New Life For Old Nintendo Handhelds With ESP32

The Game Boy Pocket was Nintendo’s 1996 redesign of the classic 1989 handheld, giving it a smaller form factor, better screen and less power consumption. While it didn’t become as iconic as its predecessor, it still had enough popularity for modders such as [Eugene] to create new hardware for it. His Retro ESP32 board is a drop-in replacement for the console’s motherboard and screen, giving it a whole new life.

[Eugene] is no stranger to making this kind of mod, his previous Gaboze Pocaio project did the exact same thing with this form factor, only with a Raspberry Pi instead of the ESP32-WROVER used here. His choice of integrated SoC was based on the ODROID-GO, which is a similar portable console but with its own custom shell instead.

This project doesn’t stop at the hardware though, the Retro ESP32 (previously dubbed Gaboze Express) also offers a user-friendly interface to launch emulators. This GUI code can be used with the ODROID as well since they share the same hardware platform, so if you have one of those you can try it out right now from the software branch of their repository.

If the idea of replacing retro tech innards with more modern hardware is something that interests you, look at what they did to this unassuming Osborne 1, or this unwitting TRS-80 Model 100. Poor thing didn’t even see it coming.

Raspberry Pi Helps Vintage Psion Find Its Voice

Ask a hacker to imagine computing in the 1980s, and they might think of the classic 8-bit all-in-one machines from the likes of Commodore and Atari, or perhaps the early PCs and Macs. No matter the flavor, they’ll likely have one thing in common: a lack of mobility thanks to being anchored down by a bulky CRT screen in the form of either a television or a dedicated monitor. Mobile computing at the time was something of an expensive rarity, consisting of various quirky handhelds that today have been all but forgotten.

Looking to see if one of these so-called “pocket computers” could still be of use in 2019, [James Fossey] set out to get his circa 1986 Psion Organiser II connected to the Internet. With a Hitachi CPU, two-line text-only LCD and ABCD keyboard it’s a world away from the modern smartphone, yet as an early stab at a PDA as well as general purpose computer it’s visibly an ancestor of the devices we carry today. Of course, as the Psion was produced before the advent of affordable mobile data and before even the invention of the Web, it needed a bit of help connecting to a modern network.

Psion sold an RS-232 cable accessory which came with both serial terminal and file transfer in ROM, so with one of these sourced and a little bit of hackery involving an RS-232 to TTL converter and a DB-25 connector, he was able to hook it up to a Raspberry Pi. That means it’s reduced to being a dumb terminal for a more powerful machine that can do the heavy lifting, but those with long memories will tell you that’s exactly what would have been done with the help of a modem to connect to a BBS back in 1986. So far he’s got a terminal on the Pi and a Twitter client, but he’s declined to show us the Hackaday Retro Edition.

Psion has rarely featured directly on these pages, but despite being forgotten by many today they were a groundbreaking company whose influence on portable computing stretched beyond their own line of devices. One we have shown you is an effort to put more recent hardware into a Psion Series 5 clamshell.

Micro-Sized Flex For Commercial Quality Bodging

We love watching the creativity unleashed by the democratization of once-exotic technologies. The casualness by which one can order a cheap, small run of PCBs has unlocked a flood of fine pitch components and projects which look commercial quality even with a total build volume of one. Now the once mythical flex PCB has been falling from it’s stratospheric pricing and with OSHPark’s offering it feels like we’re at the inflection point. [qwertymodo] leveraged this by creating a beautifully twisted flex to add link port support to the Super Game Boy

In the mid-90’s Nintendo released the Super Game Boy, a cartridge for the SNES which allowed you to play Game Boy games on the big screen. Each cartridge was in fact an entire Game Boy with the appropriate hardware to present it in a way the host console could interface with, but missing some of the hardware a standalone Game Boy would include like a link port to connect it to another system. This mod fixes this limitation by bridging the correct pins out from the CPU to a breakout board which includes the link port connector. For general background on what’s going on here, check out [Brian]’s article from April describing a different mod [qwertymodo] executed to the same system.

What’s fascinating is how elegant the mod is. Using a a flex here to create a completely custom, strangely shaped, one-of-a-kind adapter for this random IC, in low volume is an awesome example of the use of advanced manufacturing techniques to take our hacks to the next level. It reminds us a little of the method [Scotty] used to add the headphone jack to his iPhone 7 back in 2017. At the time that seemed like a technology only available to hackers who could speak a little Mandarin and lived in Shenzhen.

Detailed information on this hack is a little spread out. There is slightly more info in these tweets, and if you have a Super Game Boy crying out for a link port the adapter flexes are sometimes available here. Look beyond the break to see what the mod originally looked like sans-flex.

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Tiny Game System Is An Experiment In Minimalism

Many people assumed the smartphone revolution would kill the dedicated handheld game system, and really, it’s not hard to see why. What’s the point of buying the latest Nintendo or Sony handheld when the phone you’re already carrying around with you is capable of high-definition 3D graphics and online connectivity? Software developers got the hint quickly, and as predicted, mobile gaming has absolutely exploded over the last few years.

But at the same time, we’ve noticed something of a return to the simplistic handheld systems of yore. Perhaps it’s little more than nostalgia, but small bare-bones systems like the one [Mislav Breka] has entered into the 2019 Hackaday Prize show that not everyone is satisfied with the direction modern gaming has gone in. His system is specifically designed as an experiment to build the most minimal gaming system possible.

In terms of the overall design, this ATMega328 powered system is similar to a scaled-down Arduboy. But while the visual similarities are obvious, the BOM that [Mislav] has provided seems to indicate a considerably more spartan device. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any provision for audio, nor is there a battery and the associated circuitry to charge it. As promised, there’s little here other than the bare essentials.

Unfortunately, the project is off to something of a rocky start. As [Mislav] explains in his writeup on Hackaday.io, there’s a mistake somewhere in either the board design or the component selection that’s keeping the device from accepting a firmware. He won’t have the equipment to debug the device until he returns to school, and is actively looking for volunteers who might be interested in helping him get the kinks worked out on the design.

3D Printed Snap Gun For Automatic Lock Picking

At a far flung, wind blown, outpost of Hackaday, we were watching a spy film with a bottle of suitably cheap Russian vodka when suddenly a blonde triple agent presented a fascinating looking gadget to a lock and proceeded to unpick it automatically. We all know very well that we should not believe everything we see on TV, but this one stuck.

Now, for us at least, fantasy became a reality as [Peterthinks] makes public his 3D printed lock picker – perfect for the budding CIA agent. Of course, the Russians have probably been using these kind of gadgets for much longer and their YouTube videos are much better, but to build one’s own machine takes it one step to the left of center.

The device works by manually flicking the spring (rubber band) loaded side switch which then toggles the picking tang up and down whilst simultaneously using another tang to gently prime the opening rotator.

The size of the device makes it perfect to carry around in a back pocket, waiting for the chance to become a hero in the local supermarket car park when somebody inevitably locks their keys in their car, or even use it in your day job as a secret agent. Just make sure you have your CIA, MI6 or KGB credentials to hand in case you get searched by the cops or they might think you were just a casual burglar. Diplomatic immunity, or a ‘license to pick’ would also be useful, if you can get one.

As mentioned earlier, [Peter’s] video is not the best one to explain lock picking, but he definitely gets the prize for stealth. His videos are below the break.

In the meantime, all we need now are some 3D printed tangs.

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E-Book Reader Gets Page Turn Buttons, Is None The Wiser

Most e-book readers don’t have physical page turn buttons. Why? They just don’t. Virtual page turns are accomplished with a tap at a screen edge. Determined to reduce the awkwardness of one-handed use, [Sagar Vaze] modified a Kobo e-reader with two physical page turn buttons as a weekend project.

[Sagar] points out that since the underlying OS of the Kobo device is Linux, it is possible to fake touches to the screen (and therefore trigger page turns) by recording then replaying the appropriate input event. However, there was a more direct solution available to those willing to tamper slightly with the hardware. Touch sensing on the screen is done via an infrared break-beam system. Along two edges of the screen are IR emitters, and opposite the emitters are receivers. Broadly speaking, when a fingertip touches the display a minimum of two IR beams are broken, and the physical location of the fingertip can therefore be determined by analyzing exactly how the IR pattern has been changed.

To spoof page turns, [Sagar] briefly shorts two IR emitters: one on each axis. The sudden winking out of the IR is interpreted by the device as a crisp tap, and the device obediently turns the page. The only hitch is that both IR emitters must be shorted at the same time. If one is shorted before the other, the device ignores it. Double-pole switches would probably do the trick, but with the part bin coming up empty in that respect, [Sagar] instead used a few transistors to accomplish the same thing. A 3D printed enclosure rounds out the whole mod, and a brief video is embedded below.

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The ArduBoy Community Rolled Their Own Cartridge

The ArduBoy, as you might have guessed from the name, was designed as a love letter to the Nintendo Game Boy that many a hacker spent their formative years squinting at. While the open source handheld is far smaller than the classic DMG-01, it retains the same general form factor, monochromatic display, and even the iconic red LED to the left of the screen. But one thing it didn’t inherit from the original was the concept of removable game cartridges. That is, until now.

Over the last year, [Mr.Blinky] and a group of dedicated ArduBoy owners have been working on adding a removable cartridge to the diminutive handheld. On paper it seemed easy enough, just hang an external SPI flash chip off of the test pads that were already present on the ArduBoy PCB, but to turn that idea into a practical cartridge required an immense amount of work and discussion. The thread on the ArduBoy community forums covers everything from the ergonomics of the physical cartridge design to the development of a new bootloader that could handle loading multiple games.

Early cartridge prototypes.

The first problem the group had to address was how small the ArduBoy is: there’s simply no room in the back to add in a cartridge slot. So a large amount of time is spent proposing different ways of actually getting the theoretical cartridge attached to the system. There was some talk of entirely redesigning the case so it could take the cartridge internally (like the real Game Boy), but this eventually lost out for a less invasive approach that simply replaced the rear of the ArduBoy with a 3D printed plate that gave the modders enough room to add a male header along the top edge of the system.

As an added bonus, the cartridge connector doubles as an expansion port for the ArduBoy. While perfecting the design, various forum users have chimed in with different gadgets that make use of the new port, from WS2812B LEDs to additional input devices like joysticks or a full QWERTY keyboard. Even if you aren’t interested in expanding the storage space on your ArduBoy, being able to plug in new hardware modules certainly opens up some interesting possibilities.

In fact, the project so impressed ArduBoy creator [Kevin Bates] that he chimed in on the topic last month to announce he would start looking into integrating the community’s cartridge modification into the production hardware. If all goes well, pretty soon there might be an official upgrade path for those who want to expand what this tiny nostalgia machine is capable of.

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