Recently, [Bunnie Huang] announced his Precursor project: a spiffy-looking case housing a PCB with two FPGAs, a display, battery and integrated keyboard. For those who have seen [bunnie]’s talk at 36C3 last year, the photos may look very familiar, as it is essentially the same hardware as the ‘Betrusted’ project is intended to use. This also explains the name, with this development kit being a ‘precursor’ to the Betrusted product.
In short, it’s a maximally open, verifiable, and trustworthy device. Even the processor is instantiated on an FPGA so you know what’s going on inside the silicon.
He has set up a Crowd Supply page for the Precursor project, which provides more details. The board features a Xilinx Spartan 7 (XC7S50) and Lattice iCE40UP5K FPGA, 16 MB SRAM, 128 MB Flash, integrated WiFi (Silicon Labs WF200-based), a physical keyboard and 1100 mAh Lio-Ion battery. The display is a 200 ppi monochrome 336 x 536 px unit, with both the display and keyboard backlit.
At this point [bunnie] is still looking at how much interest there will be for Precursor if a campaign goes live. Regardless of whether one has any interest in the anti-tamper and security features, depending on the price it might be a nice, integrated platform to tinker with.
[Bunnie Huang] has shared with all of us his utterly detailed teardown on the Form 3 SLA printer from Formlabs (on the left in the image above) and in it he says one of the first things he noticed when he opened it to look inside was a big empty space where he expected to see mirrors and optics. [Bunnie] had avoided any spoilers about the printer design and how it worked, so he was definitely intrigued.
Not only does the teardown reveal the kind of thoughtful design and construction that [Bunnie] has come to expect of Formlabs, but it reveals that the Form 3 has gone in an entirely new direction with how it works. Instead of a pair of galvanometers steering a laser beam across a build surface (as seen in the Form 1 and Form 2 printers) the new machine is now built around what Formlabs calls an LPU, or Light Processing Unit, which works in conjunction with a new build tank and flexible build surface. In short, the laser and optics are now housed in a skinny, enviromentally-sealed unit that slides left and right within the printer. A single galvo within steers the laser vertically, as the LPU itself moves horizontally. Payoffs from this method include things such as better laser resolution, the fact that the entire optical system is no longer required to sit directly underneath a vat of liquid resin, and that build sizes can be bigger. In addition, any peeling forces that a model is subjected to are lower thanks to the way the LPU works.
Details about exactly how the Form 3 works are available on Formlabs’ site and you can also see it in action from a practical perspective on Adam Savage’s Tested (video link), but the real joy here is the deeply interesting look at the components and assembly through the eyes of someone with [Bunnie]’s engineering experience. He offers insights from the perspective of function, supply, manufacture, and even points out a bit of NASA humor to be found inside the guts of the LPU.
[Bunnie] knows his hardware and he’s certainly no stranger to Formlabs’ work. His earlier Form 2 teardown was equally detailed as was his Form 1 teardown before that. His takeaway is that the Form 3 and how it works represents an evolutionary change from the earlier designs, one he admits he certainly didn’t see coming.
Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s mentor session for the Hackaday Prize shows off the kind of experience and knowledge hard to come by unless you have been through the hardware development gauntlet countless times. These master-classes match up experts in product development with Prize entrants working to turn their projects into products. We’ve been recording them so that all may benefit from the advice and guidance shared in each session.
Bunnie is someone who is already familiar to most Hackaday readers. His notoriety in our community began nearly two decades ago with his work reverse engineering the original Microsoft X-box, and he quickly went on to design (and hack) the Chumby Internet appliance, he created the Novena open-source laptop, and through his writing and teaching, he provides insight into sourcing electronic manufacture in Shenzhen. He’s the mentor you want to have in your corner for a Hackaday Prize entry, and that’s just what a lucky group had in the video we’ve placed below the break.
While this session with Bunnie is in the bag it’s worth reminding you all that we are still running mentor sessions for Hackaday Prize entrants, so sign up your entry for a chance to get some great feedback about your project.
The first team to meet with Bunnie are FunKey, whose keychain Nintendo-like handheld gaming platform was inspired by a Sprite_tm project featuring a converted novelty toy. The FunKey team have produced a really well-thought-out design that is ready to be a product, but like so many of us who have reached that point they face the impossible hurdle of turning it into a product. Their session focuses on advice for finding a manufacturing partner and scaling up to production.
HotorNot Coffee Stirrer is trying to overcome a problem unique to their food-related project. A hot drink sensor that has to go in the drink itself needs to be food safe, as well as easy enough to clean between uses. A variety of components are discussed including a thermopile on a chip that has the advantage of not requiring contact with the liquid, but sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most effective as Bunnie reminds us that a cheap medical thermometer teardown can tell us a lot about appropriate parts for this application.
It’s another component choice problem that vexes PhalangePad, an input device that relies on the user tapping the inside of their fingers with their thumb. It’s a great idea, but how should these “keypresses” be detected? Would you use a capacitive or magnetic sensor, a force sensitive resistors, or maybe even machine vision? Here Bunnie’s encyclopaedic knowledge of component supply comes to the fore, and the result is a fascinating insight into the available technologies.
We all amass a huge repository of knowledge as we pass through life, some of the most valuable of which is difficult to pass on in a structured form and instead comes out as incidental insights. An engineer with exceptional experience such as Bunnie can write the book on manufacturing electronics in China but still those mere pages can only scratch the surface of what he knows about the subject. There lies the value of these mentor sessions, because among them the gems of knowledge slip out almost accidentally, and if you’re not watching, you’ll miss them.
The new US tariffs come into effect on July 6th. We covered the issue last week, but Bunnie has gone in-depth and really illustrates how these taxes will have a terrible impact on the maker community. Components like LEDs, resistors, capacitors, and PCBs will be taxed at the new higher rate. On the flip side, Tariffs on many finished consumer goods such as cell phone will remain unchanged.
As [Bunnie] illustrates, this hurts small companies buying components. Startups buying subassemblies from China will be hit as well. Educators buying parts kits for their classes also face the tax hike. Who won’t be impacted? Companies building finished goods. If the last screw of your device is installed in China, there is no tax. If it is installed in the USA, then you’ll pay 25% more on your Bill of Materials (BOM). This incentivizes moving assembly offshore.
What will be the end result of all these changes? [Bunnie] takes a note from Brazil’s history with a look at a PC ISA network card. With DIP chips and all through-hole discrete components, it looks like a typical 80’s design. As it turns out the card was made in 1992. Brazil had similar protectionist tariffs on high-tech goods back in the 1980’s. As a result, they lagged behind the rest of the world in technology. [Bunnie] hopes these new tariffs don’t cause the same thing to happen to America.
[Thanks to [Robert] and [Christian] for sending this in]
This Friday, February 10th, at 9am PST, Hackaday.io will be graced with one of the greatest hardware creators in recent memory. [Bunnie Huang] will be talking about making and breaking hardware in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat.
[Bunnie] is a bridge across worlds. There is no one else so deeply embedded in the world of electronics manufacturing that is also willing to tell the world about what he’s found. If you want to learn about electronics, the Bunnie Studios blog is a mandatory read.
For this week’s Hack Chat, [Bunnie] will be taking questions from the Hackaday.io community. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it takes to build a few thousand things, this is the guy to ask.
Our Hack Chats are live community events on Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.
You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
Upcoming Hack Chats
These Hack Chats are a weekly thing, and we have a few more on the books. Next week, we’ll be covering RF design with [Jenny List], and later going over mechanical manufacturing with Fictiv. You can check out all the upcoming Hack Chats on this project.
The idea is that phones are increasingly complex and potentially vulnerable to all kinds of digital surveillance. Even airplane mode is insufficient for knowing that your phone isn’t somehow transmitting information. The paper looks at the various radios on the iPhone, going so far as opening up the device and reading signals at each of the chips for cell, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC to determine whether the chip itself is doing anything, regardless of what the screen says. This introspection can then be used to be confident that the phone is not communicating when it shouldn’t be.
The paper goes on to propose a device that they will prototype in the coming year which uses an FPC that goes into the phone through the SIM card port. It would contain a battery, display, buttons, multiple SIM cards, and an FPGA to monitor the various buses and chips and report on activity.
Significant hacking of an iPhone will still be required, but the idea is to increase transparency and be certain that your device is only doing what you want it to.
The DMCA was enacted in 1996 and put in place far-reaching protections for copyright owners. Many, myself included, think these protections became far-overreaching. The DMCA, specifically section 1201 of the act which is known as the anti-circumvention provision, prohibits any action that goes around mechanisms designed to protect copyrighted material. So much has changed since ’96 — software is now in every device and that means section 1201 extends to almost all electronics sold today.
So protecting copyright is good, right? If that were the only way section 1201 was enforced that might be true. But common sense seems to have gone out the window on this one.
If you legally purchase media which is protected with DRM it is illegal for you to change the format of that media. Ripping your DVD to a digital file to view on your phone while on the plane (something usually seen as fair use) is a violation. Want to build an add-on for you home automation system but need to reverse engineer the communications protocol first? That’s a violation. Perhaps the most alarming violation: if you discover a security vulnerability in an existing system and report it, you can be sued under DMCA 1201 for doing so.
If it’s illegal to write about, talk about, or even privately explore how electronics are built (and the ecosystem that lets them function) it’s hard to really master creating new technology. A successful lawsuit must show harm. Bunnie’s company, Alphamax LLC, is developing hardware that can add an overlay to an HDMI signal (which sounds like the continuation of the hack we saw from him a few years ago). But HDCP would prevent this.
Innovation aside, the security research angle is a huge reason for this law (or the enforcement of it) to change. The other plaintiff named in the suit, Matthew Green, had to seek an exemption from the DMCA in order to conduct his research without fear of prosecution. Currently there is a huge disincentive to report or even look for security vulnerabilities, and that is a disservice to all. Beneficial security research and responsible disclosure need to be the top priority in our society which is now totally dependent on an electronically augmented lifestyle.