Doing Logic Analysis To Get Around The CatGenie’s DRM

The CatGenie is an amazing device to watch in action, basically a self-cleaning litter box for cats that even does away with the need to replace the litter. It’s comparable to what the indoor flush toilet is for humans compared to maintaining a composting toilet. However, there is a problem. It uses costly soap cartridges which have to be replaced because an RFID reader and a usage counter prevent you from simply refilling them yourself.

CatGenie and Arduino
CatGenie and Arduino

[David Hamp-Gonsalves] reverse engineered the electronics so that he didn’t have to pay for the cartridges anymore. This has been done before and one of those who did it created a product called the CartridgeGenius, but it’s made and sold as a parttime project and there were none in stock. The cartridges have an RFID tag and another solution which we’ve covered before is to replace the RFID reader board with an Arduino. That’s the solution [David] adopted. So why write this post if this isn’t new?

The RFID reader board communicates with the rest of the CatGenie using I2C and he needed to know what was being transmitted. To do that he learned how to use a cheap logic analyzer to read the signals on the I2C wires, which makes this an interesting story. You can see the logic analyser output on his blog and GitHub repository along with mention of a timing issue he ran into. From what he learned, he wrote up Arduino code which sends the same signals. He and his cat are now sitting pretty.

What he didn’t do is make a video. But the CatGenie really is amazing to watch in action as it goes through its rather complex 30-35 minute process so we found a video of it doing its thing, shown at 3.5x speed, and included that below.  If you’re into that sort of thing.

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RFID Audio Book Reader For the Visually Impaired

When [Willem] visited home last year, he stopped in at his grandparents’ house and found that his very active 93-year-old grandfather had recently gone almost completely blind and was passing the days just sitting in a chair. [Willem] suggested that he listen to audio books, but his grandfather wasn’t receptive to the idea until [Willem] convinced him that the well-narrated ones can be very gripping and entertaining. Once his grandfather was on board, [Willem] knew that he needed a much more accessible solution than a tiny device with tiny controls, so he built an RFID audio reader using a Raspberry Pi.

[Willem] has posted the build details at his personal site. Essentially, the box you see above contains a Raspi and an RFID reader. He created different ‘books’ by placing RFID cards inside of DVD boxes, which makes them more tangible and accessible. When a book is placed on the box, the RFID reader tells the Pi which mp3 files to load. The large colored buttons let the user pause, rewind 20 seconds, and control the volume.

We love to see this kind of build. It’s simple, effective, and greatly enhances the user’s quality of life. [Willem]’s grandfather loves it and uses it every day.

Quick and Dirty RFID Door Locks Clean up Nice

homemade RFID Door Locks

[Shawn] recently overhauled his access control by fitting the doors with some RFID readers. Though the building already had electronic switches in place, unlocking the doors required mashing an aging keypad or pestering someone in an adjacent office to press a button to unlock them for you. [Shawn] tapped into that system by running some wires up into the attic and connecting them to one of two control boxes, each with an ATMega328 inside. Everything functions as you would expect: presenting the right RFID card to the wall-mounted reader sends a signal to the microcontroller, which clicks an accompanying relay that drives the locks.

You may recall [Shawn’s] RFID phone tag hack from last month; the addition of the readers is the second act of the project. If you’re looking to recreate this build, you shouldn’t have any trouble sourcing the same Parallax readers or building out your own Arduino on a stick, either. Check out a quick walkthrough video after the jump.

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RFID Reader Snoops Cards from 3 Feet Away

Security researcher [Fran Brown] sent us this tip about his Tastic RFID Thief, which can stealthily snag the information off an RFID card at long range. If you’ve worked with passive RFID before, you know that most readers only work within inches of the card. In [Fran’s] DEFCON talk this summer he calls it the “ass-grabbing method” of trying to get a hidden antenna close enough to a target’s wallet.

His solution takes an off-the-shelf high-powered reader, (such as the HID MaxiProx 5375), and makes it amazingly portable by embedding 12 AA batteries and a custom PCB using an Arduino Nano to interpret the reader’s output. When the reader sees a nearby card, the information is parsed through the Nano and the data is both sent to an LCD screen and stored to a .txt file on a removable microSD card for later retrieval.

There are two short videos after the break: a demonstration of the Tastic RFID Thief and a quick look at its guts. If you’re considering reproducing this tool and you’re picking your jaw off the floor over the price of the reader, you can always try building your own…

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FareBot – Android NFC Proof of Concept


Upon learning that the Nexus S smartphone was equipped with a Near Field Communications NFC) radio, [Eric Butler] decided he would put the newly released Gingerbread SDK to good use.  Focusing initially on ORCA fare cards used by several Washington state transit systems, he built an open-source application he calls FareBot, which can read data from any MIFARE DESFire branded cards.  Utilizing the NFC radio in the Nexus S, he was able to dump all of the unprotected information from the fare cards, including  the remaining card balance and the last 10 locations where the card was used.

The author hopes that his proof of concept application encourages other developers to expand on his project and to explore the data stored on transit cards around the world. While it is in its early stages, [Eric] would ultimately like to see this project expanded to allow the use of NFC-enabled smartphones as transit cards themselves via downloadable apps.  He suggests that helping people understand the amount of data which can be freely obtained from these cards will eventually force the manufacturers to better inform consumers of the existing system’s shortcomings, which in turn might spur on smartphone-based transit initiatives.

Scratch built RFID tags


[nmarquardt] has put up an interesting instructable that covers building RFID tags. Most of them are constructed using adhesive copper tape on cardstock. The first version just has a cap and a low power LED to prove that the antenna is receiving power. The next iteration uses tilt switches so the tag is only active in certain orientations. The conclusion shows several different variations: different antenna lengths, conductive paint, light activated and more.