CMOS imaging chips have been steadily improving, their cost and performance being driven by the highly competitive smartphone industry. As CMOS sensors get better and cheaper, they get more interesting for hacker lab projects. In this post I’m going to demonstrate a few applications of the high-resolution sensor that you’ve already got in your pocket — or wherever you store your cell phone.
CMOS vs CCD
First lets quickly review image sensors. You’ve probably head of CMOS and CCD sensors, but what’s the difference exactly?
As the figure above shows, CCD and CMOS sensors are both basically photodiode arrays. Photons that hit regions on the chip are converted into a charge by a photodiode. The difference is in how this charge in shoved around. CCD sensors are analogue devices, the charge is shifted through the chip and out to a single amplifier. CMOS sensors have amplifiers embedded in each cell and also generally include on-chip analogue to digital conversion allowing complete “camera-on-a-chip” solutions.
Because CMOS sensors amplify and move the signal into the digital domain sooner, they can use cheaper manufacturing processes allowing lower-cost imaging chips to be developed. Traditionally they’ve also had a number of disadvantages however, because more circuitry is included in each cell, less space is left to collect light. And because multiple amplifiers are used, it’s harder to get consistent images due to slight fabrication differences between the amplifiers in each cell. Until recently CMOS sensors were considered a low-end option. While CCD sensors (and usually large cooled CCD sensors) are still often preferred for scientific applications with big budgets, CMOS sensors have now however gained in-roads in high performance DSLRs.
[Seandavid010] recently purchased a 2004 Volvo. He really liked the car except for the fact that it was missing some more modern features. He didn’t come stock with any navigation system or Bluetooth capabilities. After adding Bluetooth functionality to the stock stereo himself, he realized he would need a secure location to place his iPhone. This would allow him to control the stereo or use the navigation functions with ease. He ended up building a custom iPhone mount in just a single afternoon.
The key to this project is that the Volvo has an empty pocket on the left side of the stereo. It’s an oddly shaped vertical pocket that doesn’t seem to have any real use. [Seandavid010] decided this would be the perfect place to mount his phone. The only problem was that he didn’t want to make any permanent changes to his car. This meant no drilling into the dash and no gluing.
[Seandavid010] started by lining the pocket with blue masking tape. He then added an additional lining of plastic wrap. All of this was to protect the dashboard from what was to come next. He filled about half of the pocket with epoxy putty. We’ve seen this stuff used before in a similar project. He left a small opening in the middle with a thick washer mounted perpendicular to the ground. The washer would provide a place for an off-the-shelf iPhone holder to mount onto. [Seandavid010] also placed a flat, wooden paint stirrer underneath the putty. This created a pocket that would allow him to route cables and adapters underneath this new mount.
After letting the epoxy putty cure for an hour, he removed the block from the pocket. The stick was then removed, and any gaps were filled in with putty. The whole block was trimmed and smooth down for a more streamlined look. Finally, it was painted over with some flat black spray paint to match the color of the dashboard. An aftermarket iPhone holder allows [Seandavid010] to mount his cell phone to this new bracket. The cell phone holder allows him to rotate the phone into portrait or landscape mode, and even is adjustable to accommodate different sized phones.
[Tim] drives a 1995 Mitsubishi TS Magna, which is equipped with a less than stellar accessory package he lovingly calls a “poverty pack”. He outfitted his ride with an aftermarket head unit that can support the Bluetooth A2DP profile, provided he buys the ridiculously overpriced kit sold by Pioneer. Reluctant to shell out more money on an audio kit than his car is worth, he whipped up his own Bluetooth kit for far less than Pioneer’s asking price.
He had a set of Nokia Bluetooth headphones that he was willing to part with, so he disassembled them to see how he might interface with his car stereo. Connecting the headset to his head unit was a relatively easy task, but he had to work a bit harder to get his Bluetooth receiver powered properly.
After both undervolting and then nearly cooking his wireless audio rig, [Tim] managed to get things operating to his liking. He says that the audio is a touch quieter than he would like at the moment, so he will likely be revising his design in the near future. For now however, he can stream tunes from his phone while he cruises around town.
[Dimitris] decided to build a homemade alarm system, but instead of triggering a siren, sending an SMS message, or Tweeting about an intrusion, he preferred that his system call him when there was trouble afoot. He says that he preferred a call over text messaging because there are no charges associated with the call if the recipient does not pick up the line, which is not the case with SMS.
The system is based around an off the shelf motion detector that was hacked to work with an old mobile phone. The motion detector originally triggered a siren, but he stripped out the speaker and wired it to a bare bones Arduino board he constructed. The Arduino was in turn connected to the serial port of an unused Ericssson T10s mobile phone. This allows the Arduino to call his mobile phone whenever the motion detector senses movement.
The system looks to be quite useful, and while [Dimitris] didn’t include all of the code he used, he says others should be able to replicate his work without too much trouble.
We’ve all heard of solar cells that charge your devices, or the odd flashlight that charges when you shake it, but this style charger should be new to almost everyone. This “pan charger” is reportedly capable of charging a cell phone or other mobile device using a USB connection in 3 to 5 hours. It also has a built-in radio and lantern. This should be a great tool for surviving a zombie apocalypse or if you simply live in a region without readily available power.
A second charger, currently being used in Africa, is an adaptation of a small generator hooked up to a bicycle. As this form of transportation is quite common in developing nations, this simple idea definitely shows promise. Check out the video of the bike cell phone charger after the break. Continue reading “Alternative Phone Charging Devices”→
Sony Ericsson recently added a new section to their developer world portal called Unlocking the boot loader. They provide all the information and tools needed to root some of their newer Android phones.
Of course, this information comes from Sony Ericsson dripping with warnings, disclaimers and warranty-voiding rhetoric. Once you’ve waded through all of that, you’ll have to enter your phone’s IMEI number, your name and email address in order to get your phone’s unique bootloader unlock key. Here’s hoping they don’t use the form information to instantly void warranties.
Unlocking doesn’t come without consequences, but from UI tweaks and performance improvements to custom apps and tethering, there are probably more reasons to unlock your Android device than there are reasons to leave it alone. In an age where people are making a fuss about companies adding stumbling blocks for would-be jailbreakers, it’s good to see that at least one of them is doing what they can to help hackers take the plunge. Anyone want to clear up why Sony Ericsson feels like supporting hackers but Sony sues people for doing similar things on the ps3?
Traffic monitoring has been available on Google Maps for some time, but has been limited to highways and major roads. According to the Google LatLong blog, traffic tracking support is now available for smaller surface roads in select cities. The data is gathered through mobile phones running My Location. Anybody wishing to help out can sign up their phone and opt into My Location to participate in the anonymous data collection. Now you won’t have to gamble on whether or not your back road alternative route is congested when there’s construction on the freeway. Dash tried something similar with their two-way traffic reporting, but we’re guessing that Google’s version will have even better performance thanks to a rapidly increasing install base.