Hacklet 117 – NFC Projects

Near Field Communication (NFC) is something we take for granted these days. Nearly all smartphones have it. We even have NFC interfaces for all our favorite development boards. NFC’s history goes back all the way to 1997, when an early version was used in Star Wars special edition toys. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which NFC builds on, goes back even further. The patent citation trail leads all the way back to 1983 in a patent awarded to [Charles Walton]. NFC is much more than RFID though. The idea of two way communication between devices opens up tons of possibilities for projects and hacks. This week on the Hacklet we’re checking out some of the best NFC projects on Hackaday.io!

ctrl0We start with [Patrick] and Ctrl-O. Somewhere in the hackerspace bible there is a clause that states “Thou shalt build an electronic access control system”. In [Patrick’s] case, a door lock became a complex membership subscription management database. Members who have paid can use an NFC tag to gain access to the hackerspace. The system consists of a Raspberry Pi with an NFC interface. A relay allows the Pi to control the door lock. The Pi can be manually configured through a web interface. It connects to Paypal to verify that each user’s membership has actually been paid. Of course a project like this is never done. The last we heard from [Patrick], he was planning future upgrades such as startup company memberships with multiple people.

keyduinoNext up is [Pierre Charlier] and KeyDuino. KeyDuino is an Arduino compatible board with all the NFC hardware baked right in. The board is based upon the Arduino Leonardo, with an ATmega32u4 processor. [Pierre] must be on to something, because the KeyDuino had a successful Kickstarter back in 2015. It’s also open source hardware, so you can build your own whenever you want. The real gem is checking out [Pierre’s] other projects. He’s documented all his KeyDuino example projects right on Hackaday.io. These include an NFC Controlled infinity mirror coffee table, a locking wooden gift box, and NFC controlled car door locks, just to name a few.

nfcringNext we have [John McLear] with 2016 NFC Ring. [John] jumped into wearable technology with one of the toughest form factors imaginable – a ring. Between the tiny amount of space and the lack of batteries, you might think there isn’t much you can do with a ring. Undaunted, [John] managed to fit two NXP NFC chips and their antennas inside a standard ring. This is the upgraded 2016 version of the ring. [John] was nice enough to supply several hundred of the earlier models to hackers at the Hackaday Supercon back in 2015. [John’s] rings would be hard for the average hacker to reproduce. [Sean Hodgins] comes to the rescue here with his own project, DIY NFC Bentwood Ring.

pressureFinally, we have [CaptMcAllister] with RFID air pressure sensor. As the name implies, this sensor measures air pressure. It could be in open air, a tire, or even a football used by the New England Patriots. Sure, cars all have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) sensors which do something similar. [CaptMcAllister’s] design has one important difference – it has no batteries. The heart of the system is a Texas Instruments RF430FRL15X, a device with the NFC radio and a low power MSP430 microcontroller in one chip. The system is energy harvesting, being powered by an external reader. As you can imagine, tuning the antenna was critical to this design. You can read all about it in [CaptMcAllister’s] 24 project logs.

If you want to see more NFC projects and hacks, check out our new near field communication projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

The Music of a Sunset

What would you do if you suddenly went blind and could never again see the sun set? How would you again experience this often breathtaking phenomenon? One answer is music, orchestrated by the sun and the Weather Warlock.

Built by the musician [Quintron] (builder and inventor of insane electronic instruments), the Weather Warlock is an analog synthesizer controlled by — you guessed it — the weather. It translates temperature, moisture, wind and sunlight into tones and harmonics with an E major root chord. UV, light, moisture, and temperature sensors combined with an anemometer set up outside feed the weather data to a synthesizer that has [Quintron] dialing knobs and toggling switches. The Weather Warlock steams 24/7 to the website weatherfortheblind.org so that the visually impaired are able to tune in and experience the joy of sunrise and sunset through music. Continue reading “The Music of a Sunset”

Formlabs Form 1+ API now available on Github

Since 2014, the Form 1+ has been serving a faithful community of avid resin-oriented 3D printer enthusiasts. With an API now released publicly on Github, it’s time for the Form 1+ to introduce itself to a crew of eager hardware hackers.

Exposing an interface to the printer opens the door to a world of possibilities. With the custom version of PreForm that arrives with this release, a whopping 39 different properties are open for tuning, according to the post on Reddit. Combining these newly-accessible parameters with a sufficient number of hackers, odds are good that the community will be able to quickly converge on stable settings for 3rd party resins. (We’re most excited to see the Homebrew PCBs community start exposing their UV-sensitive PCBs with this hardware setup.)

Heads-up: poking around in this brave new world is almost certain to void your warranty, but if you’re eager to get SpacewΛr up-and-running, it might just be worth it.

Bunnie and EFF Sue US Government over DMCA 1201

This morning Bunnie Huang wrote about his reasons for suing the US Government over Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA was enacted in 1996 and put in place far-reaching protections for copyright owners. Many, myself included, think these protections became far-overreaching. The DMCA, specifically section 1201 of the act which is known as the anti-circumvention provision, prohibits any action that goes around mechanisms designed to protect copyrighted material. So much has changed since ’96 — software is now in every device and that means section 1201 extends to almost all electronics sold today.

So protecting copyright is good, right? If that were the only way section 1201 was enforced that might be true. But common sense seems to have gone out the window on this one.

If you legally purchase media which is protected with DRM it is illegal for you to change the format of that media. Ripping your DVD to a digital file to view on your phone while on the plane (something usually seen as fair use) is a violation. Want to build an add-on for you home automation system but need to reverse engineer the communications protocol first? That’s a violation. Perhaps the most alarming violation: if you discover a security vulnerability in an existing system and report it, you can be sued under DMCA 1201 for doing so.

Cory Doctorow gave a great talk at DEF CON last year about the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s renewed push against DMCA 1201. The EFF is backing Bunnie on this lawsuit. Their tack argues both that section 1201 is stiffling innovation and discouraging meaningful security research.

If it’s illegal to write about, talk about, or even privately explore how electronics are built (and the ecosystem that lets them function) it’s hard to really master creating new technology. A successful lawsuit must show harm. Bunnie’s company, Alphamax LLC, is developing hardware that can add an overlay to an HDMI signal (which sounds like the continuation of the hack we saw from him a few years ago). But HDCP would prevent this.

Innovation aside, the security research angle is a huge reason for this law (or the enforcement of it) to change. The other plaintiff named in the suit, Matthew Green, had to seek an exemption from the DMCA in order to conduct his research without fear of prosecution. Currently there is a huge disincentive to report or even look for security vulnerabilities, and that is a disservice to all. Beneficial security research and responsible disclosure need to be the top priority in our society which is now totally dependent on an electronically augmented lifestyle.

Making Graphene More Practical

[James Tour] and others at Rice University announced an improved form of graphene that uses nanoscale rivets. The material incorporates carbon nanotubes along with carbon spheres that encase iron nanoparticles. The nanotubes provide strength and higher conductivity overall, while the spheres let the material transfer more easily.

Typically, placing graphene on something involves using chemical vapor deposition on a polymer layer before transferring to another site. The polymer tends to degrade the graphene’s properties. This new material doesn’t require this intermediate step. In addition, the spheres allow interfacing to the graphene more readily.

Continue reading “Making Graphene More Practical”

ArduCAM Introduces A Third Party Raspberry Pi

There are hundreds of ARM-based Linux development boards out there, with new ones appearing every week. The bulk of these ARM boards are mostly unsupported, and in the worst case they don’t work at all. There’s a reason the Raspberry Pi is the best-selling tiny ARM computer, and it isn’t because it’s the fastest or most capable. The Raspberry Pi got to where it is today because of a huge amount of work from devs around the globe.

Try as they might, the newcomer fabricators of these other ARM boards can’t easily glom onto the popularity of the Pi. Doing so would require a Broadcom chipset. Now that the Broadcom BCM2835-based ODROID-W has gone out of production because Broadcom refused to sell the chips, the Raspberry Pi ecosystem has been completely closed.

Things may be changing. ArduCAM has introduced a tiny Raspberry Pi compatible module based on Broadcom’s BCM2835 chipset, the same chip found in the original Raspberry Pis A, B, B+ and Zero. This module is tiny – just under an inch square – and compatible with all of the supported software that makes the Raspberry Pi so irresistible.

nano-rpi-cmio-backAlthough this Raspberry Pi-compatible board is not finalized, the specs are what you would expect from what is essentially a Raspberry Pi Zero cut down to a square inch board. The CPU is listed as, “Broadcom BCM2835 ARM11 Processor @ 700 MHz (or 1GHz?)” – yes, even the spec sheet doesn’t know how fast the CPU is running – and RAM is either 256 or 512MB of LPDDR2.

There isn’t space on the board for a 2×20 pin header, but a sufficient number of GPIOs are broken out to make this board useful. You will fin a micro-SD card slot, twin micro-USB ports, connectors for power and composite video, as well as the Pi Camera connector. This board is basically the same size as the Pi Camera board, making the idea of a very tiny Linux-backed imaging systems tantalizingly close to being a reality.

It must be noted that this board is not for sale yet, and if Broadcom takes offense to the project, it may never be. That’s exactly what happened with the ODROID-W, and if ArduCAM can’t secure a supply of chips from Broadcom, this project will never see the light of day.

SoftBank Bought ARM

$32 billion USD doesn’t buy as much as it used to. Unless you convert it into British Pounds, battered by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and make an offer for ARM Holdings. In that case, it will buy you our favorite fabless chip-design company.

The company putting up 32 Really Big Ones is Japan’s SoftBank, a diversified technology conglomerate. SoftBank is most visible as a mobile phone operator in Japan, but their business strategy lately has been latching on to emerging technology and making very good investments. (With the notable exception of purchasing the US’s Sprint Telecom, which they say is turning around.) Recently, they’ve focused on wireless and IoT. And now, they’re going to buy ARM.

We suspect that this won’t mean much for ARM in the long term. SoftBank isn’t a semiconductor firm, they just want a piece of the action. With the Japanese economy relatively stagnant, a strong Yen and a weak Pound, ARM became a bargain. (SoftBank said in a press release that the Brexit didn’t affect their decision, and that they would have bought ARM anyway. Still, you can’t blame them for waiting until after the vote, and the fallout, to make the purchase.) It certainly won’t hurt SoftBank’s robotics, IoT, or AI strategies to have a leading processor design firm in their stable, but we predict business as usual for those of us way downstream in the ARM ecosystem.

Thanks [Jaromir] for the tip!