Hands On With The Smallest Game Boy Ever Made

The PocketSprite is the tiniest fully-functional Game Boy Color and Sega Master System emulator. Not only is it small enough to fit in your pocket, it’s small enough to lose in your pocket. It’s now available as a Crowd Supply campaign, and it’s everything you could ever want in a portable, WiFi-enabled, fully hackable video game console. It also plays Witcher 3. And probably Crysis, because of the meme.

This has been a year and a half in the making. The first hardware version of the PocketSprite was revealed at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference by hardware engineer extraordinaire [Sprite_TM]. As [Sprite] has a long list of incredibly impressive hardware hacks like installing Linux on a hard drive and building a Matrix of Tamagotchis, he always has to keep pushing deep into the hardware frontier.

In 2016, [Sprite] showed off the tiniest Game Boy ever, powered by the then brand-spankin’ new ESP32. This was released as Open Source, with the hope that a factory in China would take the files and start pumping out mini Game Boys for everyone to enjoy. Now, a year and a half later, it’s finally happened. In a collaboration with manufacturing wizard [Steve K], [Sprite] is the mastermind behind TeamPocket. The pocket-sized Game Boy-shaped emulator is now real. This is our hands-on review.

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ESP8266 Broadcasts Memorial WiFi Spam

John Perry Barlow, founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, died on February 7th, 2018. To say that he left his mark on the Internet, and by extension modern culture, is something of an understatement. He may not be a household name, but between this activism (online and off), lectures, written work, and various entrepreneurial projects, his 70 years of life were surely not wasted. Barlow was once quoted as saying “I want to be a good ancestor”, and by pretty much any metric it would seem he made good on that goal.

To mark his passing, [Moritz Metz] came up with a rather unusual memorial. Using a bit of code on an ESP8266 board, he created a device that would broadcast out Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspaceline-by-line in the form of 228 WiFi SSIDs. Perhaps not the most effective way to get Barlow’s words out to the people, but we’ll give him extra points for style.

The code itself is based on FakeBeaconESP8266, which as the name implies, allows the user to create fake WiFi networks. to broadcast the manifesto of your choosing, you need only add in the appropriate sendBeacon() lines at the bottom of the code. It would appear that prefixing each line with a number is required to make devices scanning for networks show the lines of text in proper sequence. At least on the devices demoed, anyway.

Just to be clear: you should definitely not do this. Jamming up the local environment with a bunch of fake networks is a pretty terrible idea. But as a memorial for a man who occasionally claimed to be an anarchist, you could do worse. Plus we have to admit “Giants of Flesh and Steel” is an awesome name for a network.

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Hacking a Sonoff WiFi Switch

The ESP8266 platform has become so popular that it isn’t just being used in hobby and one-off projects anymore. Companies like Sonoff are basing entire home automation product lines around the inexpensive WiFi card. What this means for most of us is that there’s now an easily hackable and readily available product on the market that’s easily reprogrammed and used with tools that we’ve known about for years now, as [Dan] shows in his latest project.

[Dan] has an aquaponics setup in his home, and needs some automation to run the lights. Reaching for a Sonoff was an easy way to get this done, but the out-of-the-box device can only be programmed in the simplest of ways. To get more control over the unit, he wired a USB-to-Serial UART to the female headers on the board and got to programming it.

The upgraded devices are fully programmable and customizable now, and this would be a great hack for anyone looking to get more out of a Sonoff switch. A lot of the work is already done, like building a safe enclosure, wiring it, and getting it to look halfway decent. All that needs to be done is a little bit of programming. Of course, if you’d like to roll out your own home automation setup from scratch that can do everything from opening the garage door to alerting you when your dog barks, that’s doable too. You’ll just need a little more hardware.

Easier End-User Setup for ESP32 Projects

As hackers, we occasionally forget that not everyone is enamored with the same nerdy minutia that we are. Configuring hardware by changing some lines in the code and compiling a new firmware doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to those of us who’ve been around the block a few times, but might as well be ancient Sanskrit to the average person. As long as your projects are for personal use this isn’t really a concern, but what if you plan on distributing the code for a project or perhaps even selling finished products? Shipping it out with hard-coded variables simply isn’t an option.

Code for loading configuration file from SPIFFS

In a recent video, [Proto G] shows a clever way to use WiFiManager to make configuring your ESP32 project easier for end-users. Not only can you use the captive portal system to configure the ESP32’s WiFi against a nearby access point, but it can allow users to enter in configuration data which can be picked up in your code by using SPI Flash File System (SPIFSS).

With the setup demonstrated in the video below by [Proto G], you don’t need anything more exotic than a web browser to configure the device. The end user simply searches for the device’s WiFi network, connects to it, and is presented with an easy to understand dialog which has them select a WiFi network to configure against along with some fields to enter in custom variables. All this information is then stored to a file on the SPI flash. When the ESP32 reboots, it reads the configuration from the saved file and applies the requested settings.

This is very similar to how many consumer devices are now configured, and even the less technically-inclined recipients of such a device should be able to work through the setup with a bit of hand-holding. If you plan on handing one of your ESP32 projects to John Q. Public, this is the kind of configuration you should be aiming for.

We’ve covered using WiFiManager to make ESP32 projects easier to manage, but the addition of arbitrary variables to the captive portal opens up a lot of possibilities. Just the kind of thing you need when you start considering the leap to commercial product.

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WiFi Alliance Announces Upcoming Fixes to WPA2

Last October, before Intel’s Management Engine was completely broken and the Spectre and Meltdown exploits drove Intel’s security profile further into the ground, we had a problem with wireless networking. WPA2 was cracked with KRACK, the Key Reinstallation Attack. The sky isn’t falling quite yet, but the fact remains that the best WiFi security currently available isn’t very secure at all.

This week, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the WiFi Alliance announced they would introduce security enhancements in 2018. While it’s not said in the press release if this is a reaction to KRACK, the smart money says yes, this is indeed a reaction to KRACK.

Four new capabilities are outlined in the upcoming release of WPA3 this year. One feature will be protection for users who do not choose complex passwords. A second feature will simplify the process of configuring security on devices that have no display, ostensibly like that little button on your router that you’ve never pressed. The third feature will ‘strengthen user privacy in open networks’, while the fourth, the one we really care about, will add a 192-bit security suite which will, ‘further protect WiFi networks with higher security requirements’.

While most devices currently in service should have a patch for KRACK by now, there will always be thousands of unpatched devices, because, really, who is in charge of the router at your local coffee shop? We’re not sure about the timing of the WiFi Alliance’s announcement of upcoming security improvements: coming during CES when the entirety of the tech press is gawking at manned quadcopters and an endless variety of voice assistants. But we have to say better late than never.

The WiFi Repeater You Probably Have on Your Bench

Few things are as frustrating as a WiFi signal that drops in and out. On a public network it is bad enough but at home? Even if you can live with it, your cohabitants will certainly impune your technical abilities if they don’t have solid WiFi.  One solution is a WiFi repeater. You can buy one, of course. But you can also make one out of an ESP8266 and some code from GitHub. There is also a video about the project, below.

[Martin Ger’s] code implements NAT, so it isn’t a true WiFi repeater, but more of a bridge or router. Of course, that means performance isn’t stellar, but tests show it can sustain about 5 Mbps, which isn’t bad for a little board that costs a couple of bucks. There is a limit of 8 clients, but that’s more than enough for a lot of cases. Even if you don’t want to use it as a router, it has a mesh mode that could be a basis for some interesting projects all by itself.

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The Internet of Non-Electronic Things

The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.

While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.

It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.

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