Hackaday Links: July 29, 2018

Another holy scroll for the Church of Robotron. PoC || GTFO is a semi-annual journal of hardware exploitation, and something you must read. About a year ago, No Starch Press released the first Bible of PoC || GTFO, and now it’s time for a new testament. PoC || GTFO Volume 2 is out now, covering Elegies of the Second Crypt War to Stones from the Ivory Tower, Only as Ballast. It’s still Bible-shaped, with a leatherette cover and gilt edges.

KiCad version 5 is out, and you know what that means: It’s time to start on version 6. To that end, CERN has opened up the floodgates where youyes, you can donate to KiCad development. The team is looking for 600 hours of development and 30,000 Swiss Francs or about that many US Dollars. As of this writing (last Wednesday), more than 200 people have donated, at an average donation per person of about 80 CHF.

Oh good, this is finally over. Qualcomm will not be buying NXP. Previously, Reuters reported Qualcomm would purchase the other semiconductor manufacturer for $38 Billion, the largest semiconductor deal ever. There were earlier rumors of an acquisition. The deal was struck down by Chinese regulators, and speculation rages that this is a reaction to the US/China trade war. Qualcomm now has to pay NXP $2 Billion in fees, which they could use to dig out some of the unobtanium Motorola datasheets locked away in a file cabinet.

The uStepper (or μStepper, whatever) is a neat little add-on to standard NEMA stepper motors. It bolts to the back and gives you the ability to control a stepper over a standard serial bus, with a built-in encoder. Now there’s a new Kickstarter for an improved version that uses the Trinamic TMC2208 ‘silent’ motor driver. That Kickstarter is just a draft now, but if you’re planning a 3D printer build, this could be what you’re waiting for.

Hackaday Links: June 17, 2018

Do you like badges? Of course you like badges. It’s conference season, and that means it’s also badge season. Well good news, Tindie now has a ‘badge’ category. Right now, it’s loaded up with creepy Krustys, hypnotoads, and fat Pikas. There’s also an amazing @Spacehuhn chicken from [Dave]. Which reminds me: we need to talk about a thing, Spacehuhn.

On the list of ‘weird emails we get in the tip line’ comes Rat Grease. Rat Grease is the solution to rodents chewing up cabling and wires. From what we can gather, it’s a mineral oil-based gel loaded up with capsaicin; it’s not a poison, and not a glue. Rats are our friends, though, which makes me want to suggest this as a marinade, or at the very least a condiment. The flash point is sufficiently high that you might be able to use this in a fryer.

[Matthias Wandel] is the guy who can build anything with a table saw, including table saws. He posts his stuff online and does YouTube videos. A while back, he was approached by DeWalt to feature their tools in a few videos. He got a few hand tools, a battery-powered table saw, and made some videos. The Internet then went insane and [Matthias] lost money on the entire deal. Part of the reason for this is that his viewers stopped buying plans simply because he featured yellow power tools in his videos. This is dumpster elitism, and possibly the worst aspect of the DIY/engineering/maker community.

Elon Musk is the greatest inventor ever. No scratch that. The greatest person ever. Need more proof? The CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and our hearts has been given the green light to build a high-speed underground train from Chicago O’Hare to downtown. Here’s the kicker: he’s going to do it for only $1 Billion, or $55 Million per mile, making it the least expensive subway project by an order of magnitude. Yes, Subways usually cost anywhere between $500 to $900 Million per mile. How is he doing it? Luck, skill, and concentrated power of will. Elon is the greatest human ever, and we’re not just saying that to align ourselves with an audience that is easy to manipulate; we’re also saying this because Elon has a foggy idea for a ‘media vetting wiki’.

There are rumors Qualcomm will acquire NXP for $44 Billion. This deal has been years in the making, with reports of an acquisition dating back to 2016. Of course, that time, the deal was set to go through but was apparently put on hold by Chinese regulators. Now it’s the same story again; there were recent rumors of Qualcomm buying NXP, and the story was later changed to rumors. We’re waiting for an actual press release on this one. It’s just another long chapter in the continuing story of, ‘where the hell are all the Motorola app notes and data sheets?’

Hackaday Links: November 19, 2017

[Peter]’s homebuilt ultralight is actually flying now and not in ground effect, much to the chagrin of YouTube commenters. [Peter Sripol] built a Part 103 ultralight (no license required, any moron can jump in one and fly) in his basement out of foam board from Lowes. Now, he’s actually doing flight testing, and he managed to build a good plane. Someone gifted him a ballistic parachute so the GoFundMe for the parachute is unneeded right now, but this gift parachute is a bit too big for the airframe. Not a problem; he’ll just sell it and buy the smaller model.

Last week, rumors circulated of Broadcom acquiring Qualcomm for the sum of One… Hundred… Billion Dollars. It looks like that’s not happening now. Qualcomm rejected a deal for $103B, saying the offer, ‘undervalued the company and would face regulatory hurdles.’ Does this mean the deal is off? No, there are 80s guys out there who put the dollar signs in Busine$$, and there’s politicking going on.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out there were some very fancy LED panels available on eBay for very cheap. The Barco NX-4 LED panels are a 32×36 panels of RGB LEDs, driven very quickly by some FPGA goodness. The reverse engineering of these panels is well underway, and [Ian] and his team almost have everything figured out. Glad I got my ten panels…

TechShop is gone. With a heavy heart, we bid adieu to a business with a whole bunch of tools anyone can use. This leaves a lot of people with TechShop memberships out in the cold, and to ease the pain, Glowforge, Inventables, Formlabs, and littleBits are offering some discounts so you can build a hackerspace in your garage or basement. In other TechShop news, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘what are they going to do with all the machines?’. Nobody knows, but the smart money is a liquidation/auction. Yes, in a few months, you’ll probably be renting a U-Haul and driving to TechShop one last time.

3D Hubs has come out with a 3D Printing Handbook. There’s a lot in the world of filament-based 3D printing that isn’t written down. It’s all based on experience, passed on from person to person. How much of an overhang can you really get away with? How do you orient a part correctly? God damned stringing. How do you design a friction-fit between two parts? All of these techniques are learned by experience. Is it possible to put this knowledge in a book? I have no idea, so look for that review in a week or two.

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Adam] is a collector of vintage computers. Instead of letting them sit in the attic, he’s taking gorgeous pictures of them. The collection includes most of the big-time Atari and Commodore 8-bitters, your requisite Apples, all of the case designs of the all-in-one Macs, some Pentium-era PCs, and even a few of the post-97 Macs. Is that Bondi Blue? Bonus points: all of these images are free to use with attribution.

Nvidia is blowing out their TX1 development kits. You can grab one for $200. What’s the TX1? It’s a really, really fast ARM computer stuffed into a heat sink that’s about the size of a deck of cards. You can attach it to a MiniITX breakout board that provides you with Ethernet, WiFi, and a bunch of other goodies. It’s a step above the Raspberry Pi for sure and is capable enough to run as a normal desktop computer.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Broadcom, Qualcomm, and One Hundred Billion Dollars

Rumors have been circulating this last weekend of the largest semiconductor acquisition ever. Broadcom might buy Qualcomm for the princely sum of one hundred Billion dollars.

You will most likely be familiar with both Qualcomm and Broadcom for their wireless and cellphone chipsets. As far as the Maker community is concerned, Broadcom makes the chipset for the Raspberry Pi, but in the context of a two hundred Billion dollar company, a ‘maker’ focused Linux dev board is the equivalent of a rounding error on a balance sheet.

This news comes a little more than a year after the announcement that Qualcomm is snatching up NXP, and two years after the news of NXP is merging with Freescale. The industry is in a state of consolidation.

This proposed deal follows several other semiconductor mergers and acquisitions including NXP and Freescale, Intel and Altera, Avago and BroadcomOn Semiconductor and Fairchild, and the one we’re most befuddled with, Atmel and Microchip. Why are these companies merging? Because they’re sitting on mountains of cash. All of these mergers with the exception of Avago and Broadcom, have been for single-digit Billions of dollars. The merger of Broadcom and Qualcomm — if it happens — will be the largest merger of two semiconductor companies ever. That’s easy to do when both Broadcom and Qualcomm are on the top ten list of largest semiconductor companies, but it is evidence enough that the mergers and acquisitions in the industry are not slowing down.

Look what came out of my USB charger !

Quick Charge, Qualcomm’s power delivery over USB technology, was introduced in 2013 and has evolved over several versions offering increasing levels of power transfer. The current version — QCv3.0 — offers 18 W power at voltage levels between 3.6 V to 20 V.  Moreover, connected devices can negotiate and request any voltage between these two limits in 200 mV steps. After some tinkering, [Vincent Deconinck] succeeded in turning a Quick Charge 3.0 charger into a variable voltage power supply.

His blog post is a great introduction and walk through of the Quick Charge ecosystem. [Vincent] was motivated after reading about [Septillion] and [Hugatry]’s work on coaxing a QCv2.0 charger into a variable voltage source which could output either 5 V, 9 V or 12 V. He built upon their work and added QCv3.0 features to create a new QC3Control library.

To come to grips with what happens under the hood, he first obtained several QC2 and QC3 chargers, hooked them up to an Arduino, and ran the QC2Control library to see how they respond. There were some unexpected results; every time a 5 V handshake request was exchanged during QC mode, the chargers reset, their outputs dropped to 0 V and then settled back to a fixed 5 V output. After that, a fresh handshake was needed to revert to QC mode. Digging deeper, he learned that the Quick Charge system relies on specific control voltages being detected on the D+ and D- terminals of the USB port to determine mode and output voltage. These control voltages are generated using resistor networks connected to the microcontroller GPIO pins. After building a fresh resistor network designed to more closely produce the recommended control voltages, and then optimizing it further to use just two micro-controller pins, he was able to get it to work as expected. Armed with all of this information, he then proceeded to design the QC3Control library, available for download on GitHub.

Thanks to his new library and a dual output QC3 charger, he was able to generate the Jolly Wrencher on his Rigol, by getting the Arduino to quickly make voltage change requests.

Continue reading “Look what came out of my USB charger !”

Unlocking 12V Quick Charge on a USB Power Bank

[Robert Nixdorf] frequently needs to use this high-end audio recorder, but it sucks dry a set of eight AA batteries in just a few hours. Obviously a longer lasting solution was required, and he started scouring the web looking for an answer. He bought a Quick Charge power bank and then hacked a Digispark to negotiate with the power bank to provide 12V output to Quick Charge his audio recorder.

Qualcomm’s Quick Charge system is designed to provide increased output voltages to reduce charging time in QC compatible devices such as mobile phones powered by their Snapdragon range of SoC’s. Depending on how the end-point negotiates with the charger, either 5V, 9V or 12V outputs are supported.

You can dig into the details in Qualcomm’s Quick Charge Patent [PDF] which shows how the system works. Quite simply, the voltage provided by the charger depends on the signals set on the D+ and D- data pins during the initial handshaking phase. [Robert] found it easy to get his QC charger to provide the required voltage by using a 3V3 voltage regulator and a resistive divider. But a more permanent solution would be needed if he wanted to use it on the field.

His parts bin revealed a Digispark board and he set about hacking it. He isolated the VUSB from the rest of his board since it would get pulled up to 12V when in use. And then replaced the existing 5V regulator with a 3V3 one. This required several bodges which he has documented on his blog. Some simple code flashed on the ATtiny85 handles all of the handshaking and sets up 12V output to run his audio recorder. A single charge on the power bank now lasts him almost 12 hours, so he’s pretty satisfied with the hack.

Quick Charge is currently at version 4 and supports USB-C and USB-PD hardware such as cables and connectors. But it seems using USB-C hardware outside of the current USB-C specifications is deprecated, with reports suggesting Google is asking OEM’s not to use Quick Charge but stick to USB-PD. Let’s hope this gets settled one way or another soon.

Thanks, [Frank] for the tip.

Bitbanging Qualcomm Charge Controllers

With more and more manufacturers moving to USB-C, it seems as though the trusty USB port is getting more and more entrenched. Not that that’s a bad thing, either; having a universal standard like this is great for simplicity and interconnectability. However, if you’re still stuck with USB 2.0 ports on your now completely obsolete one-year-old phone, there’s still some hope that you can at least get rapid charging. [hugatry] was able to manipulate Qualcomm’s rapid charging protocol to enable it to work with any device.

Continue reading “Bitbanging Qualcomm Charge Controllers”