Big Brother and Others Are Watching Your Car

We are all (hopefully) aware that we can be watched while we’re online. Our clicks are all trackable to some extent, whether it’s our country’s government or an advertiser. What isn’t as obvious, though, is that it’s just as easy to track our movements in real life. [Saulius] was able to prove this concept by using optical character recognition to track the license plate numbers of passing cars half a kilometer away.

To achieve such long distances (and still have clear and reliable data to work with) [Saulius] paired a 70-300 mm telephoto lens with a compact USB camera. All of the gear was set up on an overpass and the camera was aimed at cars coming around a corner of a highway. As soon as the cars enter the frame, the USB camera feeds the information to a laptop running openALPR which is able to process and record license plate data.

The build is pretty impressive, but [Saulius] notes that it isn’t the ideal setup for processing a large amount of information at once because of the demands made on the laptop. With this equipment, monitoring a parking lot would be a more feasible situation. Still, with even this level of capability available to anyone with the cash, imagine what someone could do with the resources of a national government. They might even have long distance laser night vision!

[CNLohr], ESP8266, USB…

“Round up the usual suspects…”

[CNLohr] just can’t get enough of the ESP8266 these days — now he’s working on getting a version of V-USB software low-speed USB device emulation working on the thing. (GitHub link here, video also embedded below.) That’s not likely to be an afternoon project, and we should warn you that it’s still a project in progress, but he’s made some in-progress material available, and if you’re interested either in USB or the way the mind of [CNLohr] works, it’s worth a watch.

In this video, he leans heavily on the logic analyzer. He’s not a USB expert, and couldn’t find the right resources online to implement a USB driver, so he taught himself by looking at the signals coming across as he wiggled a mouse on his desk. Using the ever-popular Wireshark helped him out a lot with this task as well. Then it was time to dig into Xtensa assembly language, because timing was critical.

Speaking of timing, one of the first things that he did was write some profiling routines so that he could figure out how long everything was taking. And did we mention that [CNLohr] didn’t know Xtensa assembly? So he wrote routines in C, compiled them using the Xtensa GCC compiler, and backed out the assembly. The end result is a mix of the two: assembly when speed counts, and C when it’s more comfortable.

Continue reading “[CNLohr], ESP8266, USB…”

Raspberry Pi 3 Gets USB, Ethernet Boot

The Raspberry Pi is a great computer, even if it doesn’t have SATA. For those of us who have lost a few SD cards to the inevitable corruption that comes from not shutting a Pi down properly, here’s something for you: USB Mass Storage Booting for the Raspberry Pi 3.

For the Raspberry Pi 1, 2, Compute Module, and Zero, there are two boot modes – SD boot, and USB Device boot, with USB Device boot only found on the Compute Module. [Gordon] over at the Raspberry Pi foundation spent a lot of time working on the Broadcom 2837 used in the Raspberry Pi 3, and found enough space in 32 kB to include SD boot, eMMC boot, SPI boot, NAND flash, FAT filesystem, GUID and MBR partitions, USB device, USB host, Ethernet device, and mass storage device support. You can now boot the Raspberry Pi 3 from just about anything.

The documentation for these new boot modes goes over the process of how to put an image on a USB thumb drive. It’s not too terribly different from the process of putting an image on an SD card, and the process will be streamlined somewhat in the next release of rpi-update. Some USB thumb drives do not work, but as long as you stick with a Sandisk or Samsung, you should be okay.

More interesting than USB booting is the ability for the Pi 3 to boot over the network. Booting over a network is nothing new – the Apple II could do it uphill both ways in the snow, but the most common use for the Pi is a dumb media player that connects to all your movies on network storage. With network booting, you can easily throw a Pi on a second TV and play all that media in a second room. Check out the network booting tutorial here.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart USB Hub And IoT Power Meter

[Aleksejs Mirnijs] needed a tool to accurately measure the power consumption of his Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects, which is an important parameter for dimensioning adequate power supplies and battery packs. Since most SBC projects require a USB hub anyway, he designed a smart, WiFi-enabled 4-port USB hub that is also a power meter – his entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Aleksejs’s] design is based on the FE1.1s 4-port USB 2.0 hub controller, with two additional ports for charging. Each port features an LT6106 current sensor and a power MOSFET to individually switch devices on and off as required. An Atmega32L monitors the bus voltage and current draw, switches the ports and talks to an ESP8266 module for WiFi connectivity. The supercharged hub also features a display, which lets you read the measured current and power consumption at a glance.

Unlike most cheap hubs out there, [Aleksejs’s] hub has a properly designed power path. If an external power supply is present, an onboard buck converter actively regulates the bus voltage while a power path controller safely disconnects the host’s power line. Although the first prototype is are already up and running, this project is still under heavy development. We’re curious to see the announced updates, which include a 2.2″ touchscreen and a 3D-printable enclosure.

Encrypted USB Bootloader for AVRs

It probably doesn’t matter much for the hacker who sleeps with a bag of various microcontroller flash programmers under the pillow, but for an end-user to apply a firmware upgrade, convenience is king. These days that means using USB, and there are a few good AVR USB bootloaders out there.

But [Dmitry Grinberg] wanted more: the ability to encrypt the ROM images and verify that they haven’t been tampered with or otherwise messed up in transit. Combined with the USB requirement, that meant writing his own bootloader and PC-side tools. His bootloader will take unencrypted uploads if it doesn’t have a password, but if it’s compiled with a key, it will only accept (correctly) encrypted hex files.

Since the bootloader, including the USB firmware, is on the hefty side at 3.3 kB, [Dmitry] included hooks to re-use the bootloader’s USB code from within the target application. So if you were going to use V-USB in your program anyway, it doesn’t actually take up that much extra space. It’s a cute trick, but it ties the bootloader and user program together in a way that gives us the willies, without specifically knowing why. Perhaps we can debate this in the comments.

If you need an AVR USB bootloader, but you don’t need the encryption, we like Micronucleus. But if you need to deliver updates to users without them being able to modify (or screw up) the code in the middle, give [Dmitry]’s setup a try.

Quad Serial Adapter

Despite concerted efforts to kill them, serial ports are alive and well, especially in embedded system. True, most of them end in a USB port, these days, but there’s still a lot of gear with a DE-9 (it isn’t a DB-9, despite the common use of the word) or a TTL-serial port lurking around. [James Fowkes] got tired of managing a bunch of USB to serial adapters, so he decided to build his own FT4232 breakout board that would provide four serial ports from a USB connection.

The small board has transmit and receive LEDs for each port along with EMI and ESD protection on the USB port. The ports are all TTL serial, serving the modern hacker, and the 3.3V pins are 5V tolerant.

Continue reading “Quad Serial Adapter”

Add USB OTG To A USB Thumb Drive

Every hacker has a USB thumb drive on their keyring, filled with backup files and a way to boot up a broken computer. One feature that most are missing though is USB On The Go (OTG) support, which allows a USB device to act as a USB host, connecting to devices like cell phones and tablets.

That can be added with the addition of a USB OTG adapter, though, and [usbdevice] has produced a nice how-to on soldering one of these permanently into a USB thumb drive to create a more flexible device. It’s a simple solder-something-on-something-else hack, but it could be handy.

There are a few caveats, though: it needs a USB thumb drive with solderable headers, which most of the smallest drives that have connectors right on the PCB won’t have. Most of the larger drives will have these, though, and they are cheap, so finding a suitable victim isn’t hard.