We’ve seen a lot of interest in USB in the past few months — a slew of PS Jailbreak clones appeared from an USB trace taken with a $1500 Lecroy USB Analyzer, and marcan wrote a Kinect driver using libusb, based on some USB protocol traces taken with a $1200 Beagle 480 USB analyzer.
To build a decent USB 2.0 protocol analyser you don’t need that many things inside, and the designs aren’t all that much more complicated than the FPGA designs we worked with on the DSi. pytey and I have been discussing hardware USB 2.0 analysis on and off for 2+ years but we have never had the time (or funds) to create a gadget of our own. An opportunity arose when pytey showed me the absolutely fabulous Kickstarter site, where you can help fund fledgeling projects to get them off the ground.
Open-source hardware isn’t a new idea, but it’s not very easy to pull off designs of even modest complexity. Unlike open-source software (which can generally be made with free tools on any household computer, as long as you have the time to learn how to do so), hardware-hacking is … well … expensive, for lack of a better word, and slow. One attempt at making a board will generally take you from 5-500 hours of time to design it, and then a couple of weeks to have a prototyping house make you some PCBs. This will probably cost you $50-$200, and then you still have to buy the parts and assemble the board … assuming you have the right equipment to do so, this can take you another week (not including debugging!).
After you’ve done all that, if all goes well — you end up with one or two prototypes which you can then try to get working, usually involving some combination of firmware and client software on your computer. Unfortunately, you only have one or two boards, so it’s hard to do much collaboration online with people on one design.
pytey suggested that we might try to leverage Kickstarter to help us make the USB 2.0 analyzer a reality — and thus, OpenVizsla was born! This project has allowed us to collect enough funds ahead of time to have a factory make enough prototypes for all our colleagues to work on firmware, HDL and client software to make an open-source USB analyzer happen. We still have to put the work in to design the hardware, but we will have enough cash to be able to buy the parts for our boards in one chunk (achieving significant discounts with quantity), and we will be able to have enough prototypes made at once to justify a factory production run — no more hand-soldering for us! Once we’re done with this, we’ll end up with a design that people can tinker with and extend; there will be a project site that will soon host more details.
It seemed like a bit of a gamble, so we argued back and forth and picked a cash target high enough to ensure we would be able to make at least enough prototypes to have a decent chance of pulling the project off. I could never have expected the popular reaction to it; it seems like we really struck a nerve out there. We even got a couple of celebrities (Stephen Fry, DVDJon) on board, and our ploy to get some major backers (offering the right to directly participate in the early prototyping stages and a spot for a logo) paid off in spades. We even got support from Altium, who donated a couple of licenses of their lovely CAD/CAM software for us to use to speed up our design process.
Anyway, if you’re interested in the idea of playing with USB, I recommend you head over to the Kickstarter page; as of this writing, there’s still 3 days left for you to get in on the OpenVizsla production run.
On to CCC — our Console Hacking table at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin has become somewhat of a fixture there, so we’re trying to reserve some space this year. A few of you have already noticed that we have a “Console Hacking 2010″ wrapup presentation planned; the description’s still a bit vague because our presentation will depend on how much progress we make between now and then. There’s going to be a PS3 surprise though. No questions about the content, please — we’re still busy hacking away over here, so just come see us there or wait for the video!