Reverse Engineering Serial Ports

connectors

Can you spot the serial port in the pic above? You can probably see the potential pads, but how do you figure out which ones to connect to? [Craig] over at devttys0 put together an excellent tutorial on how to find serial ports. Using some extreme close-ups, [Craig] guides us through his thought process as he examines a board. He discusses some of the basics every hobbyist should know, such as how to make an educated guess about which ports are ground and VCC. He also explains the process to guessing the transmit/receive pins, although that is less straightforward.

Once you’ve identified the pins, you need to actually communicate with the device. Although there’s no easy way to guess the data, parity, and stop bits except for using the standard 8N1 and hoping for the best, [Craig] simplifies the process a bit with some software that helps to quickly identify the baud rate. Hopefully you’ll share [Craig's] good fortune if you reach this point, greeted by boot messages that allow you further access.

Android and Arduino RF Outlet Selector

ardAndRFoutlets

Cyber Monday may be behind us, but there are always some hackable, inexpensive electronics to be had. [Stephen's] wireless Android/Arduino outlet hack may be the perfect holiday project on the cheap, especially considering you can once again snag the right remote controlled outlets from Home Depot. This project is similar to other remote control outlet builds we’ve seen here, but for around $6 per outlet: a tough price to beat.

[Stephen] Frankenstein’d an inexpensive RF device from Amazon into his build, hooking the Arduino up to the 4 pins on the transmitter. The first step was to reverse engineer the communication for the outlet, which was accomplished through some down and dirty Arduino logic analyzing. The final circuit included a standard Arduino Ethernet shield, which [Stephen] hooked up to his router and configured to run as a web server. Most of the code was borrowed from the RC-Switch outlet project, but the protocols from that build are based on US standards and did not quite fit [Stephen's] needs, so he turned to a similar Instructables project to work out the finer details.

Stick around after the break for a quick video demonstration, then check out another wireless outlet hack for inspiration.

[Read more...]

Reverse engineering the die of a ULN2003 transistor array

uln2003-die-reverse-engineering

We’re no strangers to looking at uncapped silicon. This time around it’s not just a show and tell, as one transistor form a ULN2003 chip is reverse engineered.

The photo above is just one slice from a picture of the chip after having its plastic housing remove (decapped). It might be a stretch to call this reverse engineering. It’s more of a tutorial on how to take a functional schematic and figure out how each component is placed on a photograph of a chip die. Datasheets usually include these schematics so that engineers know what to expect from the hardware. But knowing what a resistor or transistor looks like on the die is another story altogether.

The problem is that you can’t just look at a two dimensional image like the one above. These semiconducting elements are manufactured in three dimensions. The article illustrates where the N and P type materials are located on the transistor using a high-res photo and a reference diagram.

If you want to photograph your own chip dies there are a few ways to decap them at home.

Reverse engineering Solari soft flap displays

This is a side view of the guts of a one character Solari soft flap module. This is the type of mechanical display used in some transportation hubs that have a flap for each letter. The motor turns the flaps through the alphabet until it gets to the target letter. Recently [Boz] had a client approach him who needed a custom controller for a 20-character soft flap display.

The process started out with a magnifying glass and multimeter which yielded a rather complicated hand-drawn schematic. An optical encoder is used to judge which character is currently displayed. After analyzing the output using an oscilloscope [Boz] designed a PIC based driver board which is controlling the display seen in the clip after the break.

The great thing about these displays is that they don’t use any electricity except when they change letters. This sounds like the predecessor of ePaper and makes us wonder if there are any companies developing high-contrast ePaper to replace soft-flap digits?

[Read more...]

Reverse engineering old PDA software

[Troy Wright] acquired a lot of twenty broken Dell Axim PDAs. This type hardware was quite popular a decade ago, but looks archaic when compared to a modern cell phone. That’s why he was able to get them for a song. After a bit of work he managed to resurrect eight of the units, but was dismayed to find there’s no published method for controlling the back light from software. For some reason this is a deal-breaker for his project. But he knew it was possible because there are some apps for the device which are able to set the back light level. So he found out how to do it by reverse engineering the software.

The trick is to get a hold of the code. Since it’s not open source [Troy] used IDA, a graphical disassember and debug suite. He had some idea of what he was hunting for as the Windows CE developer documentation does mention a way to directly control the graphical hardware independently from the display driver. A few hours of pawing through assembly language, setting break points, and testing eventually led him to the solution.

Projector project bears no fruit but it was a fun ride

No matter how good the intentions or how strong your hack-fu may be, sometimes you just can’t cross the finish line with every project. Here’s one that we hate to see go unfinished, but it’s obvious that a ton of work already went into reclaiming these smart white-board projectors and it’s time to cut the losses.

The hardware is a Smartboard Unifi 35″ computer with a projector mounted on a telescoping rod. It was manufactured for use with a touch-sensitive white board which the guys at the Milwaukee Makerspace don’t have. The projector works, but all it will display is a message instructing the user to connect the computer to the white board. Since they’ve got a couple of these projectors, it would be nice to salvage the functionality.

The first attempt was to replace the video signal to the projector. A few test boards were etched to experiment with DVI input. This included several logic sniffing runs to see what the computer is pushing to get the warning message to display. Alas, the group was not able to get the device to respond. But this opens up a great opportunity for you to play Monday morning hacker. Take a look at the data they’ve posted in the link above and let us know how you would’ve done it in the comments.

G-35 circuit board porn

[Todd Harrison] took a slew of pictures in his quest to loose all the secrets of the G-35 Christmas Lights. These are a string of 50 plastic bulbs which house individually addressable RGB LEDs. We’ve seen a ton of projects that use them, starting about a year ago with the original reverse engineering and most recently used to make a 7×7 LED matrix. But most of the time the original control board is immediately ditched for a replacement. It’s become so common that you can now buy a drop-in board, no hacking needed. We enjoy the hard look that [Todd] took at the electronics.

The stock controller uses a single layer, single sided board. There’s a resin-blob chip, but also an SOP-20 microcontroller. Since [Todd's] using several strings of lights on his house, he wondered if it would be possible to improve on the controller in order to synchronize the strands. His investigation showed that the board was designed to host a crystal oscillator but it is unpopulated. Unfortunately you can’t just add those parts to improve the timing of the chip (firmware changes would also be requires). He found that there’s a spot for a push-button. Quickly shorting the pads cycles through the effects, shorting them for a longer time turns off the string of lights. There is wireless control, but it seems that the only functionality it provides is the same as the unpopulated switch.

We enjoyed the close-up circuit board photos, and we like the spacing jig he used to attach the lights to his fascia boards. We’ve embedded a lengthy video about his exploits after the break. [Read more...]