Category: Repair

Lightstone Repairs

I have a Lightstone, and a copy of the game “Journey to Wild Divine”, despite not being a whifty hippie. My friend Ne0nRa1n gave them to me years ago for biofeedback hacking, but pointed out that the finger sensor connections were broken.

The Lightstone is actually a USB interface to GSR and pulse sensors. Internally, the board uses a M430F133 chip from TI to call the shots, along with a ST72F623F2M1. Why there are two microcontrollers in there, I’m not sure. It could be that one is handling USB communication and the other is dealing with the analog signals, which is supported by the ST part being connected directly to the USB port (with a pair of test points along the traces) and the TI part having a lot of traces running to the analog section of the board.

Overall, the design of the hardware is solid. The Lightstone is easy to open up, the board is well-assembled and has what I’d consider good looking PCB design. There are lots of test points in the analog and digital sections. Spare GPIOs on the MSP430 are broken out to little pads for possible hackery. There are even populated headers that probably were used for programming the microcontrollers.

However, there’s one point where the hardware falls down. The finger contacts for the GSR and pulse sensors are on thin wires with minimal strain relief. Two nice microcontrollers, sweet board design, and it falls apart because wires break.

The sensors are on a 6-pin DIN connector, with red, black, orange, green, yellow, and white wires. The red and black wires each go to a GSR contact. The GSR contacts are silver or silver alloy buttons, so I want to keep those. The other four wires go to the pulse sensor, which is a three pin device. Looking into the front of the device, the left lead gets the yellow wire, the center lead gets the green and orange wires, and the right lead gets the white wire.

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To repair the fingertip sensors, I had to pull out the hinge pins that hold the sensor case together. I used very fine-tipped pliers for this, starting from the hinge and then grasping the tip once I had pushed the pin out enough. Then I took the sensors apart, and cut out the bad section of wire. In the image below, the spot to grab the hinge pin is just to the right of the small spring.

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I stripped the original cable, and wrapped the stripped sections in heat shrink. I drilled out the molded strain reliefs so I could thread the wires back through them more easily, threaded the wires, and used more heat shrink to improve the strain relief. My new wires are not as flexible as the old ones, but should be more durable. Finally, I soldered the sensors to the ends of the new wires, and put the sensor cases back together.

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If you do this repair, be careful soldering to the silver-alloy sensor buttons for the GSR sensor. The silver part is surprisingly easy to soften and distort with heat from a soldering iron. I slightly damaged one of mine, but managed to do the other one with no problems.

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I’m using liblightstone to get the information from the device. So far, it seems to be working fine.

Robosapien Repairs

I got a Robosapien V2 on Craigslist for very short money, and started working on turning it into a robot. This doesn’t interfere with my other projects because the stuff I’m using to robotify it is the same codebase I’ll be using for brain hacks at Defcon and and a drink dispensing robot at future festivals. But I digress.

On powering it up, the Robosapien complained about a “low brain battery” and turned itself off. When I replaced the batteries, it failed to do anything at all. I checked a few forums, and it turns out that the problem is the wire insulation failure that struck a lot of the Robosapien V2s. The problem is that the insulation on some of the wires, particularly the ones that are single strands, rather than part of multi-wire cables, is bad. It becomes brittle and crumbly, and then flakes off when the robot moves. This causes the batteries to short out, and die quickly, if you are lucky. If you are not lucky, the Robosapien melts or catches fire.

In my Robosapien, the affected wires appear to be confined to the leg wiring harness, particularly the motor wires, battery leads, and wires from the foot switch PCB to the main PCB. To fix this, I’m going to extract the wires, and replace them with un-crappy ones. It’s kind of a tedious job, but I am actually kind of looking forward to it as a way to unwind at the end of the day. Have a beer, replace a bunch of wires, chill out.


I have HEALED this man’s WOUNDED STEREO!

One of the users of a mailing list that I’m on had a nice stereo receiver with one bad channel. Stereo has two channels, and while one worked, the other simply had no output. I opened it up and found that the signal lines from the amplifier run through a relay to the rear panel connectors. I can think of a couple of reasons for this, but the main one is that when you power it up, there is a period where the circuitry of the receiver stabilizes and effectively “boots up”. During that period, it might put some sort of really loud signal out over the speakers (and blow them inside out) unless they are disconnected. Once everything settles, it is safe to connect the speakers. The other possibility is that if you short the speaker connection, the receiver can detect the excessive current flow and disconnect the speaker hookups.

Whatever the reason for them, one of the relays was DPST, with one pole for each stereo channel, and one set of the poles didn’t close when the system powered up. I figured this out by plugging in an audio source, turning the receiver on, and then tracing back from the connector until I found an audio signal. There was nothing at the connector, nothing where the connector joined the PCB, nothing at one pole of the relay, music at the pole it was supposed to be connected to.

The fix was to remove the board with the relay on it, pop off the case of the relay, clean the contacts, push them a little closer together, and put it all back together. If the relay had really been shot, it was a pretty common size, and would have been easy to replace. Overall, the receiver was well-designed for repair, and the service manual was available online. I will give Onkyo props for using one size of normal philips-head screw throughout their case, but did they really need 41 of them?