Turn Your Motorola Android Phone Into A Raspberry Pi

In the surest sign that hardware hacking is the new hotness, Motorola and Farnell/Element 14 have developed an add-on board and SDK that will let you connect virtually anything to your mobile phone. Motorola is calling it the “Moto Mods” system, and it looks like its going to be a dedicated microcontroller that interfaces with the computer inside the phone and provides everything from GPIOs to DSI (video). Naturally, I2C, I2S, SPI, UART, even two flavors of USB are in the mix.

dev-config-diagram-5

The official SDK, ahem Mods Development Kit (MDK), is based on the open Greybus protocol stack (part of Google’s Project Ara open phone project) and it’s running on an ARM Cortex-M4F chip. It’s likely to be itself fairly hackable, and even if the suggested US $125 price is probably worth it for the convenience, we suspect that it’ll be replicable with just a few dollars in parts and the right firmware. (Yes, that’s a challenge.)

The initial four adapter boards range from a simple breadboard to a Raspberry-Pi-hat adapter (hence the title). It’s no secret that cell phones now rival the supercomputers of a bygone era, but they’ve always lacked peripheral interfaces. We wish that all of the old smartphones in our junk box had similar capabilities. What do you say? What would you build with a cellphone if you could break out all sorts of useful comms?

Via HackerBoards, and thanks to [Tom] for the tip!

Hackaday Podcast 066: The Audio Overdub Episode; Tape Loop Scratcher, Typewriter Simulator, And Relay Adder

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys stomp through a forest full of highly evolved hardware hacks. This week seems particularly plump with audio-related projects, like the thwack-tackular soldenoid typewriter simulator. But it’s the tape-loop scratcher that steals our hearts; an instrument that’s kind of two-turntables-and-a-microphone meets melloman. We hear the clicks of 10-bit numbers falling into place in a delightful adder, and follow it up with the beeps and sweeps of a smartphone-based metal detector.

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Pictorial Guide To The Unofficial Electronic Badges Of DEF CON 27

DEF CON has become the de facto showplace of the #Badgelife movement. It’s a pageant for clever tricks that transform traditional green rectangular circuit boards into something beautiful, unique, and often times hacky.

Today I’ve gathered up about three dozen badge designs seen at DC27. It’s a hint of what you’ll see in the hallways and meetups of the conference. From hot-glue light pipes and smartphone terminal debugging consoles to block printing effects and time of flight sensors, this is a great place to get inspiration if you’re thinking of trying your hand at unofficial badge design.

If you didn’t catch “The Badgies” you’ll want to go back and read that article too as it rounds up the designs I found to be the craziest and most interesting including the Car Hacking Village, Space Force, SecKC, DC503, and Frankenbadge. Do swing by the Hands-On articles for the AND!XOR badge and for [Joe Grand’s] official DC27 badge. There was also a lot of non-badge hardware on display during Hackaday’s Breakfast at DEF CON so check out that article as well.

Enough preamble, let’s get to the badges!

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Hackaday Podcast 033: Decompressing From Camp, Nuclear Stirling Engines, Carphone Or Phonecar, And ArduMower

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back from Chaos Communication Camp, and obviously had way too much fun. We cover all there was to see and do, and dig into the best hacks from the past week. NASA has a cute little nuclear reactor they want to send to the moon, you’ve never seen a car phone quite like this little robot, and Ardupilot (Ardurover?) is going to be the lawn mowing solution of the future. Plus you need to get serious about debugging embedded projects, and brush up on your knowledge of the data being used to train facial recognition neural networks.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Amazon Thinks ARM Is Bigger Than Your Phone

As far as computer architectures go, ARM doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Since nearly every mobile device on the planet is powered by some member of the reduced instruction set computer (RISC) family, there’s an excellent chance these words are currently making their way to your eyes courtesy of an ARM chip. A userbase of several billion is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and that’s before we even take into account the myriad of other devices which ARM processors find their way into: from kid’s toys to smart TVs.

ARM is also the de facto architecture for the single-board computers which have dominated the hacking and making scene for the last several years. Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, ODROID, Tinker Board, etc. If it’s a small computer that runs Linux or Android, it will almost certainly be powered by some ARM variant; another market all but completely dominated.

It would be a fair to say that small devices, from set top boxes down to smartwatches, are today the domain of ARM processors. But if we’re talking about what one might consider “traditional” computers, such as desktops, laptops, or servers, ARM is essentially a non-starter. There are a handful of ARM Chromebooks on the market, but effectively everything else is running on x86 processors built by Intel or AMD. You can’t walk into a store and purchase an ARM desktop, and beyond the hackers who are using Raspberry Pis to host their personal sites, ARM servers are an exceptional rarity.

Or at least, they were until very recently. At the re:Invent 2018 conference, Amazon announced the immediate availability of their own internally developed ARM servers for their Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. For many developers this will be the first time they’ve written code for a non-x86 processor, and while some growing pains are to be expected, the lower cost of the ARM instances compared to the standard x86 options seems likely to drive adoption. Will this be the push ARM needs to finally break into the server and potentially even desktop markets? Let’s take a look at what ARM is up against.

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Ask Hackaday: Why Aren’t We Hacking Cellphones?

When a project has outgrown using a small microcontroller, almost everyone reaches for a single-board computer — with the Raspberry Pi being the poster child. But doing so leaves you stuck with essentially a headless Linux server: a brain in a jar when what you want is a Swiss Army knife.

It would be a lot more fun if it had a screen attached, and of course the market is filled with options on that front. Then there’s the issue of designing a human interface: touch screens are all the rage these days, so why not buy a screen with a touch interface too? Audio in and out would be great, as would other random peripherals like accelerometers, WiFi, and maybe even a cellular radio when out of WiFi range. Maybe Bluetooth? Oh heck, let’s throw in a video camera and high-powered LED just for fun. Sounds like a Raspberry Pi killer!

And this development platform should be cheap, or better yet, free. Free like any one of the old cell phones that sit piled up in my “hack me” box in the closet, instead of getting put to work in projects. While I cobble together projects out of Pi Zeros and lame TFT LCD screens, the advanced functionality of these phones sits gathering dust. And I’m not alone.

Why is this? Why don’t we see a lot more projects based around the use of old cellphones? They’re abundant, cheap, feature-rich, and powerful. For me, there’s two giant hurdles to overcome: the hardware and the software. I’m going to run down what I see as the problems with using cell phones as hacker tools, but I’d love to be proven wrong. Hence the “Ask Hackaday”: why don’t we see more projects that re-use smartphones?

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$99 Pinebook Gets KDE Neon Port

If you’re the kind of person who likes small and cheap Linux devices, you’re definitely alive in the perfect moment in history. It seems as if every few months we’ve got another tiny Linux board competing for our pocket change, all desperate to try to dethrone the Raspberry Pi which has already set the price bar exceptionally high (or low, as the case may be). We’ve even started to see these Linux boards work their way into appropriately cheap laptops, though so far none have really made that great of an impression.

But thanks to the efforts of Blue Systems and Pine64, the situation might be improving: they’ve worked together on a build of KDE Neon for the $99 Pinebook. The fact that they’ve gotten Plasma, KDE’s modern desktop environment, running on the rather mediocre hardware at all is an accomplishment by itself. But they’ve also set out tailor the entire system for the Pinebook, from the kernel and graphics drivers all the way up to Qt and Plasma tweaks.

In a blog post announcing the release candidate of the OS, Neon developer [Jonathan Riddell] says that these top-to-bottom improvements show that you can turn a super cheap Linux laptop into a practical computer if you’re willing to really get in there and optimize it. He also says the project has been something of a two-way street, in that improvements made for the Pinebook build have also been applied to upstream development.

The last time we looked at the Pinebook, we came away cautiously optimistic. It wasn’t great, but it was about as good as you could possibly expect given the price. If more developers are willing to go out on a limb and start optimizing their software for the device, it might become a very promising platform for low-cost mobile hacking.