Hacking an Inspection Microscope

Sometimes I need to be able to take photographs of very small things, and the so-called macro mode on my point-and-shoot camera just won’t cut it. And it never hurts to have an inspection scope on hand for tiny soldering jobs, either, though I prefer a simple jeweler’s loupe in one eye for most tasks. So I sent just over $40 off to my close friend Alibaba, and a few weeks later was the proud owner of a halfway usable inspection scope that records stills or video to an SD card.

Unfortunately, it’s only halfway useable because of chintzy interface design and a wobbly mount. So I spent an afternoon, took the microscope apart, and got it under microcontroller control, complete with WiFi and a scripting language. Much better! Now I can make microscope time-lapses, but much more importantly I can take blur-free photos without touching the wiggly rig. It was a fun hack, so I thought I’d share. Read on!

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First thoughts on the new UP Core

I normally stay away from talking about x86 single-board computers because I don’t have a lot to say about them. They’re too expensive, and run too hot, to be interesting. Enter the new UP Core funding now on Kickstarter.

The UP Core is just 56.5 mm × 66 mm (2.2 in × 2.6 in) and powered by a 64-bit Quad Core Intel Atom clocked at either 1.44 GHz or 1.92 GHz. It will ship with either 2 GB or 4 GB of RAM, and either 32 GB or 64 GB of eMMC. The board has a USB 3 port, HDMI, DSI/eDP, and two MIPI-CSI ports supporting either a 2 MP or 8 MP camera. It has both WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth LE built-in.

In other words it’s powerful enough to serve as a desktop PC running Linux, Android, or a full Windows 10 installation. The cheapest UP Core configuration—with 1 GB memory and 16 GB eMMC—is €69, or around $75. Continue reading “First thoughts on the new UP Core”

Malduino Elite – First Impressions

A while back, I wrote an article about Malduino, an Arduino-based, open-source BadUSB device. I found the project interesting so I signed up for an Elite version and sure enough, the friendly postman dropped it off in my mail box last Friday, which means I got to play around with it over the weekend. For those who missed the article, Malduino is USB device which is able to emulate a keyboard and inject keystrokes, among other things. When in a proper casing, it will just look like a USB flash drive. It’s like those things you see in the movies where a guy plugs in a device and it auto hacks the computer. It ships in two versions, Lite and Elite, both based on the ATmega32U4.

The Lite version is really small, besides the USB connector it only contains a switch, which allows the user to choose between running and programming mode, and a LED, which indicates when the script has finished running.

Original Malduino Elite sketch and Lite prototype

The Elite version is bigger, comes with a Micro-SD card reader and four DIP switches, which allow the user to choose which script to run from the card. It also has the LED, which indicates when a script has finished to run. This allows the user to burn the firmware only once and then program the keystroke injection scripts that stored in the Micro-SD card, in contrast to the Lite version which needs to be flashed each time a user wants to run a different script.

These are the two Malduinos and because they are programmed straight from the Arduino IDE, every feature I just mentioned can be re-programmed, re-purposed or dropped all together. You can buy one and just choose to use it like a ‘normal’ Arduino, although there are not a lot of pins to play around with. This freedom was one the first things I liked about it and actually drove me to participate in the crowd-funding campaign. Read on for the full review.
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First Look at ABC: Basic Connections

[Alberto Piganti], aka [pighixxx] has been making circuit diagram art for a few years now, and has just come out with a book that’s available on Kickstarter. He sent us a copy to review, and we spent an hour or so with a refreshing beverage and a binder full of beautiful circuit diagrams. It doesn’t get better than that!

[pighixxx] started out making very pretty and functional pinout diagrams for a number of microcontrollers, and then branched out to modules and development boards like the Arduino and ESP8266. They’re great, and we’ll admit to having a printout of his SMD ATMega328 and the ESP-12 on our wall. His graphical style has been widely copied, which truly is the sincerest form of flattery.

But after pinouts, what’s next? Fully elaborated circuit diagrams, done in the same style, of course. “ABC: Basic Connections” started out life as a compendium of frequently used sub-circuits in Arduino projects. But you can take “Arduino” with a grain of salt — these are all useful for generic microcontroller-based projects. So whether you want to drive a 12 V solenoid from a low-voltage microcontroller, drive many LEDs with shift registers, or decode a rotary encoder, there is a circuit snippet here for you. Continue reading “First Look at ABC: Basic Connections”

Hardware Heroes: Tim Hunkin

If you were an engineering student around the end of the 1980s or the start of the 1990s, your destiny most likely lay in writing 8051 firmware for process controllers or becoming a small cog in a graduate training scheme at a large manufacturer. It was set out for you as a limited set of horizons by the university careers office, ready for you to discover as only a partial truth after graduation.

But the chances are that if you were a British engineering student around that time you didn’t fancy any of that stuff. Instead you harboured a secret dream to be [Tim Hunkin]’s apprentice. Of course, if you aren’t a Brit, and maybe you are from a different generation, you’ll have responded quizzically to that name. [Tim Hunkin]? Who?

[Tim Hunkin] is a British engineer, animator, artist and cartoonist who has produced a long series of very recognisable mechanical devices for public display, including clocks, arcade machines, public spectacles, exhibits and collecting boxes for museums, and much more. He came to my attention as an impressionable young engineer with his late 1980s to early 1990s British TV series  The Secret Life Of Machines, in which he took everyday household and office machines and appliances and explained and deconstructed them in an accessible manner for the public.

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JeVois Machine Vision Camera Nails Demo Mode

JeVois is a small, open-source, smart machine vision camera that was funded on Kickstarter in early 2017. I backed it because cameras that embed machine vision elements are steadily growing more capable, and JeVois boasts an impressive range of features. It runs embedded Linux and can process video at high frame rates using OpenCV algorithms. It can run standalone, or as a USB camera streaming raw or pre-processed video to a host computer for further action. In either case it can communicate to (and be controlled by) other devices via serial port.

But none of that is what really struck me about the camera when I received my unit. What really stood out was the demo mode. The team behind JeVois nailed an effective demo mode for a complex device. That didn’t happen by accident, and the results are worth sharing.

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Scope Review: Keysight 1000 X-Series

A few weeks ago we published an article on the newly released Keysight 1000X, an oscilloscope that marks Keysight’s late but welcome entry into the hacker-centric entry-level market. Understandably, this scope is causing a lot of excitement as it promises to bring some of the high-end pedigree of the well-known 2000X and 3000X models down to a much affordable price. Now couple that with the possibility of hacking its bandwidth lock and all this fuss is well justified.

[Dave Jones] from the EEVblog got his hands on one, and while conducting a UART dump saw the scope report 200 MHz bandwidth despite being labelled as a 100 MHz model. He then proceeded to actually hack the main board to unlock an undocumented 200 MHz bandwidth mode. This created a lot of confusion: some said [Dave] got a “pre-hacked” version, others assumed all 100 MHz versions actually have a stock bandwidth of 200 MHz.

Alongside the question of bandwidth, many wondered how this would fare against the present entry-level standard, the Rigol 1054Z. Is the additional cost and fewer channels worth the Keysight badge?

Keysight’s response to our queries and confusion was the promise to send us a review unit. Well, after receiving it and playing around with it, clearly a lot of Keysight’s high-end excellence has trickled down to this lower end version. However, this machine was not without some silly firmware issues and damning system crashes! Read on the full review below. Continue reading “Scope Review: Keysight 1000 X-Series”