Hacking the Xyron Design Runner Chapter 1: Homebrew USB Card Reader/Writer

Hacking the Xyron Design Runner

Chapter 1: Homebrew USB Card Reader/Writer

This launches a series of articles on a truly neat device, the Xyron Design Runner. This device is a mini handheld printer, using a optical-mouse type motion detection and custom inkjet cartridge driver to print little designs and phrases on scrapbooks and such, just by sliding the device sideways across the page. Cool!

Fig 1 – The Xyron Design Runner

We’ve had one collecting dust in the “To-be-hacked” pile, and finally got around to actually getting something working. Truth be told, we put a bunch of effort into it a year ago and only got abysmal read/write speeds with lots of data errors. That crappy reader has been mothballed in favor of using a Teensy, and it works like a freakin charm!

Here’s our Teensy plug (and no, we don’t get free shit from them. Although we’d totally accept it!)

Teensy Rocks. You should get one

Hahaha. In all honesty, we respect the Arduino and all the awesome development that it has enabled. Like blinky LED’s. But for this project, you’ll really want the speed of USB comms. Not that our little reader firmware couldn’t be ported back to Arduino, just that it would be dog slow. Feel free to, if you like. This project could also be easily ported to any of the other USB AVR devices, and probably just recompiled for another ATMEGA board if it even requires a recompile at all. Might just run on a breakout board without any changes. But still, get a Teensy.

Back to the story of the XDR (Xyron Design Runner). Like early-generation ebooks, this device rose and fell due to overenthusiastic DRM. You can only print what’s on the little memory cards, and you can bet your ass that the retail value of fourty pieces of crappy clip art is exponentially inflated by putting it on said little card. Now a hundred bucks for a cool little printer is a price that is fair to both buyer and seller. But $49.99 for each card kills the buzz pretty quick. That cute little teddy bear just ain’t worth a whole dollar, no matter how many times you print him around the border of your memo. And with no way to send clip art from the PC to the little card you’re pretty much stuck with what Xyron gives you.

There is also a second category of memory card: Font Cards. With one of these, and another $100 device (The Xyron Disc Maker) you can generate your own phrases using a font of Xyron’s choosing. Assuming you shell out another $50 for a “Xyron Blank Disc” to write to. The concept is certainly cooler than clip art, but fonts get old quick as well. It’s like the 80′s – everyone wants to write one Christmas card using 6 different novelty fonts, but a month later you type everything in Arial because that’s the default and none of the others is interesting enough to reach up and click the selection box. Meh.

Now of course those cards LOOK tempting – just like SD cards – but like we, you, and every other joe that’s ever seen one knows: They can’t be read in a normal SD card reader. Wooo, mysterious! Untold goodies and technical intrigue (and clip art) that we can’t get our hands on – so frustrating!

Well you’re lucky you dropped by, as all mysteries will soon be revealed. But the XDR story continues..

The thing that is really interesting about all of this is that there seems to have been a little cross-pollination in a company called PrintDreams. Presently, they are developing hand-held printers that blow the doors off the Xyron – random swiping and all kinds of technical excellence. It appears they were the design team for the Design Runner, and later launched their own (non-Xyron) product called XDR PC-Link. This is a card reader and software package to write your own clip-art and phrases onto the Xyron Blank Cards to be used in the Design Runner. Neat. We hope they got blessing for this from Xyron, because launching an unlicensed product using the detailed technical information generated during a round of consulting is a giant flaming no-no.

As tells the rise and fall of the Design Runner. It’s almost impossible to find in brick-and-mortar stores nowadays, and will probably die out entirely soon as the print cartridges (also way overpriced, but the world tolerates ink that costs more than gold) are becoming harder and harder to find. The prices for the XDR have fallen to about $70 from Amazon.com or even cheaper from ebay. Not quite fire sale, but we can see the supply outweighing the demand. So get one now if you’re interested, they may not be around for long.

Now we know you’re not here for story-time. You want us to shut up and dump the technical details on the card, the schematic, the firmware, and the source. So you better browse over to page 2, dearies, and get cookin.

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