Custom Coil Lets Mouse Charge Without Wires

It’s 2021, shouldn’t all of our devices be able to pull the power they need from the ether? [Sasa Karanovic] certainly thinks so, which is why he recently took it upon himself to add wireless charging capabilities to his desktop computer peripherals. The Qi transmitter and receiver modules are relatively cheap and easy to come by, the trick is in getting them installed.

The keyboard gets non-invasive Qi charging.

For the keyboard, [Sasa] took the path of least resistance. The receiver coil lives inside a little 3D printed box attached to the back, and power is routed through a hacked up right-angle USB cable. It’s a simple addition that doesn’t make any permanent changes to the keyboard; perfect for those who don’t want to risk toasting their gear.

But that wasn’t really an option for the mouse. Obviously the Qi hardware would have to go on the inside, but at a glance it was clear there wasn’t enough room to mount the stock coil. So [Sasa] pulled the original coil apart and rewound it around a small 3D printed jig. This resulting coil was perfectly sized to fit inside the flat area on the left side of the mouse with no apparent degradation in charging ability. Wiring the module up to an unpopulated pad on the PCB allowed him to easily inject the 5 V output into the device’s existing charging circuitry.

We’ve seen plenty of aftermarket Qi charging coils take up permanent residence in various gadgets, but rewinding the coil is a neat trick that we’ve only seen pulled off a couple times in the past. Something to file away mentally should you ever want to wirelessly power up one of your projects.

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Careful Drilling Keeps Stadia From Listening In

Google’s fledgling Stadia service leverages the Chrome ecosystem to deliver streamed PC games on mobile devices, web browsers, and TVs. While not strictly required, the company even offers a dedicated Stadia controller that connects directly to the streaming servers over its own WiFi connection to reduce overall system latency. Of course, being a Google product, the controller has a tiny microphone that’s always listening in for interacting with the voice assistant.

[Heikki Juva] didn’t like the privacy implications of this, but unfortunately, there appears to be no way to turn off this “feature” in software. He decided the most expedient solution would be to simply remove the microphone from the controller, but it turns out there was a problem. By researching previous teardowns, he found out that it’s nearly impossible to take the controller apart without damaging it.

Getting close to the target.

So [Heikki] came up with a bold idea. Knowing roughly the position of the microphone, he would simply drill through the controller’s case to expose and ultimately remove the device. The operation was complicated by the fact that, from the teardown video he saw, he knew he’d also have to drill through the PCB to get to the microphone mounted to the opposite side. The only bright spot was that the microphone was on its own separate PCB, so physically destroying it probably wouldn’t take the whole controller out with it.

Now we don’t have to explain why drilling into a gadget powered by an internal lithium-ion battery is dangerous, and we’re not necessarily vouching for the technique [Heikki] used here. But when presented with a sealed unit like this, we admit there weren’t a lot of good options. The fact that the user should have to go to such ridiculous lengths to disable the microphone in a game controller is a perfect example of why we should try to avoid these adversarially designed devices, but that’s a discussion for another time.

In the end, with a steady and and increasingly larger bits, [Heikki] was able to put a 7 mm hole in the back of the Stadia controller that allowed him to extract the microphone in one piece. Removing the microphone seems to have had no adverse effect on the device as, surprisingly enough, it turns out that a game controller doesn’t actually need to listen to the player. Who knew?

As our devices get smarter, hidden microphones and cameras are unfortunately becoming more common. Thankfully a few manufacturers out there are taking the hint and including hardware kill switches for these intrusive features, but until that becomes the norm, hackers will have to come up with their own solutions.

Update 1/10/21: This article originally indicated that the microphone is always listening. While there is no hardware switch to disable the mic, there is a button which must be pressed to trigger the voice assistant functions. We have used strike through above to indicate the change to what was originally published.

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Learning To Speak Peloton

Recently [Imran Haque]’s family bought the quite popular Peloton bike. After his initial skepticism melted to a quiet enthusiasm, [Imran] felt his hacker curiosity begin to probe the head unit on the bike. Which despite being a lightly skinned android tablet, has a reputation for being rather locked down. The Peloton bike will happily collect data such as heart rate from other devices but is rather reticent to broadcast any data it generates such as cadence and power. [Imran] set out to decode and liberate the Peleton’s data by creating a device he has dubbed PeloMon. He credits the inspiration for his journey to another hacker who connected a Raspberry Pi to their bricked exercise bike.

As a first step, [Imran] step began with decoding the TRRS connector that connects the bike to the head unit. With the help of a multi-meter and a logic analyzer, two 19200bps 8N1 RS-232 channels (TX and RX) were identified. Once the basic transport layer was established, he next set to work decoding the packets. By plotting the bytes in the packets and applying deductive reasoning, a rough spec was defined. The head unit requested updates every 100ms and the bike responded with cadence, power, and resistance data depending on the request type (the head unit did a round-robin through the three data types).

Once the protocol was decoded, the next step for [Imran] was to code up an emulator. It seems a strange decision to write an emulator for a device with a simple protocol, but the reasoning is quite sound. It avoids a 20-minute bike ride every time a code change needs to be tested. [Imran] wrote both an event-driven and a timing-accurate emulator. The former runs on the same board as the PeloMon and the latter runs on a separate board (an Arduino).

The hardware chosen for the PeloMon was an Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE. It was chosen for supporting Bluetooth LE as well as having onboard EEPROM. A level shifter allows the microcontroller to talk directly to the RS-323 on the bike. After a few pull requests to the Adafruit Bluetooth libraries and a fair bit of head-banging, [Imran] has code that advertises two Bluetooth services, one for speed and another for power. A Bluetooth serial console is also included for debugging without having to pull the circuit out.

The code, schematics, emulators, and research notes are all available on GitHub.

Xbox Controller Mod Gets Serious About Stick Drift

Many a gamer has found that after a few years of racing around the track or sending demons back from whence they came, the analog sticks on their trusty controller can start to drift around. Many times it’s a fairly minor problem, something you might only notice if you were really keeping an eye out for it, but it can definitely be annoying. Those handy with a soldering iron might just swap out the sticks for replacements once it gets to that point, but [Taylor Burley] wondered how difficult it would be to recalibrate the ailing sticks instead.

To be clear, [Taylor] acknowledges this approach is overkill. It would be cheaper and easier to just replace the drifting stick with a new one. Even if you take into account that new sticks might not be as high quality as the originals and could give up the ghost faster, this probably isn’t worth the effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting hack.

In the video after the break, [Taylor] starts by explaining how stick drift occurs in the first place. Each axis of the stick is physically connected to the wiper of a potentiometer, so for 10K pots, the stick’s center point should correspond to a resistance of 5K. He then goes on to measure the resistance in a bad joystick, and sure enough, the center resistance is off by several hundred Ohms.

To fix this, he comes up with a simple circuit that places additional potentiometers between the wipers. With two joysticks and two adjustment pots per axis, that makes eight little adjustment wheels that need to be fiddled with to get the center points calibrated properly. In this case [Taylor] uses a controller diagnostic tool for the Xbox to quantify the impact his adjustments are making so he can dial it in perfectly, but the idea is the same no matter who’s logo is on the box.

We’d say this is the most overkill attempt at addressing the issue of stick drift on gaming controllers we’ve ever seen, but that title has to go to [Matteo Pisani], who replaced the analog stick on his Switch Joy-Con with a custom circular touchpad.

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Inputs Of Interest: DecaTxt Ultra-Portable Chording Keyboard

Now here’s a stocking stuffer of a keyboard. The DecaTxt is the size of a deck of cards, and at first glance it looks like some kind of pocket Keno machine or other gambling or gaming apparatus. But that’s just because it’s so colorful. When you only have ten keys emulating a full keyboard, there’s bound to be some serious labeling going on, as there should be.

DecaTxt demonstration from IN10DID

The DecaTxt is a Bluetooth 4.0 chording keyboard that’s meant to be used with your phone or whatever you want to pair it with. It was originally called the In10did, which stands for Input Nomenclature Ten Digit Interface Device. Catchy, no? At some point in the last ten years, this little guy went wireless and got a cooler name — the DecaTxt. Continue reading “Inputs Of Interest: DecaTxt Ultra-Portable Chording Keyboard”

A Gesture Recognizing Armband

Gesture recognition usually involves some sort of optical system watching your hands, but researchers at UC Berkeley took a different approach. Instead they are monitoring the electrical signals in the forearm that control the muscles, and creating a machine learning model to recognize hand gestures.

The sensor system is a flexible PET armband with 64 electrodes screen printed onto it in silver conductive ink, attached to a standalone AI processing module.  Since everyone’s arm is slightly different, the system needs to be trained for a specific user, but that also means that the specific electrical signals don’t have to be isolated as it learns to recognize patterns.

The challenging part of this is that the patterns don’t remain constant over time, and will change depending on factors such as sweat, arm position,  and even just biological changes. To deal with this the model can update itself on the device over time as the signal changes. Another part of this research that we appreciate is that all the inferencing, training, and updating happens locally on the AI chip in the armband. There is no need to send data to an external device or the “cloud” for processing, updating, or third-party data mining. Unfortunately the research paper with all the details is behind a paywall.

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Logitech Joystick Gets A Mechanical Sidekick

The mechanical keyboard rabbit hole is a deep one, and can swallow up as much money and time as you want to spend. If you’ve become spoiled on the touch and responsiveness of a Cherry MX or other mechanical switch, you might even start putting them on other user interfaces as well, such as this Logitech joystick that now sports a few very usable mechanical keys for the touch-conscious among us.

The Logitech Extreme 3D Pro that [ErkHal] and friend [HeKeKe] modified to accept the mechanical keys originally had a set of input buttons on the side, but these were unreliable and error-prone with a very long, inconsistent push. Soldering some mechanical switches directly on the existing board was a nice improvement, but the pair decided that they could do even better and rolled out an entire custom PCB to mount the keys more ergonomically. The switches are Kailh Choc V2 Browns and seem to have done a great job of improving the responsiveness of the joystick’s side buttons. If you want to spin up your own version, they’ve made the PCBs available on their GitHub page.

While [ErkHal] notes the switches aren’t the best and were only used since they were available, they certainly appear to work much better than what the joystick shipped with originally. In fact, we recently saw similar switches used to make a custom mechanical keyboard made for the PinePhone.