Chromebook Trades Camera for WiFi Freedom

There are a number of companies now providing turn-key computers that meet the Free Software Foundation’s criteria for their “Respects Your Freedom” certification. This means, in a general sense, that the computer is guaranteed not to spy on you or otherwise do anything else you didn’t explicitly ask it to. Unfortunately these machines often have a hefty premium tacked on, making it an unpleasant decision between privacy and performance.

Freedom-loving hacker [SolidHal] writes in to tell us about his quest to create a FSF-compliant laptop without breaking the bank. Based on a cheap Asus C201 Chromebook, his custom machine checks off all the appropriate boxes. The operating system was easy enough with an install of Debian, and the bootloader was rid of any Intel Management Engine shenanigans with a healthy dose of Libreboot. But there was one problem: the permanently installed WiFi hardware that required proprietary firmware. To remedy the issue, he decided to install an internal USB Wi-Fi adapter that has the FSF seal of approval.

As the Chromebook obviously doesn’t have an internal USB port, this was easier said than done. But as [SolidHal] is not the kind of guy who would want his laptop taking pictures of him in the first place, he had the idea to take the internal USB connection used by the integrated webcam and use that. He pulled the webcam out, studied the wiring, and determined which wires corresponded to the normal USB pinout.

The FSF approved ThinkPenguin Wi-Fi adapter he chose is exceptionally small, so it was easy enough to tuck it inside some empty space inside of the Chromebook. [SolidHal] just needed to solder it to the old webcam connection, and wrap it up in Kapton tape to prevent any possible shorts. The signal probably isn’t great considering the antenna is stuck inside the machine with all the noisy components, but it’s a trade-off for having a fully free and open source driver. But as already established, sometimes these are the kind of tough choices you have to make when walking in the righteous footsteps of Saint Ignucius.

Internal laptop modifications like this one remind us of the Ye Olden Days of Hackaday, when Eee PC modifications were all the rage and we still ran black and white pictures “taped” to the screen. Ah, the memories.

Hackaday Links: May 17, 2015

Here’s a worthwhile Kickstarter for once: the Prishtina Hackerspace. Yes, that’s a Kickstarter for a hackerspace in Kosovo. Unlike most hackerspace Kickstarters, they’re already mostly funded, with 20 days to go. If we ever get around to doing the Istanbul to Kaliningrad hackerspace tour, we’ll drop by.

Codebender is a web-based tool that allows you to code and program an Arduino. The Chromebook is a web-based laptop that is popular with a few schools. Now you can uses Codebender on a Chromebook. You might need to update your Chromebook to v42, and there’s a slight bug in the USB programmers, but that should be fixed in a month or so.

Here’s a great way to waste five minutes. It’s called agar.io. It’s a multiplayer online game where you’re a cell, you eat dots that are smaller than you, and bigger cells (other players) can eat you. [Morris] found the missing feature: being able to find the IP of a server so you can play with your friends. This feature is now implemented in a browser script. Here’s the repo.

The FAA currently deciding the fate of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems, and we’re going to live with any screwup they make for the next 50 years. It would be nice if all UAV operators, drone pilots, and everyone involved with flying robots could get together and hash out what the ideal rules would be. That’s happening in late July thanks to the Silicon Valley Chapter of AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International).

SOLAR ROADWAYS!! Al Jazeera is reporting a project in the Netherlands that puts solar cells in a road. It’s just a bike path, it’s only 70 meters long, and it can support at least 12 tonnes (in the form of a ‘fire brigade truck’). There’s no plans for the truly dumb solar roadways stuff – heating the roads, or having lanes with LEDs. We’re desperately seeking more information on this one.

Embedding Wireless Charging into Your Laptop

Wireless charger in chromebook

Looking for a project to do [Jason Clark] thought it might be fun to integrate a spare wireless Qi charger into his HP Chromebook 14.

He started by cracking open the Qi charger — it’s held together by adhesive and four phillips screws hiding under the feet pads — all in all, not that difficult to do. Once the plastic is off, the circuit and coil are actually quite small making it an ideal choice for hacking into various things. We’ve seen them stuffed into Nook’s, a heart, salvaged for a phone hack…

Anyway, the next step was opening up the Chromebook. The Qi charger requires 5V at 2A to work, which luckily, is the USB 3.0 spec — of which he has two ports in the Chromebook. He identified the 5V supply on the board and soldered in the wires directly —  Let there be power!

While the coil and board are fairly small, there’s not that much space underneath the Chromebook’s skin, so [Jason] lengthened the coil wires and located it separately, just below the keyboard. He closed everything up, crossed his fingers and turned the power on. Success!

It’d be cool to do something similar with an RFID reader — then you could have your laptop locked unless you have your RFID ring with you!

Chromebook hack controls your television

chromebook_remote_control1

[Michael Kohn] only accomplished about half of what he set out to, but we still think his TV channel switcher from a Chromebook turned out nicely. When starting the project he wanted to include a grid of listing so that he could choose a specific program, but decided that scraping the data was too much work for this go-round.

The Chromebook doesn’t include an IR transmitter so he built one using an MSP430 chip. He had previously built a little transmitter around an AVR chip and was surprised to find that the internal oscillator on that was quite a bit more accurate than on the MSP430. Timing is everything with the Manchester encoded signals used for IR remote controls so he used his oscilloscope to tune the DCO as accurately as possible.

The app shown on the screen was written in Javascript. Google published some example code on using RS232 with the computer; [Michael] used this resource to provide communications between the computer and the microcontroller.

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