The USB Killer – Now A Crowdfunding Campaign

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and every other crowdfunding site out there frequently have projects that should never be products. The latest promises to protect you from security breaches and identity theft by blowing up your computer. It’s the USB Killer, and for only $99 USD, you too can destroy the USB port in your computer and everything else attached to it.

The USB Killer is a device that plugs into the USB port on any computer, charges up several caps, and dumps all that voltage back into the computer. The process repeats until something breaks. We’ve seen it used on a poor Thinkpad X60, and from the video evidence it does exactly what it’s designed to do: kill a computer.

The Indiegogo campaign for the USB killer comes with a web page for the campaign that goes over the function of the device in much more detail. Inside the USB killer is a DC/DC converter that charges a few capacitors to -110V. When the caps are charged, that voltage is dumped back into the USB port where something will happen. Somewhat surprisingly, the folks behind the USB Killer have a video of a computer not dying when the USB Killer is plugged in. Only killing the USB port in a computer is not a guaranteed functionality, as the Indiegogo campaign has the following disclaimer: “Please be aware: USB Killer may cause damage to the motherboard, depending on your computer. By making a pre-order you acknowledge that you are aware of this fact.”

The USB Killer, Version 2.0

There are a lot of stupid things you can do with the ports on your computer. The best example is the Etherkiller, an RJ45 plug wired directly to a mains cable. Do not plug that into a router. USB is a little trickier, but with a sufficient number of caps, anyone can build a USB killer that will fry any computer (.ru, Google Translatrix)

The USB Killer v2.0 is [Dark Purple]’s second version of this device. The first version was just a small board with a DC/DC converter, a few caps, and a FET. When plugged in to a computer, the converter would charge the caps up to -110V, dump that voltage into the USB signal wires, and repeat the entire process until the computer died. This second version is slightly more refined, and it now dumps -220V directly onto the USB signal wires. Don’t try this at home.

So, does the device work? Most definitely. A poor Thinkpad X60 was destroyed with the USB killer for purposes of demonstration in the video below. This laptop was originally purchased just for the test, but the monster who created the USB killer grew attached to this neat little laptop. There’s a new motherboard on the way, and this laptop will live again.

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Hacklet 79 – USB Projects

Universal Serial Bus was created to simplify interconnecting computers and peripherals. First released in 1996, hackers and makers were slow to accept this strange new protocol. Parallel and serial ports were simpler, worked great, and had decades of hacking with thousands of projects behind them. As the new standard caught on in the mainstream, RS-232 and parallel ports started disappearing. “Legacy free” PC’s became the norm. Hackers, Makers, and Engineers had no choice but to jump on the bandwagon, which they did with great gusto. Today everything has a USB port. From 8 bit microcontrollers to cell phones to children’s toys. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best USB projects on!

two partsWe start with [Michael Mogenson] and Two Component USB Temperature Data Logger, which may be the simplest USB device ever made. [Michael] isn’t kidding. This data logger consists of just a Microchip PIC16F1455 microcontroller and a USB connector. Microchip’s datasheet calls for a capacitor to smooth out power, but [Michael] made it work without the extra part. He used M-Stack by Signal 11 to implement the USB stack. Once connected to a PC, the PIC enumerates as a serial port device. It then sends its die temperature of the PIC once per second. It could do more, but that would probably require adding a few more components!

tester1Next up is [davedarko] with USB cable tester. Dave recently spent some time installing USB RFID readers. These devices were only a few meters away from the computer controlling them. Even so, the power and USB data cables had to run through pipes and in some cases under water. It wasn’t fun troubleshooting a device to find that it was a shorted USB cable causing the problem. [Dave’s] solution is a tiny coin cell powered board that tests each of the 4 wires in a standard USB 2.0 cable. The board runs on an ATtiny45 microcontroller. [Dave’s] current iteration has footprints for mini and micro USB connectors, along with the standard USB-A.


tester2[MobileWill] has a USB Tester of his own. This USB tester checks current consumption and rail voltage. It does this by connecting in-line with the device under test. It’s perfect for troubleshooting why your PC’s USB port goes into over-current protection every time you plug in your device. The tester is modular – you can use the base board with your own multimeter, or grab [Will’s] tester backpack and see the results right on the built-in OLED display. USB Tester is [Will’s] entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize.


tbdFinally, we have [ajlitt] with Tiny Bit Dingus (TBD). TBD is a USB interface to 6 wires. Think of it as a tiny version of the bus pirate. This lilliputian board holds a Freescale KL27Z ARM processor, which has more than enough power to handle things like I2C, SPI, PWM, or just about any other way to send data or wiggle wires. [Ajlitt] started this project as an excuse to learn KiCAD and gain some experience with surface mount solder stencils. The result is an absolutely tiny board that is all but lost in a USB socket. Programming is handled with the mbed library, though you can always use Freescale’s native tools. Flashing code on the TBD is easy with kut, a chrome browser plugin.

If you want to see more USB projects, check out our new USB projects list. Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Novation Launchpad MIDI Controller Moves Toward Open Source

The Novation Launchpad is a MIDI controller, most commonly used with the Ableton Live digital audio workstation. It’s an eight by eight grid of buttons with RGB LED backlights that sends MIDI commands to your PC over USB. It’s often used to trigger clips, which is demonstrated by the artist Madeon in this video.

The Launchpad is useful as a MIDI input device, but that’s about all it used to do. But now, Novation has released an open source API for the Novation Pro. This makes it possible to write your own code to run on the controller, which can be flashed using a USB bootloader. An API gives you access to the hardware, and example code is provided.

[Jason Hotchkiss], who gave us the tip on this, has been hacking around with the API. The Launchpad Pro has a good old 5 pin MIDI output, which can be connected directly to a synth. [Jason]’s custom firmware uses the Launchpad Pro as a standalone MIDI sequencer. You can check out a video of this after the break.

Unfortunately, Novation didn’t open source the factory firmware. However, this open API is a welcome change to the usual closed-source nature of audio devices.

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Simple USB Power Meter

The USB interface is being increasingly used as a power supply and charging port for all kinds of devices, besides data transfer. A meter to measure the electrical parameters of devices connected to a USB socket or charger would be handy on any hacker workbench. The folks at [electro-labs] designed this simple USB power meter which does just that.

The device measures voltage and current and displays them, along with the calculated power, on the small 0.5″ OLED display. The circuit is built around an ATmega328. To keep the board size small, and reduce component count, the microcontroller is run off its internal 8MHz clock. A low-resistance shunt provides current sensing which is amplified by the LT6106 a high side current sense amplifier before being fed to the 10 bit analog port of the ATmega. A MCP1525 precision voltage reference provides 2.5V to the Analog reference pin of the microcontroller, resulting in a 2.44mV resolution. Voltage measurement is via a resistive divider that has a range of up to 6V. An Arduino sketch reads voltage and current data on the analog ports and displays measurements on the display. The measured data is averaged to filter out noise.

The OLED display has a SPI interface and requires the u8glib library. The project uses all SMD parts, but is fairly easy to assemble by hand and could be a nice starter project if you want to wet your feet on surface mount assembly techniques. It’s designed using SolaPCB EDA software, and the source files for schematic and board layout are available as a ZIP archive. Download the BoM and Arduino code and you have everything needed to build this nifty device.

Thanks to [Abdulgafur] for sending in this tip. And if you are looking for a more comprehensive solution, check the awesome Friedcircuits USB Tester which we reviewed earlier and is available in the Hackaday Store.

Better Batteries For Electronic Gadgets

We’re not using 9 Volt batteries to power our projects anymore; the world of hobby electronics has moved on to cheap LiPo batteries for most of our mobile power storage. LiPos aren’t the best solution, evidenced by hundreds of YouTube videos of exploding batteries, and more than a few puffy cells in our junk drawer. The solution? LiFePO4, or lithium iron phosphate cells. They’re a safer chemistry, they have low self discharge, and have more recharge than other chemistry of lithium cells.

LiFePO4 cells aren’t easy to deal with if you’re working with breadboard electronics, though. Most of that is because there aren’t many breakout boards for these cells. [Patrick] is working on changing that with his LiFePO4werd USB charger.

The concept is simple: use an off-the-shelf part for LiFePO4 batteries – in this case an MCP73123 – and make a board that charges the batteries with a USB port. It’s exactly the same idea as the many USB LiPo chargers out there, only this one uses a better battery chemistry.

[Patrick] is using a 550mAh battery for this project, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be upgraded to a 18650-sized cell with more than 2000mAh stuffed inside. Add a boost converter to the circuit, and he’ll have the perfect power source for every portable electronics project imaginable.

Scanning Electron Microscope Images and Animations Pulled By Impressive Teensy LC Setup

When you’ve got a scanning electron microscope sitting around, you’re going to find ways to push the awesome envelope. [Ben Krasnow] is upping his SEM game with a new rig to improve image capture (video link) and more easily create animated GIFs and videos.

The color scheme of the SEM housing gives away its 80s vintage, and the height of image capture technology back then was a Polaroid camera mounted over the instrument’s CRT. No other video output was provided, so [Ben] dug into the blueprints and probed around till he found the high-resolution slow scan signal.

To make his Teensy-LC happy, he used a few op-amps to condition the analog signal for the greatest resolution and split out the digital sync signals, which he fed into the analog and digital ports respectively. [Ben] then goes into a great deal of useful detail on how he got the video data encoded and sent over USB for frame capture and GIF generation. Reading the ADC quickly without jitter and balancing data collection with transmission were tricky, but he has established a rock-solid system for it.

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