Makerville Knit: Industrial-Strength WiFi Breakout

If you need an industrial-strength IoT product, you need an industrial-strength WiFi chipset. For our own household hacks, we’re totally happy with the ESP8266 chip. But if you need to connect to the big, scary Internet you’ll probably want state-of-the-art encryption. In particular, Amazon insists on TLS 1.2 for their Web Services (AWS), and we don’t know how to get that working on the ESP.

[Anuj] designed a breakout board called the knit which includes a Marvell MW300 WiFi SOC. This chip has an onboard ARM Cortex M4F running at 200 MHz, which means you’ve got a lot of everything to play with: flash memory, RAM, a floating-point unit, you name it. And Marvell’s got an SDK for using AWS that includes things like an operating system and peripheral support and other niceties. TLS 1.2 is included.

Cd_tjKoWwAApnU9_thumbnailBest of all, a MW300 breakout is reasonably affordable (though more expensive than the mass-produced ESP8266 modules, naturally) and it’s an entirely open design. [Anuj] also seems to be setting up for a production run, if you don’t feel like making it yourself.

The MW300 is in all sorts of commercial IoT designs, and it’s a battle-tested go-to for interfacing with “the cloud” securely. The only hobbyist-friendly board that’s similar is the Adafruit WICED WiFi Feather, but it’s more expensive, less powerful, and out of stock at the moment, which just shows the demand for something like this.

Of course, if you need more integrated peripherals, you could just hack up a “Hello Barbie” toy which has the same chip as well as sweet audio codecs and a nice fat flash ROM.

We think it’s neat that [Anuj] would make and test a breakout for this powerful little WiFi SOC. We don’t need one for our projects right now — we’re running in entirely insecure mode — but it’s good to know what your options are. (We’re also looking into esp-open-rtos for the ESP8266 — we know they’ve been working on TLS 1.2 encryption, but we don’t know what their status is at the moment. Anyone?)

ESP8266 Killer?

We’ve seen rumors floating around the Twittersphere about a new integrated microprocessor and WiFi SOC: the NL6621 from Nufront. Details are still scarce, but that doesn’t seem to be because the chip is vaporware: you could buy modules on Taobao.com and eBay right now for between two-and-a-half and three bucks, and Nufront’s website says they’ve produced a million modules since 2013.

The NL6621 WiFi SOC is powered by a 160 MHz ARM Cortex-M3 with 448 KB of RAM, and everything else is integrated in the SOC. The module has 32 GPIOs, SPI, I2C, I2S digital audio, and most of the peripherals that you’d expect. They say they have a completely open source SDK, but we can’t find a link to it anywhere. An English-language forum has sprung up in anticipation of the next new thing, and they say that they’ve contacted Nufront about the SDK, so that’s probably as good a place as any to lurk around if you’re interested. With an ARM core, it shouldn’t be long before someone gets GCC working on these things anyway.

It’s also worth noting that we’ve announced ESP8266 killers before, and it hasn’t come to pass. The mixture of community and official support that (eventually) came out of Espressif seems to be the main factor determining the ESP8266’s success, and we don’t see that yet with the NL6621. So take the question mark in the title seriously, but if this turns out to be the next big thing, remember where you heard it first, ok?

Thanks [David Hunt] for the tip!

Cheap Smartwatch Teardown

A proper smartwatch can cost quite a bit of money. However, there are some cheap Bluetooth-connected watches that offer basic functions like show your incoming calls, dial numbers and display the state of your phone battery. Not much, but these watches often sell for under $20, so you shouldn’t expect too much.

Because they’re so cheap, [Lee] bought one of these (a U8Plus) and within an hour he had the case opened up and his camera ready. As you might expect, the biggest piece within was the rechargeable battery. A MediaTek MT6261 system on a chip provides the smart part of the watch.

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Arietta G25 Has Us Wondering Where ARM Boards are Going

ARIETTA-G25-256

This tidy little ARM board is the Arietta G25. It’s based around an AT91SAM9G25 which is an ARM9 chip running at 400MHz. Paired with the DDR2 RAM (in 128 or 256 meg options) to the left, the board runs Linux and runs it well. After the break you can see the obligatory running of Doom. But in this case it doesn’t just run a demo, but is playable from momentary push buttons on a breadboard (props to the Arietta team for using wire wrap for that setup).

See the vertical row of pads between the processor and the SD card slot? That’s a breakout header designed to accept a WiFi module. In at €20-30 based on your RAM choice and just €7 for the WiFi module this board is certainly a contender for any embedded Linux projects. But it does have us wondering, should be thinking of these as ARM boards, or forget the low-level development and just think of them as a Linux machines with plenty of GPIO available?

The 20×2 pin header breaks out a lot of the SAM9’s features. We really like the interactive pinout posted for this device. For instance, there are three sets of USB host lines available. But you’ll want to click on each to see that one set is in use for the SD card, and another is used by the WiFi module. The documentation that has been posted for the Arietta G25 is one of its strongest point. Nice work there!

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Firmware For Cheap Bluetooth Modules

Ibluetoothf you’ve ever built anything with a microcontroller, some sort of sensor, and a connection to the outside world, you’re probably wondering how those places in China can pump out cheap electronics for a mere percentage of what it costs you to pull a DIY. It’s not just volume – it’s engineering; if something has Bluetooth, you find a Bluetooth module with a built-in microcontroller so you can write firmware to it.

The BC417 is the System on Chip found in the very popular BlueCore4-Ext Bluetooth module featuring 8Mbits of Flash (75% of which is used for Bluetooth related stuff), somewhere around 12 kB of RAM, with everything run in a virtual machine. [pfalcon] wrote an extremely experimental firmware for this device that allows anyone to create a wireless sensor node for peanuts. These devices are almost as cheap as a bare ATMega, so the possibilities are interesting, to say the least.

At this point, the hardest part of putting custom firmware on these devices is programming them. For that, [Elastic Sheep] comes to the rescue with a parallel port to SPI interface. There’s also a firmware dumper and some breakout boards available. These modules are pretty cheap, and the pitch isn’t too bad, so you might be able to etch your own boards should you want to experiment a little.

Thanks [Peter] for sending this in.

Poking at the femtocell hardware in an AT&T Microcell

Here’s a picture of the internals of an AT&T Microcell. This hardware extends the cellular network by acting as its own cell tower and connecting to the network via a broadband connection. So if you don’t get service in your home, you can get one of these and hook it up to your cable modem or DSL and poof, you’re cellphone works again. [C1de0x] decided to crack one open and see what secrets it holds.

On the board there are two System-0n-Chips, an FPGA, the radio chip, and a GPS module. There is some tamper detection circuitry which [C1de0x] got around, but he’s saving that info for a future post. In poking and prodding at the hardware he found the UART connections which let him tap into each of the SoCs which dump data as they boot. It’s running a Linux kernel with BusyBox and there are SSH and ROOT accounts which share the same password. About five days of automated cracking and the password was discovered.

But things really start to get interesting when he stumbles upon something he calls the “wizard”. It’s a backdoor which allow full access to the device. Now it looks like the developers must have missed something, because this is just sitting out there on the WAN waiting for someone to monkey with it. Responses are sent to a hard-coded IP address, but a bit of work with the iptables will fix that. Wondering what kind of mischief can be caused by this security flaw? Take a look at the Vodafone femtocell hacking to find out.

The teensiest Atari 2600 ever

[Dablio] sent in an awesome console mod he made. It may just be the smallest Atari 2600 ever (Portuguese, here’s the Google translation).

The build began with a Dynacom MegaBoy, from the same company that put out many less-than-legal 2600 clones. The MegaBoy PCB is an exercise in parsimony consisting of only a single IC, a crystal, and some resistors and caps. [Dablio] made a new PCB board based on the schematic he reverse engineered and this thing is tiny. It’s much smaller than even the smallest [Ben Heck] 2600 console build.

[Dablio] now needed a case for his new console. He had originally planned to mount the whole thing in an Atari controller like this commercial product. Serendipity intervened and he realized the entire system (sans cartridge port) fit inside a plastic tube of m&m minis.

Currently, [Dablio] has two ports on his ‘Atari tube of m&ms’ – the largest is the cartridge slot, and a small VGA port sits in the lid of the tube. This VGA port carries the power supply, controller, sound and video signals to and from the console.

[Dablio] sent in a bunch of pictures of his build which are in a gallery after the break. Now for the million-dollar question: anybody know where to buy one of these Dynacom MegaBoys?

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