Posts with «review» label

Malduino Elite – First Impressions

A while back, I wrote an article about Malduino, an Arduino-based, open-source BadUSB device. I found the project interesting so I signed up for an Elite version and sure enough, the friendly postman dropped it off in my mail box last Friday, which means I got to play around with it over the weekend. For those who missed the article, Malduino is USB device which is able to emulate a keyboard and inject keystrokes, among other things. When in a proper casing, it will just look like a USB flash drive. It’s like those things you see in the movies where a guy plugs in a device and it auto hacks the computer. It ships in two versions, Lite and Elite, both based on the ATmega32U4.

The Lite version is really small, besides the USB connector it only contains a switch, which allows the user to choose between running and programming mode, and a LED, which indicates when the script has finished running.

Original Malduino Elite sketch and Lite prototype

The Elite version is bigger, comes with a Micro-SD card reader and four DIP switches, which allow the user to choose which script to run from the card. It also has the LED, which indicates when a script has finished to run. This allows the user to burn the firmware only once and then program the keystroke injection scripts that stored in the Micro-SD card, in contrast to the Lite version which needs to be flashed each time a user wants to run a different script.

These are the two Malduinos and because they are programmed straight from the Arduino IDE, every feature I just mentioned can be re-programmed, re-purposed or dropped all together. You can buy one and just choose to use it like a ‘normal’ Arduino, although there are not a lot of pins to play around with. This freedom was one the first things I liked about it and actually drove me to participate in the crowd-funding campaign. Read on for the full review.

The Hardware

Malduino Elite vs USB flash drive

So the Elite board arrived as schedule and I found myself some time to look an it. Despite being longer than the Lite version, it’s still quite small, measuring roughly 4.6 cm x 1.1 cm (around 1.8 in x 0.43 in), which you can easily adapt to an old USB case, although you’ll have to cut some holes for the DIP switches and the Micro-SD card. In the crowd-funding campaign, the original sketch was for a 3 DIP switch version but the final Elite has four, which I found nice. I plugged it in to an old computer, after some consideration about which firmware it could ship with and what it could do to my laptop, and sure enough a red LED appeared. And that was it. Nothing else.

After playing around with the switches and exercising some RTFM, I realised that the firmware it ships with is probably some sort of Q.C. test for the dips, which makes the Malduino output the numbers 1 to 4 (actually simulating a keypress 1 to 4), depending on which switches are ON. So far so good, it works and I’ve seen worse PCB boards than this one. The board has holes for six pins, which I did not trace to the micro-controller and I don’t know what they are for.

The Setup

Setting up the Malduino requires that you have the Arduino IDE installed and up to date. You’ll need to open up the board manager and install the Sparkfun boards since the Elite is programmed as a ‘Sparkfun Pro Micro’ running at 3.3 V and 8 MHz. Then you need to go the Malduino Script Converter website which serves several purposes:

  • It allows to convert scripts between the Lite and Elite versions
  • It allows you to choose your keyboard layout language
  • It auto generates the Arduino project for you to import to the IDE

For the Elite version, just create a simple or even empty script to download the project, since when in ‘normal’ operation you will just flash the Malduino once and then use the Micro-SD card to store new scripts.

A note on flashing, if you are using a Debian-based distribution you might come across some problems like I did and not be able to flash the device. Like the user on this most useful post, my modem-manager was trying to talk with the Malduino after every reset and confused AVRDUDE to death. The solution is to add udev rules to “/etc/udev/rules.d/77-mm-usb-device-blacklist-local.rules”, kudos to [socrim]:

ACTION!="add|change", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"
SUBSYSTEM!="usb", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"
ENV{DEVTYPE}!="usb_device", GOTO="mm_usb_device_blacklist_local_end"

ATTRS{idVendor}=="1b4f" ATTRS{idProduct}=="9204", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"
ATTRS{idVendor}=="1b4f" ATTRS{idProduct}=="9203", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"


The Software

Since I’m running Linux, a quick shortcut to run a command is the ALT-F2 combination. So I script that into a file and save it to 1111.txt. The Elite searches the Micro-SD card for a file corresponding to the current dip switch state. Lets say the dip switch 2 and 4 are ON. In this case, the software tries to find the file named 0101.txt and parse its contents (as in dip switch order 1,2,3,4 and not the binary representation of the number 2 and 4) . When it finishes, the red LED starts flashing quickly. My simple script was:

DELAY 2000
DELAY 1000
STRING xterm
DELAY 1000
DELAY 1000
DELAY 1000

But it was not working. Almost all commands worked but the ALT-F2 combo was not functioning properly. Close, but no cigar. No ALT-F2, no run command window. I’ve already lazy-browsed the source code a bit because I really didn’t have a lot of time on my hands but I needed to figure this out. The offending code was this:

else if(equals(s,e,"F1",<strong>3</strong>));</pre>

else if(equals(s,e,"F2",<strong>3</strong>));
else if(equals(s,e,"F10",3));
else if(equals(s,e,"F11",3));

A custom equals function was receiving size 3 for the strings of the Function keys, like “F2”. It was ok for “F10”, “F11” and “F12”, but failed for the rest of the keys. Changing 3 to 2 did the trick, but my Portuguese keyboard layout started to interfere with other test scripts. So I changed the code to include PT and UK layouts, changing them in a #define at compile time.

It would be cool if it was possible to access the SD card from the computer as a regular USB volume. I don’t know exactly how feasible that is, but it does not come with the current firmware. I still wanted to be able to output the content of an arbitrary file on the SD card to the screen, so I added another script function called ECHOFILEHEX that outputs the content of a file in the SD card as escape characters. For example, if the file a.txt contains “AAA”, the script command ECHOFILEHEX a.txt would output “\x41\x41\x41”. This can be useful to echo binary files into printf or echo -e, in Linux hosts at least.

Meanwhile, I had some trouble reading the original code. You know, we all have different programming styles. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to write some messed-up spaghetti code. I sometimes browse old projects looking for some libs or classes I coded and wonder ‘who the heck wrote this steaming pile of code?’ Me, it was me. Anyway, I started to change a bit here and there and ended up changing pretty much the entire code. That’s the beauty and the curse of open-source. If you’re curious you can check it out here.


All in all, and despite some bumps, I’m quite pleased with Malduino. It is what I expected: an open platform for BadUSB attacks that’s in its infancy. It’s awesome that we can all tinker with it, modify it, make it better or just make it suit our needs. I hope a real community can start so we can see its full potential emerge. My short list includes simulating other USB devices, better SD card management, and expanding the device via the unused pins. What would you add?

It’s a long way to go and a lot can go wrong, so good luck with the project [Seytonic]!

Filed under: Featured, reviews, security hacks

Prextron CHAIN BLOCKS - Arduino Nano controlled Ultrasonic sensor that switches a motor wirelessly using 433MHz RF modules and a relay board.



In this tutorial, I will be evaluating Prextron CHAIN blocks – a new system that allows you to connect your sensors and actuators to an Arduino NANO using clever 3D-printed prototyping boards that can be stacked sideways. This very modular system makes it easy to connect, disconnect and replace project components, and eliminate the “rats nest of wires” common to many advanced Arduino projects. CHAIN BLOCKS are open, which means that you can incorporate any of your sensors or actuators to these prototyping boards, and you can decide which specific pin on Arduino you plan to use. The CHAIN BLOCK connections prevent or reduce common connection mistakes, which make them ideal for class-room projects and learning activities.

I am going to set up a project to put these CHAIN BLOCKs to the test:
When I place my hand in-front of an Ultrasonic sensor, the Arduino will transmit a signal wirelessly to another Arduino, and consequently turn on a motor.


Parts Required:

You need the following Prextron Chain Blocks

Please note: You may need to solder the module wires to the CHAIN BLOCK protoboard.


Arduino Libraries and IDE

This project does not use any libraries. However, you will need to upload Arduino code to the Arduino. For this you will need the Arduino IDE which can be obtained from the official Arduino website:


ARDUINO CODE: RF Transmitter




Fritzing diagrams for Transmitter






Fritzing diagrams for Receiver





Concluding comments

The purpose of this project was to evaluate Prextron CHAIN BLOCKs and put them to the test. Here is what I thought of CHAIN BLOCKS at the time of evaluation. Some of my points mentioned below may no longer apply to the current product. It may have evolved / improved since then. So please take that into consideration


What I liked about Chain Blocks

  • The design is simple, the product is simple.
  • Once the Chain Blocks were all assembled, they were very easy to connect to each other.
  • I can really see the benefit of Chain Blocks in a teaching environment, because it simplifies the connection process, and reduces connection mixups.
  • It was good to see that the blocks come in different colours, which means that you can set up different colour schemes for different types of modules.
  • You can incorporate pretty much any sensor or Actuator into the Chain block which is very appealing.
  • You also have the flexibility of choosing which pins you plan to use on the Arduino.
  • Projects look a lot neater, because you no longer have the rats nest of wires.
  • The Blocks lock into each other which means that they are much easier to transport/carry.


What I did not like about Chain Blocks

  • In most cases, the Chain Block protoboard lanes were not numbered, which increased the chances of making mistakes when soldering
  • The need to solder modules to the protoboard, may be a discouragement for some people.
  • I would have liked a choice of different size Chain blocks. Some of the sensors did not fit nicely into the Square blocks.
  • Prextron really need to work on their website if they plan to get serious with this product: Webpage has incomplete functionality or irrelevant links etc etc.


Thank you very much to Prextron for providing the CHAIN BLOCKS used in this tutorial, and allowing me to try out their product. If you are interested in trying them yourself, then make sure to visit them at:

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EspoTek Labrador Review

Have you heard about the EspoTek Labrador ? 

A tiny board which can turn your computer into an
- Oscilloscope
- Waveform generator
- Logic analyser
- Multimeter
- and Power supply.

Great for makers or hobbyists with limited bench space or limited funds. Perfect for students and anyone starting out in the field of electronics

As you will see in the video below, I take a prototype of the EspoTek Labrador for a spin, and try out all of the functions that this board can provide.

I use an Arduino UNO, a couple of 433MHz RF modules, some LEDs and a speaker to see just how useful this board will be for my hobby requirements.

I have been wanting an Oscilloscope for quite some time, and while this board does not necessarily win against a benchtop oscilloscope on a side-by-side comparison of specifications, it does make up for it somewhat in terms of price, space (or footprint), usability, and wide range of functionality. But does it actually function as an oscilliscope? Is it useful ? Will it do what I need it to do?  Or will I still need to buy that expensive oscilloscope that I have been saving up for?

Have a look at my review below, and tell me what you think.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below:
ScottC 29 Oct 02:58

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

How to use a new electronics board for dummies: MegaPi example

First Look – Arduino M0 Pro with 32 bit ARM Cortex M0

Here at tronixstuff we keep an open mind with regards to new hardware, and in this spirit we have the following “first look” of the new Arduino M0 Pro (previously called the Arduino Zero) from Arduino SRL. If the term Arduino SRL is new to you – click here to learn more.

This is the second Arduino-branded board that takes the leap from 8-bit to 32-bit microcontrollers (with the Due being the first), and according to Arduino SRL offers a lot of promise:

With the new Arduino M0 pro board, the more creative individual will have the potential to create one’s most imaginative and new ideas for IoT devices, wearable technologies, high tech automation, wild robotics and other not yet thinkable adventures in the world of makers.

The Arduino M0 pro represents a simple, yet powerful, 32-bit extension of the Arduino UNO platform. The board is powered by Atmel’s SAMD21 MCU, featuring a 32-bit ARM Cortex® M0 core.

With the addition of the M0 board, the Arduino family becomes larger with a new member providing increased performance.

The power of its Atmel’s core gives this board an upgraded flexibility and boosts the scope of projects one can think of and make; moreover, it makes the M0 Pro the ideal educational tool for learning about 32-bit application development.
Atmel’s Embedded Debugger (EDBG), integrated in the board, provides a full debug interface with no need for additional hardware, making debugging much easier. EDBG additionally supports a virtual COM port for device programming and traditional Arduino boot loader functionality uses.

Lots of buzzwords in there, so let’s push that aside and first consider the specifications:

Microcontroller – ATSAMD21G18, 48pins LQFP – the “main” microcontroller
EDBG Microcontroller – AT32UC3A4256, 100pins VFBGA
Operating Voltage – 3.3 V
DC Input Voltage (recommended) – 6-15 V
DC Input Voltage (limits) – 4.5-20 V
Digital I/O Pins – 14, with 12 PWM and UART
Analogue Input Pins – 6, 12-bit ADC channels
Analogue Output Pins – 1, 10-bit DAC
DC Current per I/O Pin – 7 mA
Flash Memory – 256 KB
SRAM – 32 KB
Clock Speed – 48 MHz

Lots of good stuff there – increased clock speed, increased flash memory (sketch space) and SRAM (working memory). No EEPROM however you can emulate one.

Note that the M0 Pro is a 3.3V board – and also the DC current per I/O pin is only 7 mA. Once again the user will need to carefully consider their use of external circuitry and shields to ensure compatibility (as the “classic” Arduino boards are 5V and can happily source/sink much more current per I/O pin).

The ADC (analogue-to-digital) converters have an increased resolution – 12-bit… and the addition of a true DAC (digital-to-analogue) converter allows for a true variable voltage output. This could be useful for sound generation or other effects. You can pore over the complete details including board schematics from the website.

Moving on, let’s have a look around the Arduino M0 Pro board itself:

You can’t miss the sticker asking you to download the IDE – as Arduino SRL have forked up the Arduino IDE and run off with it. Click here to download. Upon removing the sticker you have:

Note the connector for the JTAG interface which works in conjunction with Atmel Studio software for debugging. You can also use the USB connection which connects to the EDBG microcontroller (example). When Atmel offers a native MacOS version we’ll investigate that further. SPI isn’t D10~D13 as per the older boards, instead it is accessed via the six pins on the right-hand side of the board. Turning the M0 Pro over doesn’t reveal any surprises:

And like the Due there are two USB ports:

A Programming USB port for uploading sketches through the Arduino IDE and “normal” use, along with a native USB port for direct connection to the main microcontroller’s serial connection. For “regular” Arduino IDE use, you can stick with the Programming port as usual.

So let’s try out the M0 Pro. We’ve downloaded the IDE (which can co-exist with the IDE). Drivers are included with the IDE for Windows users, so the board should be plug and play. Note that if you need to reflash the Arduino bootloader – Atmel Studio is required. Moving on – within the Arduino IDE you need to set the board type to “Arduino M0 Pro (Programming Port)”:

… and the Programmer to “M0 Pro Programming Port”:

… both of these options are found in the Tools menu. When using these faster boards we like to run a simple speed test that calculates Newton Approximation for pi using an infinite series, written by Steve Curd from the Arduino forum. You can download the sketch to try yourself.

In previous tests the Arduino Mega2560 completed the test in 5765 ms, and the Arduino Due crushed it in 690 ms. As you can see below the M0 Pro needed 1950 ms for the test:

Not bad at all compared to a Mega. Thus the M0 Pro offers you a neat speed bump in an Uno-compatible form-factor. At this point those of you who enjoy making your own boards and dealing with surface-mount components have an advantage – the Atmel ATSAMD21G18 is available in TQFP package for under US$6… so you could cook up your own high-performance boards. Example.

At this point I’m curious about the onboard 10-bit DAC that’s connected to pin A0, so I connected the DSO to A0 and GND, and uploaded the following sketch:

void setup() 

void loop() 
  for (int i=0; i<1024; i++)
  for (int i=1023; i>=0; --i)

… which resulted with the following neat triangle waveform:

… and here it is with the statistics option:

With a frequency of 108.7 Hz there’s a lot of CPU overhead – no doubt controlling the MCU without the Arduino abstraction will result with increased performance. Finally – for some other interesting examples and “how to” guides for the M0 Pro, visit the Arduino labs page for this board.

Conclusion for now

There are many pros and cons with the Arduino M0 Pro. It is not the best “all round” or beginner’s board due to the limitations of the hardware GPIO. There’s the DAC which could be useful for creating Arduino-controlled power supplies – and plenty of PWM outputs… but don’t directly connect servos to them. However if you can live with the current limits – and need a faster clock speed with an Arduino Uno-compatible board type – then the M0 Pro is an option for you.

Furthermore the M0 Pro offers an interesting bridge into the world of 32-bit microcontrollers, and no doubt the true performance of the MCU can be unlocked by moving away from the Arduino IDE and using Atmel Studio. If you have any questions for the team about the Arduino M0 Pro ask in their support forum.

And if you would like your own Arduino M0 Pro – is offering a 10% discount off this new board until the end of November 2015. Enter the coupon code “tronixstuff” in the shopping cart page to activate the discount**. – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Seeedstudio and much much more.

As always, have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

** discount not available in conjunction with any other offer, and not valid for CCHS/MELBPC deliveries or pickup orders. 

The post First Look – Arduino M0 Pro with 32 bit ARM Cortex M0 appeared first on tronixstuff.

LED driver chips

After looking at the many options for driving LED displays (5x7/8x8 matrix, 7/14/16/25 segment, common anode/cathode, single/bi-color/RGB), I put together this list of commonly used LED driver chips, to have a better picture of possible combinations, and use as reference for future projects.

The bottom 5 rows are not actually LED drivers, just substitutes (require current limiting resistors).

Some of the driver chips (e.g. "8x8" in the "channels" column) provide internal multiplexing, being designed specifically for driving array of LEDs. The others, where "channels" is just one number, would require extra circuitry (e.g. transistors) and logic (micro controller code) for multiplexing.

The "CA" column indicates "common anode", "CC" stands for common cathode.

There seem to be more options for driving common anode LED displays, probably because sinking current (by the chips' LED outputs) allows for higher currents and also for using a separate power source (usually higher voltage) for the LEDs.

Wise time with Arduino 08 Jul 17:27
general  review  

My impression of Akafugu Nixie Modular Clock

You are reading the first ever "review" of the Akafugu Nixie Modular Clock, a product yet to be released at the time of writing. Per, of Akafugu, generously offered to sell me the PCBs for this Nixie clock; the parts were sourced by myself.

The Nixie Modular Clock shares a big chunk of the schematic with its older sibling, the Akafugu Nixie Clock. The goal of this latest design is, I assume from the name, the "modularity". Similar to the VFD Modular Clock, "shields" for various types and numbers of Nixie tubes will probably be developed soon.

The hardware
This Nixie Modular Clock is an Arduino-based, open source project, designed around ATmega328 running on internal oscillator at 8MHz. Like the Akafugu Nixie mk3, the high voltage source (180-200V) uses the MC34063 DC-DC converter, and the driver for Nixies is HV5812. There are 3 buttons: 2 in the back, for setting up the time and alarm time, and another long-stem, protruding through the top board, for enabling/disabling the alarm. An orange LED in the front indicates if the alarm is active or not.
The PCB for the commercial version will be red, I was told (as shown below :).

Building the clock is straightforward (as long as all parts are in hand, which will be the case when the kit becomes available). The assembly instructions are easy to follow and very clear, with lots of details and helpful photos. Some of the parts I picked (electrolytic capacitors, inductor) were a little too high, so I had an issue with the clearance between the 2 boards. I was able to "correct" that (meaning increase the distance between boards) by using long-legged headers lifted on male-headers plastic insulators (see the photo below).

I did not install the lamp between the hours and minutes. I was surprised to see that the unit-hours tube (second from left) blinks its decimal point!
The clock has also support for "background" LEDs (blue recommended), but I did not solder those either.

The software.. also open source and available here. A nice feature that every programmer will love is that it covers both Nixie Clock and Nixie Modular Clock (plus variants of the latter, like 6-tube clock) by using macro definitions. Not to mention that the code compiles and works without a glitch. It also has support for GPS.

Although I like the elaborate enclosure that Akafugu designed, I tried my own, by using simple plates to cover the exposed soldered pins, on both top and bottom. To me, the open sides are ok as long as small children don't stick their fingers (or grownups screwdrivers) in there :)
My suggestion is to make the top plastic plate of the enclosure (shown in akafugu's photo of the clock) transparent, rather than opaque black, which hides the elaborate design/silkscreen of the tube PCB.

I think that the Modular Nixie Clock will be another success. Its aesthetics, compact size and feature-rich software set a new standard in the world of Nixie clocks. Remember, most of the Nixie clocks one can buy on etsy, ebay or other sites, are non hack-able hardware or software. If you want one to tinker with, then Akafugu Modular Clock is for you.

Wise time with Arduino 07 Jul 02:01
nixie  review