Ham Radio Gets Embedded RTL-SDR

We usually think of the RTL-SDR as a low-cost alternative to a “real” radio, but this incredible project spearheaded by [Rodrigo Freire] shows that the two classes of devices don’t have to be mutually exclusive. After nearly 6 months of work, he’s developed and documented a method to integrate a RTL-SDR Blog V3 receiver directly into the Yaesu FT-991 transceiver.

The professional results of the hack are made possible by the fact that the FT-991 already had USB capability to begin with. More specifically, it had an internal USB hub that allowed multiple internal devices to appear to the computer as a sort of composite device.

Unfortunately, the internal USB hub only supported two devices, so the first order of business for [Rodrigo] was swapping out the original USB2512BI hub IC with a USB2514BI that offered four ports. With the swap complete, he was able to hang the RTL-SDR device right on the new chip’s pins.

Of course, that was only half of the battle. He had a nicely integrated RTL-SDR from an external standpoint, but to actually be useful, the SDR would need to tap into the radio’s signal. To do this, [Rodrigo] designed a custom PCB that pulls the IF signal from the radio, feed it into an amplifier, and ultimately pass it to the SDR. The board uses onboard switches, controlled by the GPIO ports on the RTL-SDR Blog V3, for enabling the tap and preamplifier.

In the video after the break, you can see [Rodrigo] demonstrate his modified FT-991. This actually isn’t the first time somebody has tapped into their Yaesu with a software defined radio, though this is surely the cleanest install we’ve ever seen.

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Concrete Table Even Includes A USB Hub

When designing furniture, material choice has a huge effect on the character and style of the finished product. Wood is a classic option, while more modern designs may use metal, plastic or even cardboard. Less popular, but no less worthy, is concrete. It’s heavy, cheap, and you can easily cast it into a wide variety of forms. [KagedCreations] thought this would be ideal, and whipped up this nifty piece of furniture with an integrated USB hub.

A pair of melamine shelves were scrapped to build the form, in which the concrete table is cast. Melamine is a popular choice, as it’s cheap, readily available, and releases easily from the finished concrete. Along with the USB hub, a wooden board is cast into the base of the concrete table top. This serves as an easy attachment point for the pre-made hairpin-style legs, which can be installed with wood screws.

The final result is a tidy side table that has plenty of heft to keep it stable and secure. It’s not the first concrete USB hub we’ve seen, but it’s likely the heaviest thus far. We’d love to see a version with an integrated charging pad, too – if you build one, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

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Cement Shelves Double As USB Hub

Some of us are able to get by in life with somewhere between 0 and 1 USB ports. We typically refer to these people as “Mac users”. For the rest of us, too much is never enough, and we find ourselves seeking out expansion cards and hubs and all manner of perverse adapters and dongles. [JackmanWorks] was a man who found himself in need of more connectivity, so he built this beautiful shelf with an integrated 12-port hub.

Material choice is key here, with this build looking resplendent in mahogany and cement. As the core of the build, the USB hub is first disassembled and sealed up to prevent damage from the cement. Hot glue is used to protect the PCB, while electrical tape helps cover the individual ports. The cement is then poured into a form which creates the overarching structure for the shelf, with the USB hub being cast in place. With the cement cured, mahogany boards are then cut and waxed, before installation into the structure. These form the individual shelves which hold phones, hard drives and other USB accessories.

The shelf was designed so that the entire structure is supported through the bottom shelf, which then sits on top of the desktop computer case. It’s an attractive piece, and the weight of the cement construction makes it pleasantly stable in use. It’s rare, but we do occasionally see shelf hacks around these parts. Video after the break.

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Concrete USB Hub Isn’t Going Anywhere

When starting a new project, the choice of material can have a big effect on the character of the finished product. Wood is stylish and has a certain elegance to it, while polished or brushed aluminium is great for a more futuristic feel. Sometimes though, you just want big, cheap and heavy – in which case, concrete is your friend!

[BALES] was short on USB ports, and needed a hub with plenty of connectivity. Concrete had the benefits of being solid and heavy, and also impervious to beverages. Thus, a melamine form was produced, chosen as its surface doesn’t give the concrete anything to grab on to. A foam skull was cut out and added to create an inlay for decoration, and the 7-port octopus-style hub was placed inside.

With careful attention paid to the mixture consistency, the concrete was poured into the mold and allowed to set. Care was taken to avoid air bubbles and to ensure the mixture flowed completely into the mold, without leaving air pockets behind the inserted components. After allowing it to set for a few days, the part was demolded, with care taken to minimise edge crumbling. The foam skull was removed, and infilled with black epoxy, with a little more used to coat the top and sides of the hub. As a finishing touch, a foam pad was fitted to the base to allow it to sit on a desk without scratching everything up.

In the end, [BALES] has ended up with a hefty hub that won’t skitter around when plugging and unplugging devices. It should also serve admirably as a sturdy drink coaster on those cold winter nights. If you’re trying a similar project yourself, note that sometimes concrete can be surprisingly conductive. Video after the break.

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Biometric Authentication With A Cheap USB Hub

It’s fair to say that fingerprints aren’t necessarily the best idea for device authentication, after all, they’re kind of everywhere. But in some cases, such as a device that never leaves your home, fingerprints are an appealing way to speed up repetitive logins. Unfortunately, fingerprint scanners aren’t exactly ubiquitous pieces of hardware yet. We wouldn’t hold out much hope for seeing a future Raspberry Pi with a fingerprint scanner sitting on top, for example.

Looking for a cheap way to add fingerprint scanning capabilities to his devices, [Nicholas] came up with a clever solution that is not only inexpensive, but multi-functional. By combining a cheap USB hub with a fingerprint scanner that was intended as a replacement part of a Thinkpad laptop, he was able to put together a biometric USB hub for around $5 USD.

After buying the Thinkpad fingerprint scanner, he wanted to make sure it would be detected by his computer as a standard USB device. The connector and pinout on the scanner aren’t standard, so he had to scrape off the plastic coating of the ribbon cable and do some probing with his multimeter to figure out what went where. Luckily, once he found the ground wire, the order of the rest of the connections were unchanged from normal USB.

When connected to up his Ubuntu machine, the Thinkpad scanner came up as a “STMicroelectronics Fingerprint Reader”, and could be configured with libpam-fprintd.

With the pintout and software configuration now known, all that was left was getting it integrated into the USB hub. One of the hub’s ports was removed and filled in with hot glue, and the fingerprint scanner connected in its place. A hole was then cut in the case of the hub for the scanner to peak out of. [Nicholas] mentions his Dremel is on loan to somebody else at the moment, and says he’ll probably try to clean the case and opening up a bit when he gets it back.

[Nicholas] was actually inspired to tackle this project based on a Hackaday post he read awhile back, so this one has truly come full circle. If you’d like to learn more about fingerprint scanning and the techniques being developed to improve it, we’ve got some excellent articles to get you started.

Smart Projector With Built-in Raspberry Pi Zero

You’ve heard of smartphones but have you heard of smart projectors? They’ve actually been around for a few years and are sort of like a TV set top box and projector combined, leaving no need for a TV. Features can include things like streaming Netflix, browsing in Chrome, and Skyping. However, they can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars.

[Novaspirit]  instead made his own cheap smart projector. He first got a $70 portable projector (800×480 native resolution, decent for that price) and opened it up. He soldered an old USB hub that he already had to a Raspberry Pi Zero so that he could plug in a WiFi dongle and a dongle for a Bluetooth keyboard. That all went into the projector.

Examining the projector’s circuit board he found locations to which he could wire the Raspberry Pi Zero for power even when the projector was off. He lastly made the Raspberry Pi dual-bootable into either OSMC or RetroPie. OSMC is a Linux install that boots directly into a media player and RetroPie is a similar install that turns your Raspberry Pi into a gaming machine. You can see a timelapse of the making of it and a demonstration in the video after the break.

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Thwomp Drops Brick On Retro Gaming

[Geeksmithing] wanted to respond to a challenge to build a USB hub using cement. Being a fan of Mario Brothers, a fitting homage is to build a retro-gaming console from cement to look just like your favorite Mario-crushing foe. With a Raspberry Pi Zero and a USB hub embedded in it, [Geeksmithing] brought the Mario universe character that’s a large cement block — the Thwomp — to life.

[Geeksmithing] went through five iterations before he arrived at one that worked properly. Initially, he tried using a 3D printed mold; the cement stuck to the plastic ruining the cement on the face. He then switched to using a mold in liquid rubber (after printing out a positive model of the Thwomp to use when creating the mold). But the foam board frame for the mold didn’t hold, so [Geeksmithing] added some wood to stabilize things. Unfortunately, the rubber stuck to both the foam board and the 3D model making it extremely difficult to get the model out.

Like [Han] in carbonite, that's a Rapsberry Pi Zero being encased in cement
Like [Han] in carbonite, that’s a Raspberry Pi Zero being encased in cement
Next up was regular silicone mold material. He didn’t have enough silicone rubber to cover the model, so he added some wood as filler to raise the level of the liquid. He also flipped the model over so that he’d at least get the face detail. He found some other silicone and used it to fill in the rest of the mold. Despite the different silicone, this mold worked. The duct tape he used to waterproof the Raspberry Pi, however, didn’t. He tried again, this time he used hot glue – a lot of hot glue! – to waterproof the Pi. This cast was better, and he was able to fire up the Pi, but after a couple of games his controller stopped working. He cracked open the cement to look at the Pi and realized that a small hole in the hot glue caused a leak that shorted out the USB port on the Pi. One last time, he thought, this time he used liquid electrical tape to waterproof the Pi.

The final casting worked and after painting, [Geeksmithing] had a finished cement Thwomp console that would play retro games. He missed the deadline for the USB Hub Challenge, but it’s still a great looking console, and his video has a lot of detail about what went wrong (and right) during his builds. There’s a great playlist on YouTube of the other entries in the challenge, check them out along with [Geeksmithing]’s video below!

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