Attack Some Wireless Devices With A Raspberry Pi And An RTL-SDR

If you own one of the ubiquitous RTL-SDR software defined radio receivers derived from a USB digital TV receiver, one of the first things you may have done with it was to snoop on wide frequency bands using the waterfall view present in most SDR software. Since the VHF and UHF bands the RTL covers are sometimes a little devoid of signals, chances are you homed in upon one of the ISM bands as used by plenty of inexpensive wireless devices for all sorts of mundane control tasks. Unless you reside in the depths of the wilderness, ISM band sniffing will show a continuous procession of chirps; short bursts of digital data. It is surprising, the number of radio-controlled devices you weren’t aware were in your surroundings.

Some of these devices, such as car security keys, are protected by rolling encryption schemes to deter would-be attackers. But many of the more harmless devices simply send a command in the open without the barest of encryption. The folks at RTL-SDR.com put up a guide to recording these open data bursts on a Raspberry Pi and playing them back by transmitting them from the Pi itself.

It’s not the most refined of attack because all it does is take the recorded file and retransmit it with the [F5OEO] RPiTX software. But they do demonstrate it in action with a wireless lightbulb, a door bell, a wireless relay, and a remote-controlled switched socket. Since the data in question is transmitted as OOK, or on-off keying, the RPiTX AM mode stands in for the transmitter.

You can see it in action in the video below the break. Now, have you investigated the ISM band chirps in your locality?

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Krave Antweight Robot Gets Eaten And Stays Alive

The battle’s are done and the results are in — [AltaPowderDog]’s, aka [Carter Hurd],  cardboard and foam armor, lightweight Krave robot beat its metal cousins in 2016 and fared well in 2017. How did a cardboard Krave cereal box and foam board robot do that you ask? The cardboard and foam outer structure was sliced, smashed and generally eaten while the delicate electronics, motors and wheels remained buried safely inside.

We covered the making of his 2016 version but didn’t follow-up with how it fared in that year’s Illinois Bot Brawl competition. As you can see in the exciting first video below, despite suffering repeated severe damage to its armor, it won first place in the 1 lb Antweight category!

For 2017 he made another one but managed to halve the weight — and so he made two of them! By starting them both within a twelve-inch by twelve-inch area, they were allowed to fight as a team. How did he make it lighter? Partly it was done by doing away with the ability to lift the metal lip in front, the wheels were reduced from four to two, and a smaller servo was used for opening and closing the mouth. The full build video is shown below along with a video of the 2017 battles wherein he won seventh place.

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3D Printed R/C Lifeboat

Radio control boats usually bring up thoughts of racing catamarans, or scale sailing yachts. This build takes things in a slightly different direction. A radio controlled lifeboat with a built-in First Person View (FPV) transmitter. [Peter Sripol] used to be one of the awesome folks over at Flite Test. Now he’s gone solo, and has been cranking out some great builds on his YouTube channel. His latest build is a lifeboat loosely based on the totally enclosed lifeboats used on oil tankers and other seafaring vessels.

[Peter] designed the boat in 3D modeling software and printed it on his Lulzbot Taz 6. The files are available on Thingiverse if you want to print your own. The lower hull was printed in two pieces then epoxied together. Peter’s musical build montage goes by fast, proving that he’s just as good editing video as he is scratch-building R/C craft. Along the way he shows us everything from wiring up speed controls to cutting and soldering up a rudder. The final touch on this boat is a micro FPV camera and radio transmitter. As long as the boat is in range, it can be piloted through video goggles.

[Peter’s] boat is destined to be tested on an upcoming trip to Hawaii, so keep an eye on his channel to see how it fares in the monster waves!

Ask Hackaday: How Do You Convert Negative Voltages to Positive?

I have a good background working with high voltage, which for me means over 10,000 volts, but I have many gaps when it comes to the lower voltage realm in which RC control boards and H-bridges live. When working on my first real robot, a BB-8 droid, I stumbled when designing a board to convert varying polarities from an RC receiver board into positive voltages only for an Arduino.

Today’s question is, how do you convert a negative voltage into a positive one?

In the end I came up with something that works, but I’m sure there’s a more elegant solution, and perhaps an obvious one to those more skilled in this low voltage realm. What follows is my journey to come up with this board. What I have works, but it still nibbles at my brain and I’d love to see the Hackaday community’s skill and experience applied to this simple yet perplexing design challenge.

The Problem

RC toy truck and circuit with no common
RC toy truck and circuit with no common

I have an RC receiver that I’ve taken from a toy truck. When it was in the truck, it controlled two DC motors: one for driving backwards and forwards, and the other for steering left and right. That means the motors are told to rotate either clockwise or counterclockwise as needed. To make a DC motor rotate in one direction you connect the two wires one way, and to make it rotate in the other direction you reverse the two wires, or you reverse the polarity. None of the output wires are common inside the RC receiver, something I discovered the hard way as you’ll see below.

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RC Car Piloting with the Blast Shield Down

Many of us have had a radio controlled car at some time in our youth, though it’s probable that none all of us entirely mastered it. There are memories of spectacular crashes, and if we were really unlucky, further boosts to Mr. Tamiya’s bank balance as fresh parts had to be fitted.

[Paul Yan] was watching his young son with a radio controlled toy, and was struck by how the two-joystick control layout is not necessarily as intuitive as it could be. By contrast when faced with a console game with first-person view and a steering wheel the boy had no problem dropping straight into play. This observation led him to investigate bringing a console steering wheel to an RC car, and the result is a rather impressive FPV immersive driving experience.

Paul's FPV car, explained.
Paul’s FPV car, explained.

His build took a PS2 steering wheel peripheral with pedals and mated it to an Arduino Uno via a PS2 shield. The Uno talks to a Nordic NRF24L01 RF module, which communicates with another NRF24L01 on the car. This in turn talks to a car-mounted Arduino Micro, which controls the car servos and speed controller.

FPV video is provided by a miniature camera and transmitter from the world of multirotor flying which is mounted on the car and transmits its pictures over 5GHz to a set of monitor goggles. Sadly he does not appear to have posted any of the software involved, though we doubt there is anything too challenging should you wish to try it for yourselves.

The video below shows the car in action, complete with an over-enthusiastic acceleration and crash from his young son. He tells us it’s a similar experience to playing a racing kart game in the real world, and having seen the video we wish we could have a go.

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Driving BB-8: More Than One Way to Move this Bot

BB-8 is the much loved new droid introduced in the 2016 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though in my case from the very first trailer released in 2014 I liked it for the interesting engineering problems it posed. How would you make a robot that’s a ball that rolls along, but with a head that stays on top while the ball rolls under it?

To make the ball roll, the answer most people found obvious at first was to use the analogy of a hamster wheel. The hamster running inside makes the wheel turn. In the BB-8 building world, which is quite large, the drive mechanism has come to be called a hamster drive, or just a hamster.

Magnets holding the head on
Magnets holding the head on

For the head, it seemed obvious that there would be magnets inside the ball, perhaps held in place near the top of the ball by a post extending up from the hamster. Corresponding magnets in attraction would then be attached to the underside of the head, and balls (also mounted under the head) would keep the head moving smoothly over the ball.

The magnet approach for the head has turned out to be the method used by all BB-8 builders that I’ve seen. However, the hamster has turned out to be only one of multiple solutions. Since the original debut many different methods have been used in builds and we’re going to have a lot of fun looking at each separate approach. It’s almost like revealing a magic trick; but really it’s all just clever engineering.

Note that for the actual movie, a combination of 7 or 8 props and CGI were used. The official working BB-8s that are shown at various promotional events were built after the movie was made and as of this writing, few details of their construction have been released. One notable detail, however, is that they aren’t using hamster drives.

Below are details of all the different BB-8 drive systems I’ve seen so far that have been built along with how they work.

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Find a Drone

Flying a drone usually leads to–sooner or later–crashing a drone. If you are lucky, you’ll see where it crashes and it won’t be out of reach. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll know where it is, but it will be too high to easily reach. The worst case is when it just falls out of the sky and you aren’t entirely sure where. [Just4funmedia] faced this problem and decided to use some piezo buzzers and an Arduino to solve it.

Yeah, yeah, we know. You don’t really need an Arduino to do this, although it does make it easy to add some flexibility. You can pick two tones that are easy to hear and turn on the buzzers with a spare channel or sense a loss of signal or power.

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