Fighting Back Against Dodgy Dyson Batteries

If you’ve ever worked with multi-cell rechargeable battery packs, you know that the individual cells will eventually become imbalanced. To keep the pack working optimally, each cell needs to be analyzed and charged individually — which is why RC style battery packs have a dedicated balance connector. So if you know it, and we know it, why doesn’t Dyson know it?

It’s that question which inspired [tinfever] to start work on the FU-Dyson-BMS project. As you might have surmised from the name, [tinfever] believes that Dyson has intentionally engineered their V6 and V7 batteries to fail by not using the cell balancing function of the onboard ISL94208 battery management IC. What’s worse, once the cells get as little as 300 mV out of balance, the controller considers the entire pack to be shot and will no longer allow it to be charged.

These missing resistors deserve justice.

Or at least, that’s what used to happen. With the replacement firmware [tinfever] has developed, the pack’s battery management system (BMS) will ignore imbalanced cells so you can continue to use the pack (albeit at a reduced capacity). Of course the ideal solution would have been to enable cell balancing on the ISL94208, but unfortunately Dyson didn’t include the necessary resistors on the PCB. Though it’s worth noting that earlier versions of the board did have unpopulated spots for them, lending some credence to the idea that their omission was intentional on Dyson’s part.

But not everyone is onboard with the conspiracy theory. Over on the EEVBlog forums, some users pointed out that a poorly implemented cell balancing routine can be more problematic than not having one at all. It’s possible that Dyson had some bad experiences with the technology in earlier packs, and decided to move away from it and try to compensate by using higher-quality cells. That said, at least one person in the thread was able to revive their own “dead” battery pack by installing this unofficial firmware, so whether intentional or not, it seems there’s little debate that usable batteries are indeed being prematurely marked as defective.

Proper cell balancing is key even in DIY projects, so we do have to agree that it seems more than a little unusual that Dyson would intentionally turn off this important feature in their packs. But the jury is still out on whether or not Sir James is trying to pull a fast one on his customers — as Hanlon’s Razor states, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

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Hackaday Links: February 20, 2022

Sounds like somebody had a really bad day at work, as Western Digital reports that “factory contamination” caused a batch of flash memory chips to be spoiled. How much, you ask? Oh, only about 7 billion gigabytes! For those of you fond of SI prefixes, that’s 7 exabytes of storage; to put that into perspective, it’s seven times what Google used for Gmail storage in 2012, and enough to store approximately 1.69 trillion copies of Project Gutenberg’s ASCII King James Version Bible. Very few details were available other than the unspecified contamination of two factories, but this stands poised to cause problems with everything from flash drives to phones to SSDs, and will probably only worsen the ongoing chip shortage. And while we hate to be cynical, it’ll probably be prudent to watch out for any “too good to be true” deals on memory that pop up on eBay and Ali in the coming months.

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Low-Tech Fix Saves Expensive, High-Tech TV From Junk Pile

Wiggling this connector caused the backlight to turn off and on.

[Tweepy]’s TV stopped working, and the experience is a brief reminder that if a modern appliance fails, it is worth taking a look inside because the failure might be something simple. In this case, the dead TV was actually a dead LED backlight, and the fix was so embarrassingly simple that [Tweepy] is tempted to chalk it up to negligently poor DFM (design for manufacture) at best, or even some kind of effort at planned obsolescence at worst.

What happened is this: the TV appeared to stop working, but one could still make out screen content while shining a bright light on the screen. Seeing this, [Tweepy] deduced that the backlight had failed, and opened up the device to see if it could be repaired. However, the reason for the backlight failure was a surprise. It was not the power supply, nor even any of the LEDs themselves; the whole backlight wouldn’t turn on because of a cheap little PCB-to-PCB connector, and the two small spring contacts inside that had failed.

The failed connector, once cut open, showed contacts in poor condition (click to enlarge). It was ditched for a soldered connection, and the TV lived again.

From the outside things looked okay, but wiggling the connector made the backlight turn on and off, so the connection was clearly bad. Investigating further, [Tweepy] saw that the contact points of the PCBs and the two little conductors inside the connector showed clear signs of arcing and oxidation, leading to a poor connection that eventually failed, resulting in a useless TV. The fix wasn’t to clean the contacts; the correct fix was to replace the connector with a soldered connection.

Using that cheap little connector doubtlessly saved some assembly time at the factory, but it also led to failure within a fairly short amount of time. Had [Tweepy] not been handy with a screwdriver (or not bothered to investigate) the otherwise working TV would doubtlessly have ended up in a landfill.

It serves as a good reminder to make some time to investigate failures of appliances, even if one’s repair skills are limited, because the problem might be a simple one. Planned obsolescence is a tempting doorstep upon which to dump failures like this, but a good case can be made that planned obsolescence isn’t really a thing, even if manufacturers compromising products in one way or another certainly is.

Defeating Fridge DRM With Duct Tape And A Dremel

We love writing about DRM here at Hackaday. Because when we do, it usually means someone found a way to circumvent the forced restrictions laid upon by a vendor, limiting the use of a device we thought is ours once we bought it. The device in question this time: the water filter built into GE’s fridges that would normally allow its “owner” to pour a refreshing glass of cold water. Except the filter is equipped with an RFID tag and an expiration, which will eventually deny you that little luxury. And if that’s already a feature, you can bet it won’t just let you insert any arbitrary filter as replacement either.

Enraged by every single aspect of that, [Anonymous] made a website to vent the frustration, and ended up tearing the culprit apart and circumvent the problem, with a little help from someone who was in the same situation before. As it turns out, the fridge comes with a “bypass filter” that is just a piece of plastic to fit in place of the actual filter, to pour unfiltered, but still cold water. That bypass filter is also equipped with an RFID tag, so the reader will recognize it as a special-case filter, which luckily enough doesn’t have an expiration counter.

The general idea is to take out that bypass filter’s RFID tag and place it on a generic, way cheaper filter to trick the fridge into thinking it simply doesn’t have a filter in the first place, while still enjoying the filters actual functionality. However, this might not be the most stable solution if the tag isn’t placed in the exact position. Also, retrieving the tag in the first place proved tricky, and [Anonymous] initially ended up with nothing but the antenna pad, while the tag itself remained sturdily glued into the plastic piece.

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The Righteous Quest To Crack A Canon I9900

[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.

What Happened To The 100,000-Hour LED Bulbs?

Early adopters of LED lighting will remember 50,000 hour or even 100,000 hour lifetime ratings printed on the box. But during a recent trip to the hardware store the longest advertised lifetime I found was 25,000 hours. Others claimed only 7,500 or 15,000 hours. And yes, these are brand-name bulbs from Cree and GE.

So, what happened to those 100,000 hour residential LED bulbs? Were the initial estimates just over-optimistic? Was it all marketing hype? Or, did we not know enough about LED aging to predict the true useful life of a bulb?

I put these questions to the test. Join me after the break for some background on the light bulb cartel from the days of incandescent bulbs (not a joke, a cartel controlled the life of your bulbs), and for the destruction of some modern LED bulbs to see why the lifetimes are clocking in a lot lower than the original wave of LED replacements.

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BSD Breathes New Life Into Obsolete Equipment

An old laptop or desktop computer that’s seen better days might still have a little bit of use left in it for a dedicated task. Grabbing a lightweight flavor of Linux and running a web server, firewall, or Super Nintendo emulator might get a few more years out of it. You can also get pretty creative repurposing obsolete single purpose  machines, as [Kristjan] did with some old Cisco server equipment.

The computer in question isn’t something commonly found, either. It’s an intrusion detection system meant to mount in a server rack and protect the server itself from malicious activity. While [Kristjan] mentions that Cisco equipment seems to be the definition of planned obsolescence, we think that this Intel Celeron machine with an IDE hard drive may have gone around the bend quite some time ago. Regardless, it’s modern enough to put back to work in some other capacity.

To that end, a general purpose operating system was installed, and rather than use Linux he reached for BSD to get the system up and running. There’s one other catch, though, besides some cooling issues. Since the machine was meant to be used in a server, there’s no ACPI which means no software shutdown capability. Despite all the quirks, you can still use it to re-implement a network security system if you wanted to bring it full-circle.