‘Gibson Girl’ emergency beacon built from a Wind-Up Flashlight

Batteries flat and no cellphone coverage and you need to communicate hundreds of miles?  No problem. [Peter Parker VK3YE] has created a wind-up ham radio transmitter built into a discount store crank-handle flashlight (or torch). No batteries – all power comes from you turning the hand crank. This design was inspired by the ‘Gibson Girl’ emergency beacon transmitter used during Second World War. But what used to be an very large, full body cranking box is now tiny and simple to crank. Let’s take a look at he video and the build details after the break.

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Over-engineering Ding Dong Ditch

One day, [Samy]’s best friend [Matt] mentioned he had a wireless doorbell. Astonishing. Even more amazing is the fact that anyone can buy a software defined radio for $20, a small radio module from eBay for $4, and a GSM breakout board for $40. Connect these pieces together, and you have a device that can ring [Matt]’s doorbell from anywhere on the planet. Yes, it’s the ultimate over-engineered ding dong ditch, and a great example of how far you can take practical jokes if you know which end of a soldering iron to pick up.

Simply knowing [Matt] has a wireless doorbell is not enough; [Samy] needed to know the frequency, the modulation scheme, and what the doorbell was sending. Some of this information can be found by looking up the FCC ID, but [Samy] found a better way. When [Matt] was out of his house, [Samy] simply rang the doorbell a bunch of times while looking at the waterfall plot with an RTL-SDR TV tuner. There are a few common frequencies tiny, cheap remote controls will commonly use – 315 MHz, 433 MHz, and 900 MHz. Eventually, [Samy] found the frequency the doorbell was transmitting at – 433.8 MHz.

After capturing the radio signal from the doorbell, [Samy] looked at the audio waveform in Audacity. It looked like this doorbell used On-Off Keying, or just turning the radio on for a binary ‘1’ and off for a binary ‘0’. In Audacity, everything the doorbell transmits becomes crystal clear, and with a $4 434 MHz transmitter from SparkFun, [Samy] can replicate the output of the doorbell.

For the rest of the build, [Samy] is using a mini GSM cellular breakout board from Adafruit. This module listens for any text message containing the word ‘doorbell’ and sends a signal to an Arduino. The Arduino then sends out the doorbell code with the transmitter. It’s evil, and extraordinarily over-engineered.

Right now, the ding dong ditch project is set up somewhere across the street from [Matt]’s house. The device reportedly works great, and hopefully hasn’t been abused too much. Video below.

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Building a Portable Ham Radio Station

Nowadays, you can get into ham radio on the cheap. A handheld radio can be had for less than $30, and licensing is cheap or free depending on where you live. However, like most hobbies, you tend to invest in better kit over time.

[Günther] just finished up building this portable ham station to meet his own requirements. It runs off 230 VAC, or a backup 12 V car battery for emergency purposes. The Yaesu FT897d transceiver can communicate on HF + 6m, 2m, and 70 cm bands.

This transceiver can be controlled using a Microham USB-3 interface, which provides both CAT control and a soundcard. This pre-built solution is a bit simpler than the DIY option. With the interface in place, the whole rig can be controlled by a laptop running Ubuntu and open-source HAM software.

With the parts chosen, [Günther] picked up a standard 5 U 19″ rack, which is typically used for audio gear. This case has the advantage of being durable, portable, and makes it easy to add shelves and drawers. With an automotive fuse block for power distribution and some power supplies, the portable rig is a fully self-contained HAM station.

HackRF Blue

For anyone getting into the world of Software Defined Radio, the first purchase should be an RTL-SDR TV tuner. With a cheap, $20 USB TV tuner, you can listen to just about anything between 50 and 1750 MHz. You can’t send, the sample rate isn’t that great, but this USB dongle gives you everything you need to begin your explorations of the radio spectrum.

Your second Software Defined Radio purchase is a matter of contention. There are a lot of options out there for expanding a rig, and the HackRF is a serious contender to expand an SDR rig. You get 10 MHz to 6 Gigahertz operating frequency, 20 million samples per second, and the ability to transmit. You have your license, right?

Unfortunately the HackRF is a little expensive and is unavailable everywhere. [Gareth] is leading the charge and producing the HackRF Blue, a cost-reduced version of the HackRF designed by [Michael Ossmann].

The HackRF Blue’s feature set is virtually identical, and the RF performance is basically the same: both the Blue and the HackRF One can get data from 125kHz RFID cards. All software and firmware is interchangeable. If you were waiting on another run of the HackRF, here ‘ya go.

[Gareth] and the HackRF Blue team are doing something rather interesting with their crowdfunding campaign: they’re giving away Blues to underprivileged hackerspaces, with hackerspaces from Togo, Bosnia, Iran, India, and Detroit slated to get a HackRF Blue if the campaign succeeds.

Thanks [Praetorian] and [Brendan] for sending this in.

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Extremely Detailed FMCW Radar Build

A lot of hackers take the “learn by doing” approach: take something apart, figure out how it works, and re-purpose all of the parts. [Henrik], however, has taken the opposite approach. After “some” RF design courses, he decided that he had learned enough to build his own frequency-modulated continuous wave radar system. From the level of detail on this project, we’d say that he’s learned an incredible amount.

[Henrik] was looking to keep costs down and chose to run his radar in the 6 GHz neighborhood. This puts it right in a frequency spectrum (at least in his area) where radar and WiFi overlap each other. This means cheap and readily available parts (antennas etc) and a legal spectrum in which to operate them. His design also includes frequency modulation, which means that it will be able to determine an object’s distance as well as its speed.

There are many other design considerations for a radar system that don’t enter into a normal project. For example, the PCB must have precisely controlled trace widths so that the impedance will exactly match the design. In a DC or low-frequency AC system this isn’t as important as it is in a high-frequency system like this. There is a fascinating amount of information about this impressive project on [Henrik]’s project page if you’re looking to learn a little more about radio or radar.

Too daunting for you? Check out this post on how to take on your first radar project.

Keep Tabs on Passing Jets with Pi and SDR

Obviously Software Defined Radio is pretty cool. For a lot of hackers you just need the right project to get you into it. Submitted for your approval is just that project. [Simon Aubury] has been using a Raspberry Pi and SDR to record video of planes passing overhead. The components are cheap and most places have planes passing by; this just might be the perfect project.

We’re not just talking static frames with planes passing through them, oh no. Simon used two hobby servos and some brackets to gimbal his Pi camera board. A DVB dongle allows the rig to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) coming from the planes. This system is mandated for most commercial aircraft (deadlines for implementation vary). ADS-B consists of positioning data being broadcast from planes using known frequencies and protocols. Once [Simon] locks onto this data he can accomplish a lot, like keeping the plane in the center of the video, establishing which flight is being recorded, and automatically uploading the footage. With such a marvelously executed build we’re certain we will see more people giving it a try.

[Simon] did a great job with the writeup too. Not only did he include a tl;dr, but drilled down through a project summary and right to the gritty details. Well done documentation is itself worth celebrating!

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Open Sourcing Satellite Telemetry

Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was sent on a mission to explore the Earth’s interaction with the sun. Several years later, the spacecraft changed its name to the International Cometary Explorer, sent off to explore orbiting ice balls, and return to Earth earlier this year. Talking to that spacecraft was a huge undertaking, with crowdfunding campaigns, excursions to Arecibo, and mountains of work from a team spanning the globe. Commanding the thrusters onboard the satellite didn’t work – there was no pressure in the tanks – but still the ICE mission continues, and one of the lead radio gurus on the team has put up the telemetry parser/display crafted for the reboot project up on Github.

The guy behind the backend for the ICE/ISEE reboot project should be well-known to Hackaday readers. He’s the guy who came up with a Software Defined Radio source block for a cheap USB TV tuner, waking everyone up to the SDR game. He’s also played air traffic controller by sitting out near an airport with a laptop, and has given talks at Black Hat and DEFCON.

The ICE/ISEE-3 telemetry parser/display allows anyone to listen to the recorded telemetry frames from the satellite, check out what was actually going on, and learn how to communicate with a device without a computer that’s rapidly approaching from millions of miles away. He’s even put some telemetry recordings up on the Internet to practice.

Although the ICE/ISEE-3 reboot project will have to wait another decade or two until the probe makes its way back to our neck of the woods, [Balint] is taking it in stride an organizing a few Software Defined Radio meetups in the San Fransisco area. He just had the first meetup (Video below) where talks ranging from creating a stereo FM transmitter in GNU radio, a visual introduction to DSP for SDR and SETI signals from the Allen Telescope Array were discussed. There will be another meetup in a few weeks at Noisbridge, with some very cool subjects on the roster.

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