Alternative to Intel’s SD card-sized Edison: SD cards

During the opening keynote of this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich took the limelight opportunity to show off Edison, a miniature computer packed into an SD card.

Intel would have us believe its Quark microprocessor that can run Linux, has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth modules, and will be able to access an app store is unlike anything before it. But the truth is that the SD cards you’ve got inserted into your digital camera, laptops, and desk drawers are already capable micro-computers.

Not exactly ready for consumer use as a computing device, SD cards could still be of interest to hackers or programming enthusiasts looking to build a prototype of some sort of wearable technology, as this blog post from bunnie:studios details. A presentation at the Chaos Computer Congress that can be watched on Youtube also reveals how many SD cards prove to be a ubiquitous source of microcontrollers.

In short, the blog post explains that since flash memory is so prone to errors and bad sectors, each SD card requires a microcontroller to run a set of error-correcting algorithms to provide reliable storage. This chip is a modified ARM CPU that can achieve nearly 100 MHz performance levels.

The findings outlined by these security researchers have security implications. They detail how they reverse engineered one brand of chips to execute code and run a “man in the middle attack” on SD cards which can be hard to detect.

But from the DIY perspective, using SD cards as a cheap source of microcontrollers is intriguing. Data logging is one potential use of such hacked devices.

Of course these cheap microcontrollers don’t compare to Intel’s Edison, described as a full PC fit inside of an SD card. Plus Intel will make it considerably easier to develop applications for the platform with an SDK, and encouragement to do so with a “Make it Wearable” competition with a top prize of $500,000.

But if you just can’t wait until mid-2014 to get going on making your intelligent baby monitor a reality, maybe pickup some SD cards to get started.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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