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Hardware Hacking Open Source Technology Build Hardware

Dangerous Prototypes: Open Source Hardware Seeding 48

MojoKid writes "Dangerous Prototypes is a two-year old organization with the stated mission of producing 'one new open source project every month.' In its nearly two years of existence, DP has created about 30 projects, such as the Flash Destroyer, which tests the limits of solid state storage by writing and verifying a common EEPROM chip, rated for 1 million writes, until it burns out. The projects themselves are being sold by another interesting company, Seeed Studio. Seeed is a contract manufacturing/sales channel for hire. It helps hardware designers get their ideas manufactured in China and sold worldwide with a service called Propagate for manufacturing small quantities (100+) of open source hardware."
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Dangerous Prototypes: Open Source Hardware Seeding

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  • Can you say... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

    Can you say "slashvertisement"? I think this is the most blatant ad I've seen on slashdot since forever.

    • Can we please use our positive karma to block these as well?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And what a stupid goal to go by. "No, we don't have big goals in life. We only make small shitty stuff. So we must compensate, by making MOAR [titaniumteddybear.net] small shitty stuff." ;)

      Also, what's the point of creating new projects, if they won't maintain them? I'm not gonna use them, as I won't risk getting used to something that will be dead and deprecated in a few days.

      And, I myself would have no problem "creating" a new open source project a month. I wouldn't guarantee any stability, quality or usefulness though.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 02, 2011 @09:05PM (#36644432)

        If you knew anything, you'd know that none of these projects have been abandoned. Some are so useful and popular (like the Bus Pirate) so as to be in their 5th update. More than a few more-traditional electrhobbiest retailers carry one or more DP "products".

        While the OP did a miserable job conveying what DP does (and picking what I'd consider their least useful/interesting product to highlight), your proud and tenacious grasp of ignorance dwarfs the lameness of the OP. Had I not been so familiar with DP and SeeedStudio beforehand, I probably would have emitted a "WTF?!?" when I first saw this thread, as some of the other less-smegtastic responders have

        DP is probably the best example I know of small-scale cooperative distributed engineering in the hobbyist space. While Adafruit and SparkFun certainly dwarf DP in terms of sales and recognition, DP is an order of magnitude more tightly involved with their target audience in the definition and execution of their projects, and have a much higher ratio of work done by their customers than they do themselves. To date their "customers" are just as involved as the greater Arduino, and now Kinect, communities.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I can vouch for Seeed Studio too. I use them for my prototyping needs and also for production of the Retro Adapter, a fully open source bit of hardware for connecting old game controllers to USB. As a matter of fact they are making me some more as we speak.

          It is a good system and they are easy to work with. It also helps me out a lot because before whenever I put my designs on the web I would get emails begging me to make them for people. I'm just a hobbyist and it takes a lot of time and effort to assemble

          • by gl4ss ( 559668 )
            you should put a link to those retro adapters on your sig. would make your posts seem more worthwhile to read despite being advertising.
            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              Well, yeah, I didn't want to advertise on a forum... To be honest I only break even with a little bit of compensation for my time (and I mean a really little bit). That is why it is so important that I can get Seeed Studio to make them. If I was getting rich I'd do it full time and wouldn't mind putting in the hours, but I have a day job and want to relax in my spare time.

              If you can assemble your own then the design is completely open source, and I do pre-programmed microcontrollers and the bare PCB if you

        • I'm a fan of DP as well, but when I read the post, my first reaction was -- "so what's new here?". I expected there to be something new relating to DP, maybe a new project or even just a new iteration of an existing project. But there's nothing new -- this is just an interview, and a rather bland one at that.

          Honestly, it'd be a better service to post:
          "There's this thing called Dangerous Prototypes, at: http://dangerousprototypes.com/ [dangerousprototypes.com]. It's cool, you should check it out."
          But that's true for so many sites
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm Ian, Dangerous Prototypes is my hobby, but I have a day job as a part-time slashdot troll. I hate slashvertisments as much as you, I didn't submit this, I found out it was on /. when I awoke to a flaming server.

      However, we have been trying to get a Tweet printing thermal printer with live stream on Slashdot all week: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/thermal-tweeter [USTREAM]. Send us a Tweet to @dangerousproto and watch it print. Like most of our stuff that makes it on slashdot, it's not for sale, it's jus

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:04PM (#36644230)

    Dangerous Prototypes doesn't just produce shitty projects for the purpose of proving something that can be found on any flash manufacturer's datasheet. They make plenty of very useful projects too. Not just useful for an end user, but useful for the hardware tinkerer. There two most famous projects by a long shot are the Bus Pirate [dangerousprototypes.com] and the Logic Sniffer [dangerousprototypes.com]

    The bus pirate is a small device that connects to the computer via USB and allows you to use a terminal to talk all sorts of weird and wonderful protocols like SPI, 1-wire, I2C, or UART. Great for debugging a design, or reverse engineering. It is also capable of sniffing out the commands on a bus.

    The Logic Sniffer is a cheap 16 channel Logic Analyser, which while no where near as good as a commercial unit comes in at 1/100th of the cost as well.

    Both are fantastic tools for anyone hacking away at microcontrollers and both have saved me lots of headaches at some point. The best example was when the Logic Sniffer was released with firmware that wasn't very upgrade friendly to say the least, I used the Bus Pirate to flash new firmware to the Logic Sniffer.

    They also make a JTAG programmer / debugger [dangerousprototypes.com], a Infrared I/O board [dangerousprototypes.com] for a computer, and a fully functional tiny Web Server [dangerousprototypes.com]. They are much more useful than the summary makes them out to be.

    • by jepaton ( 662235 )

      The Logic Sniffer is a cheap 16 channel Logic Analyser, which while no where near as good as a commercial unit comes in at 1/100th of the cost as well.

      I've used an inexpensive commerical PC-based logic analyser. It had a combination of terrible software and frustrating hardware limitations (e.g. only being able to set the timebase in powers of two and a very limited number of samples).

      This particular logic analyser can only make a limited number of samples. A limitation like this can make some debugging problems harder. E.g. I2C/SPI serial data where it may be impossible to trigger at the required moment. A cheap logic analyser may make sense for a privat

      • Most definitely. I wouldn't condone these products to anyone who's income depends on them. But for the $50 for the board, with various open source tools available, the cost vs benefit is incredible for the home tinkerer.

      • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @09:43PM (#36644564) Homepage

        Logic analyzers are collecting dust now, for many reasons. Originally they were envisioned to capture the complete state of a complex logical circuit, and perhaps they were useful at that time. But that time was about 20 years ago.

        Today all the hardware that logic analyzers attempted to debug is located on the MCU die. You don't have access to it, and generally you don't have to - the manufacturer of the MCU did that already, and the peripheral is likely to work (modulo the errata.)

        If you are building a full size clone of IBM/370 then you can benefit from the device. But if you are doing it in an FPGA then Xilinx already has a logic analyzer there, called ChipScope. It's an IP core, so you can remove it when you are done debugging.

        What you really need today is a half-decent digital scope, with at least 1 GS/s (better 4.) You don't need lots of channels - one is enough, two is plenty. If you need four you probably don't know what you are doing. Note: the trigger channel is also a channel, it's there for a purpose.

        You can debug nearly all the amateur level hardware with just a scope. More test equipment is needed if you are into RF. The problem, as you point out, is that cheap equipment is often a waste of time and money. If you have to, go out and rent a decent instrument, it's not that expensive on a daily basis. You don't want to fight the test equipment that is too slow for your signals - you won't see a thing anyway, and the joy of owning a piece of junk is not worth contemplating :-)

        • by ajlitt ( 19055 )

          Off-chip parallel A/D buses aren't all that common anymore, and the days where you could follow code execution with a logic analyzer hooked to a ROM are pretty much gone. There's not much use anymore for those expensive HP and Tek logic analyzer mainframes. Bus analyzers have taken their place, and unfortunately tend to handle only one standard each.

          The sub-$500 PC-based logic analyzers like the Logic Sniffer and Saelae Logic still come in handy for low speed buses like I2C and SPI, and can be helpful whe

          • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Saturday July 02, 2011 @11:46PM (#36644890) Homepage

            The sub-$500 PC-based logic analyzers like the Logic Sniffer and Saelae Logic still come in handy for low speed buses like I2C and SPI

            In my experience it is essential to see the analog side of the signal, especially on the I2C (which is passively pulled up.) A lot of degradation can occur there, and a cheap logic analyzer will show garbage, if anything. You simply need to synchronize your scope well; sometimes you need to output something on a pin. A reasonably good digital scope will capture all you need to know, at any delay from the trigger and at any speed once the instrument triggers. Often you can see the trouble after one run.

            With regard to profiling, I personally use one GPIO pin for that. On an AVR it takes one simple machine instruction to set it or clear it. Connect an oscilloscope to it and observe your timings. If you have two pins you have everything that is necessary to measure all the timings in the design (one by one.)

            I don't know how you could use the abysmally slow I2C, or somewhat faster but still glacial SPI for profiling. That would require a fast-running timer (like on AVR32) and a cache of profiling data in RAM; but if you have that then SPI is just another debugging channel, not any better than a spare 3.3V UART that you connected to a 3-pin header.

            One of good things about those busses (I2C and SPI) is that they are under your control. You know what is sent because you sent it. You know what was received because the hardware received it (and you will do well if you connect a debugging facility to that, if you need to.) A logic analyzer on such a bus is needed primarily when you are not sure what's happening. Again the roots of the thing go back into the world of one foot by one foot PCBs with SN74 DIP logic on them. Then you had to monitor tons of signals because you didn't know what is wrong. But if a 2-wire bus toggles, chances are your master is OK. If you see ACKs then you know that your slave is also OK. If you have issues with the nature of the data, it's datasheet time.

            Still, as you say there are uses for everything. It's just I haven't seen much use of logic analyzers recently :-) You can't even connect them to modern busses like DDRx (and that's one tough bus to get timings right.) If you could they'd cost $50K, like PCIe bus analyzers, and you still need to instrument your board with MICTOR or like connectors that don't ruin your design right away.

        • A good digital scope costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars, so as a hobbyist I can't really justify that, but a $30 Logic Shrimp is just fine. I'm using it instead of a scope to do basic viewing of suspect or undocumented signals. When some pulse-width code driving a servo on a PIC32 wasn't working, for example, it was a useful check on exactly what was being generated.
          • by tftp ( 111690 ) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @04:13AM (#36645516) Homepage

            A good digital scope costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars

            Sometimes you can get lucky and grab one for free or nearly free. I got a Tektronix 2440 [ebay.com] this way. It wasn't completely working, mind you, but it's something one can fix... if not then probably you don't need the scope anyway :-) There is a lot of old, well used and maybe a bit broken equipment around that nobody in a business wants. You just need to make contacts, look around, visit your neighborhood Weird Stuff [weirdstuff.com].

            But there is something else you can do. Build your own high speed oscilloscope. Today it's not that difficult. Take AD9601, for example - it's a 300 MSPS A/D with dual (interleaved) parallel bus. You need also an FPGA to capture the data - some Spartan probably will do. Then you need a simple USB MCU to fetch the data from the FPGA and slowly ship it into the PC. Total three ICs, not counting the analog front end which is not a rocket science. You can generate the sample clock with a DCM in the FPGA. Build such a thing and it will be a great exercise. Such a scope will be not a toy, it will be a very useful, small device. Logic Shrimp is a logic analyzer, but this is a real scope - in all its 10-bit glory. You actually can measure analog signals with it. You can use even a lower resolution A/D, like AD9484. (Bits are necessary when you are doing DSP, not when you are just looking at things.)

            • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

              Show us the one you built, the gerbers, the schematic, the source code and the VHDL code. Show us that it works.

              • by tftp ( 111690 )

                Show us the one you built

                I haven't built this scope because I don't need it (I have two usable scopes already.) However I already did some quick research for my previous comment, and if there is interest I can contribute to the design.

                Open source hardware doesn't mean "you do it, we use it" - it means "let's build it together." I can do all aspects of this design, but what I'm lacking is time. There are just too many interesting projects that compete for my attention...

          • by tftp ( 111690 )

            A good digital scope costs hundreds if not thousands of dollars

            Sometimes you can get lucky and grab one for free or nearly free. I got a Tektronix 2440 [ebay.com] this way. It wasn't completely working, mind you, but it's something one can fix... if not then probably you don't need the scope anyway :-) There is a lot of old, well used and maybe a bit broken equipment around that nobody in a business wants. You just need to make contacts, look around, visit your neighborhood Weird Stuff [weirdstuff.com] - and dive into a dumpster so

  • Because I can't tell...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 02, 2011 @08:37PM (#36644344)

    Seeed Studio is by far the least expensive PCB manufacturer I've ever seen. As an electronics hobbyist, I recently built a USB phone tap, and used Seeed's Fusion PCB service for the prototype PCB's.

    I only planned to make two devices, but the minimum order quantity is 10 units. Somehow, the price was still less than $25, after shipping. This doesn't seem to be a hobbyist charity, either - they're making money off it, even though it's a great deal.

    The PCB's were perfect. No errors that I could find.

    Order Seeed's Fusion PCB Service [seeedstudio.com]

    USB Phone Tap [no-ip.org]

    (Yes, there are 3 E's in Seeed)

  • How does the Flash Destroyer actually help? I don't get it...
  • Flash Destroyer, which tests the limits of solid state storage by writing and verifying a common EEPROM chip,

    Sounds like a pretty obvious test tool to me. Knock one up as required.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Oh, wait, flash memory?

    Meh, not interested.

  • The Bus Pirate, Logic Sniffer, IR Toy, and Webplatform, I've found more useful than the Flash Destroyer. I use 1 BP to burn replace my huge, old, and partially burned out AVR development board, which cost tens time as much. The Webplatform is really nice as well, I've got a couple of those.

  • It's actually become a game. Read the headline and try to imagine what the story might be about. Then discuss it and come up with a better story than the original to match that headline, and I guess in this case this should be trivial.

    Anyone else thought of genetically altered food?

  • DP and Seeedstudio (Score:4, Informative)

    by cr0nj0b ( 20813 ) on Sunday July 03, 2011 @10:03AM (#36646388) Homepage

    I have a few of DPs products. The webplatform is cheaper and more useful to me than an arduino/ethernet shield or even the new EthernetPro http://www.sparkfun.com/products/10536 [sparkfun.com]

    Seeedstudio's fusion service is good price wise, but I will not have PCBs made through them again. Too many bad traces. Pads lift if you try to re-work them.

    Slightly more expensive, http://dorkbotpdx.org/wiki/pcb_order [dorkbotpdx.org] , but I have never had a bad board and the quality is much much better.


    • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <.ten.knilhtrae. .ta. .nsxihselrahc.> on Sunday July 03, 2011 @02:20PM (#36647440)

      Hey you anti-Chinese posters! *THIS* (the parent) is what a useful post looks like.

      The parent was informative and useful. It gave reasons to not use one of the companies, and offered an alternative. (As well as admitting the real defect in the offering...price. But a good trade-off for reasonable quality.)

      • by cr0nj0b ( 20813 )



        I forgot to mention, if you are in the U.S.A, then is is also quicker chipping wise to go with dorkbotpdx mentioned above. Simply for shipping times alone. Seeedstudio's fusion service only e-tests 50% of the boards by default. Even then, I have still had boars that pass e-test, but where the copper meets the pad, it is too thin. This will break the connection. Yes, plated through holes are a little bit harder to re-wrok, but with a little flux and the heat turned down, it is do-able. I have

Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards. -- Aldous Huxley