Joe Grand Talks Deconstructing Circuit Boards

With the exception of [Eric Evenchick], the Hackaday crew are safely back from Defcon and not missing in the desert. This means we can really start rolling out all the stuff we saw this weekend, beginning with an interview with [Joe Grand], creator of the JTAGulator, early member of l0pht, and generally awesome dude.

The focus of [Joe]’s many talks this year was reverse engineering circuit boards. Most of these techniques involved fairly low-tech methods to peel apart circuit boards one layer at a time: sandpaper and milling machines are the simplest techniques, but [Joe] is also using some significantly more uncommon methods. Lapping machines get a mention, as do acoustic microscopy, CAT scans, and x-rays. [Joe]’s Defcon talk isn’t up on the intertubes yet, but his BSides talk about techniques that didn’t work is available.

In case you forgot, [Joe] is also a judge for a little contest we’re running, and we asked what he’s looking for in a truly spaceworthy entry. [Joe]’s looking for projects with a lot of effort put into them. Don’t get us wrong, project that require no effort can be extremely popular, but documentation is king. [Joe] thinks well documented projects are evidence project creators are building something because they want to build it, and not because they want to win a prize. That’s intrinsic motivation, kiddies. Learn it.

Hackaday Links: August 3, 2014

hackaday-links-chain

A ton of people sent in this video of crazy Russians who have taken a microwave, removed the magnetron, taped it to a broom, and turned it on. Don’t try this at home. Or near us.

You know the Google Cardboard kit that’s a real VR headset made of cardboard (and a smart phone)? Google may have gotten their inspiration from Oculus, because every Oculus Rift DK2 ships with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 inside.

paul allen

Ever design a PCB and be disappointed by the quality of the silkscreen? [Paul Allen] has been defining the edges of his PCB labels with the copper layer, and the examples are dramatic. Etching copper is what you actually pay for when you fab a board, so it should come as no surprise that the quality is a little higher.

Dunk tanks are fun, but how about competitive dunk tanks? [Chad] built a dunk tank (really more of a ‘dunk shower’) out of a 2×4 tripod, a garbage can, and a few parts from a the toilet aisle of Home Depot’s plumbing department. Then he built a second. Set up both dunk showers across from each other, give two people a few balls, and see who gets soaked last. Looks fun.

Want a MAME cabinet, but don’t want it taking up room in your house? Build a MAME coffee table! Here’s the reddit thread. Maybe we’re old-fashioned, but we’d rather have a giant NES controller coffee table.

Last week we saw a 16-bobbin rope braiding machine, but odd braiding machines like this aren’t limited to fibers. Here’s a wire twisting machine for making RS422 cables. It only produces a single twisted pair, but that’s really all you need to create a cable. Somebody get some paracord and make some Cat5.

CERN Shows Off New KiCad Module Editor

Photo from video demo of new KiCad module editor

CERN, the people that run a rather large particle collider, have just announced their most recent contributions to the KiCad project. This work focused on adding new features to the module editor, which is used to create footprints for parts.

The update includes support for DXF files, which will make it easy to import part drawings, or use external tools for more complex designs. New distribute tools make it easy to space out pads evenly. The copy and paste function now allows you to set a reference point, making it easy to align blocks. Finally, the pad enumeration tool lets you quickly set pin numbers.

CERN has already implemented a new graphics engine for KiCad, and demonstrated a new push and shove routing tool. The work plan for CERN’s KiCad contributions shows their long term goals. If you’re interested in what CERN is doing with KiCad, you can check out the CERN KiCad Developers Team on Launchpad.

After the break, watch a quick run through of the new features.

Continue reading “CERN Shows Off New KiCad Module Editor”

An Amazing DIY Single Board ARM Computer with BGA

DIY Single Board Computer ARM

Typically, you buy a single board Linux computer. [Henrik] had a better idea, build his own ARM based single board computer! How did he do it? By not being scared of ball grid array (BGA) ARM processors.

Everyone loves the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board, but what is the fun in buying something that you can build? We have a hunch that most of our readers stay clear of BGA chips, and for good reason. Arguably, one of the most important aspects of [Henrik’s] post is that you can easily solder BGAs with cheaply available tools. OSH Park provides the inexpensive high-quality PCBs, OSH Stencils provides the inexpensive stencils, and any toaster oven allows you to solder even the most difficult of components. Not only does he go over the PCB build, he also discusses the bootloader, u-boot, and how to get Linux running.

Everything worked out very well for [Henrik]. It’s a good thing too, cause we sure wouldn’t want to debug a PCB as complicated as this one. What projects have you built that use a BGA? Let us know how it went!

Extending EagleCAD With Python

eagleAlthough it’s derided for not being open source, EagleCAD is an extremely popular piece of schematic and PCB layout software. Most of the popularity is probably due to the incredible amount of part libraries – it’s certainly not the features Eagle has to offer or its horrible scripting capabilities. [Rob] had enough of the lack of good scripting support in Eagle, so he’s been spending his time making Eagle’s ULP work with Python. He’s only been at it a short time, but already it’s much more usable than the usual Eagle scripts.

Below you can check out a pair of videos of [Rob]’s Python tools for Eagle in action. The first video goes through aligning a few symbols and creating a board outline (with proper curves!) from a DXF file. The second video shows exactly how valuable these tools are when laying out a board: imagine hundreds of LEDs and resistors automatically aligned to each other with a single click of a mouse. Beautiful.

All the PyEagle stuff is available on [Rob]’s github, with a DXF importer, group manager, and alignment tool included. Now that everything’s Python, it’s easy to build your own tools without relying on Eagle’s odd ULP language.

Continue reading “Extending EagleCAD With Python”

Handheld Game System Powered by Arduino

DIY Handheld Game System

These days, it’s easy enough to play games on the go. If you have a smart phone, you are pretty much set. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun designing and building your own portable gaming system, though.

[randrews] did just that. He started out by purchasing a small memory LCD display from Adafruit. The screen he chose is low power as far as screens go, so it would be a good fit for this project. After testing the screen with a quick demo program, it was time to start designing the circuit board.

[randrews] used Eagle to design the circuit. He hand routed all of the traces to avoid any weird issues that the auto router can sometimes cause. He made an efficient use of the space on the board by mounting the screen over top of the ATMega chip and the other supporting components. The screen is designed to plug in and out of the socket, this way it can be removed to get to the chip. [randrews] needs to be able to reach the chip in order to reprogram it for different games.

Once the board design was finished, [randrews] used his Shapeoko CNC mill to cut it out of a copper clad board. He warns that you need to be careful doing this, since breathing fiberglass dust is detrimental to living a long and healthy life. Once the board was milled out, [randrews] used a small Dremel drill press to drill all of the holes.

The final piece of the puzzle was to figure out the power situation. [randrews] designed a second smaller PCB for this. The power board holds two 3V coin cell batteries. The Arduino expects 5V, so [randrews] had to use a voltage regulator. This power board also contains the power switch for the whole system.

The power board was milled and populated. Then it was time to do some measurements. [randrews] measured the current draw and calculates that he should be able to get around 15 hours of play time using the two 3V coin cell batteries. Not bad considering the size.

[via Reddit]

One-Off Kapton Solder Masks

soldermask

With the proliferation of desktop routers, and a number of easy methods to create PCBs at home, there’s no reason anyone should ever have to buy a pre-made breakout board ever again. The traditional techniques only give you a copper layer, however, and if you want a somewhat more durable PCB, you’ll have figure out some way to create a solder mask on your homebrew PCBs. [Chris] figured Kapton tape would make a reasonable soldermask, and documented the process of creating one with a laser cutter over on the Projects site.

The solder mask itself is cut from a piece of Kapton tape, something that should be found in any reasonably well-stocked tinkerer’s toolbox. The software for [Chris]’ laser cutter, a Universal Laser Systems model, already has a setting for mylar film that came in handy for the Kapton tape,

Of course, getting the correct shapes and dimensions for the laser to cut required a bit of fooling around in Eagle and Corel Draw. The area the laser should cut was taken from the tCream and tStop layers in Eagle with a 1 mil pullback from the edges of the pads. This was exported to an .EPS file, opened in Corel Draw, and turned into a line art drawing for the laser cutter.

The result is a fast and easy solder mask that should be very durable. While it’s probably not as durable as the UV curing paints used in real PCBs, Kapton will be more than sufficient for a few prototypes before spinning a real board.