Uncovering The Echo Dot’s Hidden USB Port

If you upgraded to Amazon’s latest Echo Dot, you might have been surprised to find that the diminutive voice assistant had shed its USB port. Earlier models of the Dot used a garden variety micro USB port for power, which hackers eventually figured out also provided a helpful way to snoop around inside the device’s firmware. The fact that the USB port was deleted on the latest Echo Dot in favor of a simple barrel connector for power was seen by some as a sign that Amazon was trying to keep curious owners out of their hardware.

But as [Brian Dorey] shows, all they did was put a bump in the road. While they removed the external USB connector, the traces for it are still on the board waiting to be accessed. Even better, it turns out the USB data lines are connected to the test points located on the bottom of the Dot. All you need is a simple breakout that will connect through the existing opening in the device’s case, and you’ve got your USB port back.

So what can you do with USB on the Echo Dot? Well, not much right now. [Brian] found that the Dot shows up as a Mediatek device under Linux using lsusb, and fastboot can see it and even confirms the presence of a locked bootloader. It’s going to take some work from the community to see how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.

Even if you’re not interested in restoring its USB port, [Brian] has uncovered a wealth of fascinating hardware information about the Echo Dot during his deep-dive. He’s mapped out many of the test points located throughout the device’s PCBs, and found a few interesting points that might be worth further investigation. For example, he found that driving one of the pins high would trigger the Dot to mute its microphones; which could be useful for anyone looking to cover Alexa’s ears.

[Brian] first cracked open the Echo Dot last month, after scoring one for cheap during Amazon’s Prime Day sale. It looks like he’s making fairly rapid progress on unraveling the mysteries of this popular gadget, and we’re very interested in seeing where this research takes us.

Millenium Falcon HID: Get Unity To Talk To Teensy

Here’s one that proves a hardware project can go beyond blinking LEDs and dumping massive chunks of data onto a serial console. Those practices are fine for some, but [dimtass] has found a more elegant hack for a more civilized age. His 3D Millennium Falcon model gets orientation data from his IMU as an an HID device.

The hardware involved is an MPU6050 6-axis sensor that is interfaced with a Teensy 3.2 board. [dimtass] documents his approach to calibrating the IMU going a bit further by using a Python script to generate offsets. We’ve advocated using Jupyter notebooks in the past and this is a good example of Jupyter plotting the data and visualizing the effect of the offsets in a second pass.

When in action, the Teensy reads IMU data and sends it over a USB RAW HID interface. For the uninitiated, HID transfers are more reliable than USB CDC transfers (virtual serial port) because they use smaller data chunks per event/transaction and usually don’t require special driversOn the computer side, [dimtass] has written a small application that gets the IMU values over the RAW HID and then provides it to the visualization application.

A 3D Millennium Falcon model is rendered in Unity, the popular open source game development engine. Even though Unity has an API, this particular approach is more OS specific using a shared-memory technique. The HID application writes to a file (/tmp/hid-shared-buffer) which is then read by Unity to make orientation changes to the rendered model.

[dimtass] provides lots of details on the tools used to bring his project to life and it can be a great starting point for more projects that need interfacing sensors with a visualization system. We have seen ways to turn a person’s head into a joystick and if you need a deeper dive into Unity, look no further.

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KVM Foot Switch In A Few Steps

[Radishmouse], despite the handle, is not a mouse guy. Give him a keyboard and he will get around just fine in any OS or program. As it is, he’s got a handful of ThinkPads, each running a different OS. He wanted to be able to switch his nice mechanical keyboard between two laptops without the hassle of unplugging and replugging the thing. His solution: a DIY KVM foot switch.

He’s been learning about electronics and 3D design, and this problem was the perfect opportunity to dig in and get his hands dirty. After learning enough about the USB protocol and switches to figure out what had to happen, he made a prototype from a pâte tub. Though undeniably classy, this vessel would never survive the rigors of foot-stomping in feline territory. Fortunately, [radishmouse] has also been learning about 3D design. After some trial and error, he came up with a sturdy, curvy 3D-printed two-piece enclosure. We particularly like the blocks built into the bottom piece that shore up the USB ports.

There are lots of reasons to build input controls for those under-utilized appendages at the ends of your legs. You could control your ‘scope with a probe in each hand, or use a foot switch to relocate an inconvenient power button.

Via [r/functionalprint]

A SuperCap UPS

If you treat your Pi as a wearable or a tablet, you will already have a battery. If you treat your Pi as a desktop you will already have a plug-in power supply, but how about if you live where mains power is unreliable? Like [jwhart1], you may consider building an uninterruptible power supply into a USB cable. UPSs became a staple of office workers when one-too-many IT headaches were traced back to power outages. The idea is that a battery will keep your computer running while the power gets its legs back. In the case of a commercial UPS, most generate an AC waveform which your computer’s power supply converts it back to DC, but if you can create the right DC voltage right to the board, you skip the inverting and converting steps.

Cheap batteries develop a memory if they’re drained often, but if you have enough space consider supercapacitors which can take that abuse. They have a lower energy density rating than lithium batteries, but that should not be an issue for short power losses. According to [jwhart1], this quick-and-dirty approach will power a full-sized Pi, keyboard, and mouse for over a minute. If power is restored, you get to keep on trucking. If your power doesn’t come back, you have time to save your work and shut down. Spending an afternoon on a power cable could save a weekend’s worth of work, not a bad time-gamble.

We see what a supercap UPS looks like, but what about one built into a lightbulb or a feature-rich programmable UPS?

Control Your Web Browser Like It’s 1969

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been tasked with developing a device for interfacing with a global network of interconnected devices. Would you purposely design a spring-loaded dial that can do nothing but switch a single set of contacts on and off from 1 to 10 times? What kind of crazy world would we have to live in where something like that was the pinnacle of technology?

Obviously, such a world once existed, and now that we’ve rolled the calendar ahead a half-century or so, both our networks and our interfaces have gotten more complex, if arguably better. But [Jan Derogee] thinks a step backward is on order, and so he built this rotary phone web browser. The idea is simple: pick up the handset and dial the IP address of the server you want to connect to. DNS? Bah, who needs it?

Of course there is the teensy issue that most websites can’t be directly accessed via IP address anymore, but fear not – [Jan] has an incredibly obfuscated solution to that. It relies on the fact that many numbers sound like common phrases when sounded out in Chinese, so there end up being a lot of websites that have number-based URLs. He provides an example using the number 517, which sounds a bit like “I want to eat,” to access the Chinese website of McDonald’s. How the number seven sounding like both “eat” and “wife” is resolved is left as an exercise to the reader.

And here we thought [Jan]’s rotary number pad was of questionable value. Still, we appreciate this build, and putting old phones back into service in any capacity is always appreciated.

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Extracting Power From USB Type C

For the last decade or so, we’ve been powering and charging our portable devices with USB. It’s a system that works; you charge batteries with DC, and you don’t want to have a wall wart for every device, so just grab a USB hub and charge your phone and you headphones or what have you. Now, though, we have USB Type C, with Power Delivery. Theoretically, we can pull 100 W over a USB cable. What if we could tap into that with screw terminals?

That’s the idea behind [Jakob]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize. It’s a USB 3.1 Type C to Type A adapter, but it also has the neat little bonus of adding screw terminals. Think of it as jumper cables for your laptop or phone, but don’t actually do that.

[Jakob]’s board consists of a USB Type C receptacle on one end, and a Type A plug on the other, while in between those two sockets is an STM32G0 microcontroller that handles the power negotiation and PD protocol. This gives the USB Type C port dual role port (DRP) capability, so the power connection can go both ways. Add in a screw terminal, and you can theoretically get 20 V at 5 A through a pair of wires. Have fun with that.

Right now, [Jakob] has all the files in a Gitlab with the schematic and layout available here. It’s an interesting project that has tons of applications of USB hackery, and more than enough power to do some really fun stuff.

You Don’t Need That Bulky CRT Oscilloscope Anymore

While it might be nice to use a $4,000 oscilloscope in a lab at a university or well-funded corporate environment, a good portion of us won’t have access to that kind of equipment in our own home shops. There are a few ways of getting a working oscilloscope without breaking the bank, though. One option is to find old CRT-based unit for maybe $50 on craigslist which might still have 60% of its original 1970s-era equipment still operational. A more reliable, and similarly-priced, way of getting an oscilloscope is to just convert a device you already have.

The EspoTek Labrador is an open-source way of converting a Raspberry Pi, Android device, or even a regular run-of-the-mill computer into a working oscilloscope. It’s a small USB device with about a two square inch PCB footprint that includes some other features as well like a signal generator and logic analyzer. It’s based on an ATxmega which is your standard Arduino-style AVR microcontroller but geared for low power usage. It looks as though it is pretty simple to use as well, and the only requirements are that you can install the software needed for the device on whatever computing platform you decide to use.

While the Labrador is available for sale at their website, it is definitely a bonus when companies offer products like this but also release the hardware and software as open source. That’s certainly a good way to get our attention, at least. You can build your own if you’d like, but if you’d rather save the time you have pre-built options. And it doesn’t hurt that most of the reviews of this product seem to be very favorable (although we haven’t tried one out ourselves). If you’d prefer an option without a company backing it, though, we have you covered there too.