Teardown: Wonder Bible

Even the most secular among us can understand why somebody would want to have a digital version of the Bible. If you’re the sort of person who takes solace in reading from the “Good Book”, you’d probably like the ability to do so wherever and whenever possible. But as it so happens, a large number of people who would be interested in a more conveniently transportable version of the Bible may not have the technological wherewithal to operate a Kindle and download a copy.

Which is precisely the idea behind the Wonder Bible, a pocket-sized electronic device that allows the user to listen to the Bible read aloud at the press of a button. Its conservative design, high-contrast LED display, and large buttons makes it easy to operate even by users with limited eyesight or dexterity.

The commercial for the Wonder Bible shows people all of all ages using the device, but it’s not very difficult to read between the lines and see who the gadget is really aimed for. We catch a glimpse of a young businessman tucking a Wonder Bible into the center console of his expensive sports car, but in reality, the scenes of a retiree sitting pensively in her living room are far closer to the mark.

In truth, the functionality of the Wonder Bible could easily be replicated with a smartphone application. It would arguably even be an improvement by most standards. But not everyone is willing or able to go that route, which creates a market for an affordable stand-alone device. Is that market large enough to put a lot of expense and engineering time into the product? Let’s crack open one of these holy rolling personal companions and find out.

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New Breakout Board For Grid-EYE Thermal Sensor

Panasonic’s Grid-EYE sensor is essentially a low-cost 8×8 thermal imager with a 60 degree field of view, and a nice breakout board makes it much easier to integrate into projects. [Pure Engineering] has created an updated version of their handy breakout board for the Grid-EYE and are currently accepting orders. The new breakout board is well under an inch square and called the GridEye2 (not to be confused with the name of the main component, the AMG8833 Grid-EYE by Panasonic.)

GridEye2 connected to CH341A dev board, allowing easy PC interface over USB.

A common way to interface with the Grid-EYE is over I2C, but to make connecting and developing on a PC more straightforward, [Pure Engineering] has made sure the new unit can plug right into their (optional) CH341A development board to provide a USB interface. Getting up and running on a Linux box is then as simple as installing the Linux drivers for the CH341A, and using sample C code to start reading thermal data from an attached GridEye2 board.

The Grid-EYE is a low-cost and capable little device that mates well with an LED matrix display, and on the more advanced side, a simple Gaussian interpolation can have a striking effect when applied to low-resolution sensors, making them appear higher resolution than they actually are.

ESP32-S2 Hack Chat With Adafruit

Join us on Wednesday, May 6 at noon Pacific for the ESP32-S2 Hack Chat with Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Scott Shawcroft!

When Espressif released the ESP8266 microcontroller back in 2014, nobody could have predicted how successful the chip was to become. While it was aimed squarely at the nascent IoT market and found its way into hundreds of consumer devices like smart light bulbs, hackers latched onto the chip and the development boards it begat with gusto, thanks to its powerful microcontroller, WiFi, and lots of GPIO.

The ESP8266 was not without its problems, though, and security was always one of them. The ESP32, released in 2016, addressed some of these concerns. The new chip added another CPU core, a co-processor, Bluetooth support, more GPIO, Ethernet, CAN, more and better ADCs, a pair of DACs, and a host of other features that made it the darling of the hacker world.

Now, after being announced in September of 2019, the ESP32-S2 is finally making it into hobbyist’s hands. On the face of it, the S2 seems less capable, with a single core and neither Bluetooth nor Ethernet. But with a much faster CPU, scads more GPIO, more ADCs, a RISC-V co-processor, native USB, and the promise of very low current draw, it could be that the ESP32-S2 proves to be even more popular with hobbyists as it becomes established.

To talk us through the new chip’s potential, Limor “Ladyada” Fried and Scott Shawcroft, both of Adafruit Industries, will join us on the Hack Chat. Come along and learn everything you need to know about the ESP32-S2, and how to put it to work for you.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 6 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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Have JBC Soldering Handle, Will USB-C Power Deliver

Frequent converter-of-tools-to-USB-C [Jan Henrik] is at it again, this time with a board to facilitate using USB Power Delivery to fuel JBC soldering iron handles. Last time we saw [Jan] work his USB-C magic was with the Otter-Iron, which brought Power Delivery to the trusty TS100 with a purpose built replacement PCBA. This time he’s taking a different approach by replacing the “station” of a conventional soldering station completely with one tiny board and one giant capacitor.

If you’ve been exposed to the “AC fire starter” grade of soldering iron the name JBC might be unfamiliar. They make tools most commonly found with Metcal’s and high end HAKKOs and Wellers on the benches of rework technicians and factory floors. Like any tool in this class each soldering station comes apart and each constituent piece (tips, handles, base stations, stands, etc) are available separately from the manufacturer and on the used market at often reasonable prices, which is where [Jan Henrik] comes in.

The Otter-Iron PRO is a diminutive PCBA which accepts a USB-C cable on one side and the connector from a standard JBC T245-A handle on the other. JBC uses a fairly typical thermistor embedded in the very end of the iron tip, which the Otter-Iron PRO senses to provide closed loop temperature control. [Jan Henrik] says it can reach its temperature setpoint from a cold start in 5 seconds, which roughly matches the performance of an original JBC base station! We’re especially excited because this doesn’t require any modification to the handle or station itself, making it a great option for JBC users with a need for mobility.

Want to make an Otter-Iron PRO of your own? Sources are at the link at the top. It sounds like v3 of the design is coming soon, which will include its own elegant PCB case. Check out the CAD render after the break. Still wondering how all this USB-PD stuff works? Check out [Jason Cerudolo’s] excellent walkthrough we wrote up last year.

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Reverse Engineering An RGB Keyboard Under Linux

Hardware support under Linux is far better than it ever has been in the past. These days, most things “just work” out of the box, and you probably won’t have to compile any custom kernel modules. Certainly a far cry from where things were a decade ago. But that doesn’t mean everything will work to 100% of its abilities. Take for example, the Duck keyboard that [Cynthia Revström] has. Sure it works as a basic keyboard under any OS, but getting those fancy RGB LEDs working is another story entirely.

Don’t get the wrong idea here, [Cynthia] isn’t just trying to get the keyboard to flash along to music; the goal was to use the RGB lighting of the Ducky keyboard for notifications that the user can’t possibly ignore. Even the most laser-focused among us would have a hard time not noticing that the entire keyboard is blinking red. But the “DuckyRGB” software that you need to do something like that is Windows-only and apparently distributed via a sketchy Google Drive link. Yikes.

The first step to creating an alternative was to spin up a Windows VM and install DuckyRGB. From there, Wireshark could listen in between the virtual computer and the Ducky keyboard to see what the software was sending over the wire. After identifying a version number being sent in the clear, [Cynthia] was able to isolate the LED commands by searching for the hex color codes. From there, it was a relatively simple matter of writing some glue code to connect it up to an alert service and get notifications going.

There was only one problem; the keyboard didn’t work anymore. Turns out the tool that [Cynthia] wrote to control the keyboard’s LEDs was claiming the device so the kernel couldn’t access it for normal input. It took a detour with HIDAPI to get everyone playing together nicely, and now changing the color of your Ducky keyboard on Linux doesn’t turn it into a paperweight.

Even if you don’t have a Ducky keyboard, or aren’t particularly interested in having its LEDs blinked at you if you do, this project is a phenomenal example of practical USB reverse engineering. [Cynthia] says the inspiration for this project came from friend [Ben Cox], who’s write-up on creating USB userspace drivers we covered last year. If you’ve got and old USB gadget with Windows-only drivers, maybe it’s time you take a crack at unlocking it.

A Mini USB Keyboard That Isn’t A Keyboard

A useful add-on for any computer is a plug-in macro keyboard, a little peripheral that adds those extra useful buttons to automate tasks. [Sayantan Pal] has made one, a handy board with nine programmable keys and a USB connector, but the surprise is that at its heart lies only the ubiquitous ATmega328 that you might find in an Arduino Uno. This isn’t a USB HID keyboard, instead it uses a USB-to-serial chip and appears to the host computer as a serial device. The keys themselves are simple momentary action switches, perhaps a deluxe version could use key switches from the likes of Cherry or similar.

The clever part of this build comes on the host computer, which runs some Python code using the PyAutoGui library. This allows control of the keyboard and mouse, and provides an “in” for the script to link serial and input devices. Full configurability is assured through the Python code, and while that might preclude a non-technical user from gaining its full benefit it’s fair to say that this is not intended to compete with mass-market peripherals. It’s a neat technique for getting the effect of an HID peripheral though, and one to remember for future use even if you might not need it immediately.

More conventional USB keyboards have appeared here in the past, typically using a processor with built-in USB HID support such as the ATmega32u4.

Hacking USB Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, February 26 at noon Pacific for the Hacking USB Hack Chat with Kate Temkin!

For all its aggravating idiosyncrasies, the Universal Serial Bus has been a game-changer in peripheral connections for nearly a quarter of a century now. What was once simply a means to connect a mouse and a keyboard to a computer has been extended and enhanced into something so much more than its original designers intended. The flexibility that led to these innovative uses for USB also led to its ubiquity, with some form of the connector sprouting from nearly every imaginable device.

Kate Temkin is well-versed in the intricacies of the Universal Serial Bus. As a software lead for Great Scott Gadgets, Kate has developed software and firmware for GSG’s products, like GreatFET and HackRF. Kate also contributes to and maintains a number of open-source projects, including the FaceDancer project. And when she’s not busy with all of this, she can be found sharing her deep knowledge with USB security training courses, where she shows how USB is vulnerable to attack, and what to do to prevent it.

Join us for the Hacking USB Hack Chat this week, where Kate will discuss anything and everything about USB. Come learn about what the future holds for the USB standard, and what you can do to keep your USB project on track.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 26 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “Hacking USB Hack Chat”