Flipper Zero: How to Create a Kid’s Multitool for Geeks

Into the new episode of the podcast “Dry the oars” Pavel Zhovner came to visit @zhovner CEO Flipper Zero or “multitool-tamagotchi” for pentesters. We discuss how the “electronic dolphin” works inside, what difficulties arise with production and design, and when, finally, it will appear on the mass market.

Podcast Authors – Developers red_mad_robot Artyom Kulakov and Roma Choryev. They invite guests from the IT industry and discuss digital product creation. We tell briefly what the last episode was about, and also attach a podcast recording.

  • 01:40 – Who is Pavel Zhovner?

  • 07:40 – How did the idea for Flipper Zero come about?

  • 15:14 – Why Flipper?

  • 18:51 – What kind of iron is inside and why?

  • 22:45 – What is the current situation with development for microcontrollers?

  • 27:55 – Is Flipper Zero planning to open source the components?

  • 31:49 – Where to order components?

  • 35:05 – What manufacturing mistakes are better not to repeat?

  • 39:46 – Why does the “flipper” have such a screen?

  • 43:20 – What should be the UX?

  • 45:03 – How does Flipper Zero work with security?

  • 49:15 – Why is the “flipper” not so easy to copy?

  • 56:02 – Where do Flipper Zero users go with device bugs?

  • 1:01:19 – Who is working on the project?

  • 1:14:04 – What are the plans for the Flipper project for the next couple of years?

  • 1:16:05 – When, how and at what price to buy a flipper?

What is Flipper Zero

Flipper Zero – “Tamagotchi for Pentesters”. A mobile and standalone multifunctional device that can be used to test radio protocols, access control systems, equipment, and more. The device can analyze various radio bands, so it can be used to clone access cards, NFC chips and intercom keys.




How the project appeared

Flipper Zero appeared in August 2020 and made a lot of noise in the IT field. Pavel launched a project on Kickstarter, and in a day he raised a million dollars (now $ 4,882,784 from 37,987 sponsors).

And the idea appeared much earlier – in his youth, our guest disassembled the original Japanese tamagotchi and soldered chips into them so that they would open the intercoms. Later, he began to engage in prototyping, research and pentesting of non-standard systems for which there were no ready-made tools, and realized that it would be great to have such a tool.

I really liked the idea of ​​a factory handy device that you can “hack” yourself. Because when you are researching ACS, you do not have ready-made tools, you are forced to create it from some improvised means. And I wanted to have a conventional Arduino in a convenient factory case that does not fall apart.

It was only later that the idea appeared to gamify the device. An example was the open source Pwnagotchi device on the Raspberry Pi Zero with an e-link screen that scans Wi-Fi in the background. Gamification is that instead of eating, he eats keys to Wi-Fi networks and is sad if the user sits in one place and the list of networks is not updated, encouraging the user to move in search of new “food” in the form of Wi-Fi passwords.

This is what the Pwnagotchi device looks like.
This is what the Pwnagotchi device looks like.

Pavel drew attention to the fact that users are emotionally involved and perceive the device as an animated object, and realized that there should be a demand for a similar device. Another prototype for the future Flipper Zero – in terms of shape – is the Pandora D605 car alarm remote control, which fraudsters use as a code grabber (electronic device for hacking the car security system). This is how the idea of ​​a completely customizable thing came about with a graphic character inside.

How the production works and what are the difficulties

Large-scale production is serious, because it is quite easy to fall for fake components, which means a lot of money.

First you need to find a plant, sign a contract. The plant itself finds proven suppliers, is engaged in quality control, orders components and takes on some of the risks. This is important because if a batch of components is found to be defective, the plant has the legal right to return them to suppliers and recoup the money.

Now that the device is already in production, Pavel admits that they have to face new unexpected problems with the processor architecture used in Flipper Zero. The device has a new STM32WB55 microcontroller, so its features have not been widely studied yet, and the development team constantly encounters new bugs in the processor itself.

Another mistake is called the production-prototyping cycle, because I really wanted to release the product faster. Because of this, in the process of research, when it is necessary to support 10 RFID protocols, they constantly came to change the schematics.

We started to support the new protocol – the old one broke, added three more protocols at the physical level – something also broke. As a result, the electronics were constantly changing, and because of this, the layout inside changed: components were added, then rearranged, then taken out on a new layer. Because of this, it was necessary to make a new case for each version – now there are 11 such versions.

According to Pavel, with today’s experience, it was possible not to touch the mechanics until the stage of finalizing the hardware and functionality. But then the guys locked up all the electronic components, and suddenly there was a crisis of components in the Chinese market, some became impossible to buy, while for others the price increased 60 times.

About screen and pixel art design

The Flipper Zero screen is a ¼ ”monochrome LCD. I wanted the device to work as long as possible and create a certain mood – referring to childhood and adolescence, when the classic Tamagotchi were popular. This screen also works in bright sunlight, unlike TFT and OLED.

From the outside it may seem that it is not difficult, but you cannot even draw a simple small circle in pixel art, you get a strange shape. Our illustrator draws all of this with the Pencil tool, pixel by pixel in Photoshop. The individual on the UX is designing the interface. We know that in this place only 16 letters are placed and we need to somehow work with it.

Pixel art design imposes some complexity in the design of the user interface, and given the small size of the device, the screen itself and the small amount of actions, navigation is very important. To work with the graphical user interface, the project team first draws all scripts and storyboards in Miro, then the programmers write the code. And the on-screen QWERTY keyboard had to be developed from scratch to control the input field. Before everything gets to the designer, the creative department of the team works out the UX.

We even had a problem with a lot of different items in the main menu. You flip through: NFC, Infrared, GPIO, plugins, iButton, Firmware update. I had to do a bunch of all sorts of submenus, some of the options can be hidden, to go to the part from the main screen. Great job, hundreds of screens.

Who makes Flipper Zero

Now there are about 30 people in the project team. It all started with joint work with industrial designers from Design Heroes, with whom Pavel shared the idea of ​​the project. When the project began to take more and more time and prospects appeared, the guys decided to “merge” and start recruiting a team.

The company is now called Flipper Devices. Structurally, it consists of such departments – mechanics (body, layout, plastic molding, appearance), electronics (hardware, boards, circuits), programmers (microcontroller firmware, desktop program, mobile application), creative department, testing department, board of directors, finance department, accounting department and lawyer.

About plans for the future

In the near future, the project team plans to release the device to the market and close obligations to everyone who participated in the Kickstarter crowdfunding (almost 40,000 people). This will allow you to get a real user experience and self-identification, because now there is no clear understanding of how people will use the multitool.

When this becomes clear, it will be clear where to move next. So far, we plan to support and actively develop software for several years, release Flipper One on Linux, and in the longer term, release other products.

How and when to buy a device

People who did not participate in the Kickstarter fundraiser can pre-order Flipper Zero at shop.flipperzero.one for $ 10. For this money, the buyer receives a promotional code that gives a discount of $ 40 when the device appears on the market in the fall of 2021. Thus, the cost for those who made a pre-order will decrease from $ 169 to $ 120. The guys are planning to sell the multitool directly and are thinking about connecting distribution networks like Amazon or even Yandex.Market.

Listen to the release on Soundcloud, Apple, Google podcasts… Come to discuss the release in Telegram chat

Useful materials

  1. Standalone Flipper Developer Blog,

  2. Flipper Devices Inc. Blog on habr,

  3. Pavel Zhovner’s Telegram channel,

  4. Pavel Zhovner’s Twitter,

  5. Pre-order Flipper Zero

Previous episodes of the Dry the Oars podcast

  • Software architect: why is he needed and what is his curse;

  • Source of truth: how an analyst teaches a manager and a developer to work together;

  • CTO of all startups: from startup to corporation and back;

  • QA for beginners: how to test a rocket or an airplane;

  • Queue at the backend: what we stand for and where to start our journey;

  • Pandemic and IT business: how to adapt and what to do next;

  • A very technical issue: about DDD and the design of complex systems;

  • Make me beautiful: how an interface designer works and how design is similar to music;

  • The law is the law: how to live in the legal world, if you are from IT.

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