Fail of the Week: Dave Jones and the Case of the Terrible Tablet

Nothing spices up a quiet afternoon like the righteous indignance of an upset engineer, especially if that engineer is none other than [Dave Jones], on his EEVblog YouTube Channel. This week [Dave] has good reason to be upset. A viewer sent him what looked to be a nondescript 2010 era tablet from a company called Esinomed. From the outside it looked like a standard issue medical device. Opening up the back panel tells a completely different story though. This thing is quite possibly the worst hack job [Dave] (and we) have ever seen. This is obviously some kind of sales demo or trade show model. Even with that in mind, this thing is a fail.

wtf-solderThe tablet is based upon an off-the-shelf embedded PC motherboard and touchscreen controller. [Dave] took some offense at the hacked up USB connector on the touchscreen. We have to disagree with [Dave] a bit here, as the video seems to show that a standard mini-b connector wouldn’t have fit inside the tablet’s case. There’s no excuse for the USB cable shield draped over the bare touch controller board though. Things go downhill from there. The tablet’s power supply is best described as a bizarre mess. Rather than use a premade DC to DC converter, whoever built this spun their own switch mode power supply on a home etched board. The etching job looks good, but everything else, including the solder job, is beyond terrible. All the jumps and oddly placed components make it look like a random board from the junk bin was used to build this supply.

The story gets even worse with the batteries. The tablet has horribly hand soldered NiMH cells shoved here, there and everywhere. Most of the cells show split shrink wrap – a sure sign they have been overheated. It’s hard to tell from the video, but it appears as if a few cells have their top mounted vent holes covered with solder. That’s a great way to turn a simple rechargeable battery into a pipe bomb. Batteries can be safely hand soldered – Radio Controlled modelers did it for decades before LiPo cells took over.

We’ve all hacked projects together at the last minute; that’s one of the things we celebrate here on Hackaday. However, since this is a commercial medical device (with serial number 11 no less) we have to stamp this one as a fail.

Continue reading “Fail of the Week: Dave Jones and the Case of the Terrible Tablet”

Childhood Tech Exposure Is Slowly Killing The Keyboard

I see the disturbing trend of moving away from keyboards as input devices — and I’m talking about a real, physical keyboard. This isn’t a matter of one decision that kills the keyboard, but an aggregate that is slowly changing the landscape. If you blink, you’ll miss it. We will not find ourselves in a world without keyboards, but in one where most of the available keyboards suck.

Rise of the Virtual Keyboard Generation

Is swipe-style keying the future of coding?
Is swipe-style keying the future of coding?

Tablets are great for screwing around, but when you want to get real work done in a reasonable amount of time, you grab a physical keyboard. In this scenario I don’t see the problem being those in the workforce going away from keyboards; it’s how the younger generations are learning to interact with technology that is troubling. The touchscreen is baby’s first computer. Families gather and the kids are handed their parent’s tablets while the grown-ups watch the game. More and more schools are outfitting classrooms with tablets, and for this I’m an advocate. Getting kids involved early in technology is imperative; knowledge evolves much more rapidly than printed textbooks. The tablet is a powerful tool in both of these areas. But most of the screen time kids get is with touchscreens and no physical keyboard.

How much time are K-12 kids spending in front of a physical keyboard? In the United States, if keyboard (typing) classes exist at all in a public school’s curriculum they’re usually only one-semester. Students who spend half of Elementary school using a tablet, and just one semester at a keyboard, are bound to prefer touchscreen-based entry over a physical keyboard.

Keyboard Erosion

We’ve already seen a strong push into touch-screens on laptops as the tablet market has grown. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of the computer mouse, it didn’t replace the keyboard, but augmented it and now is seen as a tool that itself is a necessity.

Continue reading “Childhood Tech Exposure Is Slowly Killing The Keyboard”

Towards A Reverse Engineering Of Samsung’s S-Pen

A few years ago, Wacom, the company behind all those cool graphics tablets, teamed up with Samsung to create the S Pen, a rebirth of that weird pen computing thing that happened in the 90s and a very interesting peripheral if only someone would write some software for it. [Kerry D. Wong] was wondering how the S Pen worked and wired up some hardware to take a look at how the pen communicates with the phone.

It was already known that the S Pen was powered by an RF field, and works somewhat like RFID. Listening in on the communication would require a coil of some type, so [Kerry] disassembled a small speaker and connected it to a scope.

A look at the captured waveforms from the S Pen reveled the carrier frequency appears to be in the range of 550 to 560kHz, outside the range of standard RFID. He doesn’t have the equipment to decode the complete protocol, but a few things can be deduced – the screen senses the location of the pen by detecting a dip in the RF field strength. The only information that is transferred between the pen and phone is the 11-bit pressure sensitivity and a 1-bit value that signals the button is on or off.

[Kerry] put the waveform data up on his site should anyone want to make an attempt at decoding the protocol.

Android Tablet Finds New Home In Car Dash

[Matt]’s 2008 Subaru’s stereo wasn’t really cutting the mustard for him anymore. He wanted to do something, something a little more custom than just an aftermarket stereo. After giving it some thought he decided he would try to mount an Android tablet in his car’s dash to act as a media player.

The HTC Evo View tablet appeared to be a great size to fit in the space left over from the stock radio, and it did fit nicely but there was a problem, the AC vent was in the way of the headphone and USB jacks! This was only a minor inconvenience for [Matt]. Instead of butchering the AC vents he decided to disassemble the tablet and see what the other options were. Luckily for him, both the USB and headphone jacks were on their own PCB boards. A quick slot cut in the rear tablet case allowed both connectors to now face towards the front of the car into the gaping crevasse the stock stereo once filled. Since the manipulated tablet case was facing inside the dash it wouldn’t create any unsightliness for the passengers.

With those connections out of the way it was time to focus on mounting the tablet in the dash. The stock trim panel that housed the old radio and two AC vents was modified with a hand-made fiberglass bezel to fit the tablet screen and make it look like the car came that way. The bezel was sanded smooth and painted to match the rest of the interior.

Originally,  [Matt] had to turn the tablet both on and off when starting and stopping the car. He then stumbled upon a product called the IOIO. The IOIO allows an Android device to interact with the inputs and outputs; both digital and analog, I2C, SPI and UART. It even has a voltage regulator that can take the car’s 12v supply and knock it down to 5 for the tablet. [Matt] also connected the IOIO to the car’s ‘ignition on’ circuit to turn the unit on and off with the car.

[Matt] plans on doing more with the IOIO’s capabilities in the future, but until then, he still has a pretty nice looking and unique car stereo.

Telepresence Robot Demo Unit Breaks Free of It’s Confinement

What happens when you put a telepresence robot online for the world to try out for free? Hilarity of course. Double Robotics is a company that builds telepresence robots. The particular robot in question is kind of like a miniature Segway with a tablet computer on top. The idea is you can control it with your own tablet from a remote location. This robot drives around with your face on the screen, allowing you to almost be somewhere when you can’t (or don’t want to) be there in person.

Double Robotics decided to make one of these units accessible to the Internet as a public demonstration. Of course, they couldn’t have one of these things just roaming about their facility unrestrained. They ended up keeping it locked in an office. This gives users the ability to drive it around a little bit and get a feel for the robot. Of course it didn’t take long for users to start to wonder how they could break free from their confinement.

One day, a worker left the office door cracked open ever so slightly. A user noticed this and after enough patience and determination, managed to use the robot to get the door opened. It appears as though the office was closed at the time, so no one was around to witness the event. A joy ride ensued and the robot hid its tracks by locking itself back in the room and docking to the charging station.

While this isn’t a hack in the typical sense, this is a perfect example of the hacker mindset. You are given some new technology and explore it to the extent at which you are supposed too. After that, many people would just toss it aside and not give it a second thought. Those with the hacker mindset are different, though. Our next thought is usually, “What else can I do with it?” This video demonstrates that in a fun and humorous way. Hopefully the company learns its lesson and puts a leash on that thing. Continue reading “Telepresence Robot Demo Unit Breaks Free of It’s Confinement”

Serial Surgery Saves Wacom Tablet from Landfill

Years ago, [Greg] got a Wacom Artpad II graphics tablet through Freecycle. What’s the catch, you ask? The stylus was long gone. When he found out how expensive a direct replacement would be, the tablet was laid to rest in his spare parts box. Fast forward a few years to the era of the phone-tablet hybrid and [Greg]’s subsequent realization that some of them use Wacom stylii. Eight bucks later, he’s in business, except that the tablet is serial. Wacom no longer supports serial tablets, so he had to convert it to USB.

With the help of the WaxBee project and a Teensy 2.0, he would be able to emulate an Intuous2 tablet by sniffing and re-encoding the packets.  Things got a little hairy when he went under the hood to remove the ADM202 TTL-to-RS232 chip with a Dremel—he accidentally gouged some of the pads it sat on as well as a few of the traces. Feeling frustrated, [Greg] took some high-res pictures of the board and posted them to a message board. As it turns out, those pictures helped him recreate the traces and get the tablet running. A little big of glue and tape later, he was in business. [Greg] even gave himself access to reprogram the Teensy.

HuddleLamp turns Multiple Tablets into Single Desktop

Imagine you’ve got a bunch of people sitting around a table with their various mobile display devices, and you want these devices to act together. Maybe you’d like them to be peepholes into a single larger display, revealing different sections of the display as you move them around the table. Or maybe you want to be able to drag and drop across these devices with finger gestures. HuddleLamp lets you do all this.

How does it work? Basically, a 3D camera sits above the tabletop, and watches for your mobile displays and your hands. Through the magic of machine vision, a server sends the right images to each screen in the group. (The “lamp” in HuddleLamp is a table lamp arranged above the space with a 3D camera built into it.)

A really nice touch is that the authors also provide JavaScript objects that you can embed into web apps to enable devices to join the group without downloading special software. A new device will flash an identifying pattern that the computer vision routine will recognize. Once that’s done, the server starts sending the correct parts of the overall display to the new device.

The video, below the break, demonstrates the possible interactions.

Continue reading “HuddleLamp turns Multiple Tablets into Single Desktop”