Use a Mini PCI-e 3G Card with USB Instead

Back the late 2000s, when netbooks were the latest craze, some models would come with an inbuilt 3G modem for Internet access. At the time, proper mobile Internet was a hip cool thing too — miles ahead of the false prophet known as WAP. These modems would often slot into a Mini PCI-e slot in the netbook motherboard. [delokaver] figured out how to use these 3G cards over USB instead.

It’s actually a fairly straightforward hack. The Mini PCI-e standard has a couple of pins dedicated to USB data lines, which the modem in question uses for communicating with the host computer. Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as just soldering on a four-wire USB cable. The modem relies on the 3.3V power from the Mini PCI-e slot instead of the 5V from USB. No problem, just get a low-dropout 3.3V regulator and run that off the USB port. Then, it’s a simple enough matter of figuring out which pins are used to talk to the SIM card, and soldering them up to a SIM adapter, or directly to the card itself if you’re so inclined. The guide covers a single model of 3G modem but it’s likely the vast majority of these use a very similar setup, so don’t be afraid to have a go yourself.

Overall Mini PCI-e is a fairly unloved interface, but we’ve seen the reverse of this hack before, a Mini PCI-e to USB adapter used to add a 12-axis sensor to a laptop.

[Thanks to Itay for the tip!]

A Field Guide to the North American Communications Tower

The need for clear and reliable communication has driven technology forward for centuries. The longer communication’s reach, the smaller the world becomes. When it comes to cell phones, seamless network coverage and low power draw are the ideals that continually spawn R&D and the eventual deployment of new equipment.

Almost all of us carry a cell phone these days. It takes a lot of infrastructure to support them, whether or not we use them as phones. The most recognizable part of that infrastructure is the communications tower. But what do you know about them?

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Particle Electron – The Solution To Cellular Things

Just over a year ago, Particle (formerly Spark), makers of the very popular Core and Particle Photon WiFi development kits, released the first juicy tidbits for a very interesting piece of hardware. It was the Electron, a cheap, all-in-one cellular development kit with an even more interesting data plan. Particle would offer their own cellular service, allowing their tiny board to send or receive 1 Megabyte for $3.00 a month, without any contracts.

Thousands of people found this an interesting proposition and the Electron crowdfunding campaign took off like a rocket. Now, after a year of development and manufacturing, these tiny cellular boards are finally shipping out to backers and today the Electron officially launches.

Particle was kind enough to provide Hackaday with an Electron kit for a review. The short version of this review is the Electron is a great development platform, but Particle pulled off a small revolution in cellular communications and the Internet of Things

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Robo Car Via 3G

[Emil Kalstø] has a pretty solid remote control car. We don’t mean a little car with a handheld remote you can drive around the neighborhood. [Emil’s] car has a camera and a cell phone so that it can go anywhere there’s 3G or 4G networking available.

The video (see below) shows the results (along with [Emil’s] little brother acting as a safety officer). The video offers tantalizing detail you might find useful if you want to reproduce a similar vehicle. However, it stops short of providing complete details.

The two batteries onboard will power the vehicle for over 20 hours of continuous use. The 30W motor is reduced with a chain drive to go about “walking speed.” There’s a Raspberry Pi with a Huawei 3G USB dongle onboard and [Emil] uses an XBox controller to do the steering from the warmth of his living room. Of course, a Pi can’t handle a big motor like that directly, so a Phidgets USB motor controller does the hard work. The software is written using Node.js.

The camera mount can swivel 230 degrees on a servo so that the operator can scan the road ahead. The video mentions that steering the car required a heavy-duty servo with metal gears (an earlier attempt with nylon gears didn’t work out).

Overall, it looks like a solid build. We hope [Emil] will share code and more details soon. If you can’t wait (and your insurance is paid up), you might have a go at an even bigger car. Surprisingly, there’s more than one example of that.

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WiFi Sucks for RC Vehicles, Upgrade to 3G

This is the Kyosho Blizzard, a tracked remote control vehicle that’s a blast to take out in the rapidly retreating snowpack. [Antibore] was interested in performance testing the range of the thing. It includes a camera that streams video back to a tablet or smartphone. Both the video and the controls use WiFi for communications. As he expected, the rover loses control signal at about fifty meters, with the video has a disappointing twenty meter limit. His workaround is to saddle the crawler with a 3G bridge. Not a bad idea that may be feasibly completed with hardware you have on hand.

In this case he grabbed a Beagleboard-XM. It runs embedded Linux and has USB ports which is perfect for the other two parts of the added hardware: a Huawei E230 3G dongle and a WiFi dongle. This means no alterations to the rover were necessary. He set up OpenVPN and performed a few other tweaks. The WiFi signal is constant, as the transmitter and receiver are both attached to the rover. We just wonder about the latency of the 3G traffic. Let’s hear your thoughts on that in the comments below.

We would be remiss if we didn’t tie-in the potential of this hack. Previously this winter we saw a Kyosho with a 3D printed snow thrower attached to the front. More snow removal power, arguably unlimited range… you can do your entire block from the comfort of the couch. To the Future!

Video phone Arduino shield


We’ve seen Arduino-powered Twitter machines, and even some that can send text messages, but how about one that’s a video phone? That’s what the guys over at Cooking Hacks put together with their very impressive 3G Arduino shield.

On board the shield is an internal GPS receiver, microphone, speaker, 3G module, and a camera sensor with VGA resolution. The 3G module is able to act as a 3G modem via a USB connection, allowing any computer to take advantage of wireless Internet with a SIM card.

While in their tutorial the guys use a terminal running on their computer to send AT commands to place a call, it’s possible to simply put all that info in a sketch making for a small, battery-powered video link straight to your cell phone. Seems like the perfect piece of hardware for a wireless, 3G-enabled video feed for a robot. You can check out the video from their tutorial after the break.

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3G connected hotspot hangs out at your house

[Drug123] made the most out of this inconspicuous gray box on the gable end of his father’s home. It serves up a 3G Internet connection that was otherwise unavailable..

The project idea was sparked by the absence of wired or fiber optic broadband in the community where his dad lives. He knew some neighbors were using 3G connections, but he couldn’t get it to work inside the house. So he set about developing an external installation that would both communicate with the cellular network, and provide a WiFi connect to it. Hardware for that is relatively expensive; a USB 3G modem and a WiFi router with a USB port.

The box itself is made of plastic, but even without the Faraday cage effect that would have been formed by using a metal housing, the 3G modem’s internal antenna just doesn’t do the job. You can see that [Drug123’s] solution was an external antenna which is mounted at the peak of the roofline. Inside the box there’s an exhaust fan to cool things off when they get too hot, as well as some power resistors which provide a heat source on the coldest nights. The low-cost build certainly fits the bill, and it’s not too hard on the eyes either.