Reverse Engineering Enables Slick Bluetooth Solution for Old Car Stereo

Those of us who prefer to drive older cars often have to make sacrifices in the entertainment system department to realize the benefits of not having a car payment. The latest cars have all the bells and whistles, while the cars of us tightwads predate the iPod revolution and many lack even an auxiliary input jack. Tightwads who are also hackers often remedy this with conversion projects, like this very slick Bluetooth conversion on a Jeep radio.

There are plenty of ways to go about piping your favorite tunes from a phone to an old car stereo, but few are as nicely integrated as [Parker Dillmann]’s project. An aftermarket radio of newer vintage than the OEM stereo in his 1999 Jeep would be one way to go, but there’s no sport in that, and besides, fancy stereos are easy pickings from soft-top vehicles. [Parker] was so determined to hack the original stereo that he bought a duplicate unit off eBay so he could reverse engineer it on the bench. What’s really impressive is the way [Parker] integrates the Bluetooth without any change to OEM functionality, which required a custom PCB to host an audio level shifter and input switch. He documents his efforts very thoroughly in the video after the break, but fair warning of a Rickroll near the end.

So many of these hacks highjack the tape deck or CD input, but thanks to his sleuthing and building skills, [Parker] has added functionality without sacrificing anything.

Filed under: car hacks, portable audio hacks

A Real Star Trek Communicator Badge

Star Trek has never let technology get in the way of a good story. Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the show thought up some amazing gadgets, from transporters to replicators to the warp core itself. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought us the iconic communicator badge. In 1987, a long-range radio device which could fit in a pin was science fiction. [Joe] is bringing these badges a bit closer to the real world with his entry in the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

trek-thumbThe first problem [Joe] dealt with was finding a radio which could run from watch batteries, and provide decently long-range operations. He chose the HopeRF RFM69HCW. Bringing fiction a bit closer to reality, this module has been used for orbital communications with low-cost satellites.

The Badge’s processor is a Teensy LC. [Joe] is rolling his own Teensy, which means using bootloader chips from PJRC, as well as the main microcontroller. Kicking the main micro into operation is where [Joe] is stuck right now. Somewhere between the breadboard and the first spin of the surface mount PCB things went a bit sideways. The oscillators are running, but there are no USB communications. [Joe] is trying another board spin. He made a few improvements and already has new boards on the way. Switching to a toaster oven or skillet paste and solder setup would definitely help him get the new badges up and running.

Filed under: contests, radio hacks

Microchip Launches New Family Of PICs

Over the last few years, we’ve seen projects and products slowly move from 8-bit microcontrollers to more powerful ARM microcontrollers. The reason for this is simple — if you want to do more stuff, like an Internet-connected toaster, you need more bits, more Flash, and more processing power. This doesn’t mean 8-bit microcontrollers are dead, though. Eight bit micros are still going strong, and this week Microchip announced their latest family of 8-bit microcontrollers.

The PIC16F15386 family of microcontrollers is Microchip’s latest addition to their portfolio of 8-bit chips. This family of microcontrollers is Microchip’s ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ 8-bit offering. Other families of PICs have included features such as a complementary waveform generator, numerically controlled oscillator, a configurable logic controller, power saving functionality and the extreme low power features, but never before in one piece of silicon.

This feature-packed 8-bit includes a few new tricks not seen before in previous Microchip offerings. Of note are power management features (IDLE and DOZE modes), and a Device Information Area on the chip that contains factory-calibrated data (ADC voltage calibration and a fixed voltage reference) and an ID unique to each individual chip.

As you would expect from a new family of PICs, the 16F15386 is compatible with the MPLAB Xpress IDE and the MPLAB Code Configurator, a graphical programming environment. The products in the family range from 8-pin packages (including DIP!) with 3.5kB of program Flash to 48-pin QFPs with 28kB of program Flash. The goal for Microchip is to provide a wide offering, allowing designers to expand their builds without having to change microcontroller families.

All of these chips can be sampled now, although the lower pin count devices won’t be available through normal means until next month.

Filed under: Microcontrollers, news

Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

Data From Printing One Thing Per Week

mini_frontal_transparent_scaled_paddedThe purpose of this study was to determine if 3D printers are viable for the consumer. To assess this, the study used a Lulzbot Mini 3D printer, an undergrad named [Emily Petersen] who pretended to be a technologically illiterate consumer for this experiment, and about a kilogram of PLA filament. Over the course of several weeks, [Emily] downloaded 26 items from online object repositories, and compared the total cost to print these items against comparable items available through online retailers. When comparing the cost of printing these objects to low-cost commercially available options, the 3D printer paid for itself in 2.4 years. This return on investment is seen by printing one object per week.

The objects printed in this study included a tool holder, snowboard bind plate, Nikon lens cap holder, sewing machine presser foot, shower head, seatbelt guide, GoPro mount, Canon lens hood, and an iPhone 6 case. In other words, little bits of plastic that are usually produced in China, shipped to Los Angeles, stuffed on a train, packed in a truck, and delivered to your local WalMart.

Part of this study was to determine if a 3D printer was worth it for a technologically illiterate consumer; the Lulzbot Mini and ‘quick print’ settings in Cura are perfect for someone who barely knows what they’re doing.

Is 3D Printing the Amazon Prime of Plastic?

There are a number of ways to criticize this study. The usefulness of a model of a Death Star is questionable, and the ‘high end’ commercial alternative for a ‘nozzle torque wrench‘ costs $419.58 — probably something off of the Snap-on truck that artificially inflates the best case scenario for a 3D printer’s ROI.

However, this study does use a Lulzbot Mini, a printer that costs $1250. While the Mini is a fantastic printer, buying an i3 clone is cheaper than renting time on a printer at a coworking workshop. Cheap 3D printers are getting really good, and a pair of Benjamins will get you a printer that’s more than sufficient for any technically-minded person. They might not be fit for Joe Consumer, but they will get the job done. Either way, think of the up-front cost as a ‘membership fee’ after which the stuff you print is ‘free’ (aside from filament cost of course).

This leaves the question: is 3D printing ready for prime time? Is it possible for an average consumer to save money with a 3D printer? Are 3D printers easy to use if you’re technologically illiterate?

That’s what we want to know, and we’re looking for your answers in the comments.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Ask Hackaday, Interest, lifehacks

Smaller Cheaper Arduino

Well, honestly, [Michael Mayer’s] STM8 Arduino (called Sduino) isn’t actually much to do with the Arduino, except in spirit. The STM8 is an 8-bit processor. It is dirt cheap and has some special motor control features that are handy. There’s a significant library available for it. However, it can be a pain to use the library and set up the build.

Just like how the Arduino IDE provides libraries and a build system for gcc, Sduino provides similar libraries and a build system for the sdcc compiler that can target the STM8. However, if you are expecting the Arduino’s GUI or a complete knock off of the Arduino library, you won’t get that.

That being said, you do get a lot of compatible libraries. The command line Makefile is simple to set up and use. Why not use a “normal” Arduino? The STM8 is not only inexpensive, but you can make use of the specialized hardware for things like quadrature decoding. In addition, the low power modes are super low.

Don’t let the Makefile put you off. The standard Blink sketch looks identical to an Arduino version. Here’s the required Makefile:

BOARD_TAG = stm8sblue
include ../../sduino/

That’s it. Not too hard.

There’s support for a simple breakout board that is inexpensive, as well as the ESP-14 pictured at the top of this article which has an ESP8266 and an STM8 controller onboard. For about $3 you get an STM8003 CPU and the WiFi capability. Hard to beat that. [Elliot Williams] just gave that board a try and found the ESP-14 to be “weird”. He may be right, but this gives you an easy way to use it.

Support for the STM8 version of the Discovery board is supposedly forthcoming.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Microcontrollers

First Look: Macchina M2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

Two-Board Hardware DesignBlock diagram of Macchina M2 hardware

The M2 hardware consists of two main parts: the interface board and processor board.

On the interface board, you’ll find all the hardware needed to speak the most common automotive protocols. Here you’ll find two high speed CAN interfaces, one single wire interface, LIN, and the older OBD protocols (ISO 9141, J1850). This range of interfaces means that the hardware will be compatible with just about any car made after 1996. There’s also a header for providing other external connectivity to the MCU (GPIOs, ADCs, etc…).

The processor board is essentially an Arduino Due, with a USB port, LEDs, SD card slot, and EEPROM built in. The modular nature of the design allows for the processor board to be replaced or upgraded in the future. Finally, there’s an XBee compatible socket for adding Bluetooth, WiFi, or even cellular data.

There’s two form factors of the M2 available: under-the-hood and under-the-dash. The under-the-dash model is similar in form factor to any other OBD-II dongle. It fits right on the port, which provides power and connectivity. If you’re looking for a more permanent installation, the under-the-hood version has a connector for a custom wiring harness.

The Software

Fundamentally, this device is an Arduino. The getting started guide goes over installing the Arduino IDE, adding the custom board, and flashing a demo. If you’ve ever used an Arduino, this will be completely familiar. Dealing with these protocols requires libraries on the Arduino. Some of these are still works in progress, but the plan is to support all of them from within Arduino, so a simple sketch will be able to access any protocol.

If you’re planning on using a PC paired with the M2, there are some options. SavvyCAN is currently supported, and SocketCAN support is in the works, so it will work with Wireshark and other tools on Linux. The good news is that the open platform can be used to emulate just about any device, so with some work it could support many of the car hacking tools already out there.

Beyond supporting the aforementioned communication protocols, there’s not much software yet. Macchina is hoping to get developers on board with the hardware, and the first kits shipped will be to developers. While the software does not yet have a wide range of functionality, the open source nature of the project will hopefully expand the capabilities on the software.

Not an ELM327 Dongle

An ELM327 Device
An ELM327 Dongle

Every time we see an OBD-II dongle pop up, commenters are quick to point out that the ELM327 devices are readily available and very cheap. This is true, and I recommend that anyone with a car picks one up. They’re handy for checking basic codes, and clearing the “check engine” light (we call it the “Malfunction Indication Lamp” in automotive engineering speak).

The ELM327 is great for the price, but it has its shortcomings. Most communicate using ASCII over Bluetooth Serial Port Profile, which severely limits the data throughput and doesn’t work on iOS. The software cannot be customized. No on board storage is provided for logging. The Bluetooth pin is always 1234, so if you leave it plugged in, anyone walking by can do diagnostics on your car! The M2 does cost more than these devices, but it also addresses many of these problems.


img_0032The M2 is a nifty piece of new hardware for people that want to hack on cars. It’ll need some more work on the software side of things before it’s useable by the masses, but it’s basically ready for the hackers to start work with. The developer release is available for $99, and will get you early access to the beta hardware.

With this hardware, there’s many projects you could implement. It could act as a standalone, high speed vehicle data recorder. The under the dash model could be used to bridge a third party component onto a vehicle’s CAN bus — like this amazing custom head unit we saw yesterday — providing translation of the data needed for operation (steering wheel buttons, vehicle speed for volume adjust, etc.). Adding Bluetooth, you could have a custom immobilizer and remote control system for your car. Using cellular data, you could keep tabs on the whereabouts of a vehicle and even shut it down remotely.

We’re pretty careful about which crowdfunding campaigns we discuss here on Hackaday. Macchina does have a track record of delivering hardware, and has shipped us a beta unit that they will be providing to developers. The project is also open source, and we think it will help people get involved with car hacking. As such, we believe it’s a project worth sharing with our readers.

Filed under: car hacks, Crowd Funding, Featured, reviews

A Full Speed, Portable Apple //e

A while back, [Jorj] caught wind of a Hackaday post from December. It was a handheld Apple IIe, emulated on an ATMega1284p. An impressive feat, no doubt, but it’s all wrong. This ATapple only has 12k of RAM and only runs at 70% of the correct speed. The ATapple is impressive, but [Jorj] knew he could do better. He set out to create the ultimate portable Apple IIe. By all accounts, he succeeded.

This project and its inspiration have a few things in common. They’re both assembled on perfboard, using tiny tact switches for the keyboard. The display is a standard TFT display easily sourced from eBay, Amazon, or Aliexpress. There’s a speaker for terribad Apple II audio on both, and gigantic 5 1/4″ floppies have been shrunk down to the size of an SD card. That’s where the similarities end.

[Jorj] knew he needed horsepower for this build, so he turned to the most powerful microcontroller development board he had on his workbench: the Teensy 3.6. This is a 180 MHz ARM Cortex M4 running a full-speed Apple IIe emulator. Writing a simple 6502 emulator is straightforward, but Apple IIe emulation also requires an MMU. the complete emulator is available in [Jorj]’s repo, and passes all the tests for 6502 functionality.

The project runs all Apple II software with ease, but we’re really struck by how simple the entire circuit is. Aside from the Teensy, there really isn’t much to this build. It’s an off-the-shelf display, a dead simple keyboard matrix, and a little bit of miscellaneous circuitry. It’s simple enough to be built on a piece of perfboard, and we hope simple enough for someone to clone the circuit and share the PCBs.

Filed under: ARM, classic hacks, slider

Pancake-ROM: Eat-only Memory?

You can store arbitrary data encoded in binary as a pattern of zeros and ones. What you do to get those zeros and ones is up to you. If you’re in a particularly strange mood, you could even store them as strips of chocolate on Swedish pancakes.

Oddly enough, the possibility of the pancake as digital storage medium was what originally prompted [Michael Kohn] to undertake his similar 2013 project where he encoded his name on a paper wheel. Perhaps wisely, he prototyped on a simpler medium. With that perfected, four years later, it was time to step up to Modified Swedish Pancake Technology (MSPT).

pancake_rom_bottomHighlights of the build include trying to optimize the brightness difference between chocolate and pancake. Reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe helps increase contrast by reducing caramelization, naturally. And cotton balls placed under the spinning cardboard platform can help stabilize the spinning breakfast / storage product.

Even so, [Michael] reports that it took multiple tries to get the sixteen bytes (bites?) of success in the video below. The data is stenciled onto the pancake and to our eye is quite distinct. Improvement seems to be more of an issue with better edge detection for the reflectance sensor.

What is it with digital electronics and pancakes? We honestly can’t count the number of pancake-making robots we’ve featured over the years. Which suggest? Automating the production side of the storage medium! If you could print out an infinite tape of data pancakes, would you be able to make a Turing machine? If you decide to answer this question, let us know!

Filed under: cooking hacks, misc hacks

A 6502 Retrocomputer In A Very Tidy Package

One of the designers whose work we see constantly in the world of retrocomputing is [Grant Searle], whose work on minimal chip count microcomputers has spawned a host of implementations across several processor families.

Often a retrocomputer is by necessity quite large, as an inevitable consequence of having integrated circuits in the period-correct dual-in-line packages with 0.1″ spaced pins. Back in the day there were few micros whose PCBs were smaller than a Eurocard (100 mm x 160 mm, 4″ x 6.3″), and many boasted PCBs much larger.

[Mark Feldman] though has taken a [Grant Searle] 6502 design and fitted it into a much smaller footprint through ingenious use of two stacked Perf+ prototyping boards. This is a stripboard product that features horizontal traces on one side and vertical on the other, which lends itself to compactness.

On top of [Mark]’s computer are the processor and EPROM, while on the lower board are the RAM, UART, clock, and address decoding logic. It runs at 1.8 MHz, has 16 kB of ROM and 32 kB of RAM, which seems inconsequential in 2017 but would have been a rather impressive spec in the early 1980s.

There are three rows of pins connecting the boards, with the address bus carried up the middle and everything else at the edges. He’s toying with the idea of a third layer containing a keyboard and video display driver, something to look forward to.

The computer isn’t all on the page though, rather than wait for one to arrive he’s built his own EPROM programmer on a breadboard. He doesn’t have an eraser though, so has resorted to the Australian sunshine to (slowly) provide the UV light he needs.

We’ve featured other [Grant Searle] designs before, including a Sony Watchman clock with a Z80 board behind it, and another tiny board, this time with a Z80 rather than a 6502.

Filed under: classic hacks

Shape Programmable Matter is More Magnetic Magic

How could you build an artificial tadpole? Or simulate the motion of a cilium? Those would be hard to do with mechanical means — even micromechanical because of their fluid motion. Researchers have been studying shape-programmable matter: materials that can change shape based on something like heat or magnetic field. However, most research in this area has relied on human intuition and trial and error to get the programmed shape correct. They also are frequently not very fast to change shape.

[Metin Sitti] and researchers at several institutions have found a way to make rapidly changing silicone rubber parts (PDF link) that can change shape due to a magnetic field. The method is reproducible and doesn’t seem out of reach for a hackerspace or well-equipped garage lab.

The paper is full of math, but the basic idea is simple. The math part is determining the magnetization profile required for the shape change required. For example, one of the test objects curled a beam into a semi-circle using 100 distinct shapes over time . The math tells you what profile you need and the magnetic field required to actuate it.

The researchers used a silicone rubber known as Ecoflex. They mix aluminum granules with some of the rubber and neodymium-iron-boron particles with the remainder. They create a mold for the part they want to make — a great use for a 3D printer. Then they cast the passive part of the shape using the rubber/aluminum mix. Once cured, a laser cutter creates a channel for the active part of the shape, which is cast using the magnetic rubber material.

It is important that both mixtures have the same elastic modulus, and the amount of material added apparently took some trial and error. (Oh sorry, this is a scientific paper, so it was “experimentally characterized”.) Once the material is ready, it is pressed in a jig, another good chance to turn on the 3D printer, that holds the desired shape. The whole assembly is exposed to a strong magnetic field which serves to program the shape.

Armed with a 3D printer, a laser cutter, and some basic chemical handling gear, this is an interesting place where someone could still contribute to the state of the art. The method only works for essentially 2D objects, but the team wants to investigate 3D versions. In addition, they are unable to work with shapes less than about a millimeter, so there’s plenty of room for new experimentation.

There are videos of the experiments, but they aren’t embeddable. But you can watch the undulating swimmer, a cilium, a reversible CMU logo, and a robotic jellyfish that uses two programmable shapes.

Not that mechanical tentacles and things aren’t possible, but the results are not fluid and they are difficult to make this tiny.


Filed under: misc hacks