San Francisco Tapped for Hackaday Unconference on March 18th

We want you to make the next Hackaday live event great. This is an Unconference in San Francisco on Saturday, March 18th and it depends completely on you. Get signed up now!

You’re in Control of the Hackaday Unconference

An unconference is a live event where you decide the topic, guide the discussion, and generally make it an epic Saturday. We have a handful of speakers lined up to help get things started. But we also want you to be ready to give a talk. Everyone that shows up should be prepared to stand up and deliver eight minutes on something they find exciting right now.

Kicking off the night we’ll ask each person to tell us the title or topic of their talk and approximate length of the presentation. Once all the titles are written down we’ll hammer out the schedule right then and there. If you haven’t been to an unconference this is the time to sign up, collect your thoughts, and jump into an afternoon of extemporaneous idea-sharing. If you have been to an unconference we’re guessing you signed up as soon as you saw this announcement.

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What Does a Hacker Do With A Photocopier?

The year is 2016. Driving home from a day’s work in the engineering office, I am greeted with a sight familiar to any suburban dwelling Australian — hard rubbish. It’s a time when local councils arrange a pickup service for anything large you don’t want anymore — think sofas, old computers, televisions, and the like. It’s a great way to make any residential area temporarily look like a garbage dump, but there are often diamonds in the rough. That day, I found mine: the Ricoh Aficio 2027 photocopier.

It had spent its days in a local primary school, and had survived fairly well. It looked largely intact with no obvious major damage, and still had its plug attached. Now I needed to get it home. This is where the problems began.

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SHAttered — SHA-1 is broken in

A team from Google and CWI Amsterdam just announced it: they produced the first SHA-1 hash collision. The attack required over 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 SHA-1 computations, the equivalent processing power as 6,500 years of single-CPU computations and 110 years of single-GPU computations. While this may seem overwhelming, this is a practical attack if you are, lets say, a state-sponsored attacker. Or if you control a large enough botnet. Or if you are just able to spend some serious money on cloud computing. It’s doable. Make no mistake, this is not a brute-force attack, that would take around 12,000,000 single-GPU years to complete.

SHA-1 is a 160bit standard cryptographic hash function that is used for digital signatures and file integrity verification in a wide range of applications, such as digital certificates, PGP/GPG signatures, software updates, backup systems and so forth. It was, a long time ago, proposed as a safe alternative to MD5, known to be faulty since 1996. In 2004 it was shown that MD5 is not collision-resistant and not suitable for applications like SSL certificates or digital signatures. In 2008, a team of researchers demonstrated how to break SSL based on MD5, using 200 Playstations 3.

Early since 2005 theoretical attacks against SHA-1 were known. In 2015 an attack on full SHA-1 was demonstrated (baptized the SHAppening). While this did not directly translate into a collision on the full SHA-1 hash function due to some technical aspects, it undermined the security claims for SHA-1. With this new attack, dubbed SHAttered, the team demonstrated a practical attack on the SHA-1 algorithm, producing two different PDF files with the same checksum.

The full working code will be released in three months, following Google’s vulnerability disclosure policy, and it will allow anyone to create a pair of PDFs that hash to the same SHA-1 sum given two distinct images and some, not yet specified, pre-conditions.

For now, recommendations are to start using SHA-256 or SHA-3 on your software. Chrome browser already warns if a website has SHA-1 certificate, Firefox and the rest of the browsers will surely follow. Meanwhile, as always, tougher times are ahead for legacy systems and IoT like devices.

Suddenly, Wireless Power Transmission Is Everywhere

Wireless power transfer exists right now, but it’s not as cool as Tesla’s Wardenclyffe tower and it’s not as stupid as an OSHA-unapproved ultrasonic power transfer system. Wireless power transfer today is a Qi charger for your phone. It’s low power – just a few amps — and very short range. This makes sense; after all, we’re dealing with the inverse square law here, and wireless power transfer isn’t very efficient.

Now, suddenly, we can transfer nearly two kilowatts wirelessly to electronic baubles scattered all over a room. It’s a project from Disney Research, it’s coming out of Columbia University, it’s just been published in PLOS one, and inexplicably it’s also an Indiegogo campaign. Somehow or another, the stars have aligned and 2017 is the year of wirelessly powering your laptop.

disney-research-quasistatic-cavity-roomThe first instance of wireless power transfer that’s more than just charging a phone comes from Disney Research. This paper describes quasistatic cavity resonance (QSCR) to transfer up to 1900 Watts to a coil across a room. In an experimental demonstration, this QSCR can power small receivers scattered around a 50 square meter room with efficiencies ranging from 40% to 95%. In short, the abstract for this paper promises a safe, efficient wireless power transfer that completely removes the need for wall outlets.

In practice, the QSCR from Disney Research takes the form of a copper pole situated in the center of a room with the walls, ceiling, and floor clad in aluminum. This copper pole isn’t continuous from floor to ceiling – it’s made of two segments, connected by capacitors. When enough RF energy is dumped into this pole, power can be extracted from a coil of wire. The video below does a good job of walking you through the setup.

As with all wireless power transmission schemes, there is the question of safety. Using finite element analysis, the Disney team found this room was safe, even for people with pacemakers and other implanted electronics. The team successfully installed lamps, fans, and a remote-controlled car in this room, all powered wirelessly with three coils oriented orthogonally to each other. The discussion goes on to mention this setup can be used to charge mobile phones, although we’re not sure if charging a phone in a Faraday cage makes sense.

motherbox-charging-phone-squareIf the project from Disney research isn’t enough, here’s the MotherBox, a completely unrelated Indiegogo campaign that was launched this week. This isn’t just any crowdfunding campaign; this work comes straight out of Columbia University and has been certified by Arrow Electronics. This is, by all accounts, a legitimate thing.

The MotherBox crowdfunding campaign promises true wireless charging. They’re not going for a lot of power here – the campaign only promises enough to charge your phone – but it does it at a distance of up to twenty inches.

At the heart of the MotherBox is a set of three coils oriented perpendicular to each other. The argument, or sales pitch, says current wireless chargers only work because the magnetic fields are oriented to each other. The coil in the phone case is parallel to the coil in the charging mat, for instance. With three coils arranged perpendicular to each other, the MotherBox allows for ‘three-dimensional charging’.

Does the MotherBox work? Well, if you dump enough energy into a coil, something is going to happen. The data for the expected charging ranges versus power delivered is reasonably linear, although that doesn’t quite make sense in a three-dimensional universe.

Is it finally time to get rid of all those clumsy wall outlets? No, not quite yet. The system from Disney Research works, but you have to charge your phone in a Faraday cage. It would be a great environment to test autonomous quadcopters, though. For MotherBox, Ivy League engineers started a crowdfunding campaign instead of writing a paper or selling the idea to an established company. It may not be time to buy a phone case so you can charge your phone wirelessly at Starbucks, but at least people are working on the problem. This time around, some of the tech actually works.

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Tales Of A Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

The star turn of most hackspaces and other community workshops is usually a laser cutter. An expensive and fiddly device that it makes much more sense to own collectively than to buy yourself.

This isn’t to say that laser cutters are outside the budget of the experimenter though, we’re all familiar with the inexpensive table-top machines from China. Blue and white boxes that can be yours for a few hundred dollars, and hold the promise of a real laser cutter on your table.

Owning one of these machines is not always smooth sailing though, because their construction and choice of components are often highly variable. A thorough check and often a session of fixing the non-functional parts is a must before first power-on.

[Extreme Electronics] bought one, and in a series of posts documented the process from unboxing to cutting. Starting with a full description of the machine and what to watch for out of the box, then a look at the software. A plugin for Corel Draw was supplied, along with a dubious copy of Corel Draw itself. Finally we see the machine in operation, and the process of finding the proper height for beam focus by cutting an inclined plane of acrylic.

The series rounds off with a list of useful links, and should make interesting reading for anyone, whether they are in the market for a cutter or not.

These cutters/engravers have featured here before many times. Among many others we’ve seen one working with the Mach3 CNC software, or another driven by a SmoothieBoard.

Interview: Nacer Chahat Designs Antennas for Mars CubeSats

You have a shoe box sized computer that you want to use in a Mars fly by. How do you communicate with it? The answer is a very clever set of antennas. I got to sit down with Nacer Chahat, one of the engineers on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team responsible for antenna design on Mars Cube One (MarCO). Two of these CubeSats that will soon be used to help a lander reach Mars. We talked about the work that went into MarCO, the deployable radar antenna he’s worked on for the RainCube project, and the early progress on OMERA, the One Meter Reflectarray.

This is a fascinating discussion of dealing with a multitude of engineering challenges including lack of available space for the antenna components, and power and weight limitations. Check out the video interview to see how the people at JPL fit it all into this, and other tiny satellites, then join us below for more details.

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Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

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