Hardware Hacker Converts Old Mobile Terminal Into Fallout-Like Computer

Using old dusty hardware being sold on eBay, hardware hackers can transform them into modern devices that perform tasks that they were never intended. Such is the case when hardware hacker Trammel Hudson discovered some Motorola MDT-9100T Mobile Data Terminals being sold on eBay that looked straight from the Fallout universe.

According to Trammel, when he saw the terminals being sold on Ebay, he could not pass them up due to their retro-future design. The MDT-9100T was developed in the 1980s to be installed in police cars to act as a mobile data terminal with a built-in radio. What makes these terminals stand out are their dark, retro-future design with big buttons, keyboards, and monochromatic screens like we see in futuristic apocalyptic games like Fallout or movies like Alien.

Motorola MDT-9100T running Windows 3.0
Motorola MDT-9100T running Windows 3.1

Inside these terminals is a 386 PC board, an AMI bios, 4MB of RAM, an NVRAM that acts as a storage device, and Windows 3.x as the operating system.

While you can still do some fun things with Windows 3.x, Trammel instead wanted to turn it into a modern computer. To do this, he purchased a BeagleBone Black baseboard (BBB) to act as the brains for the terminal and created a ribbon cable and and keyboard interface that allowed the BBB to work with the MDT-9100’s keyboard and monitor.

When asked how much it costs to upgrade the MDT9100, Trammel told me:

The terminals are on ebay for $100-$200 and the BeagleBone Black was $45. Otherwise it has just been parts from NYC Resistor’s junk pile for the cabling, power supply and prototyping boards.”

To learn more about how Trammel upgraded the terminal, I strongly recommend you read his blog post.

Performing a Video Test Using The Ribbon Cable
Performing a Video Test Using The Ribbon Cable

Once this was done, he was able to use the BeagleBone to install Debian and start playing with various software. Due to its resemblance to a Fallout Pip-Boy, he installed the Pipboy-3000 software and you can see the terrific looking results in the image below.

Pip-Boy 3000 Software
Pipboy 3000 Software

Trammel didn’t stop there as he also installed Doom, which to me at least, looks like it just belongs on the MDT-9100T.

Running Doom
Running Doom

While Trammel has been able to install software that really showcases the terminal, in his blog post he has said that he has not had time to play with the radios. 

How to get started hacking hardware

When I spoke to Trammel about how others could get into hacking hardware he suggested people take a look at the Adafruit and Sparkfun sites. Both of these sites are online stores where you can buy kits and parts that you can use to modify existing hardware or develop your own.

What makes these sites stand out, though, is the impressive amount of tutorials and guides on how to use their circuit boards as well as for 3rd party products such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Even better, both of these sites have forums where you can discuss and learn from your peers.

Trammel also suggested people get involved with hackerspaces like NYC Resistor, which he belongs to, where you can show off your projects, learn from others, and just get to know others who have similar interests. You can find a good list of available hackerspaces near you at Hackerspaces.org.