Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The "iPhone Kid" George Hotz a.k.a GeoHotz Keeps Making Moves

The iPhone kid -- young George Hotz of Glen Rock, N.J. -- came back from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) this week with his head full of new ideas.Not surprisingly, the tinkering teen's also been up to a bit of mischief on the upstate New York campus.Next month, the Bergen Academies grad is headed for Sweden to attend the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar and talk about his 3-D imaging invention (called "Project Holodeck") that netted him a US$20,000 Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) prize earlier this year. Hotz, 18, became an instant celebrity in August when he claimed to have won the worldwide race to unlock the iPhone for use on a carrier other than AT&T.In the months following Hotz's solution, which involved some soldering and modification of the phone's hardware, others have unlocked the device by changing software only.However, Hotz unquestionably took his place in the history of great hardware hacks.After the initial whirlwind of TV appearances and interviews, the teenager got tired of the media ("They all ask the same questions.") and turned down most interview requests.He spoke this week to The Record about his recent months at school and what new projects are on his mind.

Q:Can you solder in your dorm room?
A:Oh, no. I got written up for that.

Q: Are you sleeping more?
A: No. I go to sleep at 6 in the morning and get up for class at 10. I'm getting a lot of computer work done. I learned C-sharp and Vision C plus plus.

Q: What else are you working on?
A: I did a little project up at RIT. I reverse engineered the card readers, and I can build a card reader-writer for $20.

Q: For what kind of cards?
A: Any card with a magnetic stripe on the back. At RIT, your ID has a magnetic stripe on it. But any credit card, ATM card, hotel room card -- they all have that same magnetic stripe.I've understood the protocols they use and I've written some software. Using any normal computer with a sound card and a little bit of hardware which you can build for $20 you can read and write the cards.

Q: So what can you do with the cards you modify?
A: I've messed around a little with my RIT card.I can open any door at the school.

Q: Are you still using the iPhone you hacked?
A: Yes. But I hate working on the iPhone now.

Q: Any other extra-curricular projects?
A: Yes: a universal radio transceiver.

Q: So what is that going to do?
A: Well, think of an iPhone, which is a PDA with some cell phone functionality and WiFi and Bluetooth . Inside the iPhone you have individual chips for each one of those things. You have a chip for the cell phone, you have a chip for the WiFi, you have a chip for the Bluetooth.Imagine one device that's universal that can work anywhere in the radio spectrum with any modulation -- it can act like a cell phone, a GPS or your garage door opener.You could just download some code into my device and it can act like those things as well.Think of it as a universal remote for your world.

Q: Where are you with this project?
A: I wrote up a two-page abstract for it and I've been e-mailing a few companies to see if I can get development boards for a few chips.

Q: Anything else catch your eye lately?
A: Well, I've been learning about cryptology.

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