Hackaday Links: November 19, 2017

[Peter]’s homebuilt ultralight is actually flying now and not in ground effect, much to the chagrin of YouTube commenters. [Peter Sripol] built a Part 103 ultralight (no license required, any moron can jump in one and fly) in his basement out of foam board from Lowes. Now, he’s actually doing flight testing, and he managed to build a good plane. Someone gifted him a ballistic parachute so the GoFundMe for the parachute is unneeded right now, but this gift parachute is a bit too big for the airframe. Not a problem; he’ll just sell it and buy the smaller model.

Last week, rumors circulated of Broadcom acquiring Qualcomm for the sum of One… Hundred… Billion Dollars. It looks like that’s not happening now. Qualcomm rejected a deal for $103B, saying the offer, ‘undervalued the company and would face regulatory hurdles.’ Does this mean the deal is off? No, there are 80s guys out there who put the dollar signs in Busine$$, and there’s politicking going on.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out there were some very fancy LED panels available on eBay for very cheap. The Barco NX-4 LED panels are a 32×36 panels of RGB LEDs, driven very quickly by some FPGA goodness. The reverse engineering of these panels is well underway, and [Ian] and his team almost have everything figured out. Glad I got my ten panels…

TechShop is gone. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to a business with a whole bunch of tools anyone can use. This leaves a lot of people with TechShop memberships out in the cold, and to ease the pain, Glowforge, Inventables, Formlabs, and littleBits are offering some discounts so you can build a hackerspace in your garage or basement. In other TechShop news, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what are they going to do with all the machines?’. Nobody knows, but the smart money is a liquidation/auction. Yes, in a few months, you’ll probably be renting a U-Haul and driving to TechShop one last time.

3D Hubs has come out with a 3D Printing Handbook. There’s a lot in the world of filament-based 3D printing that isn’t written down. It’s all based on experience, passed on from person to person. How much of an overhang can you really get away with? How do you orient a part correctly? God damned stringing. How do you design a friction-fit between two parts? All of these techniques are learned by experience. Is it possible to put this knowledge in a book? I have no idea, so look for that review in a week or two.

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Adam] is a collector of vintage computers. Instead of letting them sit in the attic, he’s taking gorgeous pictures of them. The collection includes most of the big-time Atari and Commodore 8-bitters, your requisite Apples, all of the case designs of the all-in-one Macs, some Pentium-era PCs, and even a few of the post-97 Macs. Is that Bondi Blue? Bonus points: all of these images are free to use with attribution.

Nvidia is blowing out their TX1 development kits. You can grab one for $200. What’s the TX1? It’s a really, really fast ARM computer stuffed into a heat sink that’s about the size of a deck of cards. You can attach it to a MiniITX breakout board that provides you with Ethernet, WiFi, and a bunch of other goodies. It’s a step above the Raspberry Pi for sure and is capable enough to run as a normal desktop computer.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Broadcom, Qualcomm, and One Hundred Billion Dollars

Rumors have been circulating this last weekend of the largest semiconductor acquisition ever. Broadcom might buy Qualcomm for the princely sum of one hundred Billion dollars.

You will most likely be familiar with both Qualcomm and Broadcom for their wireless and cellphone chipsets. As far as the Maker community is concerned, Broadcom makes the chipset for the Raspberry Pi, but in the context of a two hundred Billion dollar company, a ‘maker’ focused Linux dev board is the equivalent of a rounding error on a balance sheet.

This news comes a little more than a year after the announcement that Qualcomm is snatching up NXP, and two years after the news of NXP is merging with Freescale. The industry is in a state of consolidation.

This proposed deal follows several other semiconductor mergers and acquisitions including NXP and Freescale, Intel and Altera, Avago and BroadcomOn Semiconductor and Fairchild, and the one we’re most befuddled with, Atmel and Microchip. Why are these companies merging? Because they’re sitting on mountains of cash. All of these mergers with the exception of Avago and Broadcom, have been for single-digit Billions of dollars. The merger of Broadcom and Qualcomm — if it happens — will be the largest merger of two semiconductor companies ever. That’s easy to do when both Broadcom and Qualcomm are on the top ten list of largest semiconductor companies, but it is evidence enough that the mergers and acquisitions in the industry are not slowing down.

Broadpwn – All Your Mobiles are Belong to Us

Researchers from Exodus Intel recently published details on a flaw that exists on several Broadcom WiFi chipsets. It’s estimated to affect nearly 1 Billion devices, from Android to iPhone. Just to name a few in the top list:

  • Samsung Galaxy from S3 through S8, inclusive
  • All Samsung Notes3. Nexus 5, 6, 6X and 6P
  • All iPhones after iPhone 5

So how did this happen? And how does a bug affect so many different devices?

A smart phone nowadays is a very complicated mesh of interconnected chips. Besides the main processor, there are several other secondary processors handling specialized tasks which would otherwise clog up the main CPU. One of those is the WiFi chipset, which is responsible for WiFi radio communications — handling the PHY, MAC and MLME layers. When all the processing is complete, the radio chipset hands data packets over the kernel driver, which runs on the main CPU. This means that the radio chipset itself has to have some considerable data processing power to handle all this work. Alas, with great power comes great responsibility.

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Blob-less Raspberry Pi Linux Is A Step Closer

The Raspberry Pi single board computer has been an astounding success since its launch nearly five years ago, to the extent that as of last autumn it had sold ten million units with no sign of sales abating. It has delivered an extremely affordable and pretty powerful computer into the hands of hobbyists, youngsters, hackers, engineers and thousands of other groups, and its open-source Raspbian operating system has brought a useful Linux environment to places we might once have thought impossible.

The previous paragraph, we have to admit, is almost true. The Pi has sold a lot, it’s really useful and lots of people use it, but is Raspbian open-source? Not strictly. Because the Broadcom silicon that powers the Pi has a significant amount of proprietary tech that the chipmaker has been unwilling to let us peer too closely at, each and every Raspberry Pi operating system has shipped with a precompiled binary blob containing the proprietary Broadcom code, and of course that’s the bit that isn’t open source. It hasn’t been a problem for most Pi users as it’s understood to be part of the trade-off that enabled the board’s creators to bring it to us at an affordable price back in 2012, but for open-source purists it’s been something of a thorn in the side of the little board from Cambridge.

This is not to say that all is lost on the blob-free Pi front. Aided by a partial pulling back of the curtain of secrecy by Broadcom in 2014, work has quietly been progressing, and we now have the announcement from [Kristina Brooks] that a minimal Linux kernel can boot from her latest open firmware efforts. You won’t be booting a blob-free Raspbian any time soon as there are bugs to fix and USB, DMA, and video hardware has still to receive full support, but it’s a significant step. We won’t pretend to be Broadcom firmware gurus as we’re simply reporting the work, but if it’s your specialty you can find the code in its GitHub repository. Meanwhile, we look forward to future progress on this very interesting project.

We reported on the partial Broadcom release back in 2014. At the time, the Raspberry Pi people offered a prize to the first person running a native Quake III game on their hardware, sadly though they note the competition is closed they haven’t linked to the winning entry.

The Raspberry Pi 3 Compute Module Is On Its Way

The Raspberry Pi Foundation founder Eben Upton has revealed in an interview with PCWorld that there will be a new version of the organisation’s Compute Module featuring the faster processor from the latest Raspberry Pi 3 boards, and it will be available “In a few months”.

The Compute Module was always something of an odd one out among the Raspberry Pi range, being a stripped-out Raspberry Pi chipset on a SODIMM form factor card without peripherals for use as an embedded computer rather than the standalone card with all the interfaces we are used to in the other Pi boards. It has found a home as the unseen brains behind a selection of commercial products, and though there are a few interface boards for developers and experimenters available for it we haven’t seen a lot of it in the world of hackers and makers. Some have questioned its relevance when the outwardly similar Pi Zero can be had for a lower price, but this misses the point that the two boards have been created for completely different markets.

The Pi 3’s 1.2 GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 BCM2837 SoC will certainly up the ante in the Compute module’s market, but it will be interesting to see what changes if any they make to its form factor. The Foundation’s close ties with Broadcom mean that they have done an impressive job in maintaining backward compatibility at a hardware level between the different generations of their product, but it is unclear whether this extends to the possibility of the new module maintaining a pin-for-pin compatibility with the old. We’d expect this to be an unlikely prospect.

It is certain that we will see a new generation of exciting commercial products emerging based around the new module, but will we see it making waves within our domain? This will depend on its marketing, and in particular the price point and quantity purchase they set for it. The previous board when added to a Compute Module Development board was an expensive prospect compared to a Raspberry Pi Model B that became more unattractive still as newer Pi boards gained more capabilities. If they price this one competitively and perhaps if any cheaper open hardware breakout boards emerge for it, we could have a valuable new platform on our hands.

Here’s our coverage of the original Compute Module launch, back in 2014.

[via Liliputing and reddit].

BCM2837 image: By Jose.gil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Swapping GPIO Pins on the Pi Zero for Audio

The new Raspberry Pi Zero is generating a lot of discussion, especially along the lines of “why didn’t they include…?” One specific complaint has been that audio is only available through the HDMI port. That’s not entirely true as pointed out by Lady Ada over at Adafruit.

Something to remember about the entire Pi family is the pins on the Broadcom processors are multipurpose. Does it increase the confusion or the capabilities? Take your pick. But the key benefit is that different pins can handle the same purpose. For audio the Greater Than Zero Pis (GTZPi) use PWM0_OUT and PWM1_OUT on the processor’s GPIO pins 40 and 45. On the GRZPis these feed a diode, resistor and capacitor network that ends at the audio output jack. They don’t appear on the GPIO connector so cannot be used on the Zero.

The multi-pin, multi-purpose capability of the Broadcom processor allows you to switch PWM0_OUT to GPIO 18 and PWM1_OUT to GPIO 13 or 19. Add the network from the Adafruit note, or check this schematic from the Raspberry Pi site – look at the lower right on the second page.

raspberry_pi_audiofilter

While you’re checking out the audio hack at Adafruit, read through the entirety of Introducing the Raspberry Pi Zero. Lady Ada provides a great description of the Zero and what is needed to start using it.

If you’re looking for Zero hacking ideas you might check the comments in our announcement about the Zero or article on the first hack we received. There is a lot of grist for the hacking mill in them.

Amazon Dash Button Pwn3d

If you haven’t heard about the Amazon dash button yet we’re glad you quit watching cat videos and have joined us. Just to get you up to speed: the Amazon dash button is a small wireless device that lets your lazy ass order more laundry soap by pushing the “dash button” which should be affixed to something near your washing machine. The pushing of the button will set in motion the gut wrenching process that we used to know as “buying things we ran out of” but thanks to Amazon we can now just cover our entire lives with an assortment of buttons that take zero credentials to physically push. We can’t see that being a problem whatsoever.

Needless to say we as a community set out to find an actual use for these fantastic little devices. [maximus64] has done quite a nice job at enabling this hardware in a most usable way. Most of the hacks we have seen for the dash button remove the physical push button and add a sensor of some kind. Replacing the button with a sensor still uses the WiFi connection to send data from the button to the cloud. Instead of the button ordering more <<product>> from Amazon, a sensor might trigger the dash to increment a counter on your website letting you know that your dog went through the doggy door +1 more times.

[maximus64] has the dash button working in the reverse manner by porting the Broadcom IoT WICED SDK to the button. He is using the dash button as a receiver and when [maximus64] sends the “all good” signal from his laptop to the dash button his garage door opens which you can see in the video after the break. We find this extremely more useful than the dash button’s original intended use. [maximus64] has instructions in the readme.md file of the github repo so that you too can hack your dash button in this way.

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