WiFiWart Boots Linux, Moves To Next Design Phase

Over the last few months we’ve been keeping an eye on WiFiWart, an ambitious project to develop a Linux single-board computer (SBC) small enough to fit inside a USB wall charger. Developer [Walker] says the goal is to create an easily concealable “drop box” for penetration testing, giving security researchers a valuable foothold inside a target network from which to preform reconnaissance or launch attacks. Of course, we don’t need to tell Hackaday readers that there’s plenty of other things you can do with such a tiny open hardware Linux SBC.

Today we’re happy to report that [Walker] has gotten the first version of the board booted into Linux, though as you might expect given a project of this complexity, there were a few bumps along the way. From the single missing resistor that caused U-Boot to throw up an error to the finer points of compiling the kernel for an embedded board, the latest blog post he’s written up about his progress provides fascinating insight into the little gotchas of bringing up a SBC from scratch.

Once the board was booted into Linux, [Walker] started testing out different aspects of the system. A memory benchmark confirmed the finicky DDR3 RAM was working as expected, and he was able to load the kernel modules for the dual RTL8188 interfaces and connect to a network. While the two WiFi modules are currently hanging off the board’s full-sized USB ports, they will eventually be integrated into the PCB.

Critically, this prototype board is also allowing [Walker] to get an idea of what the energy consumption of the final hardware might be. Even at full tilt, this larger board doesn’t go over 500 mA at 5 VDC; so if he designs the power supply with a maximum output of 1 A, he should have a nice safety margin. As mentioned in the previous post, the plan is currently to put the PSU on its own board, which will allow more effective use of the charger’s internal volume.

With the software and hardware now largely locked in, [Walker] says his attention will be turned towards getting everything small enough to fit into the final form factor. This will certainly be the most challenging aspect of the project, but with a growing community of hackers and engineers lending their expertise to the cause, we’re confident the WiFiWart will soon be a reality.

Palm-Sized Sixteen Segments Light The Way To Our Hearts

It’s no secret that we here at the Hackaday are suckers for cool display. LEDs, OLEDs, incandescent, nixie or neon, you name it and we want to see it flash. So it fills us with joy to discover a new way to build large, daisy-chainable 16-segment digits, and even more excited to learn how easy they are to fab and assemble.

A cousin of the familiar 7 segment display, the 16 segment gives so many more possibilities (128% more possibilities to be exact) for digit display. To be specific, those extra segments unlock the ability to display upper and lowercase latin characters as well as scads of punctuation.

But where the character set is complex, the assembly is anything but thanks to a great design from [Kolibri] called klais-16. They’re available fully assembled if you want to jump straight to code, but thanks to thorough documentation (seriously, check this out) assembly is a snap.

Each module is composed a very boring PCBA base layer which should be inexpensive from the usual sources, even when ordering one fully assembled. A stackup of three more PCBs are used for spacing and diffusion with plans for die-cut or injection mold layers if a larger production run ends up happening. Board dimensions for each character are 100 mm x 66.66 mm (about 4″ x 2.5″). Put together, each module can stand on its own or be easily daisy-chained together to make a longer single display.

Addressing all those bits with an elaborate, ugly control scheme would be a drag but fortunately the firmware for the onboard STM8 microcontroller exposes a nice boring serial interface which can be used without configuration to display strings. There’s even an example Windows Batch script!

Three Years Of HardwareX: Where Are They Now?

After three years of online publications, HardwareX may have solidified itself as an academic journal for open-source hardware. We originally wrote about HardwareX back in 2016. At the time, HardwareX hadn’t even published its first issue and only begun soliciting manuscripts. Now after three years of publishing, six issues as of October 2019 (with the seventh scheduled for April 2020), and an impact factor of 4.33, it’s fair to say that Elsevier’s push into open-access publications is on a path to success.

To give you a bit of background, HardwareX aims to promote the reproducibility of scientific work by giving researchers an avenue to publish all the hardware and software hacks that often get buried in traditional manuscripts. The format of HardwareX articles is a bit different than most academic journals. HardwareX articles look more like project pages similar to Hackaday.io. (Maybe we inspired them a bit? Who knows.)

It’s a bold attempt on Elsevier’s part because although open-access is held as an ideal scenario for scientific work, such efforts often come under quite a bit of scrutiny in the academic community. Don’t ask us. We can’t relate.

Either way, we genuinely wish Elsevier all the best and will keep our eyes on HardwareX. Maybe some of our readers should consider publishing their projects in HardwareX.

CircuitPython Slithers Into 100th Board — The OHS 2020 Badge

CircuitPython reached a major milestone last week as it welcomed its 100th board into the fold: the wristwatch form factored badge designed for the 10th annual Open Source Hardware Summit, which takes place March 13th in New York City. Although CircuitPython — an open source derivative of MicroPython — was born at Adafruit, more than half of the boards on this list were produced outside of the company. That just goes to show the strength of the community in support of the snake.

The OSHW 2020 badge joins a litany of familiar boards happy to drop you into a Python interpreter. Among them there’s the Adafruit Feather ecosystem, the ItsyBitsy, specialized boards like the Edge Badge that was in some goodie bags at Supercon, and the CircuitPlayground — that Swiss army knife of sensors which now comes in a Bluetooth version. The first 100 boards were rounded out in strong fashion with [Joey Castillo]’s OpenBook e-reader and the Teensy 4.0. Continue reading “CircuitPython Slithers Into 100th Board — The OHS 2020 Badge”

Open Source Fader Bank Modulates Our Hearts

Here at Hackaday, we love knobs and buttons. So what could be better than one button? How about 16! No deep philosophy about the true nature of Making here; [infovore], [tehn], and [shellfritsch] put together a very slick, very adaptable bank of 16 analog faders for controlling music synthesis. If you don’t recognize those names it might help to mention that [tehn] is one of the folks behind monome, a company built on their iconic grid controller. Monome now produces a variety of lovingly crafted music creation tools.

Over the years we’ve written about some of the many clones and DIY versions of the monome grid controller, so it’s exciting to see an open source hardware release by the creators themselves!

The unambiguously named 16n follows in the footsteps of the monome grid in the sense that it’s not really for something specific. The grid is a musical instrument insofar as it can be connected to a computer (or a modular synth, etc) and used as a control input for another tool that creates sound. Likewise, the 16n is designed to be easily integrated into a music creation workflow. It can speak a variety of interfaces, like purely analog control voltage (it has one jack per fader), or i2c to connect to certain other monome devices like Ansible and Teletype. Under the hood, the 16n is actually a Teensy, so it’s fluent in MIDI over USB and nearly anything else you can imagine.

Continue reading “Open Source Fader Bank Modulates Our Hearts”

Can Open-source Hardware Be Like Open-source Software?

Hardware and software are certainly different beasts. Software is really just information, and the storing, modification, duplication, and transmission of information is essentially free. Hardware is expensive, or so we think, because it’s made out of physical stuff which is costly to ship or copy. So when we talk about open-source software (OSS) or open-source hardware (OSHW), we’re talking about different things — OSS is itself the end product, while OSHW is just the information to fabricate the end product, or have it fabricated.

The fabrication step makes OSHW essentially different from OSS, at least for now, but I think there’s something even more fundamentally different between the current state of OSHW and OSS: the pull request and the community. The success or failure of an OSS project depends on the community of people developing it, and for smaller projects that can hinge on the ease of a motivated individual digging in and contributing. This is the main virtue of OSS in my opinion: open-source software is most interesting when people are reading and writing that source.

With pure information, it’s essentially free to copy, modify, and push your changes upstream so that others can benefit. The open hardware world is just finding its feet in this respect, but that’s changing as we speak, and I have great hopes. Costs of fabrication are falling all around, open and useful tools are being actively developed to facilitate interchange of the design information. I think there are lessons that OSHW can learn from the OSS community’s pull-request culture, and that will help push the hardware hacker’s art forward.

What would it take to get you to build someone else’s OSHW project, improve on it, and contribute back? That’s a question worth a thoughtful deep dive.

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Certification For Open Source Hardware Announced

Today at the Open Hardware Summit in Portland, Alicia Gibb and Michael Weinberg of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) launched the Open Source Hardware Certification program. It’s live, and you can certify your own hardware as Open Hardware right now.

What Is Open Source Hardware?

Open Source Hardware can’t be defined without first discussing open source software. At its very core, open source software is just a copyright hack, enabled by a worldwide universal computer network. The rise of open source software is tied to the increasing ease of distributing said software, either through BBSes, Usenet, and the web. Likewise, Open Source Hardware is tied to the ease of distributing, modifying, and building hardware.

In the 1980s, there were no services that could deliver a custom circuit board to anywhere on the planet for a dollar per square inch. When open software began, CNC machines were expensive tools, now you can build a very good machine for just a week’s wages. We are currently living at the dawn of Open Source Hardware, enabled by the creation of Open Source design tools that have themselves been used to create physical tools. Inexpensive 3D printers, open source oscilloscopes, circuit board plotters, and the entire hackerspace movement are as revolutionary as the Internet. These devices and the Internet are the foundations for Open Hardware and software, respectively.  The objections to why hardware is incompatible with Open Source no longer apply and small-scale manufacturing techniques are only going to get better.

Continue reading “Certification For Open Source Hardware Announced”