Ugh, BLOBs

A project log for Robot Radar Module

60 GHz radar distance sensor for your robot

Ted YapoTed Yapo 06/04/2018 at 03:584 Comments

Finish this proof:

1. All closed-source binary-only firmware BLOBs suck.

2. The software for the A111 radar part is supplied as a closed-source binary-only firmware BLOB.

3. Therefore, it follows that ______________

When I first saw this part and noticed that it used an SPI interface, I was pretty psyched.  SPI interfaces are easy and supported everywhere.  Then I agreed to Acconeer's license so I could download their software to try the part out.  It turns out that they don't document the SPI interface at all, but merely provide pre-compiled code that interfaces with the part.  The license agreement allows me to distribute a binary containing their drivers as long as I license it to end users under an agreement at least as restrictive as the one I agreed to (at least I think it says that - don't rely on my opinion here).

So, OK, I won't use their software (except maybe to initially test the PCB).  But, in their agreement, it says I can't reverse-engineer the part (as pointed out in the comments below - I can't reverse engineer the software, but having signed the agreement, this practically means the part, too).  So, trying to figure out the SPI protocol/commands is off limits.  If I had just bought the part and slapped it on the PCB, I could have hacked away at the protocol to see if I could get it to do anything.  But, having signed the agreement, I don't think I can do that anymore.

So, this project may just end up being a breakout PCB for the part, without any useful software of my own.  You could still use it with Acconeer's software (assuming you agree to their terms).  On the positive side, it should cost less than $20, as opposed to $250 for the two development kit boards you would otherwise need to purchase from Acconeer.  In that sense, it will be a success if it works, but the software situation is still quite disappointing.

I've attached their software license agreement in its entirety below.

This is all garbage - it's a chip, people - sell me the part and tell me how to program it - don't go full Microsoft with this paranoid licensing nonsense!

SOFTWARE LICENSE AGREEMENT LIMITED LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR ACCONEER MATERIALS IMPORTANT - READ CAREFULLY: This Limited License Agreement ("LLA") is made between you (either an individual person or a single legal entity, who will be referred to in this LLA as "You" or “Licensee”) and Acconeer AB, a company incorporated under the laws of Sweden (hereinafter “ACCONEER”) for the software licensed materials that accompany this LLA, including any associated media, printed materials and electronic documentation (the "Licensed Materials"). The Licensed Materials include any software updates and supplements, that Acconeer may provide You or make available to You after the date You obtain the Licensed Materials to the extent that such items are not accompanied by a separate license agreement or other terms of use. 1. 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Mikael wrote 01/19/2019 at 14:00 point

What happened to this? Are you still working on it or?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ted Yapo wrote 01/19/2019 at 15:06 point

It got stuffed into a drawer after I realized there was little hope of an open-source driver without reverse-engineering the part, and that I had agreed to not do so in order to download the evaluation software.

If you're interested, you might check if the software or documentation has improved to the point where an open-source driver could be written. Or, if you haven't signed the agreement, you could reverse engineer the protocol yourself.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Clara Hobbs wrote 06/04/2018 at 18:55 point

Where in that license does it say you can't reverse-engineer the part?  I see where it says you can't reverse engineer the Licensed Materials, but it doesn't look like the chip itself is included in the Licensed Materials.  In which case, you could still send it random SPI commands until it maybe does something useful, just so long as you don't use their code in any way to do it.

Of course, now that you signed the license and have their code, even if you make your own code from scratch that can make use of the chip, how could you prove in court that you didn't reverse engineer their code?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Ted Yapo wrote 06/04/2018 at 19:11 point

Yes, I think you're technically correct - I didn't sign a license before buying the part on DigiKey. But I think you're also correct that having signed the document to access the software it would be up to me to prove I didn't use the licensed materials in any way to figure the thing out.

So, if some enterprising hacker out there bought one of these parts, plopped it on a PCB and figured it out, they would be in the clear.

There's a provision for canceling the agreement by deleting/destroying the licensed materials, too, but again, I'd have to prove I didn't use the materials to reverse engineer the software before I deleted them.

I think I'm hopelessly legally contaminated with respect to this part.  It's a shame, too, because this seems like it would be a very useful module.

Maybe they will come around.  I'll send an email and ask for open documentation on the part's SPI interface so I can program it directly.  I guess it's not really fair to condemn them before asking them to do the right thing.

  Are you sure? yes | no