Decoding News Helicopter Signals on YouTube


A serendipitous YouTube video recommendation led [Oona] to a raw copy of a news helicopter car chase video. While watching the video she noticed an odd sound playing from her left speaker. That was all it took to put [Oona] on the hunt. Decoding mystery signals is a bit of an obsession for her. We last saw [Oona] decoding radio signals for bus stop displays. She isolated the left audio channel and sent it through baudline software, which helped her determine it was a binary frequency shift keyed (BFSK) signal. A bit more work with SoX, and she had a 1200 baud bit stream.

Opening up the decoded file in a hex editor revealed the data. Packets were 47 bytes each. Most of the data packets was static. However, thee groups of bytes continuously changed. [Oona] decoded these numbers as latitude and longitude, and plotted the resulting data on Google Earth. Plotting her data against the position of the car in the video revealed a match. [Oona] had a complete track of the news helicopter as it followed the car. The telemetry data is in 7-bit Bell 202 ASCII, and is most likely part of an Interruptible Foldback (IFB) system used by the helicopter news crew and the studio producers. Click past the break for the YouTube video that started this all.

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Programming an Arduino using an audio file

This proof-of-concept is just waiting for you to put it to good use. [Mike Tsao] wrote an Arduino sketch that lets him decode incoming audio data which could be used to program the device. He’s calling the project TribeDuino because it decodes an audio file which is actually the firmware update for a Korg Monotribe.

Earlier in the month [Mike] read our feature on a project that reverse engineered the audio-based firmware update for the Korg hardware. He wanted to see if he could write some code to read that file on his own hardware. All it took was an audio jack and two jumper wires to get the Arduino ready to receive the audio file. His firmware reads the Binary Frequency-Shift Keying encoded data as the audio is played, then echos a checksum to prove that it works.

This would be a fantastic addition to your own projects. Since the audio connection only needs to be mono, it only takes just one Arduino pin to add this jack (the other is a ground connection). Having just played around with alternative ways to push data to a microcontroller ourselves, we might give this a try when we have some free time.