Don’t Steal This Laptop

As laptops have become smaller and easy to carry around, they have also picked up the most unfortunate property of being easy to steal. We’ve read the stories of how some victims are able to track them down via webcam still images of the thief. [Mastro Gippo] decided to take it one step further and add a remotely operated hardware self destruct to his laptop. The idea is if the laptop becomes unrecoverable, it will become useless and any sensitive data will be destroyed without harming the area around it.

It’s somewhat inception like, as it’s a hack within a hack. It’s based on the Crunchtrack, a CAN bus reverse engineering tool equipped with GPS and a SIM800 GSM module, which was also developed by [Mastro Gippo]. The idea is to tuck the small board somewhere in the laptop and wire it up between the battery and some sensitive parts. Send a single SMS text and ‘poof’, bye-bye laptop.

He wrote all the code in less the 24 hours for the BattleHack Hackathon. He decided to spice up the act with some firecrackers and a detonator, which made his team the crowd favorite and earned a victory.

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Arduino TinyGPS Updated To Support GLONASS

GPS is a global technology these days, with the Russian GLONASS system and the forthcoming European Galileo orbiting alongside the original US GPS satellites above our heads. [Florin Duroiu] decided to embrace globalism by forking the TinyGPS library for the Arduino platform to add support for these satellite constellations.

In addition to the GLONASS support, the new version of the venerable TinyGPS adds some neat new features by incorporating the NMEA 3.0 standard (warning: big-ass PDF link). Using this, you can extract interesting stuff such as the calculated position from each satellite constellation, the signal strength of each satellite and a lot more technical stuff about what the satellites are saying about you to your GPS receiver. [Florin] claims it is a drop-in replacement for TinyGPS that should require no rewriting. There is no support for Galileo just yet (as the satellites are still being launched: eight are in orbit now), but [Florin] is looking for help to add this, as well as the new Chinese BEIDOU system once it is operational.

(top image: artists’ view of a Galileo satellite in orbit, courtesy of ESA)

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Mobile Node

The future is the Internet of Things, or so we’re told, and with that comes the requirement for sensors attached to the Internet that also relay GPS and location data. [Camilo]’s MobileNodes do just that. He’s designed a single device that will listen to any sensor, upload that data to the Internet over GSM or GPRS, and push all that data to the cloud.

The MobileNode is a small circular (7cm) PCB with a standard ATMega32u4 microcontroller. Attached to this PCB are GSM/GPRS and GPS/GLONASS modules to receive GPS signals and relay all that data to the cloud. To this, just about any sensor can be added, including light sensors, PIR sensors, gas and temperature sensors, and just about anything else that can be measured electronically.

Of course the biggest problem with a bunch of sensors on an Internet of Things device is pulling the data from the Internet. For that, [Camilo] designed a web interface that shows sensor data directly on a Google Map. You can check out the project video below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Decoding Satellite-based Text Messages with RTL-SDR and Hacked GPS Antenna

[Carl] just found a yet another use for the RTL-SDR. He’s been decoding Inmarsat STD-C EGC messages with it. Inmarsat is a British satellite telecommunications company. They provide communications all over the world to places that do not have a reliable terrestrial communications network. STD-C is a text message communications channel used mostly by maritime operators. This channel contains Enhanced Group Call (EGC) messages which include information such as search and rescue, coast guard, weather, and more.

Not much equipment is required for this, just the RTL-SDR dongle, an antenna, a computer, and the cables to hook them all up together. Once all of the gear was collected, [Carl] used an Android app called Satellite AR to locate his nearest Inmarsat satellite. Since these satellites are geostationary, he won’t have to move his antenna once it’s pointed in the right direction.

Hacked GPS antenna
Hacked GPS antenna

As far as antennas go, [Carl] recommends a dish or helix antenna. If you don’t want to fork over the money for something that fancy, he also explains how you can modify a $10 GPS antenna to work for this purpose. He admits that it’s not the best antenna for this, but it will get the job done. A typical GPS antenna will be tuned for 1575 MHz and will contain a band pass filter that prevents the antenna from picking up signals 1-2MHz away from that frequency.

To remove the filter, the plastic case must first be removed. Then a metal reflector needs to be removed from the bottom of the antenna using a soldering iron. The actual antenna circuit is hiding under the reflector. The filter is typically the largest component on the board. After desoldering, the IN and OUT pads are bridged together. The whole thing can then be put back together for use with this project.

Once everything was hooked up and the antenna was pointed in the right place, the audio output from the dongle was piped into the SDR# tuner software. After tuning to the correct frequency and setting all of the audio parameters, the audio was then decoded with another program called tdma-demo.exe. If everything is tuned just right, the software will be able to decode the audio signal and it will start to display messages. [Carl] posted some interesting examples including a couple of pirate warnings.

If you can’t get enough RTL-SDR hacks, be sure to check out some of the others we’ve featured in the past. And don’t forget to send in links to your own hacking!

Hackaday Prize Entry: Project Dekoboko 凸凹 Maps Bumpy Roads On A Bike

If you live in New England (like me) you know that the roads take a pounding in the winter. Combine this with haphazard maintenance and you get a recipe for biking disaster: bumpy, potholed roads that can send you flying over the handlebars. Project Dekoboko 凸凹 aims to help a little with this, by helping you map and avoid the bumpiest roads and could be a godsend in this area.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize entry from [Benjamin Shih], [Daniel Rojas], and [Maxim Lapis] is a device that clips onto your bike and maps how bumpy the ride is as you pedal around. It does this by measuring the vibration of the bike frame with an accelerometer. Combine this with a GPS log and you get a map of the quality of the roads that helps you plan a smooth ride, or which could help the city figure out which roads need fixing the most.

bike-measures-bumpy-roads-thumbThe project is currently on its  third version, built around an Arduino, Adafruit Ultimate GPS Logger shield, and a protoboard that holds the accelerometer (an Analog ADXL345). The team has also set up a first version of their web site, which contains live data from a few trips around Berlin. This does show one of the issues they will need to figure out, though: the GPS data has them widely veering off the road, which means that the data was slightly off, or they were cycling through buildings on the Prinzenstrasse, including a house music club. I’ll assume that it was the GPS being inaccurate and not them stopping for a rave, but they will need to figure out ways to tie this data down to a specific street before they can start really analyzing it. Google Maps does offer a way to do this, but it is not always accurate, especially on city streets. Still, the project has made good progress and could be useful for those who are looking for a smooth ride around town.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Tiny Tool for Car Hacking

A car from 1940 would have been an almost completely mechanical device. These days though, a car without electricity wouldn’t run. It’s not the engine – it’s the computers; the design details of which automotive manufacturers would love to keep out of the hands of hardware hackers like us. [Mastro Gippo] wanted to build a small and powerful CAN bus reverse engineering tool, and the Crunchtrack hits it out of the park. It’s a CAN bus transceiver, GPS receiver, and GSM modem all wrapped up into a single tiny device that fits under your dash.

[Mastro] has a slight fetish for efficiency and tiny, tiny devices, so he’s packaging everything inside the shell of a standard ELM327 Bluetooth adapter. This is a device that can fit in the palm of your hand, but still taps a CAN bus (with the help of a computer), receives GPS, and sends that data out over cell phone towers.

The device is based on the STM32 F3 ARM microcontroller (with mbed support), a ublox 7 GPS module, and an SIM800 GSM module, but the story doesn’t stop with hardware. [Mastro] is also working on a website where reverse engineering data can be shared between car hackers. That makes this an excellent Hackaday Prize entry, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Prize Entry: 20,000 Weather Stations

Team Tahmo has a plan to put a network of 20,000 weather stations across sub-Saharan Africa. That’s an impressive goal, and already they have pilot stations in Senegal, Chad, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa. For their Hackaday Prize entry, they thought it would make sense to add more advanced sensors to their weather stations, and came up with GPS, lightning, and large scale soil moisture sensors.

The sensors already deployed have the usual complement of meteorological equipment – thermometers, anemometers, barometers, and rain gauges. These stations are connected to a school’s Internet connection where students can monitor the local weather patterns and upload the data. Team Tahmo is building a small add-on board for their Prize entry using an AS3935 Franklin Lightning sensor and a GPS module.

In the interests of rapid design cycles, the team is using off-the-shelf modules for the lightning detector and GPS module. They hit up the Hackaday Prize Collabratorium for some advice on PCB design and have everything pretty much nailed down thanks to a few helpful hackers.

It’s a great project for one of the most ambitious crowdsourced data gathering projects ever conceived, and something that would vastly improve weather predictions across the African continent. Even if their entry does just monitor lightning strikes, it’s still an admirable goal and one of the most useful projects for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: