Extrinsic Motivation: Smart Antenna Tracker for R/C Aircraft

dishes

Long distance FPV (First Person View) flying can be a handful. Keeping a video feed alive generally requires a high gain directional antenna. Going directional creates the chore of keeping the antenna pointed at the aircraft. [Brandon's] smart antenna tracker is designed to do all that automatically. What witchcraft is this, you ask? The answer is actually quite simple: Telemetry! Many flight control systems have an optional telemetry transmitter. [Brandon] is using the 3DRobotics APM or PixHawk systems, which use 3DR’s 915 MHz radios.

The airborne radio sends telemetry data, including aircraft latitude and longitude down to a ground station. Equipped with a receiver for this data and a GPS of its own, the smart antenna tracker knows the exact position, heading and velocity of the aircraft. Using a pan and tilt mount, the smart antenna tracker can then point the antenna directly at the airborne system. Since the FPV antenna is co-located on the pan tilt mount, it will also point at the aircraft and maintain a good video link.

One of the gotchas with a system like this is dealing with an aircraft that is flying directly overhead. The plane or rotorcraft can fly by faster than the antenna system can move. There are a few commercial systems out there that handle this by switching to a lower gain omnidirectional whip antenna when the aircraft is close in. This would be a great addition to [Brandon's] design.

TDOA (Time Difference of Arrival) Directional Antenna

tdoa-antenna-tutorial

We have posted articles in the past on directional antennas such as Yagi antennas used for transmitter hunting otherwise known as fox hunting. Those types of antennas and reception suffer from one major drawback, which is as you get close to the transmitter the S meter will go full scale. At which time the transmitted signal appears to be coming from all directions. To correct for this problem you need to use clever signal attenuators or change to a poor receiving antenna as well as tuning off frequency effectively making your receiver hard of hearing so that only the direct path to the transmitter is loudest.

There is another popular type of antenna that you can build yourself called a TDOA which stands for Time Difference of Arrival. [Byon Garrabrant N6BG]  shared a short video tutorial on the functionality of his home built TDOA antenna. Effectively this is an active antenna that uses a 555 chip or, in [Byon’s] case, a PIC chip to quickly shift between two receiving dipole antennas at either end of a shortened yardstick. In his explanation you learn that as the antenna ends move closer or farther from the source a 640 Hz generated audio tone will go from loud to very soft as the antennas become equal distance from the source. This type of directional reception is not affected by signal strength. This means you can be very close to a powerful transmitter and it will still function as a good directional antenna.

The current circuit diagram, BOM and source code are all available on [Byon’s] TDOA page.

The reason [Byon] used a programmable PIC instead of the 555 for his design is because he wants to add a few more modifications such as feeding back the audio output to the PIC in order to programmatically turn on a left or right LED indicating the direction of the transmitter. Furthermore, he plans on adding a third antenna in a triangular configuration to programmatically control a circle of 6 LEDs indicating the exact direction of the signal. When he finishes the final modifications he can drive around with the antenna array on his vehicle and the circle of LEDs inside indicating the exact direction to navigate.

We look forward to seeing the rest of the development which might even become a kit someday. You can watch [Byon’s] TDOA video after the break.

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PCB Antenna Reference Designs

PCB Antenna

Have you ever built a wireless project and weren’t sure how to make one of those awesome (and cheap!) PCB antennas? “What low-cost solutions does our Antenna Board #referencedesign contain?” said Texas Instruments (TI) recently via Twitter.  This older reference design contains some comprehensive designs for sub-1 GHz and 2.4 GHz antennas.

While TI’s documentation can be difficult to navigate, there are many hidden gems, and this is one of them. While TI created these designs for use with their wireless products, they will work on any device which utilizes the same wireless base frequency. For example, you could use any of the 2.4 GHz antennas with any Bluetooth, WiFi (2.4 GHz), or Bluetooth Low Energy chips. Simply open up their Antenna Selection Quick Guide document and navigate to the specific design for whichever antenna you would like to build.

For a more detailed overview of what goes into designing and testing a PCB antenna, check out this hack which we featured back in 2010. With the internet of things coming into its own, wireless projects will become more and more prolific, making PCB antennas more important than ever.

Improve Your HT Ham Radio by Adding a Counterpoise Antenna Wire

counterpoise

We found an interesting tip that might just improve the performance of those small affordable handheld ham radios called a “Handy Talky” or HT for short in ham vernacular. [RadioHamGuy] posted an interesting video on adding a counterpoise antenna wire to an HT. He claims it will noticeably improve both transmit and receive by making a quarter-wave monopole into a makeshift dipole antenna system.

Per his instructions you basically add a short wire to the antenna’s outer ground connection or to an equivalent case screw that’s electrically connected to the antenna’s ground side. Apparently this can be referred to as a Tiger Tail and does make it look like your HT has a tail. You would construct a counterpoise antenna wire 11.5 inch for VHF, 6.5 for UHF and about 19.5 inches for an OK performing dual band VHF/UHF radio.

Normally with a handheld radio the counterpoise (ground) is your own body as you are holding the HT. This is because the capacitance of your body makes a good counterpoise under normal conditions. It would be interesting to hear what others find for performance when adding a counterpoise antenna wire.

You can watch [RadioHamGuy’s] full construction tutorial video for multiple radio types after the break.

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Tape Measure VHF Yagi Antenna

tap measure yagi vhf antenna

Radio direction finding and fox hunting can be great fun and is a popular activity with amateur radio (ham radio) enthusiasts. These antennas are great and are not only good for finding transmitters but also will greatly increase directional distance performance including communicating with satellites and the international space station (ISS).

[jcoman] had a nephew who was interested in learning about amateur radio so [jcoman] figured building and using a cheap and portable 2 meter band VHF Yagi style beam antenna would be the perfect activity to captivate the young lad’s interest in the hobby.

His design is based on [Joe Leggio’s] (WB2HOL) design with some of his own calculated alterations. We have seen DIY Yagi antenna designs before but what makes this construction so interesting is that the elements come together using bits of cut metal tape measure sections. These tape measure sections allow the Yagi antenna, which is normally a large and cumbersome device, to be easily stowed in a vehicle or backpack. When the antenna is needed, the tape measure sections naturally unfold and function extremely well with a 7 dB directional gain and can be adjusted to get a 1:1 SWR at any desired 2 m frequency.

The other unique feature is that the antenna can be constructed for under $20 if you actually purchase the materials. The cost would be even less if you salvage an old tape measure. You might even have the PVC pipes, hose clamps and wire lying around making the construction nearly free.

We were quite surprised to find that such a popular antenna construction method using tape measure elements had not yet been featured on Hackaday. For completeness this is not the only DIY tape measure Yagi on Instructables so also check out [FN64's] 2 m band “Radio Direction Finding Antenna for VHF” and [manuka’s] 70 cm band “433 MHz tape measure UHF antenna” postings. The other Yagi antenna designs featured on Hackaday were “Building a Yagi Uda Antenna” and “Turning an Easter Egg Hunt into a Fox Hunt” but these designs were not so simple to construct nor as cleverly portable.

Visually tune your HF antenna using an oscilloscope and signal generator

HF antenna tuning

Lots of readers are into toying around with RF and ham radios. One thing that is always of concern is tuning the antenna. New equipment is never cheap, so whenever another option comes along that uses existing test gear it gets our attention. [Alan Wolke] aka [w2aew] covers a process he uses to tune his HF antenna using a signal generator and oscilloscope.

The process is more of a teaching aid than a practical replacement for commercial equipment mostly because proper signal generators and oscilloscopes are large items and sometimes not available or affordable. That said, if you do have such test gear you only need build a simple breakout board containing a form of wheatstone bridge where the unknown Rx is the antenna. Two oscilloscope probes are connected across the bridge balance nodes. Some special care needs to be taken matching probe cable length and 50 ohm input impedance to the oscilloscope. A couple of 1K probe coupling resistors are also needed to prevent affecting the impendence at the hookup points. Once the selected signal is injected you can adjust an antenna tuner until the two voltage waveforms match on the oscilloscope indicating your antenna network is tuned to 50 ohm impedance with no reactance.

Being able to tune your antenna visually can really help you understand what is going on in the turning process; matching not only input impedance but also phase shift indicating inductive or capacitive reactance. Join us after the break to see the video and for information on what’s presented in the second part of [Alan's] presentation.

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HDTV antenna of a different color

hdtv-antenna-of-a-different-color

We’ve seen our share of commercially available HDTV antennas that work really poorly. For at least four years now we’ve gone without cable television, using a coat hanger antenna we made ourselves to record over-the-air broadcasts. But it’s a pretty ugly beast — we’re lucky enough to have an attic in which it can be hidden. If you’re in need of free television and don’t want an eyesore of a an antenna try building this foil and cardboard version. Even it if doesn’t work at all you’re only out about ten bucks.

The expensive part is the matching transformer which converts screw terminals to a coaxial cable connection so that it may be connected to your HDTV. You’ll need a few nuts and bolts, but we assume you can beg, borrow, or steal the tin foil, cardboard, and glue that round out the parts list. Glue, measure, cut, fold, fasten, finished! You’ll be watching horrible summer TV in no time!

If it doesn’t perform as expected just reuse that connector and try your luck with a fractal antenna.

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