CCC video – Fernvale: An Open Hardware and Software Platform


At the recently concluded CCC conference in Hamburg, Germany, bunnie and Xobs presented their “lawful method for converting closed IP into open IP.”

We introduce Fernvale, a reverse-engineered, open hardware and software platform based upon Mediatek’s MT6260 value phone SoC. The MT6260 is the chip that powers many of the $10 GSM feature phones produced by the Shanzhai. Fernvale is made available as open-licensed schematics, board layouts, and an RTOS based upon the BSD-licensed NuttX, as well as a suite of open tools for code development and firmware upload. We discuss our technical reverse engineering efforts, as well as our methodology to lawfully import IP from the Shanzhai ecosystem into the Maker ecosystem. We hope to establish a repeatable, if not labor-intensive, model for opening up previously closed IP of interest, thereby outlining a path to leveling the playing field for lawful Makers.

For a more detailed explanation of their method and purpose, visit the CCC 2014 webpage.

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10 Comments

  1. Naive. You’re never going to breech the lock boxes that are the important bits, like the graphics engine. Too many frivolous patents, too many NDA’s, too many dark binaries, and too many greedy lawyers. Yeah, you might be able to have your way with a simple $10 dumb phone part; so what’s new about that? More importantly, why bother?

  2. This is still fairly significant – how often do you see an open hardware and software phone that doesn’t rely on complete GSM modules for which just a block diagram is available?
    And what does a graphics engine have to do with this? It’s a feature-phone.
    As for “why bother” – the same could be said for those making open source media players, when Apple iPods are available. Or those who paint when art galleries are available.

  3. Drone, I feel like you missed the point of what they are doing. As Bunnie says in the talk and in his blog post they are looking for a cheap component that has lots of RAM (8MB), Runs at quite a reasonable speed (300+MHz), and has lots of I/O.

    They aren’t strictly looking to get all the phone functionality themselves, nor the graphics controller. The point is to have a semi-arduino compatible system akin to the SparkCore but much more capable, and running an open source OS. They don’t have to reverse engineer everything to achieve that…

    1. “…they are looking for a cheap component that has lots of RAM (8MB), Runs at quite a reasonable speed (300+MHz), and has lots of I/O”

      As I said: Already been done, so why bother?

      There are tons of super-cheap WiFi routers that will run various Unices and have I2C for plenty of I/O expansion, not to mention GPIO if you want to hack the board a little. And the WiFi routers just scratch the surface these days. I can’t even keep track of the number of OSH boards out there since the RPi took off. Just look at what Olimex is offering.

      1. Maybe it has to do with the price point. $10 is cheap for a working, open platform with plenty of IO. I would use it for more projects vs a Olimex board that costs 3-4x more.

      2. So let me see, the cheapest of those router modules I know of is the HLK-RM04 — roughly $13 in single quantities — which only has a few GPIO pins. I suppose I could use I2C for more GPIO but I2C is rather slow and that means I am adding another chip to the board I still have to make.

        Also those router modules are running Linux and not an RTOS, meaning that IO timing isn’t predictable unless I write a driver.

        So for a lot of the projects I do, I would have to pay more, build a more complicated board, and have more headaches to use a router module. That’s why.

        If a router module works for you, then more power to you; but understand it isn’t a panacea.

  4. “Just look at what Olimex is offering.” Yes, I got one of their boards, a little cheaper than a R-Pi but could do many of the same things- in theory. In practice, not so much; I was never able to get it completely working. R-Pi has a critical mass of users and some significant development & maintenance work behind it that Olimex (at least, when I tried it) was missing.

  5. That’s a tangent to the discussion, but although raspberry pi has a mass of users, how many of them really contribute to the development and maintenance of it? Olimex support and their boards are of a high quality, as are Hardkernel and others. Sure a beginner may be at the “deep end” with these boards, but one would hope that raspberry-pi users are now familiar enough with Linux (after how many years??) to get to grips with any Linux board without significant hand holding. There may be driver issues or documentation issues with new boards and so on, but that’s the name of the game if you’re using such development boards new. This is why having access to circuit diagrams and the full SoC documentation is useful – rather fed up of modules/router boards/raspberry pi/broadcom who hide as much of this information as possible.

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