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Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?

Posted by jcabrer 
Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 29, 2007 07:23AM
I just picked up a Cricut Paper Cutter a couple of days ago, and I'm convinced it can be hacked into a general CNC very easily, with the right expertise, which I lack!

They're on sale until the 30th at Michael's for $139.00 if anyone is interested.

There is a USB port, which Windows XP recognises as an FTDI FT8U2XX Device (USB to Serial), which leads me to believe that there is the possibility to access the stepper controller via the USB.

The device uses font/shape cartridges that contain an ATMEL ATMEGA16 and some type of Flash Memory that I have not yet identified. If anyone is interested and capable of reading the contents of this cartridge, I can lend it out.

My goals are to determine what CNC language is being used to define the shapes, and to figure out if control via USB is possible.

Beyond that, I can see the potential to adapt the guts of the machine to a RepRap frame.
Anonymous User
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 29, 2007 10:55PM
Google Images links to a printer-looking thing. Is that it? [www.cricut.com.au]

Most of the time, the program memory of microcontrollers are read-protected and will destroy all of the memory if the read-protection is on and you try to read from it. At least thats how Microchip's read-protection scheme works. I dont have any experience with Atmel chips, to be honest.

The thing that makes me wary of using one such device is that the hardware and software are closed source to me. If you replaced the processor with a clean Atmel, that would work, though, and program your own software. GCC works with Atmel chips. ^_^

Still, it doesnt have a Z axis.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 30, 2007 06:56AM
I've posted pictures of the inside on flickr. Search for Cricut or look here [www.flickr.com]

The board is simple enough. As for reading or writing the chip, I think then font cartridge is the better approach. The cart uses an ATMEGA16. Need to sniff the lines there to see what's going on.

By the way, I does have a Z axis. Z is interpreted as blade pressure. Thin paper requires less, thick board requires more. I tried cutting copper foil with it right out of the box, and while it did cut it, the blade was dulled to the point where it would not cut paper well. Luckily, it comes with replacements. I guess stronger blades could be found/made.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 30, 2007 07:20AM
interesting. you could probably hack that into a circuit board cutter pretty easily!
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 30, 2007 07:41AM
I called Cricut this morning and asked if they had any plans to offer a hackable platform consisting of the positioning part of their printer that people like us could use. They said that nobody had asked and that it was an interesting concept. I pitched the idea as similar what the rhoomba vacuum cleaner people did when they began selling the movement system for their vacuum 'bot as a base for other people's 'bot projects.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 30, 2007 08:30PM
They are either a new employee in customer support, or they lied to you. There is a lot of talk about the topic on their own forums, and in fact all over the place. The real issue is that by making it possible to design on the PC, they are hurting their Font Cartridge Sales ($80+ each!)

From a business point of view, it makes sense. From the consumer point ??? Not so much.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
April 30, 2007 08:53PM
Ah well, there you are then. spinning smiley sticking its tongue out
I am very interested in this as well. You say you haven't identified the flash chip in the cartrige, is it not marked? If it is, what are you letters/numbers on the chip?

I find that image of your "spider" hack hillarious... I was surprised that it worked but it makes sense that they have at least one font set onboard.. Have you tried other combinations of pins to see if you get a different fontset?
Here is an idea (haven't confirmed it yet)..

I think the cricut usb interface is a built in version of the USB JTAG interface. An example board would be [olimex.com]. As you can see this device uses the same chip to convert usb-serial as the cricut. Have you tried downloading the software from atmel yet to see if you can interface with it via the usb interface?

Judging by the faq's on cricuts website they are saying that this usb port is for troubleshooting/upgrading machines. If that is the case it would make sense that it is just a jtag interface.

It would be nice to be able to get a memory dump of the firmware of this machine.. I can't imagine that reverse-engineering the firmware would be too difficult (disclaimer: I have no basis for that comment smiling smiley ). Once that is done, either a new firmware could be developed or you could determine if the existing firmware supports commands being sent via the usb port.

If it is indeed a jtag interface you would be able to send test firmware builds to the machine without worrying too much about messing it up.. since you could just reprogram it with the original.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
May 02, 2007 09:51PM
I've been thinking the same thing. I don't yet know enough about the AVR and ATMEL software to venture a guess at how to go in through USB. I did try connecting with some open source JTAG software that I found on SourceForge, but it did not recognize any device.

I'll spend some time on that tonight. Thanks for the info.
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
May 02, 2007 09:54PM
The Flash Chip is a 4 Megabit ATMEL 45DB041B
Maintaining font cartridge sales isn't a good excuse. In the early days, Steve Jobs kept Apple closed to all but Apple company products which made Bill Gates a very rich man. I wonder how many people haven't bought a Cricut because of the over priced cartridges. If they sold an interface software package that used True Type fonts the machines would fly off the shelves. Then they could focus on development of the Cricut II or Cricut Mega. The current business model may best be named the Cricut Exterminator. Someone hacking the Cricut is the least of their worries. Their biggest threat comes from the boardroom.

I firmly beleive that some scrapbooking nut out there has a spouse who writes "C" code in their sleep and understands hardware as well. That is the person we need to appeal to. If I were that person I would write the application and give it away open source. I'm not, so we will just have to sit here and stew!

Mark
could you skip the usb and emulate a cartrige or at least reprogram it? Would you start by figuring out how to pirate the cartrige, then once you can suck the programming from the atmel flash chip, youll at least know how to move it and maybe manipulate it. If this thing doesnt do anything with out a card but glow, then I would try to get in throught the cartrige. Someone already mentioned the Z axis, just write the code in tap your magic wand.
On the cricut messageboard, they are discussing how ProvoCraft has just announced an upcoming software which will allow cricuts users to hook up their machines to their computers via usb and 'manipulate' the existing fonts/shapes in the cartridges. From what I understand, you are still required to have the cartridge and the software will allow you to modify what is already available on the cartridge. As an example, you can 'weld' letters together so they cut as 'one' word rather than individual letters. I know nothing about hacking or anything like that, just a stay at home unemployed mom who can't afford the cartridges! Does this suggest then that the capability already exists within the machine and the cartridge/s it is just a matter of having that software to bridge the two? Hope that makes sense! I hope someone figures it out soon so I can hack my cricut!
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
July 21, 2007 08:19PM
So...selectively weld a bunch of periods together...at the smallest allowed font...
Yes! then it won't be such a pain to lift off those dots one by one!
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
July 26, 2007 06:53PM
This is really great info. I've been looking for a lot of what you've covered Dr Jack! Thanks a lot.

I just got the Cricut put back together. I've built a custom cable to sniff the cart. Now I need to complete the sniffing app in LabVIEW. I'll keep everyone posted on results.
Have you guys seen this one:
[www.youtube.com]

Its called Pazzles Creative Cutter Mini and has a software interface running on a laptop/PC. It can cut letters/shapes etc. Good thing is that you are not limited to cartridges and any TT font can be used. Seems faster than cricut.

So hacking this one is a piece of cake. All you need to do is transform your shapes/slices into a TT font (there are freeware that can do this) and cut out each slice.

Yes, there is no z axis smiling smiley
When companies do this and they do, like embriodery machines, printer manufacturers, i dont think it works in the long term. people either get board with paying high prices for a few pictures and go onto something else because boredom sets in with the same motif etc or in the case of printers they chuck the machine and find a machine that uses cheaper ink cartridges. again the people who do crafts are inventive people and to be stuck with what someone else has designed must feel well ...boring. I'm sure more craftspeople would rather pay a bit more and have a open source unit where they would get 10 times more fun. I dont have a cricut and would never buy one (my sister bought 1). Again who want to be limited to so few fonts. What happens when u want to do a halloween card ..you have to spend another
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
October 29, 2007 07:10PM
Worst case, you yank out the PCB and replace it with a couple RepRap stepper motor boards.
auramaximus
Re: Cricut Automatic Paper Cutter - Hackable?
November 08, 2007 07:49AM
I'm sure some of you have seen this 1 already smiling smiley...

1st Cricut Hack!
[www.youtube.com]
Great idea...would love to hear how this can be done!
Has anyone thought about maybe trying to do a dump of one of the carts? And see what type of image its useing. Because if its what i think it is. It's just a little bitty chip holding a font. if so. Maybe a Cart with a Smart Media card slot could be built. That way you can upload as many as you want. And just keep a numbed list of what number the front is. And put in a numeric display. a little lcd. With 3 digets on it. So when you press the button. It loads the number of the font inline. And then loads it to the chip its self. Or something of that nature. I donno im just trying to think of a few things here. My girl just got one. And im wanting to make it so she never has to pay for those dumb carts again. Stupid 40-80 buck crap lol. I got like 8 million fonts. So yea =P

Rob,
I have a Cricut. The company released a trial of their software that runs the machine from your PC via USB. The trial is a locked version that will only run with the original "George" cartridge that comes with the machine. Once you buy and enter the serial number, you can use the software with any cartridge that you have. You can see examples of all cartridges in the software, but can only cut with the cartidge plugged into the Cricut.
I would love to be able to use the software without the cartridges!
Cricut Design Studio is the name of the software program, I downloaded it from the Cricut site.
I am new here and just looking for a way to use the Cricut Design Studio Software on my other Desktop Plotter(craft Robo) I need someone way smarter than me to help me figure out how to convert the <.cut files> into something I can drag into inkscape (or something similar) and outline from there. Any computer genius out there who can help. I have tried downloading conversion programs and all I come up with is a blank screen, I feel like i am close, but am missing a piece of info. HELP?
Hello all,
I have read the trail of posts on this subject. My wife just got a Cricut and we were able to hack the fonts that only require PCB trace shorts. I am a software engineer and am interested in some of the inquiries regarding getting the Design Studio to work.

As far as the cartridges, I think that the FLASH devices can be removed from the PCB and copied. That way, you can buy 1 cartridge and possibly "switch" FLASH devices via switches, sockets, etc. to change fonts. As far as hacking the protocol from the cartridge to the Cricut - Not so sure about that one. If anyone had information to start out with, I'd be interested.

I know very little about the system right now so any info would be helpful.
I AM GLAD TO SEE THAT SOMEONE IS STILL READING THIS! I MYSELF DO NOT OWN THE CRICUT, BUT A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE DOES, AS I STATED EARLIER, I OWN THE CRAFT ROBO. I USE FREEWARE CALLED INKSCAPE TO HELP CREATE FILES AND CONVERT CLIPART INTO VECTOR BASED FILES SO THE CUTTER CAN CUT THEM.. I AM BY NO MEANS A COMPUTER WHIZ SO DONT KNOW MUCH OF WHAT I KNOW CAN HELP YOU. I DOWNLOADED THE FREE VERSION OF THE DESIGN STUDIO AND TRIED CONVERTING THE .CUT FILE INTO SOMETHING THAT INKSCAPE CAN READ (TIF, GIF, BMP, JPG) I CAN COVERT THE FILES BUT THEY ARE BLANK WHEN I OPEN THEM IN THE CONVERTED EXTENSION. I HAVE MY BROTHER WHO IS MUCH BETTER WITH COMPUTERS WOKING ON IT RIGHT NOW. I HAVE WRITTEN TO PROVO CRAFT AND ASKED THEM WHY THEY DO NOT MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME TO USE THE SOFTWARE(GREEDY I KNOW IS THE ANSWER,BUT ASKED ANYWAY) WILL BE CHECKING BACK TO SEE IF YOU HAVE ANY PROGRESS IN THE MATTER. I WILL BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO PURCHASE A CRICUT IF ANYONE CAN FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET THE DESIGN STUDIO TO WORK WITHOUT BUYING THE CARTRIDGES! GOOD LUCK AND I WILL BE OF ANY HELP I CAN!
The cheap Chinese vinyl cutters on ebay might be a better way to go here, their comms are serial or usb and easily capturable, even published in some cases.
Andrea Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I am new here and just looking for a way to use
> the Cricut Design Studio Software on my other
> Desktop Plotter(craft Robo) I need someone way
> smarter than me to help me figure out how to
> convert the <.cut files> into something I can
> drag into inkscape (or something similar) and
> outline from there. Any computer genius out there
> who can help. I have tried downloading conversion
> programs and all I come up with is a blank screen,
> I feel like i am close, but am missing a piece of
> info. HELP?



you hacked the fonts? any way you could share the method? thanks
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