Ever been out in a big field and need to tell something to Joe at the other end? If you’re lucky Sally is in between and you can shout to Sally to tell Joe your message. Maybe Joe shouts back to Sally in reply.
The higher radio frequencies, say 50 MHz and above, typically only propagate within line of sight. Add in limited power and antennas from a hand-held, typically under 5 watts and the ubiquitous ‘rubber ducky’ antenna, and you cannot talk very far. Mobile rigs in vehicles with 50 watts and larger antennas do better but in reality they don’t help all that much.
What really makes an improvement is height to improve range. Height provides a longer line of sight with fewer obstructions. Hams created repeaters and put them on towers, buildings or hill tops to expand the radio horizon. The ultimate repeaters are space satellites. Can’t get much higher than that. A close second are balloons going to near space altitudes with repeaters which will provide multi-state coverage.
Besides providing height, a repeater will also have higher output power and much better antennas, especially important for receiving weak signals from distant handhelds. A signal comes in and is repeated back out on a slightly different frequency. All modern ham gear on these frequencies is setup to handle this offsetfrequency operation.
Whether hams came up with the idea is arguable, but they were certainly there during the early days.
If you’re just getting into software-defined radio (SDR) but you find some of the math and/or terminology a bit of hurdle, you could absolutely do worse than to check out these SDR tutorials by [Michael Ossmann]. While they’re aimed at people using his HackRF One tool (which we love), most of the tutorial videos are very generally applicable, and we realized that we hadn’t mentioned them explicitly before. Shame on us!
Ossmann focuses on SDR using the open-source GNURadio Companion GUI tool, which makes implementing a lot of cool SDR techniques as easy as dragging and dropping items into a flow diagram. If you want an overview of GNURadio or SDR in general, these videos are a must-watch.
In particular, we loved his entries on complex numbers and complex numbers in DSP because he goes through the whole rationale behind using imaginary numbers in radio work with a graphical presentation that helps add rationale to the otherwise slightly spooky math. Heck, watch these two even if you’re not interested in radio.
The newest entry, covering DSP filters includes a great hands-on introduction to finite impulse response (moving average) digital filters. We really like the practical, simulation-based approach presented in the video — it’s just perfect for a quick introduction.
So if you’re looking for a relatively painless way to get into SDR, grab yourself an RTL-SDR dongle, burn yourself a GNURadio Live DVD, and work through these videos.
Ham radio put another satellite in orbit, the FOX-1A. Not many groups have the long-term hacking credentials of hams. Their tradition extends back to the first days of radio communications, which puts the group well over a century old. This newest satellite launched in the early hours of October 8th and, after deployment, was heard later the same day. Anyone with the ability to listen on the 2m band can hear FOX-1A. Those licensed as hams will be able to communicate using a 70cm transmitter while listening on 2m.
This satellite is using the cube-sat format and ‘ride sharing’ through a program offered by NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Twelve other nano-satellites rode along with the FOX-1A. These 10 cm cubes are used for commercial, educational, and non-profit projects. The purpose of today’s satellites covered not only ham radio but educating students in satellite construction, land management by American Indian tribes, and space to ground laser communication. Yeah, what’s cooler than space lasers? Video about the FOX-1A after the break.
One of our avid readers, [Niklas Melton] loves RC planes. After getting into 3D printing, the next logical step was to start building is own planes… And now he’s done it!
He calls it the Air-Form 1 Micro RC plane, paying homage to the FormLabs resin printer he used. All of the parts except for the electronics were printed using a tough resin. It’s designed to take balsa wood wings into clips he designed into the parts. A 150mAh battery provides the power with a motor that exerts about 54g of thrust — not bad considering the entire thing only weighs 60g! Unfortunately he doesn’t have any video clips of it flying, though he assures us it does indeed fly — if you’re interested in building your own, he’s uploaded all the files to a page on Thingiverse.
As more advanced 3D printers come down in price, like the SLA technology, it becomes possible to design and 3D print even more complex parts. Some of the resins available have now some pretty amazing properties. One of our readers replaced a servo spline gear with one he printed — which works even better than the original!
What do you get if you cross a software defined radio (SDR) and an iconic children’s drawing toy that we are sure is a trademarked name? If you are [devnulling], you wind up with the Etch-A-SDR. The box uses an Odroid C1, a Teensy, and the ubiquitous RTL-SDR.
The knobs work well as control knobs (as you can see in the video below). When you are bored listening to the radio, you can reset the box and go into Etch-a… um, drawing mode. The knobs work like you’d expect and you can even erase the screen with a vigorous shake.
A Mighty Mite is barely a radio at all. One transistor, capacitor, crystal and inductor in the form of a bunch of wire wrapped around a pill bottle form a minimalist oscillator, and then by keying this on and off with a switch, you’re sending Morse code. [Bill Meara], of the Soldersmoke Podcast, has been a passionate advocate of the Mighty Mite, suggesting that it can be made by scrounging the 3.57954 MHz colorburst crystal from an old analog TV set, which tunes the radio to a legal frequency for ham radio operators. (It will also probably work with other low-MHz crystals from your junkbox, but it won’t necessarily be legal.)
If the crystal is “easily” scavengeable, and the rest of the radio is easily home-made, the tuning capacitor (obtainable from old AM/FM radios) can become the sticking point. So [Paul] cut up two aluminum “beverage” cans, wrapped the inner one in electrical tape, hooked up wires and made his own variable capacitor. By sliding the cans in or out so that more or less of them overlap, he can tune the radio to exactly the crystal’s natural frequency.
If you’re not a Morse code wiz, we can’t help but note that you could replace the key with a simple FET (we’d use a 2N7000, but whatever) and then you’ve got the radio under microcontroller control. Scavenge through Hackaday’s recent Morse code projects for ideas, and we’re sure you’ll come up with something good.
Regular Hackaday readers are used to seeing the hacks that use a cheap USB TV dongle as a software defined radio (SDR). There’s plenty of software that will work with them including the excellent GNU Radio software. However, the hardware is pretty bare-bones. Without modifications, the USB dongle won’t get lower frequencies.
There’s been plenty of other SDR radios available but they’ve had a much heftier price tag. But we recently noticed the SDRPlay RSP, and they now have US distribution. The manufacturer says it will receive signals with 12-bits of resolution over the range of 100 kHz to 2 GHz with an 8MHz bandwidth. The USB cable supplies power and a connection to the PC. The best part? An open API that supports Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and will even work on a Raspberry Pi (and has GNU Radio support, too).