Phone For Hackers Launches A Crowdfunding Campaign

Based on the WiFi / Bluetooth wunderchip, clad in a polycarbonate frame, and looking like something that would be an amazing cell phone for 2005, the WiPhone is now available on Kickstarter.

We’ve seen the WiPhone before, and it’s an interesting set of features for what is effectively an ESP32 board with some buttons and a screen. It’s become something of a platform, with expansion daughterboards for LTE, LoRa, a camera, a Bus Pirate, and a programmable NFC/RFID doohickey. If you’ve longed for the day of big ‘ol Nokia brick phones, want to hack your phone, but don’t really care about actually having cellular connectivity, this is something that’s right up your alley.

Although the WiPhone looks like a usable product that was designed by someone with a sense of design, it still is Open Source. You can build your own, and there are dozens of expansion boards that will plug into the back of the WiPhone for prototyping, experimentation, and RGB Gaming LEDs. There’s no cellular modem on the WiPhone, though; for calls you’ll have to turn to SIP or VoIP apps.

Considering how difficult it is to source a cellular modem in small quantities and the desire for a cell phone that respects your Right to Repair, we’ve got to hand it to the WiPhone for creating something people want. It gets even better when you consider this looks more like a product than the 3D printed pieces of electronic cruft we usually see, and we’re happy to see this crowdfunding campaign just passed its goal and is completely funded.

The WiFi Phone That Respects Your Right To Repair

Phones are getting increasingly more complex, more difficult to repair, and phone manufacturers don’t like you tinkering with their stuff. It’s a portable version of a John Deere tractor in your pocket, and Apple doesn’t want you replacing a battery by yourself. What if there was a phone that respected your freedom? That’s the idea behind the WiPhone, and soon it’s going to be be a crowdfunding campaign. Yes, you will soon be able to buy a phone that respects your freedom.

We took a look at the WiPhone a few months ago, and the idea was solid: make a simple, cheap, handheld device based on the ESP32 WiFi/Bluetooth wonder microcontroller. There are a few other various bits of electronic ephemera for scanning the buttons, an audio codec, and a speaker driver, but the basics of the build are just an LCD and ESP32. The entire idea of this phone is to make calls through WiFi, and given the state of VoIP, it’s a marketable product.

Astute readers may notice that the WiPhone doesn’t have a cellular modem. Yes, this is true, but putting a baseband in a small, low-volume project is incredibly hard. You’re limited to 2G if you don’t want to deal with Broadcom or Qualcomm, and they’re not going to be interested in you if you’re not moving a hundred thousand units, anyway. Also, you’ve got service plans to deal with, multi-country radios, and you’re probably next to a trusted WiFi network right now, anyway.

The WiPhone is designed to be hackable, with daughter boards that turn it into a rainbow or RC car, and easy to assemble. It’s also going to be a crowdfunding campaign at the end of the month. If you want a phone that respects your right to repair, this is the project to look at, even if you don’t need a cellular modem all the time.

This Is A Kickstarter For None More Black

Vantablack is the darkest pigment ever created, capable of absorbing 99.96% of visible light. If you cover something in Vantablack, it turns into a black hole. No detail is presented, and physical objects become silhouettes. Objects covered in Vantablack are outside the human experience. The mammalian mind cannot comprehend a Vantablack object.

Vantablack is cool, but it’s also expensive. It’s also exclusively licensed by [Anish Kapoor]’s studio for artistic use. Understandably, artists have rebelled, and they’re making their own Vantablack-like pigments. Now, the World’s Blackest Black is on Kickstarter. You can get a 150 ml bottle of Black 3.0, something that’s almost black as Vantablack, for £10.

Is this a photoshop? Who knows.

The pigment for Black 3.0 is called Black Magick, and yes, there was a version 2.0 The problem with the earlier version is that although the pigment was blacker than almost anything else, paint isn’t just pigment. You need binders. The new formulation uses a new acrylic polymer to hold the pigment, and ‘nano-mattifiers’ to make the paint none more matte.

What can you do with the blackest black paint you’ve ever seen? Well, taking pictures of an object covered in the blackest black is a tiny bit dumb. This is something that must be experienced in person. You could paint a car with it, which is something I really want to see. You could follow [Anish Kapoor] around in the shadows. Use it as a calibration target. Who knows what we’ll do with the almost-Vantablack when everyone has it.

Hands On With The Smallest Game Boy Ever Made

The PocketSprite is the tiniest fully-functional Game Boy Color and Sega Master System emulator. Not only is it small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s small enough to lose in your pocket. It’s now available as a Crowd Supply campaign, and it’s everything you could ever want in a portable, WiFi-enabled, fully hackable video game console. It also plays Witcher 3. And probably Crysis, because of the meme.

This has been a year and a half in the making. The first hardware version of the PocketSprite was revealed at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference by hardware engineer extraordinaire [Sprite_TM]. As [Sprite] has a long list of incredibly impressive hardware hacks like installing Linux on a hard drive and building a Matrix of Tamagotchis, he always has to keep pushing deep into the hardware frontier.

In 2016, [Sprite] showed off the tiniest Game Boy ever, powered by the then brand-spankin’ new ESP32. This was released as Open Source, with the hope that a factory in China would take the files and start pumping out mini Game Boys for everyone to enjoy. Now, a year and a half later, it’s finally happened. In a collaboration with manufacturing wizard [Steve K], [Sprite] is the mastermind behind TeamPocket. The pocket-sized Game Boy-shaped emulator is now real. This is our hands-on review.

Continue reading “Hands On With The Smallest Game Boy Ever Made”

Real-Life Electronic Neurons

All the kids down at Stanford are talking about neural nets. Whether this is due to the actual utility of neural nets or because all those kids were born after AI’s last death in the mid-80s is anyone’s guess, but there is one significant drawback to this tiny subset of machine intelligence: it’s a complete abstraction. Nothing called a ‘neural net’ is actually like a nervous system, there are no dendrites or axions and you can’t learn how to do logic by connecting neurons together.

NeruroBytes is not a strange platform for neural nets. It’s physical neurons, rendered in PCBs and Molex connectors. Now, finally, it’s a Kickstarter project, and one of the more exciting educational electronic projects we’ve ever seen.

Regular Hackaday readers should be very familiar with NeuroBytes. It began as a project for the Hackaday Prize all the way back in 2015. There, it was recognized as a finalist for the Best Product, Since then, the team behind NeuroBytes have received an NHS grant, they’re certified Open Source Hardware through OSHWA, and there are now enough NeuroBytes to recreate the connectome of a flatworm. It’s doubtful the team actually has enough patience to recreate the brain of even the simplest organism, but is already an impressive feat.

The highlights of the NeuroBytes Kickstarter include seven different types of neurons for different sensory systems, kits to test the patellar reflex, and what is probably most interesting to the Hackaday crowd, a Braitenberg Vehicle chassis, meant to test the ideas set forth in Valentino Braitenberg’s book, Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology. If that book doesn’t sound familiar, BEAM robots probably do; that’s where the idea for BEAM robots came from.

It’s been a long, long journey for [Zach] and the other creators of NeuroBytes to get to this point. It’s great that this project is now finally in the wild, and we can’t wait to see what comes of it. Hopefully a full flatworm connectome.

A Simple, Easy To Use ESP32 Dev Board

The ESP32 is Espressif’s follow-up to their extraordinarily popular ESP8266 WiFi chip. It has a dual-core, 32-bit processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, ADCs, DACs, CAN, a Hall effect sensor, an Ethernet MAC, and a whole bunch of other goodies that make this chip the brains for the Internet of Everything. Everyone has been able to simply buy an ESP32 for a few months now, but the Hackaday tip line isn’t exactly overflowing with projects and products built around this wonderchip. Perhaps we need an ESP32 dev board or something.

The Hornbill is the latest crowdfunding campaign from CrowdSupply. It’s an ESP32 dev board, packed with the latest goodies, a single cell LiPo charger, and a USB to serial chip that will probably work with most operating systems. The Hornbill comes in two varieties, a breadboardable module, with a breakout board that includes an SD card slot, sensors, an RGB LED, and a bunch of prototyping space. The second version is something like an Adafruit Flora with big pads for alligator clips.

While this isn’t the first ESP32 breakout we’ve seen — Adafruit, Sparkfun, and a hundred factories in China are pumping boards with this chip out — it is a very easy and inexpensive way to get into the ESP32 ecosystem.

IOT Startup Bricks Customers Garage Door Intentionally

Internet of Things startup Garadget remotely bricked an unhappy customer’s WiFi garage door for giving a bad Amazon review and being rude to company reps. Garadget device owner [Robert Martin] found out the hard way how quickly the device can turn a door into a wall. After leaving a negative Amazon review, and starting a thread on Garadget’s support forum complaining the device didn’t work with his iPhone, Martin was banned from the forum until December 27, 2019 for his choice of words and was told his comments and bad Amazon review had convinced Garadget staff to ban his device from their servers.

The response was not what you would expect a community-funded startup. “Technically there is no bricking, though,” the rep replied. “No changes are made to the hardware or the firmware of the device, just denied use of company servers.” Tell that to [Robert] who can’t get into his garage.

This caused some discontent amoung other customers wondering if it was just a matter of time before more paying customers are subjected to this outlandish treatment. The Register asked Garadget’s founder [Denis Grisak] about the situation, his response is quoted below.

 It was a Bad PR Move, Martin has now had his server connection restored, and the IOT upstart has posted a public statement on the matter.– Garadget

This whole debacle brings us to the conclusion that the IoT boom has a lot of issues ahead that need to be straightened out especially when it comes to ethics and security. It’s bad enough to have to deal with the vagaries of IoT Security and companies who shut down their products because they’re just not making enough money. Now we have to worry about using “cloud” services because the people who own the little fluffy computers could just be jerks.