Revive The Demoscene with a LayerOne Demoscene Board

Demos, the demoscene, and all the other offshoots of computer arts had their beginning as intros for cracked Apple II, Speccy, and Commodore 64 games. Give it a few years, and these simple splash screens would evolve into a technological audio-visual experience. This is the birth of the demoscene, where groups of programmers would compete to create the best demonstration of computer graphics and audio.

For one reason or another, this demoscene was mostly confined to Europe; even today, 30 years after the Commodore 64, the North American demoscene is just a fraction of the size of the European scene. A very cool guy named [Arko] would like to change that, and to that end he built the LayerOne Demoscene Board.

If there is a problem with the modern demo scene, it’s that the hardware that’s usually used – C64s, Ataris, Spectrums, and Amigas – are old, somewhat rare, and dying. There’s also the fact that artists have been working on these old machines for decades now, and every single ounce of processing power and software trickery has been squeezed out of these CPUs. [Arko]’s board is a ground-up redesign of what a board that plays demos should be. There’s only one chip on the board – a PIC24F with three graphics acceleration units, color lookup tables, and the ability to output 16-bit VGA video up to 640×480 with 8-bit audio.

The first official competition with the LayerOne Demoscene Board will be at the 2015 LayerOne conference in Monrovia, CA on May 23. There are a few categories, including 4k and 64k JavaScript, Raspberry Pi, the LayerOne board, and a ‘Wild’ category. If you want to take a processor out of a toaster and make a demo, this is the category you’ll be entering. Of course Hackaday will be there, and we’ll be recording all the demos.

Below are a few examples of what the LayerOne Demoscene board can do, and you can also see a talk [Arko] gave at the Hackaday 10th anniversary party here. You can buy the Layerone Demoscene Board on the Hackaday Store

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2013 LayerOne badge hacking contest winner

2013-LayerOne-badge-hacking-contest-winner

[Dynotronix] wrote in to share the news that he won the 2013 LayerOne badge hacking contest. In addition to the good news he included a description of his badge hack.

We got a good look at the hardware included on the badge several days ago. You may remember that it’s outfitted with footprints for 48 LEDs around the perimeter which are driven by two ICs. Looking at the image above it’s hard to miss the fact that [Dyno] didn’t populate any of that. He went right for the power of the XMEGA processor to analyze and generate signals.

But what specifically can you do with the signal this thing generates? Turns out a rather simple circuit can make it into a transmitter. [Dyno] concedes that it’s a remarkably finicky setup, but just a few components on a scrap of copper clad turned this into an FM transmitter. Check out the video where you can hear the sweeping alarm-type sounds pushed to an FM radio via his voltage controlled oscillator circuit which has a range of about fifteen feet.

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Stiltwalker beat audio reCAPTCHA

This talk from the 2012 LayerOne conference outlines how the team build Stiltwalker, a package that could beat audio reCAPTCHA. We’re all familiar with the obscured images of words that need to be typed in order to confirm that you’re human (in fact, there’s a cat and mouse game to crack that visual version). But you may not have noticed the option to have words read to you. That secondary option is where the toils of Stiltwalker were aimed, and at the time the team achieved 99% accurracy. We’d like to remind readers that audio is important as visual-only confirmations are a bane of visually impaired users.

This is all past-tense. In fact, about an hour before the talk (embedded after the break) Google upgraded the system, making it much more complex and breaking what these guys had accomplished. But it’s still really fun to hear about their exploit. There were only 58 words used in the system. The team found out that there’s a way to exploit the entry of those word, misspelling them just enough so that they would validate as any of up to three different words. Machine learning was used to improve the accuracy when parsing the audio, but it still required tens of thousands of human verifications before it was reliably running on its own.

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LayerOne badge hacking twofer

Here’s a pair of LayerOne Badge hacks that actually included the RC as intended by the badge designers.

First up, we have the autonomous RC car built by [Arko]. He calls it Stanley Jr. as an homage to the Stanford DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle. It uses an Arduino shield to add a servo with an ultrasonic rangefinder on it. The lets the vehicle drive a bit, stop and scan the horizon, then drive some more. The hope is the rangefinder will keep it from running into anything. There’s a quick test run embedded after the break.

On the right is the badge hack which [Zjpahle] finished up after the contest was already over. He also chose to go with an Arduino shield, this time it’s an IMU board. But he added a standalone Arduino board to the vehicle which drives some EL wire (ground effects) and adds IR sensors to the front of the car. The IR sensors are for obstacle avoidance, and the IMU lets him tilt his badge for direction control.

We looked at the winner of the badge hacking competition on Wednesday. That hack didn’t involve the car, but used the badge as a Morse Code beacon.

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Morse code beacon wins the LayerOne badge hacking contest

Ham skills prevail in this year’s LayerOne badge hacking contest. [Jason] was the winner with this Morse Code beacon hack.He got a head start on the competition after seeing our preview feature on the badge hardware development. It got him thinking and let him gather his tools ahead of arrival.

The hardware is segregated into two parts of the board. The lower portion is a take on the Arduino, and the upper portion is a wireless transmitter meant to control some cheap RC cars. [Jason] figured this was perfect for conversion as a CW beacon (continuous wave is what Morse Code is called if you’re a ham). The first issue he encountered was getting the badge to play nicely with the Arduino IDE. It was setup to run Slowduino firmware which uses the internal oscillator. [Jason] soldered on his own crystal and reflashed the firmware. He found that the transmitter couldn’t be directly keyed because of the shifting used in the RC car protocol. He cut the power to the transmitter, and found that it could be more accurately keyed by injecting power to one of the other pins. Check out the video after the break for a better explanation of his technique.

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LayerOne badges stop bullets; drive away

We love badges. And we’ve really got to thank [Charliex] for taking the time to write a huge post about this year’s LayerOne badges, especially since they’ve got their backs up against the deadline for pulling everything together in time.

Here it is, the stock badge on the left, with an add-on shield on the right. Now the original intent was to make this badge the chassis of an RC car. [Charliex] chewed through his development time trying to source toy cars that could be gutted for parts that would mount easily on the badge. This looked promising at first, but turned out to be folly. Instead what we have here is an Arduino compatible board with an RF transmitter which can be cut off and used separately if you wish. Attendees will be able to use the badge to take control of the toy cars (cases of them have been shipped to the conference), with the option to use the USB functionality to facilitate automation.

So what about stopping bullets? There is a bug in the module [Charliex] used to export the board design from Eagle. They came back from the fab house as 0.125″ substrate. That’s pretty beefy!

The conference is this weekend… better get on that!

Time to get serious about going to LayerOne

This year’s LayerOne Hacking and Security Conference is right around the corner. But it’s not too late to attend. You can still get a block-rate hotel room if you register by the end of April, and registration for the two-day event only costs a hundred bucks. It’s scheduled for May 26th and 27th in Anaheim California.

As usual, the Speaker lineup is quite impressive. Everything from Android Malware to embedded exploits and botnet adventures will be discussed. And then there’s the perennial favorite lock picking and hardware hacking villages. Did we mention badges? We’d bet it was this pick-and-place machine which helped assemble this year’s pile of badges. We haven’t seen any word on what they might include, but there’s a hacking contest so plan to pack your tools.