An unexpected side effect of the global semiconductor shortage came to light this week — Japanese printer manufacturer Canon announced they are temporarily going to provide consumable ink and toner cartridges without microchips. Furthermore, they provided instructions for consumers on how to bypass the printer’s logic, allowing it to function even when it incorrectly thinks the ink or toner is low. Included in the announcement (German), the company stated what most people already knew:
There is no negative impact on print quality when using consumables without electronic components.
It’s well known that many printer companies make their profit on the consumable cartridges rather than the printers themselves. And most printers require consumers to only use factory original cartridges, a policy enforced by embedded security ICs. Use a third-party ink cartridge and your printer will likely refuse to print. There are legitimate concerns about poor quality inks damaging the print heads. But with reports like this 2003 one from the BBC noting that 17% to 38% additional good quality pages can be printed after the consumable is declared “empty”, and that the price per milliliter of inks is seven times the cost of vintage champagne, one can reasonably conclude that these DRM-protected consumables are more about on ensuring profits than protecting the hardware.
For now, this announcement applies to German customers, and covers the Canon imageRunner family of multi-function printers (the complete list is in the company announcement above).
[Starhawk] is a man with a problem. More accurately, he’s a man whose mother has a problem, but ultimately that ends up being the same thing. Her wide-format Canon printer recently stopped working after better than a decade of reliable service, and he wants to know why. Rather than spend the money on buying a new printer, he’s determined to find out if she’s been the victim of planned obsolescence by reverse engineering the Canon i9900 to see what makes it tick (or stop ticking, as the case may be).
In the absence of any obvious hardware faults, [Starhawk] has suspicions that the machine’s QY6-0055 printhead has run over some internal “odometer” and simply turned itself off. We’ve all seen similar trickery at play when trying to use third party ink cartridges in our printers, so it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility that the Canon i9900 is designed to reject heads once they’ve seen enough usage. Perhaps the biggest clue is that the QY6-0055 has a Seiko S93C56BR EEPROM on the board that’s keeping track of…something.
Right now, [Starhawk] is devoting his energies on trying to make sense of the data he pulled from the EEPROM using his TL866A programmer. But that’s no easy feat with a sample size of just one, which is why he’s looking for help. He’s hoping that other hackers with similar printers (and ideally ones that use the same QY6-0055 head) could submit their own EEPROM dumps and the community could get to work trying to decipher what’s stored on the chips. He’s really hoping that somebody at Canon might be willing to sneak him a couple tips on what he should be looking for, but at this point we think he’ll take whatever assistance he can get.
Now to be fair, there’s really no way to know definitively if there’s some flag stored on the EEPROM that’s keeping the printer from working. It could just be good old fashioned hardware failure, which would hardly be a surprise for a piece of consumer electronics from 2005. But even if the effort to understand the Canon’s EEPROM doesn’t get him any closer to a working printer, we still think it’s a fascinating example of real-world reverse engineering that’s worth it for the experience alone.
There’s a long history of hackers doing battle with their printers, from emulating an ink cartridge with a microcontroller to reinking the ribbon of a vintage 1980s behemoth. We’re interested in seeing where this project takes [Starhawk], but no matter what happens there are likely to be some interesting discoveries made along the way.
When it comes to hackers we love, there’s no better example than Jeroen Domburg, a.k.a. Sprite_TM. Sprite’s now working for Espressif, makers of the fantastic ESP8266 and ESP32, where he created a miniature Game Boy and turned this PocketSprite into a real product. He’s installed Linux on a hard drive, and created a Matrix of virtualized Tamagotchis. In short, if you’re looking for someone who’s building the coolest, most technical thing of sometimes questionable utility, you need look no further than Sprite_tm.
Sprite was back at this year’s Superconference, and again he’s bringing out the big guns with awesome hardware hacks. This time, though, Sprite is tapping into his artistic side. Sprite is very accomplished in making PCB art and DaveCAD drawings, but actual art is something that’s been out of reach. No problem, because you can just buy an inkjet printer and make your own art. Sprite’s doing something different, and he’s turning his inkjet into a Magic Paintbrush.
Continue reading “Sprite_TM’s Magic Paintbrush”