A FPGA based Bus Pirate Clone


A necessary tool for embedded development is a device that can talk common protocols such as UART, SPI, and I2C. The XC6BP is an open source device that can work with a variety of protocols.

As the name suggests, the XC6BP is a clone of the Bus Pirate, but based on a Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA. The AltOR32 soft CPU is loaded on the FPGA. This is a fully functional processor based on the OpenRISC architecture. While the FPGA is more expensive than a microcontroller, it can be fully reprogrammed. It’s also possible to build hardware on the FPGA to perform a variety of tasks.

A simple USB stack runs on the soft CPU, creating a virtual COM port. Combined with the USB transceiver, this provides communication with a host PC. The device is even compatible with the Bus Pirate case and probe connector. While it won’t replace the Bus Pirate as a low-cost tool, it is neat to see someone using an open source core to build a useful, open hardware device.

Hackaday Links: January 26, 2014


The automotive industry is rolling more and more tech into their offerings. This is great for us because replacement or salvaged parts are great for projects. Here’s one component to look for. [MikesElectricStuff] tears apart the thermal imaging camera form an Audi. [via Hacked Gadgets]

Give your valentine an analog love note on the big day. [Tom's] LED heart chaser design does it without any coding. It’s a 555 timer with CD4017 decade counter. The nice thing about the setup is a trimpot adjusts the chaser speed.

[Jan] is overclocking his Arduino to 32 MHz. For us that’s kind of an “eh” sort of thing. But his statement that you need to use a clock generator because the chip won’t work with an oscillator at that frequency raised an eyebrow. We saw an AVR chip running from a 32MHz crystal oscillator in the RetroWiz project from yesterday. So do we have it wrong or does [Jan]? Share your opinion in the comments.

Download a copy of the Apple II DOS source code… legally. Yay for releasing old code into the wild! The Computer History Museum has the DOS source code and a bunch of interesting history about it. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

While we were prowling around DP for the last link we came across [Ian's] post on a new version of Bus Pirate cables. We’ve got the old rainbow cables which are pretty convenient. But if you’ve used them you’ll agree, hunting for the correct color for each connection isn’t anywhere near a fool-proof method. The new cable uses shrink tube printed with probe labels. They sound like a huge pain to manufacture. But this makes connections a lot easier. In our experience, when it doesn’t work its always a hardware problem! Hopefully this will mean fewer botched connections.

Make your tiny LiPo cells last longer. Not capacity wise, but physically. The delicate connections to the monitor PCB break easily, and the plug is really hard to connect and disconnect. [Sean] shows how he uses electrical tape for strain relief, and a bit of filing to loosen up the connector.

KerbalEdu: Kerbal Space Program for education. That’s right, you can play Kerbal as part of school now. Some may shake their heads at this, but school should be fun. And done right, we think gaming is a perfect way to educate. These initiatives must be the precursor to A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer method of education. Right?

Reverse geocache based on STM32 and GPS wristwatch


[Renaud Schleck] somehow got lucky enough to find a GPS wristwatch in the trash. It had a broken LCD screen so its wouldn’t be of much use on that next hiking trip, but he knew it still had potential. He used the GPS module and a few other parts to build this reverse geocache box.

Reverse geocache is a container that is locked, opening only in a pre-defined geographic location. We’ve seen plenty of these projects around here, like this one that talks, or this one which was given as a Christmas gift. They’re popular projects both because of the unique method of getting at the prize inside, and because it doesn’t take a whole lot of hardware to build one. Once [Renaud] had the GPS module he simply need a user interface, locking mechanism, and a microcontroller to pull it all together.

The interface uses a screen from an old cellphone and one push button. The latching system is a tiny geared motor salvaged from a Laptop optical drive. These, along with the GPS watch board are all monitored by the STM32 microcontroller which he programmed using OpenOCD and the Bus Pirate.

[via Reddit]

Disassembling and reprogramming Webkeys

Webkeys are small, inexpensive USB devices which launch a web browser when plugged into a computer. They’re given out as a promotional item, but they can be fun to hack as well. [Brad Antoniewicz] recently got his hands on one and decided to crack it open to see what he could accomplish.

The majority of the device was packaging but it didn’t take him long to get down to the guts seen here. There are two units shown in the image above so that we can get a look at both sides of the circuit board. As you can see, there’s a chip-on-board processor (that black blob) that handles the USB connectivity. But the data which is pushed to a computer is stored in that EEPROM chip at the top. It’s got legs which are just begging to be probed. [Brad] wasn’t able to find the exact datasheet but he got some clues as to the pinout. Using his Bus Pirate he was able to establish communications and sniff the i2c traffic. With that success he went on to overwrite that data. You can see a quick demonstration of it after the break.

[Brad] hopes to do a bit more with the hardware. He thinks those four pads can be used to reprogram the MCU. We’ll keep our eyes out for updates as he moves along on that mission.

[Read more...]

ARM-based debugging tool aims to improve on the Bus Pirate performance

The Bus Pirate is a fantastic development tool. It does an amazing job at a lot of different things. And as it has matured, community support has driven it to new areas beyond the original design. This is where its hardware holds back performance a little bit. For instance, as an I2C or SPI sniffer it has limited capture speed. That’s the type of thing that this board could improve upon. It’s a debugging tool based on an STM32 F4 microcontroller. That’s an ARM Cortex-M4 chip which runs at 168 MHz, and has 192 KB of SRAM.

[TitanMKD] has been working on the design but it is still just in digital form. Since there’s no prototype there is also no firmware for the device. That’s a tall mountain to climb and it’s one of the reasons we’re featuring the project now. [Titan's] plan is to model this after the Bus Pirate interface. We think it’s a good idea since a lot of folks have already learned the syntax. We didn’t see a contact form on his site, but if you’re interested in contributing to the project you might want to leave a comment here or on his project page (linked above).

Using your bench tools to test a new display

It usually takes a bit of work to gain confidence when it comes to using new parts. [Glitch] got his hands on this OLED display which is manufactured by Sabernetics and wanted to give it a whirl before building a project around it. He grabbed his Bus Pirate to help learn the ins and outs of the new part.

The 96×16 Dot-Matrix display uses the i2c protocol, keeping the pin count really low (six pins for: ground, reset, clock, data, chip select, and voltage). Since the Bus Pirate gives you command-line-like access to i2c it’s a natural choice for a first test. In fact, the tool has been our go-to device for that protocol for most projects.

The first commands sent are configuration values for the SSD1306 that drives the display. These configure contrast, voltage conversion, and other important values necessary to power on the display. It sprung to life, showing random pixels since the RAM had not yet been initialized. With that success [Glitch] moved on to the Bus Pirate’s scripting capabilities and ended up with a Python script that drives the demo seen above. Now that he knows the commands he needs, it’ll be a lot easier to write code for a microcontroller driver.

Reprogramming promotional USB dongles to launch custom URLs


The teachers at [Jjshortcut's] school were each given a Webkey by the administration as a promotional item of sorts, but most of the staff saw them as useless, so they pitched them. [Jjshortcut] got his hands on a few of them and decided to take one apart to see what made them tick.

He found that the device was pretty simple, consisting of a push button that triggers the device to open the Windows run prompt, enter a URL, and launch Internet Explorer. Since the microcontroller was locked away under a blob of epoxy, he started poking around the onboard EEPROM with his Bus Pirate to see if he could find anything interesting there. It turns out he was able to read the contents of the EEPROM, and since it was not write protected, he could replace the standard URL with that of his own web site.

While it’s safe to say that without a new microcontroller the Webkeys probably can’t be used for anything more exciting than launching a browser, [Jjshortcut] can always reprogram the lot and drop them in random locations to drive some fresh traffic to his web site!

[Thanks, Wouter]