Amazing SDR Built by 16 Year Old

[Lukas] started his epic SDR-from-scratch build when he was 16. Projects like this aren’t completed overnight. (He’s now 18. We’re impressed.)

The project itself is a Software-Defined Radio built on top of the 12-bit Analog Devices AD9364 transceiver IC. A big fat FPGA takes the data and runs it off to a USB 3.0 interface, which is necessary for the amount of data this thing will be producing — he’s got it receiving 56 MHz of bandwidth. In short, this is an SDR peripheral that’s in the big leagues.

After two years of work and (only!) three revision, [Lukas] got the thing working. Read his writeup for the blow-by-blow account. In the end, a 6-layer board was necessary for the routing to get the full speed out of the clocking, and he discovered the reason that you use exactly the specified bias resistors — the expensive ADC chip gets very hot. But he didn’t give up, and in the end he pulled off a project of immense complexity. In his own words:

I have discovered that taking on large projects, even when not knowing how to tackle problems that might arise, is a very effective way of learning for me. It’s just important to be persistent, as I’ve seen that almost any problem can be solved on your own — which is incredibly rewarding — even if you get stuck and seem to not make progress for a while.

[Lukas] is now working on the software. He’s already got a hacked osmocom driver working, so it plays nice with GNURadio.

Of course, there are tons of ways to get into SDR without building your own from scratch, but we applaud [Lukas] for going the hard way. If you’re tempted to follow in his footsteps, have a look at [Michael Ossmann]’s great talk on making the RF design process as tractable as possible.

46 thoughts on “Amazing SDR Built by 16 Year Old

  1. Problem this kind of hardware is windows software support just like hackrf darpa support it but until now not quite a lot or best software for windows airspy is better they made spectrum spy which is use sable for the airpspy j another one is lime sdr looks like has really good potential.

        1. Quite honestly, I’ve always been disappointed by the lack of support for Unix-based systems, over Windows-only support (*cough* FPGAs *cough*). Windows can easily emulate a Unix system, but the other way around is much harder to manage, given all the weird Windows drivers stuff, IMO.

  2. Very, very impressive!

    Also, it should be noted that the board in the article’s picture is the first rev of his board, not the final 6-layer full-speed one. I was confused at first because that’s clearly an OSHPark board, but OSHPark can only go up to 4 layers.

  3. Designing the circuit, learning Altium Designer, laying out the PCB, writing/debugging VHDL in Vivado, plus DIY solder paste and reflow. All completed before age 18. OK, I’m impressed. Nice work!

  4. If ever you go to a job interview or university interview, take that with you. That’s pretty much you getting the job and being able to argue about your pay and bonus package.
    Take something like that along and the interviewer won’t start being a dick asking really hard and in depth questions about microcomputer engineering because you listed it on your CV, they’ll ask you about your SDR… and since as though you built the thing you’ll know a hell of a lot more about it than they do.

    1. Eh, he’s in Germany I think. I think that most German children are mandated to design, layout and fab at least a 4 layer board before age 18. He’s just going for extra credit on the other two layers. Which we all know makes laying out a circuit board a little easier since theirs more routing space. Brown noser! He built an SDR and figured out how to use Verilog, he didn’t invent radio! And he still is having power amp issues. PSHHH!!!! Most German children have working solid state power amps by their 14th birthday! Don’t get me started on the ones into the mm wave frequencies.

      1. No, we are *forced* to do 3.14 layer boards, we have to learn Plankalk├╝l with HDL extension and not Verilog and mm waves are so 1990 we skip them and learn how to turn electrons into photons.

        Further we can spot haters from up to 2km away.

      2. Really? The german undergrads i know are useless. They would rather winge about the trains being 5 minutes late and the road works on a main road than actually turn up to a lab session, or listen to my advice (it’s good advice given that i often mark their work in labs).
        Polish undergrads though – salt of the earth.

      3. I usually don’t comment on posts here, but what you are saying is just pure bullshit – so I had to.
        To me it looks like you don’t know anything about Germans or Germany itself, so don’t try to make what he did look easy or commonplace. I bet you couldn’t pull this off in decades. No one is forced to do anything in Germany, so I guess the same percentage of children here is interested in electronics as everywhere else, making your whole comment expendable.
        I had the pleasure to meet Lukas in person, his knowledge on electronics and especially the subjects connected to this project is way more advanced than the capabilities of most graduate students. He’s quite a genius.
        And btw: Technically seen, he’s from Spain and ‘only’ won a major German science competition… So looks like you don’t know anything about him either.

        1. He’s undoubtedly referring to students from Germany rather than those in Germany.

          However the problem he mentions isn’t limited to just German students, it’s fairly common among ‘foreign’ students from the more developed ‘western’ countries to a greater or lesser degree.

          It’s obvious to me this is a mild form of culture shock. For most of them it’s probably the first time they’ve ever been away from home, for some it will also be the first time they’ve been out of the country. They need assistance, not condemnation.

          Yet when I raised the issue at a faculty meeting I was accused of everything from ‘not being qualified to judge’ to outright racism by the sociology nuts.

          1. So you’re saying the issue raised doesn’t exist?

            That foreign students in the UK and UK students in other countries, don’t suffer from culture shock?

  5. 21 y/o computer engineering student and I couldn’t begin to compare any of my class work or personal projects to this. Congratulations on your accomplishment!!! I need to get on the ball, you’re making us college kids look bad!!!

  6. It’s impressive for his age. But there are thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people all over the world that do just this every-single-day… And its not like they teach any of it in college unless your taking some special class. And the board layout software, if it’s anything decent, will do a lot of work for you. Not to mention chip makers these days go to great effort to include a workable circuit layout for their RF stuff right on the datasheet.
    Bright kid, a world of knowledge at his fingertips, two years time. it’s doable.
    I am more impressed that he stuck with it through 3 revisions. I would say that would be the fatal flaw for most people, our short attention spans.

    1. You misunderstand.. The sticking through is all that matters…

      It isn’t a small hurdle for ‘us normal people’. All engineers, designers, artists, creatives, etc. that actually complete something like this did it by sticking through… It is all that matters. If you cannot stick through, then you do not achieve in creative fields.

      The exception is art director, which can be a political appointment as opposed to based on skills, but then the art director must hire skilled people to make up for their own ineptitude.

        1. He may be trolling, but he’s quite right.

          Most, if not all, directorship appointments are political. In general the job requires a rather different skill set from line management.

          Although, I must admit I can understand why he singled out art directors. All the one’s I’ve ever met have had the artistic acumen of a bovine herbivore.

          1. Heh. The very big difference is that art directors ARE line management. They are the rough equivalent of a project manager and so really, really should have at least some of the skills required.

  7. If a teenager climbs Mt Everest the world notices, but when somebody the same age does the intellectual equivalent only HAD notices. Humanity, there is your problem right there.

    Absolutely brilliant work by Lukas Lao Beyer, and not only that he also showed an enormous amount of tenacity to push past the hard spots and get a result in the end.

  8. Brilliant!!! Just to let you know if you read this Lucas, You are a genius and you should go round big companies show them what you did. If they don’t offer you a job on the spot they would be crazy. Good luck with the future and I am sure we will see more of your work here on Hackaday.

  9. It’s pretty amazing to have genuine interest in a work like this. It will yield you happiness in your job. Most people just want(or think they want) to watch Netflix 90% of their spare time, but yet have to work and have to do it with grumpy faces.
    There’s plenty of students in every field who have absolutely no interest in it.

  10. I’m impressed. To do something like this without formal training beforehand, AND to keep revising the initial design to make it better… that shows so many great qualities: curiosity, intelligence, confidence, resourcefulness, tenacity, maturity. A great career is predicted.

  11. Anybody interested in furthering his designs? I’m looking at the AD9361 “big brother” which has 2×2 transceivers. I also think the analog front end needs an RF amp (yes, he’s working on it) and a downmixer to DC.

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