This Tiny Router Could be the Next Big Thing

It seems like only yesterday that the Linksys WRT54G and the various open source firmware replacements for it were the pinnacle of home router hacking. But like everything else, routers have gotten smaller and faster over the last few years. The software we run on them has also gotten more advanced, and at this point we’ve got routers that you could use as a light duty Linux desktop in a pinch.

But even with no shortage of pocket-sized Linux devices in our lives, the GL-USB150 “Microrouter” that [Mason Taylor] recently brought to our attention is hard to ignore. Inside this USB flash drive sized router is a 400 MHz Qualcomm QCA9331 SoC, 64 MB of RAM, and a healthy 16 MB of storage; all for around $20 USD. Oh, and did we mention it comes with OpenWRT pre-installed? Just plug it in, and you’ve got a tiny WiFi enabled Linux computer ready to do your bidding.

On his blog [Mason] gives a quick rundown on how to get started with the GL-USB150, and details some of the experiments he’s been doing with it as part of his security research, such as using the device as a remote source for Wireshark running on his desktop. He explains that the diminutive router works just fine when plugged into a USB battery bank, offering a very discreet way to deploy a small Linux box wherever you may need it. But when plugged into a computer, things get really interesting.

If you plug the GL-USB150 into a computer, it shows up to the operating system as a USB Ethernet adapter and can be used as the primary Internet connection. All of the traffic from the computer will then be routed through the device to whatever link to the Internet its been configured to use. Depending on how you look at it, this could be extremely useful or extremely dangerous.

For one, it means that something that looks all the world like a normal USB flash drive could be covertly plugged into a computer and become a “wiretap” through which all of the network traffic is routed. That’s the bad news. On the flip side, it also means you could configure the GL-USB150 as a secure endpoint that lets you quickly and easily funnel all the computer’s traffic through a VPN or Tor without any additional setup.

We’ve seen all manner of hacks and projects that made use of small Linux-compatible routers such as the TP-Link TL-MR3020, but we expect the GL-USB150 and devices like it will be the ones to beat going forward. Let’s just hope one of them doesn’t show up uninvited in your network closet.

Solar-Powered OpenWRT Router For Mobile Privacy

Let’s not pretend we aren’t all guilty of it: at some point we’ve all connected to a public WiFi network to check our email or log into some site or service. We know the risks, we know better. But in a weak moment we can let the convenience of that public network get the better of us. What if you had a small secure router that you could use as an encrypted VPN endpoint, allowing you to connect to those enticing public networks while keeping your traffic secure? That’s precisely what [David] had in mind when he built this pint-sized solar-powered OpenWRT router.

At the heart of this gadget is the TP-Link TL-MR3020, a tiny OpenWRT-compatible router that’s no stranger to the pages of Hackaday. Its small size and low cost have made it a natural choice for a wide array of projects, so it’s little surprise that [David] gravitated towards it. But simply getting OpenWRT installed on the MR3020 and configuring OpenVPN doesn’t exactly grant you entrance into the Hackaday Pantheon, so obviously there’s a bit more to the story.

For one, [David] didn’t like the idea of a USB flash drive hanging out of the side of his router. Since the flash drive would essentially be a permanent part of the router, as it is being used to expand the rather meager internal storage of the MR3020 he decided to wack the USB end off the flash drive and solder it directly to the router’s PCB. This gave him a much cleaner looking package, but it still wasn’t as portable as he’d like.

He decided to order a solar-charged USB power bank to become the new home of his hacked MR3020. He kept the solar panel and charge controller from the original gadget, and after some researched settled on a pair of LG-HG2 3000 mAh batteries as the power source. [David] went through a few charge and discharge cycles making sure everything worked as expected before buttoning up the case. In the future he says he might transplant the electronics into a 3D printed case, but for now he’s pretty pleased with the results.

If you’d like to try your hand at hacking these popular micro routers, you’ll need to start with an OpenWRT firmware. After you’ve got a full blown Linux distro running on this little fellow, the only limitation is your own imagination.

Build A Home Automation Hub For $20

With so many WiFi home automation devices on the market, you might want to take advantage of these low cost products without having to send your data to third-party servers. This can be accomplished by running your own home automation hub on your home network.

If you don’t want to use a full computer for this purpose, [Albert] has you covered. He recently wrote a guide on running Domoticz on the $20 GL-MT300Nv2 pocket router.

The setup is rather simple: just perform a firmware update on your router using the provided image and a full home automation stack is installed. Domoticz provides a web interface for configuring your devices, setting up rules, and viewing sensor data.

The pocket router is also supported by OpenWrt and provides a USB host port, making it a low-cost option for any WiFi hack you might have in mind. We’ve seen quite a few OpenWrt based hacks over the years.

Customising a $30 IP Camera For Fun

WiFi cameras like many other devices these days come equipped with some sort of Linux subsystem. This makes the life of a tinkerer easier and you know what that means. [Tomas C] saw an opportunity to mod his Xiaomi Dafang IP camera which comes configured to work only with proprietary apps and cloud.

The hack involves voiding the warranty by taking the unit apart and installing custom firmware onto it. Photos posted by [Tomas C] show the mainboard powered by an Ingenic T20 which is a popular IP Camera processor featuring some image and video processing sub-cores. Upon successful flashing of the firmware, the IP camera is now capable of a multitude of things such as remote recording and playback which can be configured using the web UI as documented by [Tomas C]

We did a little more digging on the custom firmware and discovered that the original author of the custom firmware, [EliasKotlyar] has done a lot of work on this project. There are loads of images of the teardown of a camera and an excellent set of documentation of how he made the hack. Everything from adding serial headers, getting root access, dumping the firmware and even toolchain links are given on the page. This is extremely handy for a newbie looking to get into the game.

And IP Cameras are not of the only hackable hardware out in the wild. There are other devices that are running Linux based firmware such as the Wifi SD Cards that run OpenWRT. Check out the essential guide to compiling OpenWRT from source if you are looking to get started with your next IP Camera hack.

Thanks for the tip [Orlin82]

Seeed Studio’s ReSpeaker Speaks All the Voice Recognition Languages

Seeed Studio recently launched its third Kickstarter campaign: ReSpeaker, an open hardware voice interface. After their previous Kickstarted IoT hardware, such as the RePhone, mostly focused on connectivity, the electronics manufacturer from Shenzhen now tackles another highly contested area of IoT: Voice recognition.

The ReSpeaker Core is a capable development board based on Mediatek’s MT7688 WiFi module and runs OpenWrt. Onboard is a WM8960 stereo audio codec with integrated 1W speaker/headphone driver, a microphone, an ATMega32U4 coprocessor, 12 addressable RGB LEDs and 8 touch sensors. There are also two expansion headers with GPIOs, I2S, I2C, analog audio and USB 2.0 and an onboard microSD card slot.

The latter is especially useful to feed the ReSpeaker’s integrated speech recognition engine PocketSphinx with a vocabulary and audio file library, enabling it to respond to keywords and commands even when it’s not hooked up to the internet. Once it’s online, ReSpeaker also supports most of the available cloud based cognitive speech recognition services, such as Microsoft Cognitive Service, Amazon Alexa Voice Service, Google Speech API, Wit.ai and Houndify. It also comes with an SDK and Python API, supports JavaScript, Lua and C/C++, and it looks like the coprocessor features an Arduino-compatible bootloader.

The expansion header accepts shield-like hardware add-ons. Some of them are also available through the campaign. The most important one is the circular, far-field microphone array. Based on 7 XVSM-2000 respeaker_meow2digital microphones, the extension board enhances the device’s hearing with sound localization, beam forming, reverb and noise suppression. A Grove extension board connects the ReSpeaker to the Seeed’s current lineup on ready-to-use sensors, actuators and other peripherals.

Seeed also cooperates with the Meow King Audio Electronic Company to develop a nice tower-shaped enclosure with built-in speaker, 5W amplifier and battery. As a portable speaker, the Meow King Drive Unit (shown on the right) certainly doesn’t knock your socks off, but it practically turns the ReSpeaker into an open source version of the Amazon Echo — including the ability to run offline instead of piping everything you say to Big Brother.

According to Seeed, the freshly baked hardware will ship to backers in November 2016, and they do have a track-record of on-schedule shipped Kickstarter rewards. At the time of writing, some of the Crazy Early Birds are still available for $39. Enjoy the campaign video below and let us know what you think of think hardware in the comments!

DIY Linux Computer and 6LoWPAN Gateway

We toss together our own PCB designs, throwing in a microcontroller here or there. Anything more demanding than that, and we reach for a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone (or an old Linksys router). Why don’t we just whip together a PCB for a small Linux computer? Because we don’t know how…but [Jonas] apparently does. And when we asked him why he did it, he replied “because I can!”

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His Ethernet-to-6LoWPAN gateway project is a small, OpenWRT-capable Linux computer in disguise. Rather than yet another Raspberry Pi project, he designed around an Atmel AT91SAM9G25 400 MHz CPU, and added some memory, Ethernet, and a CC2520 radio chip to handle the wireless side. It’s all done on a four-layer board, and hotplate/skillet reflowed. This seems temptingly like something within our reach. [Jonas] had access to X-ray machines to double-check his reflow work, which probably isn’t necessary, although it looks really cool.

When finished, the project will link together a 6LoWPAN network (probably home automation) and his home wired network. That makes this device a rival to something like Philips’ Hue Bridge, which was the subject of some controversy when they locked out other devices for a few days until they recanted. Indeed, in response to this, there’s been quite a lot of effort at hacking the firmware of the Hue device, just to stay on the safe side in case Philips plays shenanigans again.

Soon, that’s not going to be necessary. [Jonas]’s design is open from the ground up, and coupled with open software running on top of the OpenWRT router operating system, that’s the full stack. And that’s great news for folks who are thinking about investing in a home automation technology, but afraid of what happens then the faceless corporations decide to pull the plug on their devices.

Single Board Revolution: Preventing Flash Memory Corruption

An SD card is surely not an enterprise grade storage solution, but single board computers also aren’t just toys anymore. You find them in applications far beyond the educational purpose they have emerged from, and the line between non-critical and critical applications keeps getting blurred.

Laundry notification hacks and arcade machines fail without causing harm. But how about electronic access control, or an automatic pet feeder? Would you rely on the data integrity of a plain micro SD card stuffed into a single board computer to keep your pet fed when you’re on vacation and you back in afterward? After all, SD card corruption is a well-discussed topic in the Raspberry Pi community. What can we do to keep our favorite single board computers from failing at random, and is there a better solution to the problem of storage than a stack of SD cards?

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