Hacker Dictionary: RS-485 Will Go The Distance

RS485 is a communication standard that should be part of the advanced hardware hacker’s arsenal; it’s not commonly encountered, but powerful exactly when you need it. It’s a physical layer interface for wired communications that uses a single differential pair for noise immunity, has good long-distance properties, and allows many connections to a single bus. Because of that, you will encounter it in security systems and even cameras, wired sensor networks, DMX512 lighting and all sorts of industrial electronics. For our hobbyist goals, you can absolutely use RS485 to build your home (or room) automation system, or a relatively large robot – without all those worries that wireless brings.

The name might remind you of RS232, and that’s because both RS232 and RS485 are standards that come from EIA (Electronics Industries Alliance). It also might remind you of RS422, if you’ve ever seen this name mentioned online – RS422 and RS485 are closely intertwined, sharing most of the physical layer, and I’ll show how exactly they relate. Continue reading “Hacker Dictionary: RS-485 Will Go The Distance”

Sniffing the Multidrop Bus

Sniffing Vending Machine Buses

We’ve talked about a variety of protocols and how to deal with them in the past. Today, [Dan] is working on sniffing vending machine Multidrop Bus. The Multidrop Bus (MDB) protocol is a standard used in vending machines to connect devices such as currency collectors to the host controller.

To connect to the bus, interface hardware is required. [Dan] worked out compliant hardware and connected it to an Arduino. With the device on the bus, [Dan] got to work on an Arduino sketch to parse the MDB data into a human-readable format. With that working, the bus can easily be sniffed over the Arduino’s serial console.

This is just the start of a more involved project. Since this protocol is used to communicate with a vending machine’s currency collector or card reader, being able to communicate it would allow him to implement his own payment methods. The plan is to augment the vending machine he operates at Vancouver Hack Space to accept Bitcoin. We’re looking forward to seeing that project unfold.