Scratch Built Media Player Channels 1980s Design

No, you aren’t looking at a 30 year old Teac graphic equalizer that somebody modified. The MWA-002 Network Music Player created by [GuzziGuy] is built entirely from new components, and easily ranks up there with some of the most gorgeous pieces of homebrew audio gear we’ve ever seen. Combining modular hardware with modern manufacturing techniques, this 1980s inspired build is a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of what’s possible for the dedicated hacker and maker.

The enclosure, though it looks all the world like a repurposed piece of vintage hardware, was built with the help of a CNC router. It’s constructed from pieces of solid oak, plywood, and veneered MDF that have all been meticulously routed out and cut. Even the front panel text was engraved with the CNC and then filled in with black paint to make the letters pop.

Internally, the MWA-002 is powered by a Raspberry Pi 3 running Mopidy to play both local tracks and streaming audio. Not satisfied with the Pi’s built-in capabilities, [GuzziGuy] is using a Behringer UCA202 to produce CD-quality audio, which is then fed into a TPA3116 amplifier. In turn, the output from the amplifier is terminated in a set of female jacks on the player. Just like the stereo equipment of yore, this player is designed to be connected to a larger audio system and doesn’t have any internal speakers.

The primary display is a 256×64 Futaba GP1212A02A FVD which has that era-appropriate glow while still delivering modern features. [GuzziGuy] says it was more difficult to interface with this I2C display than the LCDs he used in the past due to the lack of available libraries, but we think the final product is proof it was worth the effort. He bought both the VFD spectrum analyzer and LED VU meter as turn-key modules, but the center equalizer controls are completely custom; with dual MCP3008 ADCs to read the state of the sliders and the Linux Audio Developer’s Simple Plugin API (LADSPA) to tweak the Pi’s audio output accordingly.

We’re no strangers to beautiful pieces of audio gear here at Hackaday, but generally speaking, most projects involve modernizing or augmenting an existing device. While those projects are to be admired, the engineering that goes into creating something of this caliber from modular components and raw building materials is really an accomplishment on a whole different level.

Atomic Pi Gets A 3D-Printed Mac Makeover

The Atomic Pi is a pretty impressive piece of kit for the price, but it’s not exactly a turn-key kind of product. Even to a greater extent than what you might normally expect with a “dev” board like this, the user is responsible for putting together the rest of the pieces required to actually utilize it. But with this design by [Renri Nakano], you can turn the Atomic Pi into something that’s dangerously close to being a practical computer, and a trendy one at that.

Inspired by the 2019 Apple Mac Pro “Cheese Grater”, this 3D printable enclosure for the Atomic Pi is equal parts form and function. It integrates the necessary power supply to get things up and running without the need for the official breakout board or power module, which is good, since at the time of this writing they don’t seem to be available anyway. Plus it has a cool looking power button, so that’s got to count for something.

There’s also an integrated USB hub to give the Atomic Pi a bit more expandability, and a short HDMI extension cable that puts a video port on the back of the case. [Renri] even thought to leave an opening so you could run the wires for your wireless antennas.

At this point, we’ve seen several projects that mimic the unique case design of the 2019 Mac Pro. The level commitment ranges from recreating the design in CAD and milling it out of aluminum to just sticking a Raspberry Pi inside of a literal cheese grater from the kitchen. Naturally we enjoy a well executed Internet meme as much as the next hacker, but all the same, we were glad to see [Renri] put in the effort to make sure this case was more than just a pretty face.

[Thanks to baldpower for the tip.]

DJ Xiaomi Spins Beats And Brushes At The Same Time

Direct from the “Just Because I Can” department, this blog post by [Eddie Zhang] shows us how easy it is to get the Xiaomi robotic vacuum cleaner working as what might be the world’s most unnecessary Spotify Connect speaker. Will your home be the next to play host to an impromptu performance by DJ Xiaomi? Judging by the audio quality demonstrated in the video after the break, we doubt it. But this trick does give us a fascinating look at the current state of vacuum hacking.

For the first phase of this hack, [Eddie] makes use of Dustcloud, an ongoing project to document and reverse engineer various Xiaomi smart home gadgets. Using the information provided there you can get root-level SSH access to your vacuum cleaner and install your own software. There’s a sentence you never thought you’d read, right?

With the vacuum rooted, [Eddie] then installs a Spotify Connect client intended for the Raspberry Pi. As they’re both ARM devices, the software will run on the Xiaomi bot well enough, but the Linux environment needs a little tweaking. Namely, you need to manually create an Upstart .conf file for the service, as the vacuum doesn’t have systemd installed. There goes another one of those unexpected sentences.

We’re certainly no stranger to robotic vacuum hacking, though historically the iRobot Roomba has been the target platform for such mischief. Other players entering the field can only mean good things for those of us who get a kick out of seeing home appliances pushed outside of their comfort zones.

Continue reading “DJ Xiaomi Spins Beats And Brushes At The Same Time”

Steel Battalion Controller Grows Up And Gets A Job

We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the controller for Steel Battalion on the original Xbox is the most impressive video game peripheral ever made. Designed to make players feel like they were really in the cockpit of a “Vertical Tank”, the controller features dual control sticks, three pedals, a gear selector, and dozens of buttons, switches, and knobs. Unfortunately, outside of playing Steel Battalion and its sequel, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the monstrous control deck.

HID Report Descriptor

But now, nearly 20 years after the game released, [Oscar Sebio Cajaraville] has not only developed an open source driver that will allow you to use the infamous mech controller on a modern Windows machine, but he’s part of the team developing a new game that can actually be played with it. Though gamers who are imagining piloting a futuristic combat robot in glorious 4K might be somewhat disappointed to find that this time around, the Steel Battalion controller is being used to operate a piece of construction equipment.

In his blog post, [Oscar] focuses on what it took to develop a modern Windows driver for a decades old controller. It helps that the original Xbox used what was essentially just a rewiring of USB 1.0 for its controllers, so connecting it up didn’t require any special hardware. Unfortunately, while the controller used USB to communicate with the console, it was not USB-HID compliant.

As it turns out, Microsoft actually provides an open source example driver that’s specifically designed to adapt non-HID USB devices into a proper game controller the system will recognize. This gave [Oscar] a perfect starting point, but he still needed to explore the controller’s endpoints and decode the data it was sending over the wire. This involved creating a HID Report Descriptor for the controller, a neat trick to file away mentally if you’ve ever got to talk to an oddball USB device.

In the end, [Oscar] created a driver that allows players to use the Steel Battalion controller in his game, BH Trials. Unfortunately there’s something of a catch, as drivers need to be signed by a trusted certification authority before Windows 10 will install them. As he can’t quite justify the expense of this step, he’s written a second post that details what’s required to turn driver signing off so you can get the device working.

Earlier this year we saw an incredible simulator built around the Steel Battalion controller, were an external “coach” could watch you play and give you tips on surviving the virtual battlefield. But even that project still used the original game; hopefully an open source driver that will get this peripheral working on Microsoft’s latest OS will help spur the development of even more impressive hacks.

Continue reading “Steel Battalion Controller Grows Up And Gets A Job”

Particle Mesh Powers The Internet Of Fans

With the winter months not far off, [Ben Brooks] was looking for a way to help circulate the heat from his wood-burning fireplace throughout his home. Rather than go with a commercial solution, he decided to come up with his own automated air circulation system powered by the mesh networking capabilities of one of his favorite pieces of tech, the Particle Photon.

Particle Xeon remote sensor

The idea here is pretty simple: use a remote temperature sensor to tell a fan located behind the fireplace when it’s time to kick on and start sharing some of that warmth with the rest of the house. But as usual, it ended up being a bit trickier than anticipated. For one, when [Ben] took a close look at the Vornado 660 fan he planned on using, he realized that its speed controller was “smart” enough that simply putting a relay on the AC line wouldn’t allow him to turn it on and off.

So he had to do some reverse engineering to figure out how the Sonix SN8P2501B microcontroller on the board was controlling the fan, and then wire the Photon directly to the pins on the chip that corresponded with the various physical controls. This allows the Photon to not only “push” the buttons to trigger the different speeds, but also read the controls to see if a human is trying to override the current setting.

For the remote side [Ben] is using a Particle Xenon, which is specifically designed for Internet of Things endpoints and sensor applications. Combined with a TMP36 temperature sensor and 3.7 V 500 mAh battery, this allowed him to easily put together a wireless remote thermometer that will publish the current temperature to the Photon’s mesh network at regular intervals.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Particle Photon used to augment an unassuming piece of hardware. We’ve previously seen one get grafted into a coffee maker, and if you can believe it, somebody even stuck one inside an umbrella to create a mobile weather station.

Watching The Watchers: The State Of Space Surveillance

By now you’ve almost certainly heard about the recent release of a high-resolution satellite image showing the aftermath of Iran’s failed attempt to launch their Safir liquid fuel rocket. The geopolitical ramifications of Iran developing this type of ballistic missile technology is certainly a newsworthy story in its own right, but in this case, there’s been far more interest in how the picture was taken. Given known variables such as the time and date of the incident and the location of the launch pad, analysts have determined it was likely taken by a classified American KH-11 satellite.

The image is certainly striking, showing a level of detail that far exceeds what’s available through any of the space observation services we as civilians have access to. Estimated to have been taken from a distance of approximately 382 km, the image appears to have a resolution of at least ten centimeters per pixel. Given that the orbit of the satellite in question dips as low as 270 km on its closest approach to the Earth’s surface, it’s likely that the maximum resolution is even higher.

Of course, there are many aspects of the KH-11 satellites that remain highly classified, especially in regards to the latest hardware revisions. But their existence and general design has been common knowledge for decades. Images taken from earlier generation KH-11 satellites were leaked or otherwise released in the 1980s and 1990s, and while the Iranian image is certainly of a higher fidelity, this is not wholly surprising given the intervening decades.

What we know far less about are the orbital surveillance assets that supersede the KH-11. The satellite that took this image, known by its designation USA 224, has been in orbit since 2011. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) has launched a number of newer spacecraft since then, with several more slated to be lifted into orbit between now and 2021.

So let’s take a closer look at the KH-11 series of reconnaissance satellites, and compare that to what we can piece together about the next generation or orbital espionage technology that’s already circling overhead might be capable of.

Continue reading “Watching The Watchers: The State Of Space Surveillance”

Dissecting The TL-WR841N For Fun And Profit

The TP-Link TL-WR841N isn’t a particularly impressive piece of hardware, but since it works decently well and sells for under $20 USD, it’s one of the most popular consumer routers on Amazon. Now, thanks to [TrendyTofu] of the Zero Day Initiative, we now have a concise step-by-step guide on how to hack your way into the newer versions of the hardware and take full control over this bargain WiFi device. This work was initially done to help test out reported vulnerabilities in the router’s firmware, but we’re sure the readers of Hackaday can come up with all sorts of potential uses for this information.

TP-Link helpfully labeled the UART pins

The story starts, as so many before it have, with a serial port. Finding the UART pads on the PCB and wiring up a level shifter was no problem, but [TrendyTofu] found it was only working one-way. Some troubleshooting and an oscilloscope later, the culprit was found to be a 1kΩ pull down resistor connected to the RX line that was keeping the voltage from peaking high enough to be recognized.

Once two-way communication was established, proper poking around inside the router’s Linux operating system could begin. It wasn’t a huge surprise to find the kernel was ancient (version 2.6.36, from 2010) and that the system utilities had been stripped to the absolute bare minimum to save space. Replacing the firmware entirely would of course be ideal, but unfortunately OpenWRT has dropped support for the newer hardware revisions of the TL-WR841N.

To teach this barebones build of Linux some new tricks, [TrendyTofu] used the mount command to find a partition on the system that actually had write-access, and used that to stash a pre-compiled build of BusyBox for MIPS. With a more complete set of tools, the real fun could begin: using GDB to debug TP-Link’s binaries and look for chinks in the armor. But feel free to insert your own brand of mayhem here.

You might think that in the era of the Raspberry Pi, abusing cheap routers to turn them into general purpose Linux boxes would be somewhat out of style. Frankly, you’d be right. But while the days of strapping Linksys WRT54Gs to remote controlled cars might be long be gone, there are still some routers out there interesting enough to make it worth dusting off this time-honored hardware hacker tradition.