Milspec Teardown: CP-142 Range Computer

As some of my previous work here at Hackaday will attest to, I’m a big fan of World War II technology. Something about going in with wooden airplanes and leaving with jet fighters and space capable rockets has always captivated me. So when one of my lovingly crafted eBay alerts was triggered by something claiming to be a “Navy WWII Range Computer”, it’s safe to say I was interested.

Not to say I had any idea of what the thing was, mind you. I only knew it looked old and I had to have it. While I eagerly awaited the device to arrive at my doorstep, I tried to do some research on it and came up pretty much empty-handed. As you might imagine, a lot of the technical information for hardware that was developed in the 1940’s hasn’t quite made it to the Internet. Somebody was selling a technical manual that potentially would have covered the function of this device for $100 on another site, but I thought that might be a bit excessive. Besides, where’s the fun in that?

I decided to try to decipher what this device does by a careful examination of the hardware, consultation of what little technical data I could pull up on its individual components, and some modern gear. In the end I think I have a good idea of how it works, but I’d certainly love to hear if there’s anyone out there who might have actually worked with hardware like this and could fill in any blanks.

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Teardown: What’s Inside a Christmas Laser Projector?

In the world of big-box retail, December 26th is a very special day. The Christmas music playing on the overhead speakers switches back to the family friendly Top 40, the store’s decorations get tossed in the compactor, and everything that’s even remotely related to the holiday is put on steep clearance. No more money to be made on the most commercialized of all holidays, so back to business as usual.

It’s in this narrow corridor of time, between the Great Holiday Unloading and the new spring products coming in, that you can find some fantastic deals on Christmas decorations. Not that long ago, this would hardly be exciting news for the readers of Hackaday. But Christmas lights and decorations have really started pushing the envelope in terms of technology: addressable RGB LED strands, Bluetooth controlled effects, and as of the last couple years, friggin’ lasers.

That’s right, you’ve seen them all over the neighborhood, probably took a few stray beams to the eye, you might even own your own. Laser projectors have been one of the most popular Christmas decorations for the last couple of years, and it’s not hard to see why. Just set the projector up in front of your house, and you’re done. No need to get on a ladder and string lights on the roof when you can just blast some directed energy up there instead.

Given how popular they are, I was surprised to see a lone Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector on the clearance rack at Home Depot for around $14 a few days after Christmas. This was a 75% price reduction from normal MSRP, and right in that sweet impulse-buy price range. Let’s see what’s hiding inside!

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34C3: Using Your Car As Video Game Controller

Despite the presence of human drivers, modern cars are controlled by computers. In his talk at the Chaos Communication Congress [Guillaume Heilles] and [P1kachu] demonstrate the potential of taking control of a car’s computer. This of course leads to the natural conclusion of emulate an Xbox controller and using the car to play computer games.

His research was limited by the fact that the only cars they had access to were the daily drivers of different members of [P1kachu]’s family, which meant that all tinkering had to be strictly non-destructive. Despite this, they achieved impressive results and deliver a great introduction into reverse engineering.

[P1kachu] used a RasPi and an OBD-II adapter to access the car’s CAN bus and begins the presentation with a quick overview of the protocol. He then briefly touches on security measures that he ran into, which are optional and their implementation varies widely between manufacturers. His first attempt to access the CAN bus was successfully blocked by a challenge-response algorithm doing its work. His mother’s convertible however provided no such obstacles and gaining access allowed him to map the position of the steering wheel and pedals to a game controller, using the car to play video games.

After this, [Guillaume] steps in and walks us through the teardown of a gadget that plugs into the OBD-II port and claims to do amazing things for your car’s mileage by reprogramming the ECU. The device was not brand specific and after having seen the variations in the ways different manufacturers implement the protocol, [Guillaume] and [P1kachu] doubted that the gadget was capable of even holding the information required to modify every known implementation out there. Listening to the output of the device, along with a quick analysis of the circuit followed by decapping the single chip they found, showed that their doubt was justified. The lecture closes with an extended Q&A that adds more information on car hacking. Those that don’t have access to a car can instead tear down hot glue guns, doppler modules or antique calculators.

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Fingerling Disemboweled for Your Entertainment

Due to the graphic nature of this post, small children and the elderly may want to leave the room. One of the hottest toys this holiday season has been gutted like a fish so that we may better understand the nature of its existence. Or maybe just what kind of sensors and motors the craftsmen over at WowWee managed to cram into a “robot” with an MSRP of only $15 USD.

[Josh Levine] mercilessly tears a Fingerling Monkey limb from limb on his blog, and points out some interesting design decisions made. While some elements of the toy are rather clever, there’s a few head-scratchers to be had inside the Fingerling. It’s interesting to see the final results of a decision process that had to balance the relatively rough life such a toy will live with the ever crucial cost of production.

The eyelids are particularly well thought out, operated by charging a coil under a magnet which is embedded in the plastic. Opening and closing the eyelids without a separate motor or gearbox is not only easier and cheaper, but prevents the possibility of damage if a child attempts to force open the eyes or otherwise manipulate the mechanism.

Other cost saving measures include the use of foil tape as a capacitive sensor, and simple ball-filled tilt sensors to detect orientation rather than an expensive accelerometer.

Interestingly, other parts of the toy seem overengineered in comparison. A cam and limit switch are used to detect when the Fingerling’s head has turned to its maximum angle, when it would have been cheaper and easier to simply detect motor stall current.

If you’re interested in seeing what makes popular toys tick, we’ve got a number of plaything tear downs which are sure to keep you satiated until the next big holiday toy rolls around.

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Resurrecting Dead LED Lightbulbs

If you’ve gone down the lighting isle of a store recently, you’ve no doubt noticed we are firmly in the age of the LED light bulb. Incandescent bulbs are kept in small stock for those who still have the odd-ball use case, there’s usually a handful of CFL bulbs for those who don’t mind filling their house with explosive vials of hot mercury, but mostly its all LED now. Which is as it should be: LED lighting is clearly the superior choice in terms of energy efficiency, lifetime, and environmental impact.

Unfortunately, a lot of the LED bulbs you’ll see on the rack are of pretty poor quality. In an effort to drive cost down corners get cut, and bulbs which should run for decades end up blowing after a couple of months. After yet another one failed on him, [Kerry Wong] decided to do a teardown to examine the failure in detail.

The failed LED driver.

He notes that most of the LEDs seem to fail in the same way, flickering after they are switched on until they just stop lighting up entirely. This hints at an overheating issue, and [Kerry] opines that aesthetic and cost considerations have pushed heat dissipation to the back burner in terms of design. It also doesn’t help that many of these bulbs are sitting in insulated recessed fixtures in the ceiling, making it even harder to keep them cool.

Once he separates the actual LEDs from the driver circuitry, he is able to determine that the emitters themselves still work fine. Rather than toss the whole thing in the trash, it’s possible to reuse the LEDs with a new power source, which is quickly demonstrated by showing off a shop light he built from “dead” LED light bulbs.

[Kerry Wong] isn’t the only one to put his LED bulbs under the knife. We’ve covered a number of teardowns which explore the cutting edge of home lighting; for better or for worse.

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A Teardown Of Something You Should Not Own

GPS jammers are easily available on the Internet. No, we’re not linking to them. Nevertheless, GPS jammers are frequently used by truck drivers and other people with a company car that don’t want their employer tracking their every movement. Do these devices work? Are they worth the $25 it costs to buy one? That’s what [phasenoise] wanted to find out.

These tiny little self-contained boxes spew RF at around 1575.42 MHz, the same frequency used by GPS satellites in high Earth orbit. Those signals coming from GPS satellites are very, very weak, and it’s relatively easy to overpower them with noise. That’s pretty much the block diagram for these cheap GPS jammers — put some noise on the right frequency, and your phone or your boss’s GPS tracker simply won’t function. Note that this is a very low-tech attack; far more sophisticated GPS jamming and spoofing techniques can theoretically land a drone safely.

[phasenoise]’s teardown of the GPS jammer he found on unmentionable websites shows the device is incredibly simple. There are a few 555s in there creating low-frequency noise. This feeds a VCO with a range of between 1466-1590 MHz. The output of the VCO is then sent to a big ‘ol RF transistor for amplification and out through a quarter wave antenna. It may be RF wizardry, but this is a very simple circuit.

The output of this circuit was measured, and to the surprise of many, there were no spurious emissions or harmonics — this jammer will not disable your cellphone or your WiFi, only your GPS. The range of this device is estimated at 15-30 meters in the open, which is good enough if you’re a trucker. In the canyons of skyscrapers, this range could extend to hundreds of meters.

It should be said again that you should not buy or use a GPS jammer. Just don’t do it. If you need to build one, though, they’re pretty easy to design as [phasenoise]’s teardown demonstrates.

Glue Gun Teardown Reveals Microcontroller Mystery

[electrobob] got a Bosch GluePen cordless hot glue gun. The thing has some nice features — it heats up in fifteen seconds, and charges via USB, and is generally handy for those small and quick jobs that hot glue guns were made to perform. At first glance it seems like a huge improvement over the plug-in varieties, which seem to take forever to heat up when all you need is a quick dab of glue.

As cool as the product sounded, [bob] did what any right-minded hacker would do and opened it up to see how that sucker work and found an ATtiny24A inside. What’s most interesting is that there appears to be no temperature regulation or sensing capability, with the exception of the thermistor in the battery-charging circuit. It’s an intriguing mystery.

The ATtiny controls a power MOSFET that brings the heating element to “approximately 170 degrees” according to the manual. [bob] could find no temperature regulation of the hot end, which measures a steady 12 V at the gate of the transistor then entire time the glue gun is powered on.

That ATtiny24A that runs the whole thing packs 12 GPIO pins, 4 PWM channels, and 2 KB program memory. It appears a bit overpowered for a glue gun controller. [bob] found one of the Tiny’s pins connected the heating element and another to the charging circuit. Maybe a shutoff in case the battery catches fire?

Without a clear shot of the back of the board, it’s a bit of a guessing game, but eight of the twelve GPIO pins appear to be in use. Leave your theories in comments. And if you’ve got any bright ideas about what to do with the remaining four GPIO pins, have at it!

For another of [bob]’s tool hacks, check out his constant current sink we posted earlier this year.