Amazon Fire TV Update Bricks Hacked Devices

The Amazon Fire TV is Amazon’s answer to all of the other streaming media devices on the market today. Amazon is reportedly selling these devices at cost, making very little off of the hardware sales. Instead, they are relying on the fact that most users will rent or purchase digital content on these boxes, and they can make more money in the long run this way. In fact, the device does not allow users to download content directly from the Google Play store, or even play media via USB disk. This makes it more likely that you will purchase content though Amazon’s own channels.

We’re hackers. We like to make things do what they were never intended to do. We like to add functionality. We want to customize, upgrade, and break our devices. It’s fun for us. It’s no surprise that hackers have been jail breaking these devices to see what else they are capable of. A side effect of these hacks is that content can be downloaded directly from Google Play. USB playback can also be enabled. This makes the device more useful to the consumer, but obviously is not in line with Amazon’s business strategy.

Amazon’s response to these hacks was to release a firmware update that will brick the device if it discovers that it has been rooted. It also will not allow a hacker to downgrade the firmware to an older version, since this would of course remove the root detection features.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. We’ve seen this type of thing for years with mobile phones. The iPhone has been locked to the Apple Store since the first generation, but the first iPhone was jailbroken just days after its initial release. Then there was the PlayStation 3 “downgrade” fiasco that resulted in hacks to restore the functionality. It seems that hackers and corporations are forever destined to disagree on who actually owns the hardware and what ownership really means. We’re locked in an epic game of cat and mouse, but usually the hackers seem to triumph in the end.

A tale of (un)bricking a $10k Microsoft Surface unit

We’ve all had that sinking feeling as a piece of hardware stops responding and the nasty thought of “did I just brick this thing?” rockets to the front of our minds. [Florian Echtler] recently experienced this in extremis as his hacking on the University of Munich’s Microsoft Surface 2.0 left it unresponsive. He says this is an 8,000 Euro piece of hardware, which translates to around $10,000! Obviously it was his top priority to get the thing working again.

So what’s the first thing you should do if you get your hands on a piece of hardware like this? Try to run Linux on the thing, of course. And [Florian] managed to make that happen pretty easily (there’s a quick proof-of-concept video after the break). He took a Linux kernel drive written for a different purpose and altered it to interface with the MS Surface. After working out a few error message he packaged it and called to good. Some time later the department called him and asked if his Linux kernel work might have anything to do with the display being dead. Yikes.

He dug into the driver and found that a bug may have caused the firmware on the USB interface chip to be overwritten. The big problem being that they don’t just distribute the image for this chip. So he ended up having to dump what was left from the EEPROM and rebuild the header byte by byte.

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LEGO pick and place

Turn your volume down and take a look at the brick sorting robot in the video above. It’s built using LEGO and powered by four different NXT modules. It sorts differently colored bricks on the intake conveyor and places them on three output conveyors. The build is solid and was [Chris Shepherd’s] impetus for starting a blog. We appreciate the pneumatic tricks that he detailed in some of his earlier posts such as a compressor, pressure switch, and air tank system. His advice is “build, build, build” and that’s what you’d have to do to perfect a monster of this size and scope.