Hackaday Prize Entry: Sniffing Defibrillator Data

There’s a lot of implantable medical technology that is effectively a black box. Insulin pumps monitor blood sugar and deliver insulin, but you can’t exactly plug in a USB cable and download the data. Pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators are the same way. For these patients, data is usually transmitted to a base station, then sent over the Internet to help doctors make decisions. The patient never gets to see this data, but with a little work and a software defined radio, a team on Hackaday.io is cracking the code to listen in on these implanted medical devices.

The team behind ICeeData was assembled at a Health Tech Hackathon held in Latvia last April. One of the team members has an implanted defibrillator keeping her ticker in shape, and brought along her implant’s base station. The implant communicates via 402-405MHz radio, a region of the spectrum that is easily accessible by a cheap RTL-SDR TV Tuner dongle.

Right now the plan is to intercept the communications between the implant and the base station, decode the packets, decipher the protocol, and understand what the data means. It’s a classic reverse engineering task that would be the same for any radio protocol, only with this ones, the transmissions are coming from inside a human.


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One Hacker’s Small Tabletop Photo Studio

We love good pictures. You know, being worth a thousand words and all. So, after our article on taking good reference photos, we were pleased to see a reader, [Steve], sharing his photography set-up.

Taking good technical photos is a whole separate art from other fields of photography like portraiture.  For example, [Steve] mentions that he uses “bullseye” composition, or, putting the thing right in the middle. The standard philosophy on this method is that it’s bad and you are bad. For technical photos, it’s perfect.

[Steve] also has some unique toys in his arsenal. Like a toy macro lens from a subscription chemistry kit. He also showed off his foldscope. Sadly, they appear to no longer be for sale, but we sometimes get by with a loupe held in front of the lens. He also uses things standard in our shop. Such as a gridded cutting mat as a backdrop and a cheap three dollar tripod with spring actuated jaws to hold his phone steady.

In the end, [Steve] mostly shows that a little thought goes a long way to producing a photo that doesn’t just show, but communicates an idea in a better way than just words can manage.


Hackaday Links: May 22, 2016

Lulzbot’s TAZ 6 has been released. Lulzbot’s printers consistently place in the top three of any 3D printing list, and the TAZ 6 will likely be no exception. [James Bruton] was one of the lucky ones who got a review unit, and first looks are promising. The TAZ 6 has the auto bed leveling found in the Lulzbot Mini, and a ‘power tower’ for all the electronics. There are completely unconfirmed rumors (or someone told me and I forgot who) that the power tower will be available separately at some point.

The most impressive circuit we’ve seen this week month year is the dis-integrated 6502. It’s a discrete 6502 CPU, about a square foot in size. It’s slow, but it works. RAM and ROM is easy to make embiggened, which means someone needs to build a dis-integrated 6522 VIA. Who’s game?

[Jeremy Cook] wanted to learn another CAD package, in this case Onshape. Onshape is the ‘first cloud-only CAD package’, which has one huge bonus – you can run it anywhere, on anything – and one huge minus – it’s in the cloud. He designed a bicycle cupholder.

Last week, several thousand Raspberry Pi Zeros shipped out to retailers in the US and UK. For a time, Pi Zeros were in stock in some online stores. Now? Not so much. Where did they all go? eBay, apparently. It’s called arbitrage, and it’s the only risk-free form of investment.

Remember those ‘bed of nails’ toys, that were basically two sheets of plastic, with hundreds of small pins able to make 3D impressions of your face and hands. No, there is no official name for these devices, but here’s a Kickstarter for a very clever application of these toys. You can use them to hold through hole parts while soldering. Brilliant.

You should not pay attention to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Repeat after me: you should not give money to 3D printers on Kickstarter. Here’s a 3D printer on Kickstarter, promising a 3D printer for $74. I own several hats, and will eat one if this ships by next year.

Remember bash.org? It’s being reimplemented on hackaday.io.

A Minitel Terminal As A USB Linux Terminal

If you paid a visit to France in the 1980s the chances are you’d have been surprised to see a little brown screen and keyboard sitting next to the telephones wherever you went. At the time, it was another reason apart from the food, wine, and super-fast trains to envy our Gallic cousins. This was Minitel, their take on the cutting-edge of online data services of the day.

Minitel stood apart from similar services of the day in most other countries, because of its business model. Unlike the UK’s Prestel or West Germany’s BTX for which you had to spend significant money on a terminal, the French Minitel terminals were free. Thus in the early 1980s everybody in France was busy using videotext while most of the rest of Europe was still excited by chipping bits of flint into arrow heads. Or at least, that’s how it seemed at the time to those of us who didn’t have Minitel.

The Minitel service was finally shuttered in 2012, but the terminals can still be found. [Tony Pigram] bought one, an Alcatel Minitel 1, and made it into something useful by turning it into a USB serial terminal for his Raspberry Pi. Surprisingly the physical interface between the Minitel and the USB port is a relatively simple level shifter, but the configuration of both the Minitel and the Pi was anything but.

The problem was that Minitel terminals were meant to work with Minitel, and [Tony]’s difficulties were increased by his machine being an earlier model without the handy function key to access settings found on later terminals. A lot of research paid dividends though, and he now has what must be one of the most compact and stylish CRT serial terminals available. We can’t help noticing it has a QWERTY keyboard and English menus, it would be interesting to know which non-French market it was made for.

We’ve featured an RS-232 integration into a Minitel terminal before here at Hackaday, but if you are really interested in Gallic retro-tech take a look at our discussion of their 8-bit scene.

Digital Wind Chimes

Quality wind chimes are not cheap. No matter how much you spend, though, they generally sound the same year after year. If that bothers you, maybe [sensatroniclab] can help. They’ve posted a simple design for a digital wind chime using the Ototo music generator.

The Ototo is reasonably priced and promises to let you make music from anything (well, anything conductive, anyway).  Because the Ototo handles all the music production, the only real building part of the project is the wind sensors. The sensors are made with conductive fabric with a marble at the end for weight.

In the video below you can see [Matthew Ward] talk about the device and actually play it like you might a harp. This would be a good school project owing to the simplicity of using the Ototo, although [sensatroniclab] is actually working on accessibility music projects.

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Identify Your Devices By Their Unintentional Radiation

RFID was supposed to revolutionize asset tracking, replacing the barcode everywhere. Or at least that was the prediction once tags got under five cents apiece. They still cost seven to fifteen cents, even in bulk, and the barcode is still sitting pretty. [Chouchang (Jack) Yang] and [Alanson Sample] of Disney Research hope to change that.

Instead of tagging every electronic device, they use whatever electromagnetic emissions the device currently produces when it’s powered up. What’s surprising is not that they can tell an iPhone from a toy lightsaber, but that they can tell the toy lightsabers apart. But apparently there’s enough manufacturing and tolerance differences from piece to piece that they appear unique most of the time.

The paper (PDF) goes through the details and procedure. The coolest bit? The sensor they use is an RTL-SDR unit with the radio-mixer front end removed and replaced with a simple transformer. This lets them feed baseband (tuning from 0 to 28.8 MHz) straight into the DAC ADC and on to the computer which does the heavy math. Sawing off the frontend of a TV tuner is a hack, for those of you out there with empty bingo cards.

If you like statistics, you’ll want to read the paper for details about how they exactly do the classification of objects, but the overview is that they first start by figuring out what type of device they’re “hearing” and then focusing on which particular one it is. The measure that they use ends up being essentially a normalized correlation.

While we’re not sure how well this will scale to thousands of devices, they get remarkably good results (around 95%) for picking one device out of five. The method won’t be robust to overclocking or underclocking of the device’s CPU, so we’re concerned about temperature and battery-voltage effects. But it’s a novel idea, and one that’s ripe for the hacker-rebuild. And for the price of an RTL-SDR, and with no additional per-tag outlay as with an RFID system, it’s pretty neat.

Thanks [Static] for the tip! Via Engadget.

Real-time Driving Of RGB LED Cube Using Unity3D

RGB LED cubes are great, but building the cube is only half the battle – they also need to be driven. The larger the cube, the bigger the canvas you have to exercise your performance art, and the more intense the data visualization headache. This project solves the problem by using Unity to drive an RGB LED cube in real-time.

Landscape animation RGB Cube - smallWe’re not just talking about driving the LEDs themselves at a low level, but how you what you want to display in each of those 512 pixels.

In the video, you can see [TylerTimoJ]’s demo of an 8x8x8 cube being driven in real-time using the Unity engine. A variety of methods are demonstrated from turning individual LEDs on and off, coloring swaths of the cube as though with a paintbrush, and even having the cube display source image data in real-time (as shown on the left.)

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