Software-Defined Radio Made Easy

Just a few decades ago, getting into hobby radio meant lots of specialty hardware, and making changes to your setup to work on various frequencies wasn’t particularly easy. Since software-defined radio (SDR) came onto the scene in an accessible way for most of us, this barrier to entry was reduced significantly and made the process of getting on the air a lot easier. It goes without saying that it does require some software, but [Aaron]’s latest project makes even getting that software extremely simple.

What he has done is created a custom Linux distribution based on Debian, called DragonOS, with the entire suite of SDR programs needed to get up and running. Out of the box, it supports RTL-SDR, HackRF and LimeSDR packages and even includes other fun tools you’ll need like Kismet. There are several video demonstrations of his distribution, including using RTL-SDR for ADS-B reception, and also shows off several custom implementations of the OS in various scenarios on his YouTube channel. The video linked below also shows how to set up the distribution in a virtual machine, so you can run this even if you don’t have a computer to dedicate to SDR.

Getting into SDR has never been easier, and the odds of having something floating around in the junk drawer that you can use to get started are pretty high. The process is exceptionally streamlined with [Aaron]’s software suite. If you’re a little short on hardware, though, there’s no better place to get started than with the classic TV-tuner-to-SDR hack from a few years back.

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$100k To Crack A Bitcoin Wallet

When Bitcoin peaked a few years ago, with single coins reaching around $18,000 USD, heartbreaking stories began circulating about people who had tens or hundreds of coins they mined in the early days when coins were worth just a few dollars or cents. Since then, they owners of these coins had lost the private key, or simply thrown away the drive or computer the coins were on. It’s next to impossible to recover this key in most situations, but for the right amount of money it can sometimes be done.

About 20 years ago, [Mike] was working as a cryptography expert and developed a number of interesting algorithms for breaking various forms of encryption, one of which involved .zip files with poor entropy. A Bitcoin owner stumbled across the paper that [Mike] wrote and realized that it could be a method for recovering his lost key from 2016. [Mike] said it would take a GPU farm and $100,000 USD, but when the owner paid the seemingly enormous price [Mike] was able to recover around $300,000 worth of Bitcoin.

While this might not be financially feasible for you if you have a USB stick with a single coin on it you mined as a curiosity in 2010, the cryptography that is discussed in the blog entry is the real story here. We never know where the solutions to our problems are going to come from, like a random .zip file exploitation from two decades ago, but we can be sure that in the future it will be much easier to crack these keys.

Thanks to [Darmstatium] for the tip!

Bike Lock Secures Car

[Buttim] loses his car a lot, which might sound a little bit like the plot from an early-00s movie, but he assures us that it’s a common enough thing. In a big city, and after several days of not driving one’s car, it can be possible to at least forget where you parked. There are a lot of ways of solving this problem, but the solution almost fell right into his lap: repurposing a lock from a bike share bicycle. (The build is in three parts: Part 2 and Part 3.)

These locks are loaded with features, like GPS, a cellular modem, accelerometers, and in this case, an ARM processor. It took a huge amount of work for [Buttim] to get anything to work on the device, but after using a vulnerability to dump the firmware and load his own code on the device, spending an enormous amount of time trying to figure out where all the circuit traces went through layers of insulation intended to harden the lock from humidity, and building his own Python-based programmer for it, he has basically free reign over the device.

To that end, once he figured out how it all worked, he put it to use in his car. The device functions as a GPS tracker and reports its location over the cellular network so it can’t become lost again. As a bonus, he was able to use the accelerometers to alert him if his car was moving without him knowing, so it turned into a theft deterrent as well. Besides that, though, his ability to get into the device’s firmware reminded us of a recent attempt to get access to an ARM platform.

Unique Musical Instrument Defies Description

Since the first of our ancestors discovered that banging a stick on a hollow log makes a jolly sound, we hominids have been finding new and unusual ways to make music. We haven’t come close to tapping out the potential for novel instruments, but then again it’s not every day that we come across a unique instrument and a new sound, as is the case with this string-plucking robot harp.

Named “Greg’s Harp” after builder [Frank Piesik]’s friend [Gregor], this three-stringed instrument almost defies classification. It’s sort of like a harp, but different, and sort of like an electric guitar, but not quite. Each steel string has three different ways to be played: what [Frank] calls “KickUps”, which are solenoids that strike the strings; an “eBow” coil stimulator; and a small motor with plastic plectra that pluck the strings. Each creates a unique sound at the fundamental frequency of the string, while servo-controlled hoops around each string serve as a robotic fretboard to change the notes. Sound is picked up by piezo transducers, and everything is controlled by a pair of Nanos and a Teensy, which takes care of MIDI duties.

Check out the video below and see if you find the sound both familiar and completely new. We’ve been featuring unique instruments builds forever, from not-quite-violins to self-playing kalimbas to the Theremincello, but we still find this one enchanting.

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LIDAR Built On Familiar Platform

Moore’s law may have reached its physical limit for transistor density, but plenty of other technologies are still on that familiar path of getting smaller and smaller as time passes. It looks like LIDAR is no exception to this trend either. This project from [Owen] shows a fully-functional LIDAR system for about $20 and built almost entirely on top of an ESP32.

The build uses a Time-Of-Flight IR laser range sensor controlled by the ESP32, and the sensor is much smaller than even the ESP32’s footprint so it takes up very little extra space. To get it to function as a LIDAR system instead of just a simple rangefinder it does need a motor in order to rotate itself to see its entire space. Besides its small form factor and low cost, it also has a handy user interface that can run anywhere an HTML5 browser can run, making the use of the system easy and straightforward as well. All of the code is available on the project’s GitHub page.

We wouldn’t expect a system like this to be driving an autonomous car anytime soon, it’s update rate is far too slow, but its intent for small robots and even as an educational demo for learning LIDAR is second to none. If you do need a little more power in a LIDAR system but still don’t want to break the bank, we featured this impressive setup a few weeks ago.

Table Tennis Ball Lamp Serves Up Style

Although RGB LEDs diffused by ping pong balls will probably never stop being cool, [thomasj152] feels that flat panels of balls have become a bit of a tired concept. After a lot of effort and two complete builds, he has spun up an 80-ball spherical lamp. The results are positively glowing!

All the balls are connected together with some clever 3D printed pieces that were inspired by the classic soccer ball layout of hexagons and pentagons. [thomasj152] chose this shape because it’s fairly easy to code animation sequences for it.

The design also breaks down nicely into two halves, which makes it easier to wire. All 80 of the balls are controlled with a single NodeMCU ESP8266 development board.

This stranded version is the second lamp [thomasj152] built. The first one used the same soccer ball style, but had RGB LED strips instead, and the balls were wrangled with laser-cut support pieces. Strips lay much flatter than strands do, leaving the inside tidy and spacious. Unfortunately, the LED strips got fried accidentally, which is extra sad because the strips version looks like way more work.

The bright spot here is that [thomasj152] can now provide instructions for both versions. He even has code that cycles through each pentagon and hexagon section, lighting them up one at a time for testing and sanity checks. Roll past the break for a walk-through video that shows both versions and explains the differences.

Got a bunch of wall space begging for blinkenlights? Apparently it’s possible to throw together a working 300-ball video wall in less than 24 hours. Who knew?

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The Key To This City Opens A Real Lock

There are few more satisfying moments than the first time you pick a lock. No matter that it’s a dollar-store padlock that you opened with a pick from a $10 eBay kit, the magic of something that should be secure clicking open in the palm of your hand is hard to beat. Pin tumbler locks are surprisingly simple devices, and to demonstrate this [Farmcraft 101] has produced one at 10x scale to demonstrate their operation on the bench.

The video is a delightful exercise in wood-shop voyerism, as we see him construct the various parts of the lock using his lathe and other workshop tools. A key of the size usually reserved for Freedom Of The City is made, but this one really does slide into the keyway and operate those pins. At the back is a latch mechanism, and the result is a fully-functional model that anyone should be able to use to figure out how the lock works.

Thelock itself isn’t the whole story though, because given the date he’s used it as the basis for a cracking April Fool in which he sends up the [Lock Picking Lawyer] and proceeds to demonstrate the glaring insecurities in his creation. Both videos are there for your enjoyment, below the break. And if you can’t wait to have a go at a lock or two, don’t forget you can always make your own tools using paperclips.

[Ed note: streetcleaner bristles. Thank me later.]

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