PocketCHIP As A Hardware Hacker’s Terminal

Conferences these days can be tricky places to be at – especially hardware and hacker cons. If you aren’t the one doing the hacking, then you can be sure your devices are being probed, pinged and possibly, hacked. It certainly isn’t the place to bring your precious laptop. Besides, as the day wears on and your feet start aching, regular laptops start feeling bigger and heavier. What you need is a burner laptop – one that is lightweight, cheap and that you don’t mind getting hacked. [dalmoz] wrote a short, to-the-point, tutorial on making use of PocketCHIP as a hardware-hacker’s best friend when it comes to UART connections. It’s also handy to use as a stand alone serial monitor for your projects without having to dedicate a USB port and screen real estate.

The PocketCHIP is a dock for the C.H.I.P. microcomputer and adds a LED backlit touchscreen display, QWERTY keyboard and LiPo battery in a lightweight, molded case. For $70, you get a 1 GHz ARM v7 processor, 512MB RAM, Mali 400 GPU, WiFi and Bluetooth. It’s light enough to be hung around your neck via its lanyard slot. And all of the GPIO pins are conveniently broken out, including the UART pins. Right now, it’s in the hands of Kickstarter backers, but the Next Thing Co website indicates availability sometime this month.

On the hardware side, all you need to do is add header pins to TX, RX and GND (and maybe 5 V and 3 V if required) on the PocketCHIP GPIO header and you’re good to go. On the software side, things are equally easy. The UART pins are meant to provide debug access to the CHIP itself and need to be released from internal duty. Once the UART port is identified, a single terminal command frees its status as a debugging interface. After that, use any terminal emulator – [dalmoz] recommends Minicom – and you’re all set. In the unlikely event that all you have is an Arduino lying around, [dalmoz] posted a simple sketch that can be used to make sure you have it working. Great hacking tip, ’cause it is as simple as it gets. If you’d like to know more about the CHIP project, check out its documentation and Github repository – it’s all open source.

15 thoughts on “PocketCHIP As A Hardware Hacker’s Terminal

  1. FYI, the Pocket CHIP has been available on their website for a while. They must just be waiting on more to be made or something.

    There are some 3d printed keyboard covers that make the keyboard a little nicer to use.

  2. Maybe missing something but the only way I could see a laptop being hacked at one of these places is either direct physical access, which, I sure as hell would not allow someone to have or via wire less or wired connection. I definitely wouldn’t plug an unknown cable or device into my laptop from one these places and as far as wireless, wouldn’t turning off wifi and bluetooth on the laptop prevent this?
    I agree, do not bring a typical laptop you normally depend on, some second hand “dont care what happens to it” would be perfect loaded with various tools.

    1. Exactly. Dig out your old netbook (or buy a used one off Ebay for $30), make a clean install of your favorite Linux distro before the con, and if you must have UART just bring a USB UART adapter. As long as you don’t mind carrying around something a bit bulkier, this option is cheaper than the PocketCHIP and it has a keyboard you can almost type normally on.

      1. An Optoisolator is no one-cure-for-all. The difference between TTL and RS232 serial is not only the voltage, but also that the logic levels are inverted. So you need to know what you are doing.

        1. fast optoisolator and a Max232 ? (it worked like charm in a couple of my projects). (there is a transitor and diode solution also, it’s kind a hack, but I don’t like it for high speeds).

    1. Unless the RS232 specification is called out, UART generally refers to chip-chip voltage levels. These pins come right off the piggyback C.H.I.P. module as far as I can tell: https://github.com/NextThingCo/PocketCHIP-PCB/blob/master/v1_0/PDF/PocketCHIP-v1.0-Schematic.pdf

      If you look at their schematic for the C.H.I.P., there is nothing to facilitate RS232 levels, although there is a FET level shifter for ensuring nothing over 3.3V gets to the RX pin on the processor:

  3. I foolishly backed Voder (formally known as Dashbot) by Next Thing Co. I have nothing good to say about them and would caution anyone planning to develop with their product that there is a high probability that you won’t receive it.

    1. With the CHIPpro there hasn’t seemed to be any issues with stock. I would however agree if you said the performance / utility was lacking for the price. In many ways the Pi Zero would seem a better choice for most projects even with the slower clock speed. It really amounts to the size of the community and the Pi community is about the largest there is.

    2. I have a couple CHIPs and the PocketCHIP. I probably wouldnt back them on Kickstarter (I dont back anyone on kickstarter). but I really doubt there is any risk to buying the product straight up.

  4. Pocketchip owner here. I’ve been using the device as a pocket linux thing to control a wifi quadcopter and I can only say good things about the battery life and how well the thing works.

  5. now orange pi is cheapest.
    many people hate pink color.
    if producent move more than one system (fedora, minix etc.)
    sell to europe (poland is heart of europe but chip dont send to poland, but send to russia or germany, why?
    switch on/off
    usefull connector than pin

  6. Great article and great device. After reading that article my friends and I ordered 5 PocketCHIPs in September 2017 but never received the goods. Status of order on their tracking site: “Pending shipment”. Also never received a reply to my e-mails. They took the money, never shipped the order and are silent on all communication channels. The forums are full of angry customers with unfulfilled orders.

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