Reverse Engineering A Fancy Disposable Vape

Many readers will be aware of the trend for disposable vapes, and how harvesting them for lithium-ion batteries has become a popular pastime in our community. We’re all used to the slim ones about the size of a marker pen, but it’s a surprise to find that they also come in larger sizes equipped with colour LCD screens. [Jason Gin] received one of this type of vape, and set about reverse engineering it.

What he found inside alongside the lithium-ion cell (we love his use of the term ” street lithium” by the way) was an ARM Cortex M0 microcontroller, 1 MB of flash, and that 80×160 display. Some investigation revealed this last part to have an ST7735S controller with an SPI interface. He turned his attention to the flash, which was filled with the bitmaps for the display. Seeing an opportunity there, this lead to the creation of a Windows 95 theme for the device.

Finally, the microcontroller turned out to be accessible with programming tools, with an unprotected firmware. The reverse engineering effort is ongoing, but we hope the result is a small dev board that will at least save some of the from being e-waste. If you’re curious, all the tools used are in a GitHub repository.

Meanwhile, we’ve looked at street lithium harvesting before.

Thanks [DeadFishOnTheLanding] for the tip!

22 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering A Fancy Disposable Vape

  1. Even if you don’t find it by the side of the road, that’s a pretty good dev board for $20! 48MHz M0, 1MB flash (maybe some internal as well), screen, battery with charging circuitry, and coil driver circuit. There are plenty of fun DC motor or lighting projects you could do with it.

    1. I wonder if the coil driver could handle the heating element from one of those USB soldering irons. Might make a nice Pinecil/TS100-style portable iron with customizable features.

      1. The coil driver is just a P-channel MOSFET that’s driven from an N-channel that’s both on the power board. The logic board’s just sending a digital output, which makes development actually kind of easier. The board-to-board header basically gives you two GPIOs and an ADC channel through a 2:1 divider.

  2. The screen isn’t quite big enough to use for a dedicated pico-8 machine. The screen is 80×160 pixels whereas Pico-8 needs a 128 × 128 pixel screen. Though if you were enterprising, you could use two screens together.

    1. The closest I got was making a Doom theme for the vape, but I scrapped it halfway-through because I wasn’t happy with the results.

      As for a proper Doom implementation… it might be doable but significant concessions would need to be made. I’d love to see someone try making it though!

    2. Just add some mass-media, like a SD card, and some PSRAM, 8 kb won’t get you far with the id Tech 1 engine, and i would say why not. Don’t expect great framerates tough as i don’t expect the N32G031 to have PSRAM support and one would need to create a trap interrupt to access that memory by foot.

  3. Thanks for the feature! I submitted a tip but I guess I didn’t have to after all, hah!

    I can’t take all the credit for the “street lithium” phrase though. I borrowed that from BigClive on YouTube, who made a lot of videos talking about disposable vape harvesting and has inspired me and plenty of others to seek them out if we find them in the field.

      1. Waste is inherent when it is a byproduct of convinience. For example, the Soviet Navy used to fire full SKBMs during training on the Typhoon Class. A concrete dummy missile would have been fine but that would have been extra paperwork and the contribution to the starvation of the nation was a small part of a bigger issue.

    1. Law-ing such subject is harder that it seems. I mean, we do not waste stuff because we feel like it, we do it because it is the fastest and more economical thing to do. In fact this applies to every human knowledge area… us humans want to solve the problem and move on, and not always that is economical or environmentally safe.

    2. we can do with a lot fewer half ass products thats for sure. almost everything has that one part that was cost cut just enough to work for exactly until the end of the warranty period and not much more. we would have a lot less waste if everyone would just overbuild everything like they used to do before finite element analysis was a thing.

    3. Regulations have been and still are the best way to controlling such things. Regulation creates a level playing field for all manufacturers. It is pointless to expect that a corporation will reduce their profits out of goodwill for the benefit of the planet.
      A tax for packaging should be in place, based on its environmental footprint, that would fix a lot of the unnecessary packaging that products come in today.
      A similar tax should also be on products, where a recycling score can be ranked to the expected lifetime of the product. If it is disposable and has a hi environmental impact, tax the hell out of it.
      The industry will quickly find a solution not see their profits drop.

      1. I believe the government is staffed with the best and brightest among us, who care more about others, than themselves. They are able to make better decisions than I am. The more control they have, the better the world will be. Please govern me harder.

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