SOAP Drama: An Interview With The SOAP Creators

SOAP

A few days ago, we caught wind of SOAP, a Kickstarter project for an Android-based home automation router. With a quad-core ARM, quad gigabit Ethernet ports, 802.11ac, SATA, and every radio under the sun – all for $100 (sans display, $170 with display), it seemed too good to be true. At the time, it probably was: the images from the PCB prototype were taken from [Bunnie Huang]‘s open source laptop, there weren’t enough Ethernet ports for a router, and the hardware just seemed all wrong.

The guys behind SOAP have decided to respond to these accusations by posting a huge update on their Kickstarter page and answering a few questions from me. Interview follows below.


HaD: There’s a BOM/cost analysis breakdown for the Essentials package (the SOAP sans display) that puts the total cost at about $130. This is the reward for pledging at the $100 level. How accurate is this cost analysis, and how do you plan on meeting that reward level?

SOAP: This cost analysis that you mention is very accurate. We will not profit on the early release pricing of $60.00 we have taken the loss leader pricing to attract backers and press (and we think we have done a good job). We are working with a large router manufacturer and this is really the link that makes the pricing possible without them we couldn’t do this.

HaD: You’re using a Quad Core Freescale i.MX processor for SOAP, and putting a four port Gigabit router in there. The Quad core i.MX chips only have one Gigabit port, and that’s limited to 470 Mbps. How are you solving this problem, and what are you using as a MAC/PHY?

SOAP: First off let me state that we are very aware of the CPU limitations and we have done a lot of work on finding a solution and we do have a unique solution. We have support from a big player in the router industry that has offered us a unique solution that we have been working on to bypass this issue. We will post more on this after our trip to San Jose. This is our fallback method and yes its benchmarks are not as pretty as we want them but they are getting there and we feel with enough tweaks we can get this to decent level.

This is from our layout guy: We are planning I.mx processor’s gigabit port will be connected to external IC working as a switch. 1Gb ethernet -> 1 to 4 switch -> 4x Gb Ethernet ports. Possible  http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/tnetx4090.pdf. Use 4 ports from there plus put RGMII Ethernet transceiver from Marvell  for each ETH port and we will have on board Ethernet switch.

HaD: What WiFi chipset/chipsets are you using? Will that/they be able to do 802.11ac at full speed, and how are you doing this with (I think) only one antenna on the updated board images?

SOAP: The speeds have varied greatly on the chipset and how buggy the software was for the day but we have clocked speeds over 1 gigabyte per second and we will continue to develop this further to achieve maximize speeds this is where our new Union with the guys over at Droidifi will help.

In our prototype we tested Avastar 88W8864, Broadcom 4360 , and a couple more that failed to actually work.  We didn’t get those all functioning like we would have wanted as there is little support for android and router chipsets to date. We demo with a Broadcom chipset.

We want to use Quantenna QAC2300 but at current funding we will be using the Broadcom we have received a lot of suggestions from our backers and a new big player behind us that thinks they have the right match we are waiting to announce this after our meeting in San Jose.

We have one antenna on the most current design but we are planning on adding two more for the final design. We didn’t place them on the most recent design because we are waiting to see how much funding we get to finalize the wifi chipset. We didn’t want antenna design that worked best with a Broadcom when we switch to Marvel or Quantenna.

HaD: What is the status of the software? Do you have a repo somewhere that people could look over?

SOAP: We have been working with a new player from the older kickstarter project called Droidifi. We will be working with them on the software. This is a something we haven’t been able to announce till we lock it down but you are the first to know about this union. Check out our update later today.

HaD: Finally, do you have a functional prototype with the quad-core i.MX, four Ethernet ports, and WiFi? Can we see a video?

SOAP:  If you mean a mass production ready device that can be used by an end user then no. We have a solid functioning proof of concept prototype. We have a lot of Demo videos of our POC that show  what we have developed so far.  We  have to have the current PCB design manufactured to get down to the more rigorous testing and qualifying. All the specs listed on our kickstarter are what we currently are planning and we hope to fulfill the tech specs.

HaD: There are some other questions in the Kickstarter comments section, but honestly I don’t care about how many Twitter followers you have.

SOAP: Twitter was our marketing company. We thought people actually were following us but we have  since found out that half of them are not real. Check this out though.

All in all we understand how ambitious this project looks and we also know that it technology development can run into roadblocks and things but we want to be clear we are not a scam and we are quite aware where these attacks have originated. We will continue to work hard on this project, we will not be running off to Costa Rica and we plan on seeing everyone at CES next year.


The TL;DR for everyone without an attention span:

Yes, the $100/$170 price is too good to be true. It’s called a loss leader to generate interest. This part was a success. The SOAP guys are partnering with the DroidFi guys for the operating system. The Gigabit Ethernet will probably work, and the WiFi is limited by *nix chipset support. No complete functional prototypes yet.

So there you go. It’s not the ideal update with the SOAP crew showing off a shipping container of units ready to be shipped, but the project isn’t in as bad a shape as I originally thought.

SOAP: The Home Automation Router And Kickstarter Scam

SOAP

How would you like a 7″ tablet with a Quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor, USB 3.0, 32 GB of storage, 802.11ac, four ports of Gigabit LAN, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, SATA, HDMI, built-in Zigbee and RFID modules, a camera, speaker and microphone, all for $170? Sound too good to be true? That’s because it probably is. Meet SOAP, the home automation router with a touchscreen, that’s shaping up to be one of the largest scams Kickstarter has ever seen.

There have been a few threads scattered over the web going over some of the… “inconsistencies” about the SOAP kickstarter, mainly focusing on the possibility of fake Facebook likes and Twitter followers. There’s also the question of their development process: they started building a router with an Arduino, then moved on to a Raspberry Pi, a Beaglebone, Intel Atom-powered Minnowboard, the Gizmo Board, PandaBoard, and Wandboard. If you’re keeping track, that’s at least six completely different architectures used in their development iterations. Anyone who has ever tried to build something – not even build a product, mind you – will realize there’s something off here. This isn’t even considering a reasonably accurate BOM breakdown that puts the total cost of production at $131.

The most damning evidence comes from screenshots of the final board design. These pics have since been removed from the Kickstarter page, but they’re still available on the Google cache. The SOAP team claims they’re putting USB 3.0 ports on their board, but the pics clearly show only four pins on each of the USB ports. USB 3.0 requires nine pins. A closer inspection reveals these screenshots are from the files for Novena, [Bunnie Huang]‘s open source laptop.

[Read more...]

Turning A Router Into An Arduino Yún

yun

The Arduino Yún was the first of a new breed of Arduinos that added a big honkin’ Linux System on Chip to the familiar ATMega microcontroller and unique pin headers. It’s a surprisingly powerful system, but also very simple: basically, it’s just an Atheros AR9331 running Linux, an ATMega32u4 doing its Arduino thing, both connected by a serial connection. The Atheros AR9931 is also found in a router popular amongst hardware hackers. It really was only a matter of time before someone ported the Yun software to a router, then.

[Tony] took a TL-WR703N router and put OpenWRT on it. Turning this router into the Linux side of a Yún was a simple matter of uploading the Yún software to the root directory of the router and rebooting it. The Arduino side of the Yún is handled by an Arduino Mega connected to the USB port of the router. A quick update to Arduino’s boards.txt file, and a hacked together Yún is just a strip of duct tape away.

The Yún may not be extremely popular, but it does have a few interesting use cases. Maybe not enough to drop $70 on a board, but if you already have a WR703 router, this is a great way to experiment.

Thanks [Matt] for the tip.

DIY Router Base For Your Dremel

dremel-attachment-main

Dremel rotary tools are handy. Some of the attachments are convenient.  [vreinkymov] felt the convenience wasn’t worth the cost, so he decided to make a Router Base for his Dremel. These types of attachments are used to hold the Dremel perpendicular to the work surface.

Underneath the little nut/cover near the spindle of the Dremel, there is a 3/4″-12 threaded feature used to attach accessories. A quick trip down the hardware store’s plumbing aisle resulted in finding a PVC reducer with the correct female thread to fit the Dremel. Once on the rotary tool, the reducer threads into a PVC nipple that is glued to a piece of acrylic. The acrylic acts as the base of the router attachment.

[Read more...]

Keeping The Family Off The Net With An Undocumented Backdoor

memetics

When [Eloi] was home for Christmas, he faced one of the most difficult problems man has ever faced: his entire family, equipped with smartphones and laptops, siphoning all the Internet through a 1Mb/s connection. For any technically minded person, the fix for this problem is to limit the bandwith for all those Facebook and Twitter-heads, while leaving [Eloi]‘s battlestation unaffected. [Eloi] had originally set up the Linksys WAG200G router in the family home a few years ago but had since forgotten the overly complex admin password. No worries, then, because apparently the WAG200G is open as wide as a barn door with a completely undocumented backdoor.

Without the password to the admin panel of the router, [Eloi] needed a way in. After pointing nmap at the router, he found an undocumented service running on port 32764. Googling this observation resulted in a lot of speculation, so the only option was to download the router’s firmware, look for the service, and figure out a way in.

[Eloi] eventually got a shell on the router and wrote a very short Python script to automate the process for all WAG200G routers. As for where this backdoor came from, it appears a SerComm device on the router is responsible. This means a whole bunch of routers with this specific SerComm module also have this backdoor, and we’d assume anything with a service running on port 32764 is suspect.

If you’re looking for a fix for this backdoor, your best bet is probably installing OpenWRT or Tomato. The OpenWAG200 project, an open firmware specifically designed for [Eloi]‘s router, still has this vulnerability, though.

Software Advice for Anyone Thinking About a CNC Router

cnc-router-software-tricks

Excellent results can come from a small CNC router, but don’t forget the software!

CNC tools, whatever their flavor, can greatly enhance your “making” or DIY ability. My current tool of choice is a CNC router. Being familiar with a manual milling machine, the concept seemed similar, and the price of these is quite reasonable when compared to some other tools. As described in this post, my machine is a Zen Toolworks model, but there are certainly other options to visit like this Probotix V90 model noted recently in this post.

Although any number of CNC router models look great in videos and pictures, rest assured that even the best machines require some patience to get one running satisfactorily. Setting up the machine can be a challenge, as well as figuring out what your machine is capable of, but one thing that might slip peoples’ minds is the software involved. Read on to find out all you need to know the basics of what goes on behind the scenes to “magically” produce interesting parts. [Read more...]

Getting SPI on a router

router

Cheap routers such a s the TP-LINK 703n and the TP-LINK MR3020 (seen above) can be used for much more than just connecting your laptop to your cable modem. They’re actually very small Linux boxes and with OpenWRT, you can control every aspect of these tiny pocket-sized computers. It’s frequently been suggested that these routers are awesome substitutes for the usual methods of getting Internet on a microcontroller, but how do you actually do that? The onboard serial port is a great start, but this also dumps output from the Linux console. What you need here is an SPI connection, and [ramcoderdude] has just the solution for you.

Linux already has a few SPI modules, but these are only accessible with kernel drivers. Traditionally, the only way to access SPI is to recompile the kernel, but [coderdude] created a kernel module that allows any device running the Attitude Adjustment OpenWRT image to dynamically allocate SPI busses.

He’s already submitted this patch to the OpenWRT devs, and hopefully it will be included in future updates. Very cool, we think, and something that can open a whole lot of doors for hacking up routers very easily.