Beam Me Up to the PCB Space Ship

This project would fit in perfectly with #BadgeLife if someone could figure out a way to hang it from their neck. Inspired by Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise, [bobricius] decided to design and assemble a miniature space ship PCB model, complete with 40 blinking LEDs controlled by an ATtiny85.

While the design uses 0603, 0802, 3014, 4014, and 0805 LEDs, some substitutions can be made since the smallest LEDs can be difficult to solder. The light effects include a green laser, plasma coils, a deflector with scrolling blue LEDs, and the main plate and bridge for the space ship.

The LEDs are controlled by charlieplexing, a technique for driving LED arrays with relatively few I/O pins, different from traditional multiplexing. Charlieplexing allows n pins to drive n2−n LEDs, while traditional multiplexing allows n pins to drive n2/2 LEDs. (Here is the best explanation of Charlieplexing we’ve ever seen.)

Especially with the compiled firmware running on the MCU, the PCB model makes for an impressive display.

The only catch? Your Starship Enterprise can’t actually fly.

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Prize, Hackaday Prize, leds, microcontroller, Microcontrollers, pcb | Leave a comment

Customizing Xiaomi ARM Cortex-M Firmware

This hack was revealed a while ago at DEFCON26, but it’s still a fascinating look into vulnerabilities that affect some of the most widely used IoT devices.

[Dennis Giese] figured out a way to modify ARM Cortex-M based firmware for use in customizing the functionality of devices or removing access to the vendor. Obviously, there are more malicious activities that can be done with this type of hack, as with any exploits of firmware, but they are (also) obviously not condoned.

The talk goes into the structure of Xiaomi ecosystem and products before going into a step-by-step approach to binary patching the firmware. The first step was to acquire the firmware, either by dumping SPI flash memory (using JTAG, SWD, or desoldered Flash pins) or intercepting traffic during a firmware update and downloading the firmware. There’s also a possibility of downloading the firmware using a URL, although this can be more difficult to find.

The firmware can then be parsed, which first requires the format to be converted from a proprietary format to and ELF file. This conversion makes it easier to load into IDA pro, and gives information on the segments of the firmware and its entry point. Python tools luckily exist for converting binary files to ELF, which simplifies the task.

After loading the ELF file into the disassembler, you’ll want to find the key memory area, denoted by “TAG_MAC”, “TAG_DID”, and “TAG_KEY” in the example firmware (for storing the MAC address, device ID, and key). In order to prepare the firmware for Nexmon – a software that supported C-based firmware binary patching for ARM Cortex-A and ARM Cortex-M binaries – you’ll need to partition some space in the memory for patches and know the function names and signatures for the firmware.

The latter is done by doing a difference comparison in the disassembler between an unknown executable and the example executable.

With the necessary information gathered, you can now use Nexmon to make your modifications. The fact that this can be done for smart devices at home means that smart devices you acquire – especially those partitioned by others – may contain malicious code, so take care when handling used devices.

Posted in arm cortex-m, defcon, defcon26, iot village, Tech Hacks, wireless hacks, xiaomi | Leave a comment

There’s more to the 3D print than the eye can see

If you thought CADing designs for 3D printing was hard enough, wait until you hear about this .stl trick.

[Angus] of Maker’s Muse recently demoed a method for creating hidden geometries in .stl files that are only revealed during the slicing process before a 3D print. (Video, embedded below.) The process involves creating geometries with a thickness smaller than the size of the 3D printer’s nozzle that still appear to be solid in a .stl editor, but will not be rendered by a FDM slicer.

Most 3D printers have 0.4 mm thickness nozzle, so creating geometries with a wall thinner than this value will result in the effect that you’re looking for. Some possible uses for this trick are to create easter eggs or even to mess with other 3D printing enthusiasts. Of course, [Angus] recommends not to use this “deception for criminal or malicious intent” and I’d have to agree.

There’s a few other tricks that he reveals as well, including a way to create a body that’s actually a thin shell but appears to be solid: great for making unprintable letters that reveal hidden messages.

Nevertheless, it’s a cool trick and maybe one of those “features not bugs” in the slicer software.

Posted in 3d printer, 3d Printer hacks, 3d printing, hacks, slicer | Leave a comment

Converting a Tesla to a Pickup Truck

The renowned inventor of useless robots [Simone Giertz] has outdone herself this time. She, along with a team of engineers featuring [Rich Rebuilds], [Laura Kampf], and [Marcos Ramirez], recently decided to convert a Tesla into a pickup truck, and make a video along the way, all while salvaging what remains they can of the back of the car and making the final product roadworthy. Yeah, this is a couple weeks old now, and yeah, it’s kind of a commercial, but really: [Simone Giertz] and Co. rock.

In her vlog of the experience, the team starts by gutting out the interior of the car in order to find out the weight distribution and form of the outer frame. Essentially, in order to create the pickup truck, a portion of the back of the car needs to be removed, with additional beams and support welded in depending on the consequent structural integrity. With a sawzall and angle grinder, the top portion of the frame is cut and taken out, but not before a worrying glance brings about the realization that the car needs exterior support during its modifications.

After the cushions, glass, wiring, and all other accessories are removed, they install a truck bed from another sacrificial pickup truck, as well as a roof rack to complete the look. Amidst the deconstruction and reconstruction, there are moments when the car encounters a “Safety restraint system fault” or when the team accidentally lines the inside of the car with fiberglass right before shooting their video. Between complaints of the different clip sizes used and the clear time pressure of the project, it’s a funny and informative look into a pretty unique car mod.

The final commercial they made of their Tesla-pickup hybrid, dubbed Truckla, is available on [Giertz]’s YouTube channel.

[Thanks to crener for the tip!]

Posted in car, car hacks, car mod, hardware, simone giertz, tesla, truck | Leave a comment

File Compression By Steganography

In a world with finite storage and an infinite need for more storage space, data compression becomes a very necessary problem. Several algorithms for data compression may be more familiar – Huffman coding, LZW compression – and some a bit more arcane.

[Labunsky] decided to put to use his knowledge of steganography to create a wholly unique form of file compression, perhaps one that may gain greater notoriety among other information theorists.

Steganography refers to the method of concealing messages or files within another file, coming from the Greek words steganos for “covered or concealed” and graphe for “writing”. The practice has been around for ages, from writing in invisible ink to storing messages in moon cakes. The methods used range from hiding messages in images to evade censorship to hiding viruses in files to cause mayhem.

100% not [via xkcd]The developer explains that since every file is just a bit sequence, observing files leads to the realization that a majority of bits will be equal on the same places. Rather than storing all of the bits of a file, making modifications to the hard drive at certain locations can save storage space. What is important to avoid, however, is lossy file compression that can wreak havoc on quality during the compression stage.

The compression technique they ended up implementing is based on the F5 algorithm that embeds binary data into JPEG files to reduce total space in the memory. The compression uses libjpeg for JPEG decoding and encoding, pcre for POSIX regular expressions support, and tinydir for platform-independent filesystem traversal. One of the major modifications was to save computation resources by disabling a password-based permutative straddling that uniformly spreads data among multiple files.

One caveat – changing even one bit of the compressed file could lead to total corruption of all of the data stored, so use with caution!

Posted in file compression, JPEG, security hacks, Software Development, software hacks, steganography | Leave a comment

USB Power Delivery For All The Things

The promise of USB Power Delivery (USB-PD) is that we’ll eventually be able to power all our gadgets, at least the ones that draw less than 100 watts anyway, with just one adapter. Considering most of us are the proud owners of a box filled with assorted AC/DC adapters in all shapes and sizes, it’s certainly a very appealing prospect. But [Mansour Behabadi] hasn’t exactly been thrilled with the rate at which his sundry electronic devices have been jumping on the USB-PD bandwagon, so he decided to do something about it.

[Mansour] wanted a simple way to charge his laptop (and anything else he could think of) with USB-PD over USB-C, but none of the existing options on the market was quite what he wanted. He looked around and eventually discovered the STUSB4500, a a USB power delivery controller chip that can be configured over I2C.

With a bit of nonvolatile memory onboard, it can retain its settings so he didn’t have to include a microcontroller in his design: just program it once and it can be used stand-alone to negotiate the appropriate voltage and current requirements when its plugged in.

The board that [Mansour] came up with is a handy way of powering your projects via USB-C without having to reinvent the wheel. Using the PC configuration tool and an Arduino to talk to the STUSB4500 over I2C, the board can be configured to deliver from 5 to 20 VDC to whatever device you connect to it. The chip is even capable of storing three seperate Power Delivery Output (PDO) configurations at once, so you can give it multiple voltage and current ranges to try and negotiate for.

In the past we’ve seen a somewhat similar project that used USB-PD to charge lithium polymer batteries. It certainly isn’t happening overnight, but it looks like we’re finally starting to see some real movement towards making USB-C the standard.

Posted in i2c, parts, peripherals hacks, power supply, STUSB4500, USB C, USB-PD | Leave a comment

Replacing the 3D Printer and Router: A Tool for Manufacturing Human-Scale Forms

The purpose of Geometer becomes apparent when you realize its simplicity: [David Troetschel]’s project is to create an easily understandable design tool that encourages goal-oriented design. The kit comes with physical components and digital counterparts that can be combined in a modular way. They each have a specific geometry, which provide versatility while keeping manufacturing simple.

For the prototyping phase, small snap-on parts 3D printed on a Formlabs printer mimic the module components on a smaller scale. Once a design is conceived and the Geometer Grasshopper program finalizes the module arrangement necessary for the model, the larger pieces can be used as a mold for a concrete or hydrocal mold casting.

The present set of modules is in its seventh iteration, initially beginning as a senior thesis for [Troetschel]. Since then, the project itself has had an extensive prototyping phase in which the components have gone from being injection-molded to 3D printed.

The overall process for prototyping is faster than 3D printing and more cost-effective than sending to a third-party shop to build, which adds to the project’s goal of making manufacturing design more accessible. This is an interesting initiative to introduce a new way of making to the DIY community, and we’re curious to see this idea take off in makerspaces.

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Prize, 3d Printer hacks, fabrication, Hackaday Prize, manufacturing | Leave a comment

Speakers Taking the Stage at Supercon Plus a Hint of the Hacking to Come

Four weeks from today the Hackaday Superconference comes alive for the fifth year. From engineering in challenging environments to elevating the art form of electronics, here are nine more talks that will make this a year to remember.

In addition to the slate of speakers below there are three other announcements, plus workshops. Jeroen Domburg (aka Sprite_TM) is designing this year’s badge based around a beefy FPGA running a RISC-V core and using open source synthesis tools. We’ll have more on that soon, but if you just can’t wait, check out the expansion board spec he just published, and join the conference chat room for the inside track. Badge hacking is sure to be the liveliest we’ve ever seen.

Tickets are sold out but you can still get on the waiting list and hope that one becomes available. If you are holding onto one of these hot commodities but are unable to use it, please return your ticket so that we can get it to someone waiting with their fingers crossed.

The Talks (Part Four of Many)


  • Laurel Cummings

    When it Rains, It Pours

    Over the last two years my work has been beyond ordinary, building and prototyping in strange locations like being stranded on a sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, teaching US Marines in Kuwait, and building fuel gauge sensors for generators for vital systems in North Carolina post hurricane Florence. Some of the big lessons I’ve learned are about how to source materials and supplies in weird places, like finding potentiometers in the backwoods of North Carolina when Amazon cannot physically deliver across flooded highways, how to find welding gas in Kuwait City (and how a local chef could possibly be your best bet), or how far you can get with an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store near the city docks. These situations help you really see the “engineer creep” that can happen to a project. I’ve learned that when you’re in high-risk situations, you really should stop caring about whether the edges of your 3D print are chamfered. In fact, version 1 of the hurricane fuel gauge sensor was demonstrated while being housed inside an elegant, tasteful sandwich baggie.


  • Angela Sheehan

    Building Whimsical Wearables: Leveling Up Through Playful Prototyping

    Whether it’s for a theme party, Halloween, cosplay, or That Thing in The Desert, designing wearables for whimsical self expression presents a great opportunity to challenge yourself as a maker, wearer, and collaborator. As an artist and designer who crash landed into a career in tech, I’ve found that imposter syndrome can often place limits on what feels personally achievable from an electronics and programming standpoint. Recontextualizing a project to shift the focus from ‘wearable tech hardware endeavor’ to ‘quirky mixed media experiment in personal styling’, I’ve created a safe space to play and try new things just outside my skill set and produced some of my most technically complex and polished personal work. Take a journey with me through the process of conceptualizing and building my Color Stealing Fairy project, an exercise in iterative design and upgrading an interactive wearable project over the course of two years and counting.


  • Michael Ossmann amd Kate Temkin

    Software-Defined Everything

    The popularity of Software-Defined Radio (SDR) has led to the emergence of powerful open source software tools such as GNU Radio that enable rapid development of real-time Digital Signal Processing (DSP) techniques. We’ve used these tools for both radio and non-radio applications such as audio and infrared, and now we are finding them tremendously useful for diverse sensors and actuators that can benefit from DSP. In this talk we’ll show how we use the open source GreatFET platform to rapidly develop an SDR-like approach to just about anything.


  • Kelly Heaton

    “Hacking Nature’s Musicians” (or, “The Art of Electronic Naturalism”)

    The general lack of acceptance of electronic art results from a scarcity of critics, curators, collectors, and grantors who understand electronic media, compounded by a cultural gap between the artistic and engineering communities. In order to solve this problem, we must stretch our comfort zone and vocabularies to have a respectful, enlightening conversation with people with different educational backgrounds. In this talk I’ll discuss my wonderment at the simple, analog circuit designs that mimic life-like behavior such as chirping crickets and singing birds. This will include discussion of various schematics and demonstrations of a small. along with an abbreviated survey of my work to-date.


  • Jasmine Brackett

    Setting your Electronics Free

    In this panel we’ll discuss the key ways to get your projects from your workshop into the hands of the first few users, and what you can do to scale up from there. We’ll talk about common pitfalls, and also what are the best resources to draw upon.


  • David Williams

    MicroFPGA – The Coming Revolution in Small Electronics

    Big FPGA’s are awesome. They’re doing what they’ve always done, enabling AI, signal processing, military applications etc. However, there is a new possibility emerging – FPGA’s for small applications – which is quite possibly even more significant. Using open source tools, cheap flexible development boards, and new libraries, designers have a whole new set of options, creating incredibly high performance, flexible, low power projects and products.


  • Nick Poole

    Boggling the Boardhouse: Designing 3D Structures, Circuits, and Sensors from PCBs

    The presentation will be a series of design features or techniques with a few minutes of exploration into the ‘gotchas’ of each, as well as example layouts in EAGLE and physical examples. I’d like to cover as many different techniques as I can cram into 30 minutes, including bringing weird shapes into EDA, the inside corner problem caused by tab and slot, fillet soldering, stacking boards, imitating model sprues with mouse bites, manipulating the mask layer for custom displays, bendy tab buttons, working rotary encoder, and ergonomic design for handheld PCBs.


  • Ted Yapo

    Towards an Open-Source Multi-GHz Sampling Oscilloscope

    Tektronix designed a 14.5 GHz sampling oscilloscope in 1968. With the easy multi-layer PCB designs, tiny surface-mount parts, blazingly fast semiconductors, and computer horsepower available to the individual designer today, can a similar sampling head be re-created inexpensively with common, off-the-shelf components? Should be easy, right? It’s not. In this talk, I’ll discuss progress towards an open-source GHz+ sampling oscilloscope, including a lot of dead ends, plus some very promising leads.


  • Jeroen Domburg

    Building the Hackaday Superconference Badge

    The tradition of the Hackaday Supercon badge is to build something unlike any Supercon badge that came before. This year’s badge has an FPGA as its central component, and this comes with some extra challenges: the FPGA only comes in a BGA package with a whopping 381 pads to solder, and instead of just referring to the datasheet of the SoC to write the badge software, the SoC itself had to be written first.  I will discuss the development process of the badge, as well as the many challenges encountered along the way.

Keep Your Eye on Hackaday for the Livestream

The speakers you’ll see at Supercon have an amazing wealth of experience and we can’t wait to see their talks. But even if you couldn’t get a ticket, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Keep your eye on Hackaday for a link to the livestream which will begin on Saturday, November 16th.

Posted in 2019 Hackaday Superconference, cons, Featured, Supercon, talks | Leave a comment

Hackaday Podcast 040: 3D Printed Everything, Strength v Toughness, Blades of Fiber, and What Can’t Coffee Do?

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams opine on the coolest hacks we saw this week. This episode is heavy with 3D printing as Prusa released a new, smaller printer, printed gearboxes continue to impress us with their power and design, hoverboards are turned into tanks, and researchers suggest you pour used coffee grounds into your prints. Don’t throw out those “toy” computers, they may be hiding vintage processors. And we have a pair of fantastic articles that cover the rise and fall of forest fire watchtowers, and raise the question of where all those wind turbine blades will go when we’re done with them.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (59 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Episode 039 Show Notes:

New This Week:

Interesting Hacks of the Week:

Quick Hacks:

  • Mike’s Picks:
  • Elliot’s Picks:

Can’t-Miss Articles:

Posted in 3d prining, 7-segment display, coffee, gear box, Hackaday Columns, hoveboard, podcast, Podcasts, prusa, Prusa Mini, restoration, robot, tank, toggle switch, Wind turbine | Leave a comment

The True Cost of Multimeters

If you are building a home shop, it is common to try to get the cheapest gear you can possibly get. However, professionals often look at TCO or total cost of ownership. Buying a cheap car, for example, can cost more in the long run compared to buying an expensive car that requires less maintenance. Most consumers will nod sagely and think of ink jet printers. That $20 printer with the $80 cartridges might not be such a deal after all. [JohnAudioTech] bought a few cheap multimeters and now has problems with each of them. Maybe that $120 meter isn’t such a bad deal, after all.

The problems he’s seen are the same ones we’ve all seen: noisy selector switches, suspect display readings, and worn off lettering. You can see the whole story in the video below.

Although we get that [John] has $90 worth of meters that are not so great, we wish he’d given us an idea of one that he used that he did like. If you shop, though, you can get one really good meter for the cost of the three meters in the video and some of those will reliably last for decades.

There are cheaper meters, of course (with strange connections to felines). You can even get a Fluke meter for less than you might think.

Posted in cheap, multimeter, tool hacks | Leave a comment