Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

ftdi-explosion

The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

Function Generator with Zero CPU Cycles

sine

No one is sitting around their workbench trying to come up with the next great oscilloscope or multimeter, but function generators still remain one of the pieces of test equipment anyone – even someone with an Arduino starter pack – can build at home. Most of these function generators aren’t very good; you’re lucky if you can get a sine wave above the audio spectrum. [Bruce Land] had the idea to play around with DMA channels on a PIC32 and ended up with a function generator that uses zero CPU cycles. It’s perfect for a homebrew function generator build, or even a very cool audio synthesizer.

The main obstacles to generating a good sine wave at high frequencies are a high sample rate and an accurate DAC. For homebrew function generators, it’s usually the sample rate that’s terrible; it’s hard pushing bits out a port that fast. By using the DMA channel on a PIC32, [Bruce] can shove arbitrary waveforms out of the chip without using any CPU cycles. By writing a sine wave, or any other wave for that matter, to memory, the PIC32 will just spit them out and leave the CPU to do more important work.

[Bruce] was able to generate a great-looking sine wave up to 200 kHz, and the highest amplitude of the harmonics was about 40db below the fundamental up to 100 kHz. That’s a spectacular sine wave, and the perfect basis for a DIY function generator build.

Baby Quadruped Robot, Learning To Walk

Cheap Quadruped Robot

We’ve all seen videos of those crazy Boston Dynamics running quadruped robots that can reach up to 28 mph. Those things are amazing and it’s almost impossible to imagine how to even start building one. [Max] loves his robots and wanted to build a quadruped but, being a robot hobbyist, didn’t have the serious cash needed to make an extravagant robot like those of Boston Dynamics. Instead he started bridging the gap by designing a quadruped robot that is a little bit slower and tons cheaper.

quadruped-joint[Max] designed all of the mechanical parts himself. After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of different materials, he decided that the frame would be made from 5mm acrylic sheet. The main body of the robot has acrylic ribs that are spaced apart by threaded rods. Twelve RC servos make up all of the joints, 3 in each leg. Notice in this photo how there is one servo that immediately rotates another servo. To support the other side of the rotating servo, [Max] epoxied on a T-nut, stuck in a short length of threaded rod which is then supported in the frame by a ball bearing. Simple and effective! The upper portions of the legs are also made from acrylic sheet and the lower legs are from a cheap camera tripod. Rubber feet ensure a slip resistant stance.

All of the servos are controlled by an Arduino Mega. [Max] is currently writing a sketch that will perform the complex math and determine coordinated servo motions for movements us humans take for granted, like ‘walk forward’. As you can see in the videos, [Max's] robot won’t be catching the Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah any time soon but he is off to a great start.

Future plans for this project include bluetooth control and integrating the ultrasonic sensor proactively installed in the ‘head’ of the robot. Check out the videos after the break. [Max] is looking for some feedback on his project. We here at HaD think this needs a great name. Let’s hear some suggestions in the comments…

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Cassette Tape Hack Turns Scratching into Sliding

scrubboard

It’s common to see a DJ use a turntable as a musical instrument. Physically manipulating a record while its playing produces its own unique sound, but it takes some finesse and puts strain on the delicate workings of the player when you do it. With this in mind, [Jeremy Bell] has refreshed the notion of appropriating old technology to create new sound with his home-brewed scrubboard.

Making use of a cassette tape, [Jeremy] dissected samples from the reel and laid them out in horizontal strips over rails to hold their form. The pickup from the tape player has been hacked into a separate piece that glides smoothly over these rails, giving the user the ease of control. To produce the immediate cutting effect that is less easy to perform with his device than a record player, [Jeremy] created an on and off switch which is simply a close pin covered in foil that teeters over a metal contact (in this case a coin). The end product sounds exactly like scratching a record, but better because he’s doing it with hacker showmanship. One can only image the awesome potential for more elaborate setups having multiple tape samples and the like!

There are a few different videos of the scrubboard in use on [Jeremy’s] website. He is also running a Kickstarter right now in order to turn the project into a stand alone instrument with improved features.

Thanks Omar, for telling us about this cool re-envisionment!

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Ceci N’est Pas Une Clock

notclock

[Justin] tipped us about his slick custom OBD-II gauge that could easily pass for an OEM module. He was able to use the clock area of his Subaru BRZ to display a bunch of information including the oil and coolant temperatures and the battery voltage.

The forum post linked above has a good FAQ-based explanation of what he did, but so many people have told him to shut up and take their money that he created an Instructable for it. Basically, he’s got a Sparkfun OBD-II UART board communicating with a pro Trinket. The display is an Adafruit OLED, which he found to be an ideal choice for all the various and sundry light conditions inside the average car.

[Justin] was able to reuse the (H)our and (M)inute buttons and reassigned them to (H)igh to show the peak reading and (M)ode to, well, switch between modes. The (:00) now resets the peak readings. He offers suggestions for acquiring the specific CAN codes for your car to make the data more meaningful. [Justin]‘s code is safe in the many tentacles of Octocat, and you can check out his demo video below.

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Digital Data from a Cheap Power Meter

Cheap Power Meter

Power meters like the Kill-A-Watt are great for keeping track of energy usage, and are also very hackable. The Kill-a-Watt in particular puts out analog signals proportional to current and voltage, which makes it easy to interface with a microcontroller.

Although reading analog voltages is easy enough, [Kalle] found a cheap Chinese power meter that is even more hackable. These inexpensive power meters cost about the same as a first-generation Kill-a-Watt, but they directly stream out digital data. The power meter [Kalle] hacked has a non-US plug, but the meter is available from the usual suppliers (eBay, Aliexpress, etc) with a 3-prong US plug and 120v rating.

After breaking out a logic analyzer, [Kalle] discovered that the meter constantly streams voltage, current, and power data from the measurement board to the display board on a SPI-like bus. The ribbon cable inside the meter even has the clock and data bus lines clearly labelled. [Kalle] went on to reverse-engineer the protocol and write an Arduino sketch that parses the stream, making it even easier to integrate this meter into your next power monitoring project.

Take Your Samples for a Spin with the RWXBioFuge

RWXBioFuge collage v0.1We have a confession to make: we love centrifuges. We’ve used all shapes and sizes, for spinning bags of whole blood into separate components to extracting DNA, and everything in between. Unfortunately, these lab staples are too expensive for many DIY-biologists unless they buy them used or build them themselves. [Pieter van Boheemen] was inspired by other DIY centrifuges and decided to make his own, which he named the RWXBioFuge.

[Pieter] designed the RWXBioFuge using Sketchup, OpenSCAD, and InkScape. It features a Thermaltake SMART M850W ATX power supply, an R/C helicopter Electronic Speed Controller (ESC), and brushless outrunner motor. For user output it utilizes a 16×2 LCD character display with an I2C interface.The frame is laser-cut from 3mm MDF while the 3D-printed PLA rotor was designed with OpenSCAD.

An Arduino handles the processing side of things. [Pieter] used an Arduino Ethernet – allowing a web interface to control the centrifuge’s settings and operation from a distance. We can see this being useful in testing out the centrifuge for any rotor/motor balance issues, especially since [Pieter] states that it can be configured to run >10,000 rpm. We wouldn’t want to be in the room if pieces start flying off any centrifuge at that speed!  However, we feel that when everything’s said and done, you should have a centrifuge you can trust by your side when you’re at your lab bench.

While there are similarities to the Openfuge, the larger RWXBioFuge has rotor capacities of eight to twenty 1.5-2.0ml microcentrifuge tubes. Due to the power supply, it is not portable and a bit more expensive, but not incredibly so. There are some small touches about this centrifuge that we really like. The open lid detector is always a welcome safety feature. The “Short” button is very handy for quick 5-10 second spins.

A current version of the RWXBioFuge is being used at the Waag Society’s Open Wetlab. [Pieter's] planned upgrades for the next version include a magnetic lid lock, different rotor sizes, an accelerometer to detect an improperly balanced rotor, and optimizing the power supply, ESC, and motor setup. You can never have enough centrifuges in a lab, and we are looking forward to seeing this project’s progress!

Check out a few more pictures of the RWXBioFuge after the break.

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