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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Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart USB Hub And IoT Power Meter

[Aleksejs Mirnijs] needed a tool to accurately measure the power consumption of his Raspberry Pi and Arduino projects, which is an important parameter for dimensioning adequate power supplies and battery packs. Since most SBC projects require a USB hub anyway, he designed a smart, WiFi-enabled 4-port USB hub that is also a power meter – his entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Aleksejs’s] design is based on the FE1.1s 4-port USB 2.0 hub controller, with two additional ports for charging. Each port features an LT6106 current sensor and a power MOSFET to individually switch devices on and off as required. An Atmega32L monitors the bus voltage and current draw, switches the ports and talks to an ESP8266 module for WiFi connectivity. The supercharged hub also features a display, which lets you read the measured current and power consumption at a glance.

Unlike most cheap hubs out there, [Aleksejs’s] hub has a properly designed power path. If an external power supply is present, an onboard buck converter actively regulates the bus voltage while a power path controller safely disconnects the host’s power line. Although the first prototype is are already up and running, this project is still under heavy development. We’re curious to see the announced updates, which include a 2.2″ touchscreen and a 3D-printable enclosure.

YAPZH! (Yet Another Pi Zero Hub)

You’d think just about all the permutations of adding a hub to the Raspberry Pi Zero were done. But you’d be wrong. [Daniel’s] approach is to put the Zero inside the existing case for the hub. The LogiLink hub used is in a nice metal case with mounting flanges on the side. It looks robust and not much like a typical consumer hub. This hack would serve well where the Zero and hub might take a few wacks.

Wiring between Zero and Hub
Wiring between Zero and Hub

It took some fiddling with the hub components but he made it work. The easy part was wiring the the power and USB test points on the Zero to the hub.

More challenging were the mechanical aspects to physically fit the Zero into the case. Four LEDs were removed since their only purpose was indicating if a cables were plugged into the hub. There are four electrolytic capacitors standing upright that occupied the space needed by the Pi. [Daniel] repositioned them to lie horizontally to provide room for the Zero.

With the Zero able to fit inside the case the next steps are to create mounting holes in the USB board and cut holes in the case to access the HDMI and USB ports and the SD card holder. Some finicky work with a Dremel provided the holes and the cutouts. Fortunately, the mounting holes on the Zero aligned with some open spaces on the USB board. If they don’t, some glue and standoffs might be sufficient.

The only aspect [Daniel] left for you to hack is access to the GPIO port. That would require another cutout to bring out a ribbon cable for controlling your world. After such a nicely detailed writeup with a plethora of pictures, he had to leave something for other hackers to do.

Overengineering A USB Hub

hub

Like many of us, I’m sure, [Nick] doesn’t like digging around behind his computer case for a spare USB port and ended up buying a small USB hub for his desk. The hub worked perfectly, but then [Nick] realized an Ethernet port would be a nice addition. And a DC power supply. Then feature creep set in.

What [Nick] ended up building is a monstrosity of a desk hub with two 24V,  5V, 3.3V 50 Watt DC outputs on banana plugs, a five-port USB hub, four-port Ethernet switch, three mains sockets, 32 digital I/Os, UART, SPI, and I2C ports, a 24×4 LCD or displaying DC current usage and serial input, cooling fans, and a buzzer just or kicks.

The case is constructed out of 6mm laser cut acrylic, and the electronics are admittedly a bit messy. That said, this box does seem very useful and even plays the theme from Mario Brothers, as seen in  the video below.

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Software-Controlled Per-Port Power Switching for USB Hubs

[Befi] wanted to add a second stage backup disk to his ODROID embedded-board server, which typically draws ~1.5W at idle. After adding the disk, he saw power consumption increase by 2W when the new disk wasn’t spinning. He thought about using one of those USB hubs with the adorable little rocker switches for each port and replacing them with transistors, but that was going to be messy. After some poking around in the USB standard, he found that most support per-port power switching (PPPS), and set about to hack a USB hub to enable software-controlled per-port switching.

[Befi]’s NEC hub uses a uPD720112 chip which supports PPPS according to the datasheet. After tying the configuration pin labeled GANG_B to +3.3V, the hub declared itself PPPS-compatible. Of course, the manufacturer saved a penny or two by omitting the  individual switches, so [Befi] added an open-drain NMOS to each port. He is using this program to switch the port on and off and made the switching transparent with autofs. [Befi]’s current script has the bus ID and device ID of the hub hard-coded, but he intends to update it to find them automatically. This hack saves him 10W on average, which is about €30 ($40) per year.

If your hub is under powered, you could try adding an external power supply.