Introducing YARD Stick One

This week we started shipping YARD Stick One, our latest test tool for radio systems operating below 1 GHz. The first thing you should know about it is that, unlike our popular HackRF One, YARD Stick One is not a Software Defined Radio (SDR) platform. Although we think that SDR is the overall best tool for the greatest number of wireless applications, sometimes it is beneficial to have a simpler tool for certain jobs.

YARD Stick One photo

The architecture of YARD Stick One is similar to Ubertooth One; it is a wireless transceiver IC on a USB dongle. The IC takes care of digital modulation and demodulation, giving you an easy-to-use interface for your own software running on the attached host computer. YARD Stick One is the quickest and easiest way to start experimenting with low speed digital wireless technologies including industrial control systems, wireless sensor networks, smart meters, home automation systems, garage door openers, and remote keyless entry systems.

The YARD Stick One story started when Travis Goodspeed introduced me to the IM-Me one snowy night at ShmooCon in 2010. He showed me how to use his GoodFET to program firmware on the IM-Me, and we successfully tested radio transmission from the IM-Me in the hotel bar. After returning home, I acquired an IM-Me, soldered up the GoodFET Travis had given me (which was the first surface mount PCB I ever assembled), and immediately set to work developing a spectrum analyzer application which, to this day, remains perhaps the most useful software available for the popular, hackable toy.

Months later, Travis and I presented Real Men Carry Pink Pagers in which we encouraged others to use the CC1110-based platform for testing and experimenting with digital radio communication systems. About a year after that, atlas started showing people how to use the CC1111, the USB-enabled version of the CC1110, to accomplish the same things with a dongle connected to a laptop. His RfCat software allowed people to do things in a few lines of Python that Travis and I achieved only by compiling C for the 8051 microcontroller inside the CC11xx.

RfCat made experimentation with low speed digital wireless systems easier than ever before, but it wasn't adopted as widely as I hoped it would be. Probably the biggest reason for that is the fact that, for a long time, the only way to get RfCat up and running was to buy a CC1111 development board, assemble a GoodFET yourself, and then use the GoodFET to write RfCat firmware onto the CC1111 board. It became apparent early on that we needed a device designed specifically for RfCat, one that ships with RfCat firmware and is ready to use. I designed the ToorCon 14 badge, which was a great success, but I wanted to make an even better platform available to the world.

YARD Stick One was intended to be the ideal platform for RfCat. In addition to shipping with RfCat firmware, YARD Stick One is designed to operate effectively over the entire frequency range of the CC1111. All of the previous CC1111 boards that I know of are designed to work in only one frequency band. For example, you can get a CC1111 development board for 900 MHz or one for 433 MHz, but, prior to YARD Stick One, you couldn't find a CC1111 board that worked well in both those bands.

Where previous development boards have had built-in antennas, YARD Stick One has an SMA connector that allows the use of higher performance external antennas. It also has receive and transmit amplifiers for improved RF performance. Like everything we make, YARD Stick One is open source hardware.

It took a long while to complete YARD Stick One and get it manufactured, but we are finally shipping. Over the past couple years I've been able to get pre-release boards out to atlas and a few other folks who are active in wireless security research. For example, Samy Kamkar used YARD Stick One for the remote keyless entry system research that he presented at DEF CON in August.

To get started with YARD Stick One, I recommend atlas's videos along with several blog posts written by early adopters of RfCat. You'll notice that, even though the users of RfCat tend to be well versed in SDR, they find RfCat useful to get hacking even faster on digital wireless communication systems.