Sparkfun’s Alternate Reality Hardware

SparkFun has a new wing of hardware mischief. It’s SparkX, the brainchild of SparkFun’s founder [Nate Seidle]. Over the past few months, SparkX has released breakout boards for weird sensors, and built a safe cracking robot that got all the hacker cred at DEF CON. Now, SparkX is going off on an even weirder tangent: they have released The Prototype. That’s actually the name of the product. What is it? It’s a HARP, a hardware alternate reality game. It’s gaming, puzzlecraft, and crypto all wrapped up in a weird electronic board.

The product page for The Prototype is exactly as illuminating as you would expect for a piece of puzzle electronics. There is literally zero information on the product page, but from the one clear picture, we can see a few bits and bobs that might be relevant. The Prototype features a microSD card socket, an LED that might be a WS2812, a DIP-8 socket, a USB port, what could be a power switch, a PCB antenna, and a strange black cylinder. Mysteries abound. There is good news: the only thing you need to decrypt The Prototype is a computer and an open mind. We’re assuming that means a serial terminal.

The Prototype hasn’t been out for long, and very few people have one in hand. That said, the idea of a piece of hardware sold as a puzzle is something we haven’t seen outside of conference badges. The more relaxed distribution of The Prototype is rather appealing, and we’re looking forward to a few communities popping up around HARP games.

20 thoughts on “Sparkfun’s Alternate Reality Hardware

  1. We don’t need this, we already have lots of mystery chips to reverse engineer and hack. Mediatek 1389 (DVD chipset with built-in video engine and MPEG decoder), RDA8851 (phone CPU with GSM modem) and the chip used in HC-05 bluetooth modules, just to name a few.

    1. The CSR bluecore chips (in the HC-05) don’t need reverse engineering; the SDK is available. Biggest hitch used to be that the programmer hardware was proprietary and offensively expensive, but people have hacked up cheap replacements.

    2. really? and who needs a button that orders laundry detergent online? there plenty of stuff these days that fall under the “we don’t need this” banner, at least this is a creative/educational ” we don’t need this”, with a an easy entry point thrown in…

    3. Well no one is forcing you to buy it. When I make something its typically not because I need it but Id rather learn something new along the way. For price of going out to movies or a video game I can buy a few circuits and some sensors and have a fun time seeing what I can do with it.

    1. I think you managed to find the end page for the puzzle, something that really shouldn’t be listed in google search results. It’s not the first ARG that’s had people find the solution early because the puppetmasters didn’t set their robots.txt properly…

    2. SPOILER ALERT!

      This page contains all the solutions for the actual puzzle..
      I also found it by googling for “Hosaka Linear Devices”.
      I downloaded all the files, read most of them and tought: weird info .. looks like the actual solutions.. hmm.

      :(
      This ruined it for me.
      @sparkfun: Next time, please take care of your robots.txt

      1. I’m so sorry this happened to you! As soon as I’m at a proper computer I’m gonna no-index that page and but a spoiler alert pop-up on it.

        This is a bummer, sorry I boneheaded it so bad! Good detective work!

  2. Spartfun is essentially DEAD to me. Today they’re NOTHING like they used to be – innovative. the crappy SparkX blog bears this out.

    Example: I went to the Sparkfun site around a year ago to find what they’ve got in terms of LoRa BoB’s and/or tutorials. NOTHING – that’s what I found. So I sent an Email to Sparkfun asking why they are MIA on the LoRa thing. NOTHING, no reply. As an experiment I keep sending Emails asking the same LoRa questions – still nothing. Nada… Like I said – R.I.P Sparkfun.

  3. Brian, I would direct your attention (and memory, if it serves) to the 2011 Red Bull Creation puzzle board, known by many as the “enigma board”. It was chock-full of puzzles, arrived with no return address or other info, and its purpose was unclear.

    Your own writeup contains links within the comments to a few other such puzzles: https://hackaday.com/2011/03/24/redbull-sends-marketing-doodad-to-hackerspace-using-an-open-source-product/

    And our writeup of the enigma board itself is here: https://www.i3detroit.org/wiki/Red_Bull_Creation_2011

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