Ask Hackaday: Can Paper USB Business Cards Exist?

swivel business card

The swivelCard Kickstarter campaign recently received a lot of press coverage and makes some impressive claims as their goal is the development of USB and NFC business cards at a $3 unit price. While most USB-enabled business cards we featured on Hackaday were made of standard FR4, this particular card is made of paper as the project description states the team patented

a system for turning regular paper into a USB drive.

As you can guess this piqued our interest, as all paper based technologies we had seen until now mostly consisted of either printed PCBs or paper batteries. ‘Printing a USB drive on regular paper’ (as the video says) would therefore involve printing functional USB and NFC controllers.

Luckily enough a quick Google search for the patents shown in one of the pictures (patent1, patent2) taught us that a storage circuitry is embedded under the printed USB pads, which may imply that the team had an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) designed or that they simply found one they could use for their own purposes. From the video we learn that ‘each card has a unique ID and can individually be programmed’ (the card, not the UID) and that it can be setup to open any webpage URL. The latter can even be modified after the card has been handed out, hinting that the final recipient would go to a ‘www.swivelcard.com/XXXX” type of address. We therefore got confused by

Imagine giving your business card with pictures, videos, presentations, and websites for the recipient to interact with!

paragraph that the project description contains.

This leads us to one key question we have: what kind of USB drive can make a given user visit a particular website, given that he may have Linux, Windows, Mac or any other OS? They all have similar USB enumeration processes and different key strokes to launch a browser… our wild guess is that it may be detected as storage with a single html file in it. Unfortunately for us the USB detection process is not included in the video.

Our final question: Is it possible to embed both USB and NFC controllers in a thin piece of paper without worrying about broken ICs (see picture above)? NFC enabled passports have obviously been around for a long time but we couldn’t find the same for USB drives.

Possible or not, we would definitely love having one in our hands!

Edit: One of our kind readers pointed out that this campaign actually is a re-launch of a failed indiegogo one which provides more details about the technology and confirms our assumptions.

USB Rotary Phone: A Lync to the Past

usb rotary phone[Ivan] is fed up with all this rampant virtualization. When his company took away his physical desk phone in favor of using MS Lync, he was driven to build a USB rotary phone. His coworkers loved it and one of them asked [Ivan] to build another. The build log focuses on converting his coworker’s vintage brass and copper number that must weigh a ton.

He had to do a bit more work with this one because it had rusted out inside and a few of the contacts were bent. The good news is that the speaker and microphone were in working order and he was able to use them both. After restoring the stock functionality, he added a USB sound card and created a USB keyboard using a PIC32MX440F256H.

The rotary phone’s dial works using two switches, one that’s open and one that’s closed when no one is dialing. Once dialing is detected, the open switch closes and the closed switch clicks according to the dialed digit (ten clicks for 0). [Ivan] also reads the switch hook state and has added debouncing. This gave him some trouble because of the quick response expected by the PC bus, but he made use of interrupts and was allowed to keep his seat.

Please stay on the line. [Ivan]‘s videos will be with you shortly.

Continue reading “USB Rotary Phone: A Lync to the Past”

DIY OLED Smart Watch

OLED DIY Smart Watch

What is better than making your own smart watch? Making one with an OLED display. This is exactly what [Jared] set out to do with his DIY OLED smart watch, which combines an impressive build with some pretty cool hardware.

When building a DIY smart watch, getting the hardware right is arguably the hardest part. After a few iterations, [Jared's] OLED smart watch is all packaged up and looks great! The firmware for his watch can communicate with the PC via USB HID (requiring no drivers), contains a “watch face” for telling time, includes an integrated calendar, and support for an accelerometer. His post also includes all of the firmware and goes into some build details. With the recent popularity of smart watches and wearable electronics, we really love seeing functional DIY versions. This is just the beginning. In the future, [Jared] plans on adding Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), a magnetometer, a smart sleep based alarm clock, and more! So be sure to look at his two older posts and keep an eye on this project as it unfolds. It is a very promising smart watch!

With Android L including support for smart watches (in the near future), it would be amazing to see DIY watches (such as this one) modified to run the new mobile OS. How great would it be to have an open hardware platform running such a powerful (open source-ish) OS? the possibilities are endless!

Solderdoodle is an Open Source, USB Rechargable Soldering Iron

solderdoodle

Battery powered soldering irons are nothing new, but what about a soldering iron that can recharge via USB? [Solarcycle] realized that it might be handy to be able to recharge a portable soldering iron using such a ubiquitous connector and power source, so he developed the Solderdoodle.

The core component of the Solderdoodle is a Weller BP645 Soldering Iron. The heating element is removed from the Weller and placed into a custom case. The case is designed to be 3d printed. The STL files for the case are available if you want to make your own.

The Solderdoodle does away with large, disposable batteries and replaces them with a lithium ion battery pack. The battery contains no built-in protection circuitry in order to save space. Instead, this circuit is added later. [Solarcycle] appears to be using a circuit of his own design. The schematic and Gerber’s are available on his website.

The Instructable walks through all of the steps to build one of these yourself if you are so inclined. If you don’t have the spare time, you can fund the project’s Kickstarter and pre-order a production model. It’s always great to see a new commercial product with an open design.

[via Reddit]

Fail of the Week: Blown Light Bulb Controllers

fotw-nyc-resistor-chandelier-driver

We’ve been meaning to get around to this one for many weeks now. It’s been hard to find good fail write-ups… it’s as if hackers are afraid to admit that sometimes projects fail. We hope you’ll shake off that opinion as failure is the fastest path for learning and true understanding!

[xymax] was working on a control system for a chandelier with 150 bulbs which use 5 Watts each. This project was being readied for the NYC Resistor Interactive Party which [Adam Fabio] attended last month. As deadline for the show approached, the last piece was put in place late into the night… but it was connected backwards. In a tale worthy of a slapstick movie, the reverse polarity caused a chip on all seven controller boards for this module to blow like the one seen above. But that’s not all, the laptop being used during prototyping was connected by USB and started smoking!

All of us feel the pain of this type of equipment failure. Luckily [xymax] looked for lessons to learn instead of dwelling on the mistake itself. Use protection diodes, keyed connectors, and write about your failures. Hopefully reading this will help others avoid a similar equipment-destroying mistake.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Thursday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story – or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

The Worst E-Reader Ever

oled

Over on the Projects site, [Jaromir] has created a tiny device with an OLED display, three buttons, and a USB port for storing text files, be it for saving a shopping list, a cheat sheet, or the most unusable e-reader ever made.

The front of the device is simply a 96×32 pixel OLED and three buttons for ‘up’, ‘down’, and ‘open/close’. The reverse side is where the magic happens with a PIC24 microcontroller that sets up a file system on the chip, allowing [Jaromir] to write 64kB of data on what is actually a Flash drive with a pitiful capacity. Text files are viewable on the OLED, with the video below showing the front page of Wikipedia being displayed in a glorious 16×4 text mode.

It’s not a very useful device by any means, but for some reason it’s garnered a lot of skulls and followers over on Hackaday Projects. In response to that, [Jaromir] is working on version two with a new PCB and a design for a 3D printed case. Not bad for what [Jaromir] himself describes as worse than just about any phone or tablet.

Continue reading “The Worst E-Reader Ever”

GPIB To USB, With A Python API

GPIB

If you’re not so daft as to think Arduino-based oscilloscopes and multimeters are actually useful for all but the simplest tests and measurements, you just might have some big iron sitting around your workbench from the likes of HP, or Tektronix. You might have noticed a strange port on the back of these machines, labeled GPIB or IEEE-488. This is the standard interface for these devices, and if you’ve ever priced out a USB to IEEE-488 converter, you can see why [Steven] thought it would be cheaper to build his own.

This build is an update to an earlier version we saw a few years ago. Since then, [Steven] has taken some advice from the community and replaced a bunch of resistors with proper GPIB line driver ICs, and generally cleaned up the firmware.

Because a USB to GPIB adapter is only one small part of the tools necessary to connect these old measurement devices to a modern computer, [Steven] has also been working on InstrumentKit. It’s a Python library that takes all the standardized instrument commands and wraps them up in an easy to use API. You can check out the docs for InstrumentKit here, or just look through the board files and firmware on the Github