6502 Retrocomputing Goes to the Cloud

In what may be the strangest retrocomputing project we’ve seen lately, you can now access a virtual 6502 via Amazon’s Lambda computing service. We don’t mean there’s a web page with a simulated CPU on it. That’s old hat. This is a web service that takes a block of memory, executes 6502 code that it finds in it, and then returns a block of memory after a BRK opcode or a time out.

You format your request as a JSON-formatted POST request, so anything that can do an HTTP post can probably access it. If you aren’t feeling like writing your own client, the main page has a form you can fill out with some sample values. Just be aware that the memory going in and out is base 64 encoded, so you aren’t going to see instantly gratifying results.

Continue reading “6502 Retrocomputing Goes to the Cloud”

Amazon Gets a Patent For Parachute Labels

Delivery by drone is a reality and Amazon has been pursuing better and faster methods of autonomous package delivery. The US Patent and Trademark Office just issued a patent to Amazon for a shipping label that has an embedded parachute to ensure soft landings for future deliveries.

The patent itself indicates the construction consisting of a set of cords and a harness and the parachute itself is concealed within the label. The label will come in various shapes and sizes depending upon the size of the package and is designed to “enable the workflow process of shipping and handling to remain substantially unchanged”. This means they are designed to look and be used just like a normal printed label.

The objective is to paradrop your next delivery and by the looks of the patent images, they plan to use it for everything from eggs to the kitchen sink. Long packages will employ multiple labels with parachutes which will then be monitored using the camera and other sensors on the drone itself to monitor descent.

The system will reduce the time taken per delivery since the drone will no longer have to land and take off. Coupled with other UAV delivery patents, Amazon may be looking at more advanced delivery techniques. With paradrops, the drone need not be a multi rotor design and the next patent may very well be a mini trajectory correction system for packages.

If they come to fruition we wonder how easy it will be to get your hands on the labels. Materials and manufacture should both be quite cheap — this has already been proven by the model rocket crowd, and to make the system viable for Amazon it would have to be put into widespread use which brings to bear an economy of scale. We want to slap them on the side of beer cans as an upgrade to the catapult fridge.

Alexa, Sudo Read My Resistor! A Challenge for Hackers

Nothing makes us feel more like we’re on Star Trek then saying “Computer, turn on desk light,” and watching the light turn on. Of course, normal people would have left the wake up word as “Alexa,” but we like “Computer” even if it does make it hard to watch Star Trek episodes without the home automation going crazy.

There’s a lot of hype right now about how voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming everything. We’ve even seen a few high-profile types warning that AI is going to come alive and put us in the matrix or something. That gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure we are even close to that, yet. Alexa and Google’s similar offerings are cool, there’s no doubt about it. The speech recognition is pretty good, although far from perfect. But the AI is really far off still.

Today’s devices utilize two rather rudimentary parts to provide an interaction with users. The first is how the devices pattern match language; it isn’t all that sophisticated. The other is the trivial nature of many of the apps, or — as Alexa calls them — skills. There are some good ones to be sure, but for every one useful application of the technology, there’s a dozen that are just text-to-speech of an RSS feed. Looking through the skills available we were amused at how many different offerings convert resistor color codes back and forth to values.

There was a time when building electronics meant learning the resistor color code. With today’s emphasis on surface mount components, though, it is less useful than it used to be. Still, like flossing, you really ought to do it. However, if you have an Amazon Alexa, it can learn the color code for you thanks to [Dennis Mantz].

Don’t have an Alexa? You can still try it in your browser, as we will show you shortly. There are at least eight similar skills out there like this one from [Steve Jernigan] or [Andrew Bergstrom’s] Resistor Reader.

Continue reading “Alexa, Sudo Read My Resistor! A Challenge for Hackers”

Control Alexa Echo from anywhere in the World

If you are not within ear-shot of your Alexa Echo, Dot or Tap device and need to command it from anywhere in the world, you’d most likely use the handy mobile app or web interface to control it. For some strange reason, if you’d rather use voice commands from anywhere in the world, you can still do it using apps such as Alexa Listens or Reverb, among many others. We’d be the first ones to call these out and say “It’s not a hack”. But [pat dhens] approach is above reproach! He has posted details on how to Remote Control the Alexa Echo from Anywhere in the World. Short version of the hack — he’s using a Raspberry Pi with a speaker attached to it which commands his Alexa Tap using a text-to-speech converter program.

The long version is short as well. The user uses a VPN, such as OpenVPN, to log in to their home network where the Alexa device is located. Then, use VNC to connect to the Raspberry Pi to access its shell. Finally, the user issues a text command which is converted to speech by the ‘festival‘ program on the Raspberry Pi. The output goes to an external speaker via the Raspberry Pi’s 3.5 mm audio out jack. And that’s all there is to it. You’ve just issued a voice command to your Alexa from across the world.

Maybe it will save your vocal chords from damage due to excessive hollering, we guess. He’s even made a short video to prove that it works. Now all it needs is a microphone to listen to Alexa, convert speech-to-text, and then transmit it back to you across the world to complete the cycle.

We’re not sure, but he thinks this hack will lead him to world domination. Good Luck with that.

Continue reading “Control Alexa Echo from anywhere in the World”

Point and Click to an IoT Button

The availability of cheap WiFi boards like the ESP8266 and others means you can inexpensively put projects on the network. But there is still the problem of how to connect these devices to other places reliably. An Open Source project that attempts to make that whole effort point and click is Mongoose OS. The open source system works with the ESP8266, ESP32, and several other platforms. It is well integrated with Amazon’s IoT backend, but it isn’t locked to it.

Everyone wants to be your IoT broker and we see products appear (and disappear) regularly aimed at capturing that market. One common way to send and receive messages from a tiny device to a remote server is MQTT, an ISO standard made with resource-limited devices in mind. Many IoT services speak this protocol, including Amazon’s IoT offering. You can see how quick it is to flash an ESP8266 to make an Amazon IoT button in the video below. Although the video example uses Amazon, you can configure the system to talk to any public or private MQTT broker.

Continue reading “Point and Click to an IoT Button”

Dash With Arduino

Amazon Dash is a handy service, and when Amazon released their AWS IoT platform, [Brian Carbonette] felt that it left out all the hardware hackers from the tinkering fun. Seeking justice, he put together a guide for an Arduino Dash button aimed at hardware hackers and those who are still easing into the world.

For his build, [Carbonette] used an Arduino MKR1000, laying out a few different configuration options for building your button. He has also gone to great lengths to help all comers tackle the Arduino-Dash API communication process by building an AmazonDRS Arduino Library, which handles all the “boring details,” so you can focus on the hardware. With the warning that the software-side setup is tedious the first time around, [Carbonette] has included a detailed manual for setting up the aforementioned AmazonDRS library, some example code, and a breakdown thereof. He also suggests implementing other features — such as a notification if the item is out of stock on Amazon — to tie the project together.

Continue reading “Dash With Arduino”

33C3: Hunz Deconstructs the Amazon Dash Button

The Amazon Dash button is now in its second hardware revision, and in a talk at the 33rd Chaos Communications Congress, [Hunz] not only tears it apart and illuminates the differences with the first version, but he also manages to reverse engineer it enough to get his own code running. This opens up a whole raft of possibilities that go beyond the simple “intercept the IP traffic” style hacks that we’ve seen.

dash_block_diagramJust getting into the Dash is a bit of work, so buy two: one to cut apart and locate the parts that you have to avoid next time. Once you get in, everything is tiny! There are a lot of 0201 SMD parts. Hidden underneath a plastic blob (acetone!) is an Atmel ATSAMG55, a 120 MHz ARM Cortex-M4 with FPU, and a beefy CPU all around. There is also a 2.4 GHz radio with a built-in IP stack that handles all the WiFi, with built-in TLS support. Other parts include a boost voltage converter, a BTLE chipset, an LED, a microphone, and some SPI flash.

The strangest part of the device is the sleep mode. The voltage regulator is turned on by user button press and held on using a GPIO pin on the CPU. Once the microcontroller lets go of the power supply, all power is off until the button is pressed again. It’s hard to use any less power when sleeping. Even so, the microcontroller monitors the battery voltage and presumably phones home when it gets low.
Continue reading “33C3: Hunz Deconstructs the Amazon Dash Button”