A Mobile Radio Power Controller

[Pete], a.k.a. [KD8TBW] wanted to install his Yaesu radio in his car. From experience, he knew that having a radio in a car inevitable led to leaving it on once in a while, and this time, he wanted a device that would turn his rig on and off when the key was in the ignition. He ended up building a mobile radio power converter. It takes the 12V from the car when the alternator is running, and shuts everything off when the engine has stopped.

The Yaesu radio in question – an FT-8800 does have an automatic power off feature, but this is a terrible way of doing things. There is no way to turn the radio back on, and the radio must be left in a non-scanning mode.

In what he hopes to be his last design in EagleCAD, [Pete] whipped up a board featuring an ATtiny85 that measures the voltage in the car; when it’s ~14V, the alternator is working, and the radio can be switched on. When it drops to ~12V, it’s time to turn the radio off. It’s a great project, and with the 3D printed case, it can easily be shoved inside the console. Video below.

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Dusty Junk-bin Downconverter Receives FM on an AM Radio

This amateur radio hack is not for the faint of heart! With only three transistors (and a drawer-full of passive parts), [Peter Parker, vk3ye] is able to use a broken-looking AM car radio to receive FM radio signals (YouTube link) on 2 meters, an entirely different band.

There are two things going on here. First, a home-made frequency downconverter shifts the 147 MHz signal down to the 1 MHz neighborhood where the AM radio can deal with it. Then, the AM radio is tuned just slightly off the right frequency and the FM signal is slope detected.

The downconverter consists of a local tuned oscillator and a mixer. The local oscillator generates an approximate 146 MHz signal from an 18 MHz crystal, accounting for two of the three transistors. Then this 146 MHz signal and the approximately 147 MHz signal that he wants to listen to are multiplied together (mixed) using the third transistor.

If you’re not up on your radio theory, a frequency mixer takes in two signals at different frequencies and produces an output signal that has various sums and differences of the two input signals in it. It’s this 147 MHz – 146 MHz = 1 MHz FM signal, right in the middle of the AM radio band’s frequency range, that’s passed on to the AM radio.

Next, the AM radio slope detects the frequency-modulated (FM) signal as if it were amplitude modulated (AM). This works as follows: FM radio encodes audio as changes in frequency, while AM radios encode the audio signal in the amplitude, or volume, of the radio signal. Instead of tracking the changing frequency as an FM radio would, slope detectors stick on a single frequency that’s tuned just slightly off from the FM carrier frequency. As the FM signal gets closer to or farther away from this fixed frequency, the received signal gets louder or quieter, and FM is detected as AM.

At 5:23, [vk3ye] steps through the circuit diagram. As he mentions, these are old tricks from circa 50 years ago, but it’s very nice to see a junk-box hack working so well with so few parts and receiving (very) high frequency FM on an old AM car radio. A circuit like this could make a versatile front end for an SDR setup. It makes us want to warm up the soldering iron.

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Reverse Engineering a Wireless Studio Lighting Remote

If you want to take a photograph with a professional look, proper lighting is going to be critical. [Richard] has been using a commercial lighting solution in his studio. His Lencarta UltraPro 300 studio strobes provide adequate lighting and also have the ability to have various settings adjusted remotely. A single remote can control different lights setting each to its own parameters. [Richard] likes to automate as much as possible in his studio, so he thought that maybe he would be able to reverse engineer the remote control so he can more easily control his lighting.

[Richard] started by opening up the remote and taking a look at the radio circuitry. He discovered the circuit uses a nRF24L01+ chip. He had previously picked up a couple of these on eBay, so his first thought was to just promiscuously snoop on the communications over the air. Unfortunately the chips can only listen in on up to six addresses at a time, and with a 40-bit address, this approach may have taken a while.

Not one to give up easily, [Richard] chose a new method of attack. First, he knew that the radio chip communicates to a master microcontroller via SPI. Second, he knew that the radio chip had no built-in memory. Therefore, the microcontroller must save the address in its own memory and then send it to the radio chip via the SPI bus. [Richard] figured if he could snoop on the SPI bus, he could find the address of the remote. With that information, he would be able to build another radio circuit to listen in over the air.

Using an Open Logic Sniffer, [Richard] was able to capture some of the SPI communications. Then, using the datasheet as a reference, he was able to isolate the communications that stored information int the radio chip’s address register. This same technique was used to decipher the radio channel. There was a bit more trial and error involved, as [Richard] later discovered that there were a few other important registers. He also discovered that the remote changed the address when actually transmitting data, so he had to update his receiver code to reflect this.

The receiver was built using another nRF24L01+ chip and an Arduino. Once the address and other registers were configured properly, [Richard’s] custom radio was able to pick up the radio commands being sent from the lighting remote. All [Richard] had to do at this point was press each button and record the communications data which resulted. The Arduino code for the receiver is available on the project page.

[Richard] took it an extra step and wrote his own library to talk to the flashes. He has made his library available on github for anyone who is interested.

Arduino Translates Signals Between Steering Wheel Buttons and Aftermarket Head Unit

There is no question that steering wheel mounted controls are super convenient. Reaching all the way over to the dashboard to change a radio station is so 1990’s. An ever-increasing percentage of new cars are coming equipped with steering wheel controls for the stereo, however, you’ll lose the button control if you change out the stock head unit to something a little higher in quality. Sure, there may be an adapter readily available for your car/stereo combination, but there also may not be. [Ronnied] took the DIY road and made his own adapter.

The first obstacle for [Ronnied] was to figure out the wiring on the steering wheel controls. After some poking around he found that there were only two wires used for all of the control buttons, each button only changing the resistance between the two wires. The button states could easily be read by using an Arduino’s analog input. A Pro Mini model was chosen for its small size as it could be housed in the radio compartment of the dash.

The next step was getting the Arduino to control the aftermarket head unit. [Ronnied] did some research regarding JVC’s Stalk digital control interface but came to the conclusion that it would be easier to direct wiring the Arduino outputs to the appropriate spot on the head unit’s circuit board. To do this the button for each function that would also be represented on the steering wheel was traced out to find a common point on the circuit board. Jumper wires soldered to the circuit board simply allow the Arduino to emulate button pushes. To ensure that the head unit buttons still work in conjunction with the steering wheel buttons, the Arduino would have to keep the pins as inputs until a steering wheel button was pushed, the pin changed to an output, the signal sent and the pin changed back to an input. This feature was easily created in the Arduino sketch.

Video below.

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THP Semifinalist: A Continuous Wave Radar

There aren’t many Hackaday Prize entries playing around in RF, save for the handful of projects using off the shelf radio modules. That’s a little surprising to us, considering radio is one of the domains where garage-based tinkerers have always been very active. [Luke] is bucking the trend with a FM continuous wave radar, to be used in experiments with autonomous aircraft, altitude finding, and synthetic aperture radar imaging.

[Luke]’s radar operates around 5.8-6 GHz, and is supposed to be an introduction to microwave electronics. It’s an extremely modular system built around a few VCOs, mixers, and amplifiers from Hittite, all connected with coax.

So far, [Luke] has all his modules put together, a great pair of cans for the antennas, everything confirmed as working on his scope, and a lot of commits to his git repo.

You can check out [Luke]’s demo video is available below.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a quarterfinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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THP Semifinalist: Cheap Satellite Transponder

In 2016, a communications satellite will be launched into geostationary orbit somewhere over the middle east. Normally, this is fairly ordinary occurrence. This satellite, however, will be carrying two amateur radio transponders for hams all across europe, africa, the middle east, and India. [2FTG] is building a satellite transponder to talk to this satellite, and he’s doing it with junk sitting around his workbench.

The uplink frequency for this satellite will be in the neighborhood of 2.4 GHz, and [2FTG] needed a way to deal with the out of band interference in this part of the spectrum. The easy and cheap way to do this is with filters made for the WiFi band. Instead, [2FTG] had a few cavity filters in his junk box and decided to go that route. It meant he had to retune the filters, a process that should be annoyingly hard. [2FTG] did it in thirty minutes.

Antennas are another matter, but since [2FTG] has a supply of metal coffee cans, this part of the build was just a matter of soldering a bit of wire to an SMA connector, drilling a hole (using a log as a drill stop, no less), and soldering the connector to the can.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a quarterfinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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THP Hacker Bio: Michael R Colton

With many hackers out there realizing how much you can do with a few RF blocks connected to a computer, it’s no surprise software defined radio would make a showing in the semifinalists for The Hackaday Prize. [Michael]’s project is the PortableSDR, a small, self-contained unit that handles just about everything below 30MHz. No, [Michael] isn’t dealing with gigahertz accessible with fancier SDRs, but that’s not the point: PortableSDR is meant to do everything – vector analysis, a neat waterfall display, transmit and receive – in a small, portable package you can take anywhere. It’s also fairly cheap to build, and of course completely open source.

This isn’t [Michael]’s first rodeo; he’s built a number of equally cool projects before. He was kind enough to send in a short bio, available below.

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