CNC Robot Makes a Move

Another day, another Kickstarter. While we aren’t often keen on touting products, we are keen on seeing robotics and unusual mechanisms put to use. The Goliath CNC has long since surpassed its $90,000 goal in an effort to put routing robots in workshops everywhere.

Due to their cost and complexity, you often only find omni-wheels on robots scurrying around universities or the benches of robotics hobbyists, but the Goliath makes use of nine wheels configured as three sets in a triangular pattern. This is important as any CNC needs to make compound paths, and for wheeled robots an omni-wheel base is often the best bet for compound 2D translation.

coordinate drawingWhat really caught our eye is the Goliath’s unique positioning system. While most CNC machines have the luxury of end-stops or servomotors capable of precise positional control, the Goliath has two “base sensors” that are tethered to the top of the machine and mounted to the edge of the workpiece. Each sensor connects to the host computer via USB and uses vaguely termed “Radio Frequency technology” that provides a 100Hz update for the machine’s coordinate system. This setup is sure to beat out dead-reckoning for positional awareness, but details are scant on how it precisely operates. We’d love to know more if you’ve used a similar setup for local positioning as this is still a daunting task for indoor robots.

A re-skinned DeWalt 611 router makes for the core of the robot, which is a common option for many a desktop milling machine and other bizarre, mobile CNCs like the Shaper Origin. While we’re certain that traditional computer controlled routers and proper machining centers are here to stay, we certainly wouldn’t mind if the future of digital manufacturing had a few more compact options like these.

Untether from Your Location With A VPN

By now, most of us know the perks of using a VPN: they make private one’s online activity (at least from your ISP’s point of view, probably), and they can also make it appear as if you are in a different locale than you physically are. This is especially important for trying to watch events such as the Olympics which might air different things at different times in different countries. It’s also starting to be an issue with services like Netflix which allow content in some areas but not others.

While VPNs can help solve this problem, it can be tedious to set them up for specific purposes like this if you have to do it often. Luckily, [clashtherage] has created a router with a Raspberry Pi that takes care of all of the complicated VPN routing automatically. In much the same way that another RPi router we’ve seen eliminates ads from all of your internet traffic, this one takes all of your traffic and sends it to a locale of your choosing. (In theory one could use both at the same time.)

Obviously this creates issues for Netflix as a company, and indeed a number of services (like craigslist, for example) are starting to block access to their sites if they detect that a VPN is being used. Of course, this only leads to an arms race of VPNs being blocked, and them finding ways around the obstacles, and on and on. If only IPv6 was finally implemented, we might have a solution for all of these issues.

BeamCNC: Computer-Controlled Construction System Mill

Need to make something quick and dirty out of wooden beams, and want to use elements you know will work together? BeamCNC is a mobile assembly of stepper-controlled rollers and a router that sucks a 2×2 through it and drills the holes in pre-programmed intervals. Currently being developed as part of an Indiegogo campaign currently in preview, its creator [Vladislav Lunachev] has declared it open source hardware. It’s essentially a CNC mill that makes Grid Beam, a classic DIY building set that resembles Meccano, Erector, and other classic sets, only made full-scale for larger projects. While BeamCNC is not affiliated with Grid Beam, it takes the same general idea and automates it.

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Hacker Heroism: Building Your Way Out of AV Hell

Many years ago, in a rainy concrete jungle on the west coast of Australia, I worked for a medium-sized enterprise doing a variety of office-based tasks. Somehow, I found myself caught up in planning a product launch event outside the official remit of my position. We got through it, but not before the audiovisual (AV) setup of the event turned into one giant hack.

The initial planning stages went remarkably smoothly until less than a month out from the big day when three weeks of frantic changes and revisions to the presentation rained down. These were some of the hardest days of my working life to date, as it seemed that we would lock in a new arrangement, only to tear it up days later as some new vital criteria came to light, throwing everything back into disarray.

Things came to a head on the night before the event. Working with two different AV teams we had planned for four projection screens and five flat screen televisions spread throughout the venue and controlled from the central AV desk. But somewhere in all those changes the televisions were set up to all display a still image, or nothing at all. I needed to show different videos on each and have the ability to black them all out.

It was at this point I realized we were screwed. The production team simply didn’t have the hardware to drive another five screens, but they could source it — for the sum of $5000. Management were furious, and were under the impression, like myself that this was what we had asked and paid for already. I was at an impasse, and beginning to wonder if I’d have a job come Monday. I wandered off to a corner to curse, and more importantly, think. After all, I’m a hacker — I can get through this.

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Broken Yoga Becomes Firewall

It seems the older I get, the density of broken and/or old laptops on my garage grows. That’s one of the reasons it’s interesting to know which projects are being made to bring back to life these things. [zigzagjoe] sent us an interesting project he made out of a Lenovo Yoga 2 motherboard: a pfsense router/firewall.

The laptop was damaged, but the main board was functioning just fine. What started as adding an old Pentium heatsink to it and see how good it would work, escalated to a fully working, WiFi, 4 port gigabyte NIC, 3D printed case firewall. The board had PCI-E via an M.2 A/E key slot for the WiFi module but [zigzagjoe] need a normal PCI-E slot to connect the quad-port NIC. He decided to hand solder the M.2 A/E (WiFi card) to have a PCI-E 1x breakout since his searches for an adapter came out empty or too expensive. For storage, he chose 16GB SanDisk U100 Server half-slim SSD for its power efficiency. Once again, the SSD cable had to be hacked as the laptop originally used a super-slim HDD with a non-standard connector. The enclosure was then designed and 3D printed.

But [zigzagjoe] went further to optimize his brand new router/firewall. On the project documentation, we can see a lot of different modifications went into building it, such as bios modification for new WiFi modules to work, an Attiny85 fan driver for extra cooling, a 45W PSU inside the case and other interesting hacks.

This is not your typical laptop to firewall hack, that’s for sure.

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Dummies Guide to Reverse Engineering

[Juan Carlos Jiménez] has reverse engineered a router — specifically, a Huawei HG533. While that in itself may not sound substantial, what he has done is write a series of blog posts which can act as a great tutorial for anyone wanting to get started with sniffing hardware. Over the five part series, he walks through the details of identifying the hardware serial ports which open up the doors to the firmware and looking at what’s going on under the hood.

The first part deals with finding the one or several debug ports on the hardware and identifying the three important pins – Rx, Tx and GND. That’s when he shows novices his first trick – shining a flashlight from under the PCB to find the pins that have trace connections (most likely Rx and Tx), those that don’t have any connections (most likely CTS and DTR) and those that have connections to the copper pour planes (most likely VCC and GND). The Tx signal will be pulled up and transmitting data when the device is powered up, while the Rx signal will be floating, making it easy to identify them. Finding the Baud rate, though, will require either a logic analyser, or you’ll have to play a bit of a guessing game.

Once you have access to the serial port and know its baud rate, it’s time to hook it up to your computer and use any one of the several ways of looking at what’s coming out of there — minicom, PuTTY or TeraTerm, for example. With access to the devices CLI, and some luck with finding credentials to log in if required, things start getting interesting.

Over the next part, he discusses how to follow the data paths, in this case, looking at the SPI signals between the main processor and the flash memory, and explaining how to use the logic analyser effectively and decode the information it captures. Moving further, he shows how you can hook up a USB to SPI bridge, connect it to the flash memory, take a memory dump of the firmware and read the extracted data. He wraps it up by digging in to the firmware and trying to glean some useful information.

It’s a great series and the detailed analysis he does of this particular piece of hardware, along with providing a lot of general tips, makes it a perfect starting point for those who need some help when getting started on debugging hardware.

Thanks, [gnif] for posting this tip.

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[Huan] Liberates a Router

[Huan Truong] was given a WiFi router and thought he’d improve it by installing a free firmware on it. Unfortunately, the router in question is a bit old, and wasn’t ever popular to begin with, which meant that it was unsupported by the usual open firmware suspects. The problem was that it only had a 4 MB flash to boot off of, but [Huan] was determined to make it work. (Spoiler: he did it, and documented it fully.)

The flash workaround consisted basically of repartitioning the space, and then telling u-boot where to find everything. On a router like the WNR2000 that [Huan] had, the flash is memory-mapped, which meant adding an offset to the flash start (0xbf000000 instead of 0x00000000) and remembering to do this consistently so that he doesn’t overwrite things like the MAC address.

[Huan] went for the LEDE fork of OpenWRT, and rebuilt it from source because he needed a small version to fit inside his limited flash. With this task completed, it worked. All done? Nope, [Huan] then submitted a pull request to LEDE, and now you can enjoy the fruits of his labor without replicating it. But if you’ve got another low-flash, obscure router, you’ve got a head start in getting LEDE up and running on it.

Routers are perhaps the most-hacked device that we see here, and they can be made pretty darn useful with the right firmware. Sometimes getting a custom firmware running is relatively easy, as it was here, and sometimes it requires some deep reverse engineering. But it’s good to keep up your router-hacking chops, because they may not always be as open as they are now.