion some aluminum support bars that attach to the bottom of the case, which mount onto another aluminum stand holding everything upright. At this point [Oakkar7] has tossed the battery, the keyboard, both the CD and floppy drive (yes it’s that old), and moved the speakers into the battery’s former home. For the finishing touch, a USB hub provides connections for the new keyboard, mouse and a Wifi dongle.

[Oakkar7] shared his project with us after reading [Elad's] ground control station laptop conversion. Maybe these two projects can convince you to save a neglected laptop.

Light Graffiti with Servos and Python

servo-laser-light-graffiti

Light Graffiti is can be lots of fun if you have a decent amount of artistic ability, and a keen sense of timing. If you don’t have the necessary skills, you can always compensate by using Python-controlled servos to move everything automatically. The Python code can be found here, and makes use of the Python Image Library to process the images into a “drawable” form. A [pyMCU] with firmware capable of simultaneous servo control was used to move the laser fixture around.

One of the more difficult aspects of this experiment was getting the timing correct between each laser pulse. The timing routine involes a bit of geometry, calculating the distance between each using trig. As explained in the article, this may be a bit of overkill.  It still didn’t compare to the trig involved in a previous experiment drawing a circle with this laser-servo fixture.  Be sure to check out the video of this laser-setup in action after the break.  I’ve been quite pleased with the results, and look forward to what can be done with it in the future!

Thanks to [pyMCU] for letting me have a few of these boards to play with!

[Read more...]