GCore: Make Portable Devices With Less Frustration

[Dan Julio]’s gCore (short for Gadget Core) is aimed at making GUI-based portable and rechargeable gadgets much easier to develop. gCore is the result of [Dan]’s own need for a less tiresome way to develop such hardware.

A touchscreen is great, but high-quality power control and charging features are what really make a portable device sing.

[Dan] found that he seemed to always be hacking a lot of extra circuitry into development boards just to get decent power management and charge control. To solve this, he designed his own common hardware platform for portable gadgets and the gCore was born.

While the color touchscreen is an eye-catching and useful addition, the real star of his design is the power management and charging features. Unlike most development hardware, the gCore intelligently shares load power with charging power. Power on and power off are also all under software control.

Sound intriguing? That’s not all the gCore has to offer, and you can learn more from the project page at hackaday.io (which has a more in-depth discussion of the design decisions and concept.) There are also some additional photos and details on [Dan]’s website.

[Dan] is no stranger to developing hardware. The tcam-mini thermal imager (and much more) is his work, and we have no doubt the gCore’s design and features are informed directly by [Dan]’s actual, practical development needs.

A small touchscreen displaying the Runbox GUI

Touchscreen-Powered USB Hub Selectively Powers Down Devices

One of the most useful features of the Universal Serial Bus is its hot-plugging capability. You simply plug in your device, use it, and unplug it when you’re done. But what if you’ve got a huge number of USB devices? You might not want to use all of them all of the time, but repeatedly unplugging and re-plugging them is inconvenient and wears out the connectors. [Matt G] fixed this problem by building the RUNBOX: a USB hub that can be controlled through a touchscreen.

The USB hub part consists of a Yepkit YKUSH 3, which is a USB 3.1 hub that support software-controlled disconnecting of devices. [Matt] hooked up a Raspberry Pi to its ports so that it could switch devices on and off through a software command. To make it more user-friendly he added a touch screen controller and created an app using the Electron framework. This allowed him to enable or disable separate devices with a single touch: turn on the mic and webcam for video-conferencing, or fire up the VR headset and game controller for a gaming session.

A USB hub in a laser-cut wooden enclosureThe modified USB hub is housed in a laser-cut enclosure with plenty of space to hook up a variety of USB devices. The touchscreen neatly fits just above [Matt]’s keyboard; this setup was inspired by head-down displays used in aircraft which similarly use a small additional screen for peripheral functions.

Although we’ve seen switchable USB hubs before, they usually require you to either press a manual switch or run dedicated software on your PC. We’ve also seen other sleek builds combining a Raspberry Pi with a USB hub.

Jared Holladay

The Safest Model Roller Coaster

[Jared Holladay] is a computer engineering student at the University of Cincinnati and a life-long roller coaster fanatic. A lot of people look at roller coasters as an exciting example of physics, like potential energy versus kinetic energy or inertia, and rightly so. [Jared] looks at them and wonders about the controls. Video also below and there is a feature-length explanation with more details. Some Hackaday readers and writers can identify the components, so we think his coaster model belongs here.

Like many folks in this field, he’s built K’nex models to get a handle on construction. He’s toured STEM shows with the tracks and undoubtedly wowed kids, adults, and physics teachers, but since he can speak to the programming, he is a triple threat. Now, he’s growing out of the toy construction plastic and moving into 3D printed parts with needle-fine tolerances.

His latest base is extruded aluminum, like what you’d want in a rigid CNC or printer. In addition to the industrial-grade surface, Rockwell Automation sent him a safety programmable logic controller, PLC, and a touchscreen HMI. Our fellows in the industry tell us those are far beyond the price scope of regular hobbyists. But fear not; your Arduino clones will suffice until you get your first grant.

The point of all the ruggedized hardware, aside from authenticity, is to implement safety features the same way you would in the industry. The redundant PLC connects to inductive prox sensors to check train speed and location. Other moving parts, like friction brakes, have sensors to report if there is a jam. After all, it’s no good if you can’t stop a train full of people. There are hundreds of things that can go wrong. Just ask [Jared] because he programmed on-screen indicators for all of them and classified them to let an operator know if they can keep the ride moving or if they need to call maintenance.

Not all homemade coasters are scale models, and some of the traditional ones have more than meets the eye.

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A Raspberry Pi Tablet, With A DSI Screen

Since the Raspberry Pi arrived back in 2012, we’ve seen no end of interesting and creative designs for portable versions of the little computer. They often have problems in interfacing with their screens, either on the very cheap models using the expansion port or on more expensive ones using an HDMI screen with associated controller and cabling. The official Raspberry Pi touchscreen has made life easier with its DSI convector, but as [jrberendt] shows us with this neat little tablet, there are other DSI-based options. This one uses a 5″ DSI touchscreen available through Amazon as well as a Pi UPS board to make a tablet that is both diminutive and self-contained.

Having fooled around ourselves in the world of Pi tablets we like this one for its clean look and a bezel that is little bigger than the screen itself. As is the case with so many Pi tablets though it has to contend with the bulk of a full-sized Model B board on its behind, making it more of a chunky brick than a svelte tablet. The screen has potential though, and we can’t help wondering whether there’s any mileage in pairing it with a much thinner Pi Zero board and a LiPo board for a slimmer alternative.

Probably the nicest Pi tablet we’ve brought you was this one, which managed to remain impressively slim despite its HDMI screen.

Merlin Pi Camera Is A Photographic Wizard

[Mister M] was quite excited to mess around with the new high-quality Raspberry Pi camera and build a project around it. Unfortunately, lockdown forced him to rummage through old tech on hand rather than hunting down a fresh eye-catching enclosure out in the wild. We spent many hours playing with one of these Merlin toys whenever six AA batteries could be spared to feed the matrix of hungry 1970s LEDs, so we would argue that [Mister M] should explore his personal stores more often.

Before we forget — it’s cool; this one was already broken. The Merlin Pi camera’s wizardry works on two levels — [Mister M] can take still pictures and record video through the GUI he built for the touchscreen, or go retro and use the little push buttons nestled in the Merlin control panel. [Mister M] worked a Dropbox uploader into the GUI, so he doesn’t have to worry about filling up the SD card with backyard bird movies in the middle of filming them.

[Mister M] says he accidentally warped the Merlin’s battery cover while trying to soak away the sticker and had to use a piece of acrylic. Although it’s unfortunate, we think it may have been for the better given the huge hole necessitated by the camera lens. Check out the build video after the break.

If you hadn’t heard about this beefy new camera module until now, our own [Jenny List] brought it into focus a couple months back and more recently had a go at hacking with it herself.

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A Wireless Controller For The Mostly Printed CNC

The Mostly Printed CNC (MPCNC) is an impressive project in its own right, allowing anyone with a 3D printer and some electrical conduit to build their own fairly heavy-duty CNC platform perfect for routing. Customization is the name of the game with the MPCNC, and few machines will look the same when they’re done. But even fewer will feature a control interface nearly as slick as the wireless handset that [Steve Croot] has put together for his.

On the hardware side, the project is fairly straightforward. Inside the 3D printed enclosure is a 4.3″ Nextion touchscreen, a Mega 2560 PRO microcontroller, a nRF24L01 2.4 GHz transceiver, and a 4000 mAh 3.7 V LiPo battery with appropriate charging circuit. Besides the physical toggle switch to turn the handheld on and off, all of the device’s functions are touch controlled. For the receiver side, [Steve] is using another nRF24L01 radio and microcontroller pair to toggle relays and shuffle the appropriate G-code commands around.

But what really makes this project shine is the software. As you can see in the video after the break, [Steve] has done an absolutely phenomenal job with the user interface on this controller. The themed boot screen and concise iconography give the controller a very professional look, and the ability to jog the machine around using taps on a virtual workspace helps keep the touch interface from being a gimmick.

We’ve seen some impressive custom-built CNC controllers over the years, but between the mostly off-the-shelf hardware used and impressive UI, we think [Steve] has created something unique. It looks like he’s keeping the source code to himself for the time being, but hopefully he sees fit to release it in the future; a project of this caliber deserves to become more than a one-off creation.

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Tap ‘N Ghost: A Novel Attack Against Smartphone Touchscreens

Researchers have demonstrated a new vulnerability in NFC, a feature built-in to many smartphones sold today. The vulnerability allows the attacker to to generate ‘ghost taps’ against a device, effectively allowing an attacker to tap your phone without you looking.

The 18-page paper released by a team of three researchers based out of Waseda University in Japan consists of two techniques: an attack against NFC-enabled smartphones and an attack against capacitive touchscreens. It should be noted that nearly all phones have NFC, and nearly every phone released in the last decade has a capacitive touchscreen. Vunlnerable devices include, but are not limited to the Xperia Z4, the Galaxy S6 Edge, the Galaxy S4, Aquos Zeta SH-04F, Nexus 9, and Nexus 7.

The experimental setup consists of a signal generator, high-speed bipolar amplifier, a small transformer (taken from a toy plasma ball), a copper sheet, oscilloscope with high-voltage probe, and an NFC card emulator. No other special equipment is required. When the victim places their smartphone on a table top, the phone is fingerprinted, giving the attacker the make and model of phone. A dialog box then pops up and the phone connects to a network.

This attack can be replicated by anyone, and the tools required are simple and readily available. The mitigation is to disable NFC on your phone.

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