A Spectrum Analyzer For The Smart Response XE

Remember the Girl Tech IM-me? It was a hot-pink clearance rack toy that suddenly became one of the hottest commodities in the hacking world when it was discovered they could be used for all sorts of radio frequency shenanigans. Now they go for triple digits on eBay, if you can even find one. Well, we’re probably about to see the same thing happen to the Smart Response XE.

Thanks to the work of a hacker named [ea], this cheap educational gadget is finally starting to live up to the potential we saw in it back when a teardown revealed it was powered by an Arduino-compatible ATmega128RF chip. With a big screen, a decent QWERTY keyboard, and integrated wireless hardware, it seemed obvious that the Smart Response XE was poised to be the next must-have repurposed piece of kit.

Though as it turns out, [ea] isn’t using the device’s built-in wireless hardware. Step one in this exceptionally well documented and photographed project is to tack a CC1101 transceiver module to the SPI pins on the ATmega128RF. Then with the appropriate firmware loaded up, that nice big screen will show you what’s happening on the 300 MHz, 400 Mhz and 900 MHz bands.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. With the CC1101-modified Smart Response XE, there’s a whole new world of radio hacks you can pull off. As a proof of concept, [ea] has also included a POCSAG pager decoder. Granted the RTL-SDR has already made pulling pager messages out of the air pretty easy, but there’s something to be said for being able to do it on something so small and unassuming.

If you can’t tell, we’re exceptionally interested in seeing what the community can do with the Smart Response XE. At the time of this writing, the going rate on eBay for a good condition unit looks to be about $10 USD, plus the $3 or so for the CC1101 module. But the prices went through the roof when we first posted about it, so get them cheap while you still can.

[Thanks to bburky for the tip.]

SMART Response XE Gets Wireless Bootloader

A few months back we first brought word of the progress being made in unlocking the SMART Response XE, an ATmega128RFA powered handheld computer that allowed teachers to create an interactive curriculum in the days before all the kids got Chromebooks. Featuring 2.4 Ghz wireless communication, a 384×160 LCD, and a full QWERTY keyboard, schools paid around $100 each for them 2010. Now selling for as little as $5 on eBay, these Arduino-compatible devices only need a little coaxing and an external programmer to get your own code running.

The previous post inspired [Larry Bank] to try his hand at hacking the SMART Response XE, and so far he’s made some very impressive progress. Not only has he come up with his own support library, but he’s also created a way to upload Arduino code to the devices through their integrated 802.15.4 radio. With his setup, you no longer need to open the SMART Response XE and attach a programmer, making it much easier to test and deploy software.

[Larry] has written up a very detailed account of his development process, and goes through the trouble of including his ideas that didn’t work. Getting reliable communication between two of these classroom gadgets proved a bit tricky, and it took a bit of circling around until he hit on a protocol that worked.

The trick is that you need to use one SMART Response XE attached to your computer as a “hub” to upload code to other XEs. But given how cheap they are this isn’t that big of a deal, especially considering the boost in productivity it will net you. [Larry] added a 5 x 2 female header to his “hub” XE so he could close the device back up, and also added a physical power switch. In the video after the break, you can see a demonstration of the setup sending a simple program to a nearby XE.

Between this wireless bootloader and the Arduboy compatibility covered previously, we’d suggest you get your SMART Response XE now. We wouldn’t be surprised if the prices of these things start going up like they did with the IM-ME. Continue reading “SMART Response XE Gets Wireless Bootloader”

Classroom Gadget Turned Arduino Compatible

Cheap second-hand hardware is usually a fertile ground for hacking, and by looks of this project, the digital classroom aids that were all the rage a few years back are no exception. [is0-mick] writes in to tell us how he managed to hack one of these devices, a SMART Reponse XE, into an Arduboy compatible game system. As it turns out, this particular gadget is powered by an ATmega128RFA, which is essentially an Arduino-compatible AVR microcontroller with a 2.4GHz RF transceiver tacked on. This makes it an extremely interesting platform for hacking, especially since they are going for as little as $3 USD on eBay.

There’s no USB-Serial converter built into the SMART Response XE, so you’ll need to provide your own external programmer to flash the device. But luckily there’s a labeled ISP connector right on the board which makes it pretty straightforward to get everything wired up.

Of course, getting the hardware working was slightly more complicated than just flashing an Arduino Sketch onto the thing. [is0-mick] has provided his bootloader and modified libraries to get the device’s QWERTY keyboard and ST7586S controlled 384×160 LCD working.

Playing games is fun, but when his friend [en4rab] sent him the SMART Response XE to fiddle with, the goal was actually to turn them into cheap 2.4 GHz analyzers similar to what was done with the IM-ME. It seems they’re well on their way, and [is0-mick] invites anyone who might be interested in filling in some of the blanks on the RF side to get involved.

Continue reading “Classroom Gadget Turned Arduino Compatible”