Hackaday Prize Entry: Giving Phones Their Tactile Buttons Back

In the before-times, we could send text messages without looking at our phones. It was glorious, and something 90s Kids™ wish we could bring to our gigantic glowing rectangles stuck in our pocket. For his Hackaday Prize Entry, [Kyle] is bringing just a little bit of this sightless functionality back to the modern smartphone. He’s building a tactile remote control for smartphones. With this device, you can navigate through icons, push buttons, and even zoom in on maps with real, physical controls.

This keyboard is built around a handful of Cherry MX mechanical key switches for a great tactile feel, and a single capacitive touch strip for zooming in and out on the screen. This is pretty much exactly what you want for real, mechanical buttons for a smartphone — a satisfying click and a zoomy strip. The microcontroller used in this device is the BGM111 Bluetooth LE module from Silicon Labs. It’s an extremely low-power module that is able to read a cap touch strip and a few button inputs. Power is provided by a 2032 coin cell, giving the entire device a low profile form factor (except for the MX switches, but whatever), and more than enough run time.

It should be noted that [Kyle] is building this as a solution to distracted driving. True, looking down to send a quick text while driving is the cause of thousands of deaths. However, while typing out a quick note with a T9 keyboard on your Nokia seems like it’s less dangerous, it’s really not. Doing anything while driving is distracted driving, and there are volumes of studies to back this up. Outside the intended use case, this is a fantastic project that uses a neat little Bluetooth module we don’t see much of, and there are some pretty cool applications of a tiny wireless mechanical keyboard with cap touch we can think of.

Detecting Dire Diseases – with a Selfie?

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. But with a new smartphone app, the eyes may be a diagnostic window into the body that might be used to prevent a horrible disease — pancreatic cancer. A research team at the University of Washington led by [Alex Mariakakis] recently described what they call “BiliScreen,” a smartphone app to detect pancreatic disease by imaging a patient’s eyes.

Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly because it remains asymptomatic until it’s too late. One early symptom is jaundice, a yellow-green discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes as the blood pigment bilirubin accumulates in the body. By the time enough bilirubin accumulates to be visible to the naked eye, things have generally progressed to the inoperable stage. BiliScreen captures images of the eyes and uses image analysis techniques to detect jaundice long before anyone would notice. To control lighting conditions, a 3D-printed mask similar to Google’s Cardboard can be used; there’s also a pair of glasses that look like something from [Sir Elton John]’s collection that can be used to correct for ambient lighting. Results look promising so far, with BiliScreen correctly identifying elevated bilirubin levels 90% of the time, as compared to later blood tests. Their research paper has all the details (PDF link).

Tools like BiliScreen could really make a difference in the early diagnosis and prevention of diseases. For an even less intrusive way to intervene in disease processes early, we might also be able to use WiFi to passively detect Parkinson’s.

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Sneak Thieves Beware: A Pi Watcheth

Ever have that strange feeling that somebody is breaking into your workshop? Well, Hackaday.io user [Kenny] has whipped up a tutorial on how to scratch that itch by turning a spare Raspberry Pi you may have kicking around into a security camera system that notifies you at a moment’s notice.

The system works like this: a Raspberry Pi 3 and connected camera module remain vigilant, constantly scanning for motion and recording video. If motion is detected, it immediately snaps and sends a picture to the user’s mobile via PushBullet, then begins recording video. If there is still movement after a few seconds, the process repeats until the area is once again devoid of motion. This also permits a two-way communication with your Pi security system, so you can check in on the live feed whenever you feel the urge.

To get this working for you — assuming that your Pi has been recently updated — setup requires setting up a PushBullet account as well as installing it on your mobile and  linking it with an API. For your Pi, you can go ahead with setting up some Python PushBullet libraries, installing FFmpeg, Pi Camera Notifier, and others. Or, install the ready-to-go image [Kenny] has prepared. He gets into the nitty-gritty of the code in his guide, so check that out or watch the tutorial video after the break.

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eMMC to SD Hack Rescues Data from a Waterlogged Phone

How do I get the data off this destroyed phone? It’s a question many of us have had to ponder – either ourselves or for friends or family. The easy answer is either spend a mint for a recovery service or consider it lost forever.  [Trochilidae] didn’t accept either of those options, so he broke out the soldering iron and rescued his own data.

A moment’s inattention with a child near a paddling pool left [Trochilidae’s] coworker’s wife with a waterlogged, dead phone. She immediately took apart the phone and attempted to dry it out, but it was too late. The phone was a goner. It also had four months of photos and other priceless data on it. [Trochilidae] was brought in to try to recover the data.

The phone was dead, but chances are the data stored within it was fine. Most devices built in the last few years use eMMC flash devices as their secondary storage. eMMC stands for Embedded Multimedia Card. What it means is that the device not only holds the flash memory array, it also contains a flash controller which handles wear leveling, flash writing, and host interface. The controller can be configured to respond exactly like a standard SD card.

The hard part is getting a tiny 153 ball BGA package to fit into an SD card slot.  [Trochilidae] accomplished that by cutting open a microSD to SD adapter. He then carefully soldered the balls from the eMMC to the pins of the adapter. Thin gauge wire, a fine tip iron, and a microscope are essentials here. Once the physical connections were made,  [Trochilidae] plugged the card into his Linux machine. The card was recognized, and he managed to pull all the data off with a single dd command.

[Trochilidae] doesn’t say what happened after the data was copied, but we’re guessing he analyzed the dump to determine the filesystem, then mounted it as a drive. The end result was a ton of recovered photos and a very happy coworker.

If you like crazy soldering exploits, check out this PSP reverse engineering hack, where every pin of a BGA was soldered to magnet wire.

Stalk Your Cats With A Browser-Controlled Robot

A good robot is always welcome around here at Hackaday, and Hackaday.io user [igorfonseca83]’browser-controlled ‘bot s is no exception. Felines beware.

[igorfonseca83] — building on another project he’s involved in — used simple materials for the robot itself, but you could use just about anything. His goal for this build was to maximize accessibility in terms of components and construction using common tools.

An Arduino Uno gets two D/C motors a-driving using an H-bridge circuit — granting independent control the wheels — an ESP8266 enabling WiFi access, with power provided by a simple 5V USB power bank. [igorfonseca83] is using an Android smartphone to transmit audio and video data; though this was mostly for convenience on his part, a Raspberry Pi and camera module combo as another great option!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Femtocell Repeater

For a Hackaday Prize entry, [TegwynTwmffat] is building a cell phone signal repeater. This sort of device is commercially available, but the options are either expensive or, as with some units available for $30 on DealExtreme, obviously noncompliant with RF regulations. This project intends to create a cost-effective, hackable device that works properly and conforms to the right regulations.

The core of this system is a LimeSDR transceiver. This is a board we’ve seen before, and it has a few interesting features. Basically, the core of the LimeSDR is a programmable RF transceiver with coverage from 100kHz to 3.8GHz. There’s also on-chip signal processing and USB 3.0 bandwidth to get the signals to and from a computer.

Right now, [TegwynTwmffat]’s focus is getting his LimeSDR up and working and figuring out how to set up a few radio blocks to do what is needed. There’s a great update to the project that showcases Pothos, and so far [Tegwyn] has a full-duplex repeater working. This is great work, and really showcases the capabilities of what software-defined radio can do.

Fundamentals of Fingerprint Scanning

Like most (if not all) Hackaday readers, I like to know how the technology I use works. I’m always amazed, for example, how many otherwise smart people have no idea how the cellphone network works other than “it’s a radio.” So now that I have two phones with fingerprint scanners on them, I decided I needed to know more about what’s going on in there.

Sure, I assumed the sensor was capacitive (but maybe not, I found out). Plus we all know some super glue, scotch tape, and gummy bears are all you need to fake one out. However, that’s been known for about 15 years and we are still seeing phones and other devices rolling out with the same scanners. So for now, put aside the debate about whether we should be using fingerprint scanners. Let’s talk about how those sensors work.

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