A Simple, DIY GPS Tracker

Today, there are dozens of off-the-shelf solutions for a GPS tracking device. Most of them use GSM, some of them use satellites, and all of them are astonishingly inexpensive. If you want to track a car, dog, or your luggage, you’ve never had more options.

[Emilio] wanted to track his own car, and the original solution for this was a smartphone. This smartphone was also a good choice, as it’s a programmable GPS device connected to a cell network, but there had to be a simpler solution. It came in the form of an eight euro GPS module and a three euro GSM module (Google Translatrix right here). The rest of the hardware is an ATMega48V [Emilio] had sitting around and a 2500 mAh lithium cell. It’s a cellular tracker make out of eleven euro’s worth of hardware and some junk in a drawer.

There are only a few caveats to this hardware. First, the ATmega48V only has one UART. This is connected to the GPS module at 9600, 8N1. The connection to the GSM M-590 module is only 2400 bps, and slow enough for a bitbanged UART. This hardware is soldered to a piece of perfboard, thus ending the hardware part of this build.

The software is a little more complex, but not by very much. The GPS part of the firmware records the current latitude and longitude. If the GSM module receives a call, it replies with an SMS of the current GPS coordinates and a few GPS coordinates seen earlier. Of course, a pre-paid SIM is required for this build, but those are cheap enough.

Not even ten years ago, a simple, DIY GPS tracker would have cost a small fortune. Now that we have cheap GPS modules, GSM modules, and more magical electronics from the East, builds like this are easy and cheap. What a magical time to be alive.

Hack Anything into a Phone

If you’ve spent much time tinkering with electronics, you’ve probably heard of [Seeedstudio] from their development boards, tools, and their PCB fabrication service. Their latest Kickstarter venture is the RePhone, an open source and modular cell phone that will allow hackers to put together a phone by blending GSM modules, batteries, screens, and other stock units, including an Arduino-based processing core, GPS, NFC, and other building blocks.

The funding campaign has already exceeded its goal and delivery is scheduled for next year with a basic kit weighing in at a projected $59, according to [Seeed]. Presumably, the core phone module will have regulatory acceptance, but the other ancillary modules won’t require as rigorous testing and certification.

What would you do with an inexpensive, embeddable cell phone? The modules are tiny, so you could implant them in lots of places. Some of [Seeed’s] more interesting ideas include building a phone into a walking stick, a dog collar, or a kite (although we were thinking quadcopters).

Of course, we’ve seen GSM and cell phone shields for Arduino before. Difficult to imagine sticking those in a dog collar, though, unless you have a fairly large dog. If you are a fan of 1960’s TV, it is easy to imagine a better shoe phone or a working Star Trek communicator.

Continue reading “Hack Anything into a Phone”

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.

Continue reading “Don’t Steal This Laptop”

The 2G Raspberry Pi Smartphone

For [Tyler]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s making something that just a few years ago would be unheard of in a homebrew build. He’s making a DIY smartphone. Yes, with cheap single-board Linux computers, GSM modules, and SPI touchscreen displays, it’s possible to build your own smartphone.

Inside [Tyler]’s DIY smartphone is a Raspberry Pi Model A, a 3.5 inch touchscreen PiTFT with 480×320 resolution, and an Adafruit FONA module The connections are simple enough; the TFT is connected over SPI, and the GSM module over serial. The entire device is powered by a 1200mAh LiIon battery, charged with a powerboost board, runs an operating system written in Python capable of making calls, sending texts, and takes pictures with a Pi camera.

This is not what you would normally call a smartphone. The FONA module is 2G only, meaning you’re limited to 2G speeds and 2G networks. AT&T will be shutting down 2G networks in a little bit, although T-Mobile will be keeping them up for anyone who still has an old Nokia Brick.

That said, [Tyler]’s phone is still exactly what you want in a minimal phone: it just makes calls and receives texts, it has a camera, and unlike the Nokia, you can take it apart and repair it easily. Not that you ever had to do that with a Nokia…

The Rotary Cell Phone

It’s happened. It’s finally happened. In a move that has hipsters donning their good flannel and breaking out that case of Genesee they were saving for a special occasion, the rotary cell phone is now a reality.

[Jaromir] created this astonishingly retro future device as an entry for the NXP LPC810 challenge, a contest to do the most with an ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller in an 8-pin package. Having only six I/O pins for controlling a GSM module, display a few buttons, and the fancy rotary dial meant [Jaromir] needed to expand his I/O some way. He chose a shift register to handle the buttons and display in a somewhat impressive demonstration of using a shift register as both an input and output expander at the same time.

From the videos [Jaromir] uploaded, the rotary cell phone isn’t ready for Think Geek to do a production run quite yet. He needs to enter the PIN for the SIM card, AT commands for the GSM module, and is, of course, a horrible method of user input for the younglings who have only seen rotary phones in old movies. That being said, it’s a rotary cell phone running on an 8-pin microcontroller. What more do you want?

Videos of this awesome this truly awesome phone in action below. If you’d like to build your own – and why wouldn’t you – all the files are available on [Jaromir]’s git

Continue reading “The Rotary Cell Phone”

Sink Your Teeth Into PiPhone

Raspberry Pi cell phoneHave you ever dreamed of independence from smartphone bloatware? If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Adafruit TFT, you’re halfway to making your own version of [Dave]’s PiPhone.

This tasty proof-of-concept cellular sandwich is made by adding a Sim900 GSM/GPRS module, which communicates via UART, to the Pi/TFT hardware while using a piece of foam core board in the middle to prevent shorts. You won’t get free service or anything, but you can pop a pre-paid SIM card into it. He’s powering it with a LiPo battery and using a DC-to-DC converter to set up the 3.7V to 5V. You could do a lot worse than the $158 BOM, and we’re betting you have a Pi lying around already. We wish more phones had baby rocker switches.

There’s a slight problem with the PiPhone: it gets pretty warm and there isn’t a lot of room for air circulation. For best results, let it cool on a well-attended windowsill or operate it near a fan like [Dave] did. He doesn’t have the code up on GitHub as of this writing, but he will capitulate to high demand. Make the jump to see [Dave]’s tour of the PiPhone and watch him make a call with it.

Continue reading “Sink Your Teeth Into PiPhone”

Hackaday Links: December 1, 2013


Since our ‘ol buddy [Caleb] left Hackaday for EE Times, he’s been very busy. One of his latest projects is doing Antique Electronics Autopsies. This time around it’s a 1953 Heathkit Grid Dip Meter. It’s a beautiful piece of engineering with Point to Point wiring and metal gears.

We love microcontroller breakout boards, and so does [Tim] apparently. He built a breadboard friendly breakout for the NXP LPC812. It’s an ARM Cortex M0+ with 16kb of Flash and 4kb of SRAM. The entire breakout board is smaller than the through-hole DIP LPC1114. When are we going to see these on Tindie, [Tim]? Here’s the Git with the board files. You can also pick up a board at OSH Park – $3.30 for a set of three.

What do you do when you have the perfect idea for a Kickstarter, but don’t have the funds for the perfect sales pitch? The obvious solution is to start an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for your Kickstarter. Unfortunately, this campaign has already been successfully funded, so it’s already too late to get in on the ground floor. Relevant xkcd.

We’ve seen this DIY cell phone before but now it’s just about ready for production. [David] at the MIT Media Lab has been working on a bare-bones, ATMega & GSM module phone for a while now, and now you can grab the firmware and board files. Make your own cell phone!

Here comes Hanukkah, so drink your gin and tonica. Here’s a pedal powered menorahica so put on your yarmulke, it’s time to celebrate Hanukkah.