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Extracting the program from a SX controller? — Parallax Forums

Extracting the program from a SX controller?

GNBGNB Posts: 2
edited 2015-05-12 08:56 in Microcontrollers
This is a long shot but I’m hoping someone here can point me in the right direction.

I have project at work where I need to modify the programing in an older industrial machine control that uses a SX28 and SX18 chip. I don’t need to make major changes, just make adjustments to some limit and warning parameters. But in any case, I need to extract the current programing, gain some basic understanding of it, modify and reload it.

I don’t have any programing background, just some basic electronics, I am willing to learn but this might be something I would farm out if I can find the right contact/company.

Where to start?



  • ercoerco Posts: 19,942
    Gary: I'm surprised that no one has answered you yet. Must be all the summer distractions going on. I'm not an SX user, but if it's like the BASIC Stamp, there is unfortunately no way to get the code out of a programmed chip, even just to tweak it. It's touted as a security feature (no one can steal your code) but it's a pain, no doubt about it. Hopefully this bump may get someone with SX experience to chime in.
  • erco, thank you for the information.
    I have spoke with a Parallax Tech and it looks like there is little chance of modifying the code on the chip. We have decided to remove the SX based control board and go with a standard industrial PLC.
  • If it was possible to do this i would never buy another chip again. Some of us don't want our source in the public domain.
  • Actually, I believe that similar to the Microchip PIC devices, the SX had a fuse that would protect the build-in EEPROM from a binary download.

    If one did not select the protection, one was able to download the binary and then reverse engineer an assembler language program.

    It is possible to do but is is not cheap. There are some teams out there doing this on a wide variety of devices. Their methods are very interesting reading.

  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    If it was possible to do this i would never buy another chip again. Some of us don't want our source in the public domain.
    Which is exactly why one should try to avoid closed source solutions for anything.

    I have seen this play out so many times. Old code in old systems, no longer supported, the original creator no longer exists or is not interested in helping. This must have cost industry billions in wasted effort and replacement over the years.

  • potatoheadpotatohead Posts: 10,188
    edited 2015-11-12 20:48
    The dead programmer problem can be just as expensive as the hungry programmer problem.

    Of course we want the hungry people to earn a living, but we also want to avoid paying for artificial value too.

    On our shop floor, we have some older machines that have been modified. Those mods give us a very serious compete time advantage. When doing that, we actually targeted older hardware so that the modification is open and useful.

    The new machines have a closed firmware layer. Very spiffy, but difficult to adapt to the scenario we need for the advantage. They will do it at considerable expense, and we can't see the means and methods, only spec.

    I won't have this at all. 30 lives depend on that stream of money. We own it and control our own destiny, or we don't do it.

    We used a mechanical solution. Cams relays, analog timers and a few switches. It's open, and we can see it work too. It is kind of amazing to see very simple, crude tech outperform modern. Any reasonable person could work through it and continue too. This is extremely high value.

    The ugly bit about it is the modern machine could do even more, but closed software makes maximizing it painful, difficult, and something we would not own and be able to service and enhance over time.

    For this case, the effort to make a new controller exceeded just using basic electromechanical means. 50's era tech it is then. I found that hilarious. And sobering.

    Ask the farmers fighting with John Deere over tractors and closed software. Older tractors have become quite valuable for the same reasons we buy old tech on ebay.

    Software can add huge value, but it can also add huge costs and risks. When making things, avoiding dependencies can really matter, as can having control in house.
    The guy who helped us with the modifications is making a killing! Nobody will intern with him too. The vendor of those machines is openly hostile, yet unable to offer the same value their own machines used to provide with relative ease! Their reason?

    They themselves are locked out for having incorporated closed systems...

    It's crazy sometimes.

  • LoopyBytelooseLoopyByteloose Posts: 12,537
    edited 2015-11-13 08:11
    It seems that with the advent of the personal computers and high technology, we arrived at a new paradigm of greed in terms of 'intellectual property'

    Copyrights, trademarks, and patents for Americans have their roots in the Constitution and the founding of the nation. With much of the idea being to protect the little guy. But it has all gotten a bit topsy turvy.

    I think we have all gone through waves of software updates that created planned obsolecence and pushed us to purchase the next generation that we didn't really need (remember the Y2K threat?). This all went so far as to push digital TV onto the consumer and now the retirement of G2 cellular phones with the U.S., Australia, and other nations that is planned for 2016.

    If I had a company with 30 or so employess, I certainly would prefer any production line machinery allowing me to DIY up-grades of electronics and software or being completely dependent upon devices that can actually be programed proprietarily to act irradically after a give period of good performance.

    Why we have seen with pollution control on diesel VWs has pretty much shown that anything might happen in a world where we have to depend on black boxes. The automotive industry as good into a situation where all the profit is in the finance interest and the after-market service visits to dealership.

    About the only thing one can do is to learn to manage electronics and software in-house and provide your own maintences and replacement. Otherwise, you just end up working for the guy that sold you 'that equipment'.

    But that doesn't mean that you should use devices that encrypt and protect the software that you developed for in-house use. Every business has a right to protect its own 'trade secrets'.
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Good point Loopy.

    If one develops some software to enhance ones production capability, in terms of speed, efficiency, flexibility, reliability, whatever, then perhaps one does not want anybody just borrowing that code from the equipment on shop floor or PC's in the office. There is no onus on anyone to distribute source code for anything they keep in house. Go ahead, encrypt it, use dongles (remember them) put it behind fuse bits.

    Problem comes when a software vendor provides the code, binary only, and then has you and many other companies by the balls for decades after.

    I've always wondered how it came to be that copyright got applied to distribution of programs in binary executable form. It was not always so. I thought copyright was all about "promotion of the creative arts". Well, sure, if I get a book or movie or picture I have it to look at forever. When I get a binary executable I have no such thing. I can learn nothing from it. I get tied to the machines and other hardware (dongles, custom peripherals etc) it requires.

    Bill Gates and co. should never have got copyright protection of their works until they actually published it in a way that "promotion of the creative arts" applied.

  • LoopyBytelooseLoopyByteloose Posts: 12,537
    edited 2015-11-13 11:10
    Well, it isn't just computers that are doing this.

    If you ever owned a Triumph motorcycle with Whitworth screws, nuts, and bolts - not Metric and not American (was that British standard?), you could wait weeks to be sent a missing screw or you had to deal with a Triumph dealership.

    Or you had to drill out and re-tap everything to a more available choice and DIY repairs. Lamborghinni is still doing the same.

    I don't have any problem with proprietary knowledge and trade secrets when a company has really produced something that is far superior and desires to recover their costs and some profit.

    I do have a problem with so-called 'planned obsolence'. We are being pushed into replacing rather than repairing because no replacement parts and no service support are available. Software code can self-destruct or it can be put on a perpetual lease without right of ownership. IBM even refused to sell mainframes, just wanted to lease them by the hour.

    I live across the street from a TV repairman and I just know his enterprise is doomed. It seems unfair to me that big businesses that have the ability to plan, take the benefit of economies of scale, and produce new innovative products are not willing to accept that there are or were a culture of repairmen out there that did more than fix their devices. They often are or were part of the culture that validated that a product was superior and worth paying a premium for.

    But now, we have OEM everything with not much of an idea about who really is producing a superior product. And you get pages and pages of EUL that no one really understands.

    I believe Bill Gates claimed the code was a 'trade secret'. I am not sure, but I think it is the look and feel of Windows and MSDos that is covered under copyright.

    Nonetheless, if he had provided the code to IBM as they had desired, we would likely have been no better off.

    Simply put, I have a few of my own 'trade secrets' that I prefer not to share with anyone. Everybody should cultivate a nestegg of info that helps them prosper. The huge enterprises will cannibalize the success of a small enterprise any way they can.
  • Heater.Heater. Posts: 21,233
    Well, it isn't just computers that are doing this....If you ever owned a Triumph motorcycle with Whitworth screws, nuts, and bolts - not Metric and not American (was that British standard?), you could wait weeks to be sent a missing screw or you had to deal with a Triumph dealership.
    That is a completely unfounded statement. And incorrect. As an owner of an old Brit machine you should know better.

    The Whitworth thread (BSW) was the first ever national and open standard for screw threads. Drawn up by Joseph Whitworth, a great engineer and pioneer during the industrial revolution, in 1840 something. Prior to that every company was doing their own thing. We can commend all the old British motor cycle and other manufacturers for adhering to it. Quite the opposite to the "lock in" you are alluding to.

    It's hardly their fault that the Yanks went off and did their own thing. Don't forget the metric threads were not standardized until almost exactly 100 years later !

    Yep, I had Triumph, BSA, Matchless, with a few misadventures to Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki.
    Or you had to drill out and re-tap everything to a more available choice and DIY repairs.
    I'm shocked that anyone would do that. It's barbaric.
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