SIM Card Connectors and White PCBs Make Huge LED Snowflakes Happen

[Mike Harrison] talked about designing and building a huge scale LED lighting installation in which PCBs were used as both electrical and mechanical elements, and presented at Electromagnetic Field 2016. The project involved 84,000 RGBW LEDs, 14,000 microcontrollers and 25,000 PCBs. It had some different problems to solve compared to small jobs, but [Mike] shared techniques that could be equally applied to smaller scale projects or applications. He goes into detail on designing for manufacture and assembly, sourcing the parts, and building the units on-site.

The installation itself was a snowflake display for a high-end shopping mall in Hong Kong in the 2015 Christmas season. [Mike] wanted a small number of modular boards that could be connected together on-site to make up the right shapes. In an effort to minimize the kinds of manufacturing and parts needed, he ended up using modular white PCBs as structural elements as well as electrical. With the exception of some minor hardware like steel wire supports, no part of the huge snowflakes required anything outside of usual PCB manufacturing processes to make. The fewer suppliers, the fewer potential problems. [Mike] goes into design detail at 6:28 in the video.

For the connections between the boards, he ended up using SIM card connectors intended for cell phones. Some testing led to choosing a connector that matched up well with the thickness of a 1.6mm PCB used as a spacer. About 28,000 of them were used, and for a while in 2015 it was very hard to get a hold of that particular part, because they had cleaned everyone out! Continue reading “SIM Card Connectors and White PCBs Make Huge LED Snowflakes Happen”

Snooping on SIM Cards

[Nils Pipenbrinck] has been working on a very interesting problem. The SIM card in your cellphone talks to the contactless near-field communication (NFC) chip through a cool protocol that we’d never hear of until reading his blog: single wire protocol (SWP).

The SIM card in your cellphone has only a limited number of physical connections — and by the time NFC technology came on the scene all but one of them was in use. But the NFC controller and the SIM need full-duplex communications. So the SWP works bi-directionally on just one wire; one device modulates the voltage on the line, while the other modulates the current, essentially by switching a load in and out.

This signalling protocol makes snooping on this data line tricky. So to start off his explorations with SWP, [Nils] built his own transceiver. That lead [Nils] to some very sensitive analog sniffer circuit design that he’s just come up with.

If you get interested in SWP, you’ll find the slides from this fantastic presentation (PDF) helpful, and they propose a solution very similar to the one that [Nils] ended up implementing. That’s not taking anything away from [Nils]’s amazing work: with tricky high-speed analog circuitry like this, the implementation can be more than half of the battle! And we’ll surely be following [Nils]’s blog to see where he takes this.

Banner image: An old version and a new version of the transceiver prototype.

Thanks to [Tim Riemann] for the tip!

Raspberry Pi GSM Hat

The Spark Electron was released a few days ago, giving anyone with the Arduino IDE the ability to send data out over a GSM network. Of course, the Electron is just a GSM module tied to a microcontroller, and you can do the same thing with a Pi, some components, and a bit of wire.

The build is fairly basic – just an Adafruit Fona, a 2000 mah LiPo battery, a charge controller, and a fancy Hackaday Perma-Proto Hat, although a piece of perf board would work just as well in the case of the perma-proto board. Connections were as simple as power, ground, TX and RX. With a few libraries, you can access a Pi over the Internet anywhere that has cell service, or send data from the Pi without a WiFi connection.

If you decide to replicate this project, be aware you have an option of soldering the Fona module right side up or upside down. The former gives you pretty blinking LEDs, while the latter allows you to access the SIM. Tough choices, indeed.

SIM card carrying traffic lights

Apparently some of the traffic lights in Johannesburg, South Africa have SIM cards in them to help maintain the network without a physical connection. Now that’s some and not all, but apparently thieves have learned that the SIMs can be used in cell phones to make anonymous and unlimited calls. Officials are convinced that the thieves have inside information because they only crack open the lights that DO contain a card.

We’re white hats here at Hackaday and certainly don’t want to give out information that aids criminals. But since this is already a huge problem we have an idea of how thieves might be identifying which lights to rob. Sure, they probably do have inside information, but wouldn’t it be fairly simple to track down which lights use cellular communication by using a home made spectrum analyzer? We guess it would depend on how often the lights send out communications bursts. Does anyone have insight on this? Leave you thoughts in the comments.

[Thanks Bob]