Hacking a Cheap Laser Rangefinder

When a new piece of technology comes out, the price is generally so high that it keeps away everyone but the die hard early adopters. But with time the prices inch down enough that more people are willing to buy, which then drives the prices down even more, until eventually the economies of scale really kick in and the thing is so cheap that it’s almost an impulse buy. Linux SBCs, Blu-ray lasers, 3D printers; you name it and the hacker community has probably benefited from the fact that it’s not just the hacker community that’s interested anymore.

Which is exactly what’s started to happen with laser rangefinders. Once almost exclusively a military technology, you can now pick a basic “laser tape measure” for less than $40 USD from the normal overseas suppliers. Unfortunately, as [iliasam] found, they aren’t particularly well suited other tasks. For one there’s no official way of getting the data out of the thing, but the other problem is that the sample rate is less than one per second. Believing the hardware itself was promising enough, he set out to reverse engineer and replace the firmware running on one of these cheap laser rangefinders (Google Translate from Russian).

His blog post is an absolute wealth of information on how these devices operate, and a must read for anyone interested in reverse engineering. But the short version is that he figured out a way to reprogram the STM32F100C8T6 microcontroller used in the device, and develop his own firmware that addresses the usability concerns of this otherwise very promising gadget.

With some minor hoop jumping, the laser tape measure PCB can be hooked up to an ST-Link programmer, and the firmware provided by [iliasam] can be used to enable an easy to use serial interface. Perfect for pairing with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to get fast and accurate range data without breaking the bank.

It probably won’t surprise you to see this isn’t the first time [iliasam] has gotten down and dirty with a laser rangefinder. This extremely impressive build from last year allowed for incredibly accurate 3D scans of his room, and before that he created his own rangefinder from scratch.

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Driving 16 WS2812B Strips with GPIOs and DMA

[Martin Hubáček] wrote in with his WS2812 LED library for the STM32F3 series processors. [Martin]’s library takes the same approach as [Paul Stoffregen]’s OctoWS2811 for the Teensy, and [Erich Styger]’s for the Freescale FRDM-K64F board. That is, it uses three DMA channels to get the signal out as fast as possible.

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100% DIY Intervalometer is 100% Awesome

It’s easy to tell from this process documentary that [Nagyizee] is not one to settle for prefabricated anything. He could have just bought some off-the-shelf DSLR intervalometer, but that would mean interfacing with someone else’s design through cold, soulless plastic.

[Nagyizee] wanted a one-of-a-kind tool built from the ground up. In addition to a timer, he was in the market for a light sensor and sound detection. He chose an STM32F100 ARM Cortex M3 running at 8MHz in the name of power efficiency and started designing the UI and firmware. A custom graphic library for the OLED display streamlines it even further. Once the schematic was finalized, [Nagyizee] devised a stylish and ergonomic wooden case to be milled with a tiny Proxxon F70.

With the enclosure decisions out of the way, he etched and drilled the PCB and placed the components. The light sensor needed a lens and a prism, so he made one from a 10mm LED body. Not one to miss a detail, [Nagyizee] also turned some buttons, hand painted them, and made a scroll wheel. He ends the video with a demonstration that proves it is quite capable. In addition to standard cable release mode, it handles long exposure times, sequential shooting, and capture on light, shadow, or sound. But wait, there’s more: [Nagyizee]’s creation combines modes with ease and grace.

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