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!

Continue reading “Keep Tabs on Passing Jets with Pi and SDR”

An Extremely Tiny 5.8GHz FPV Transmitter

Flying RC aircraft with a first person view is the latest and greatest thing in the hobby. In a fact that I’m sure will be shocking to 90% of people, you don’t need to buy a Phantom quad fly FPV. The guys at Flite Test show how you can build a tiny 5.8GHz FPV transmitter for under $100.

The parts used for this build are pretty much jelly bean parts at this point, but [Peter] at Flite Test is going for extremely lightweight parts for this build. He found an NTSC board camera that only weighs 1g and added a wide-angle lens. The transmitter is a tiny 200mW module that only weighs about 2g.

Why are the Flite Test crew going for small and light FPV setups? They just launched a new line of planes that can be built from a single piece of foam board. If you have a small micro quad, you can easily add FPV to it with this rig.

How to Backup and Restore Your IP Camera Firmware

[Filipe] has been playing around with custom firmware for inexpensive IP cameras. Specifically, he has been using cameras based on a common HI3815 chip. When you are playing around with firmware like this, a major concern is that you may end up bricking the device and rendering it useless. [Filipe] has documented a relatively simple way to backup and restore the firmware on these cameras so you can hack to your heart’s content.

The first part of this hack is hardware oriented. [Filipe] cracked open the camera to reveal the PCB. The board has labeled serial TX and RX pads. After soldering a couple of wires to these pads, [Filipe] used a USB to serial dongle to hook his computer up to the camera’s serial port.

Any terminal program should now be able to connect to the camera at 115200 baud while the camera is booting up. The trick is to press “enter” during the boot phase. This allows you to log in as root with no password. Next you can reset the root password and reboot the camera. From now on you can simply connect to the phone via telnet and log in as root.

From here, [Filipe] copies all of the camera’s partitions over to an NFS share using the dd command. He mentions that you can also use FTP for this if you prefer. At this point, the firmware backup is completed.

Knowing how to restore the backup is just as important as knowing how to create it. [Filipe] built a simple TFTP server and copied the firmware image to it in two chunks, each less than 5MB. The final step is to tell the camera how to find the image. First you need to use the serial port to get the camera back to the U-Boot prompt. Then you configure the camera’s IP address and the TFTP server’s IP address. Finally, you copy each partition into RAM via TFTP and then copy that into flash memory. Once all five partitions are copied, your backup is safely restored and your camera can live to be hacked another day.

A Full IP Webcam With a Raspberry Pi

A Dropcam will run you about $150. Price out a Raspberry Pi, camera sensor, and a CCTV camera housing found on eBay, and it starts to look like there may be a cheaper replacement for a Dropcam sitting around on workbenches, if only someone can figure out the software. [Antoine] did just that, giving any Raspberry Pi the ability to stream H.264 video over a network.

[Antoine]’s software is based on the raspivid tool distributed from the foundation, but that only takes care of capturing and encoding H.264 video from the camera sensor. To add IP camera support, the Live555 RTSP library was mixed in and combined to stream video over the Raspi’s network connection.

With a camera dome enclosure from the usual outlets, [Antoine]’s project really starts to look professional. The specs are respectable, too: it can output a 1080 stream, and with a small modification to an Ethernet cord, this webcam has PoE. Future updates include the ability to record videos based on a trigger and possibly a webserver on the Pi for configuration. [Antoine] says he really isn’t up to speed with Javascript, so any help would be appreciated.

A Single Pixel, Color Digital Camera

[Ben] has written all sorts of code and algorithms to filter, sort, and convolute images, and also a few gadgets that were meant to be photographed. One project that hasn’t added a notch to his soldering iron was a camera. The easiest way to go about resolving this problem would be to find some cardboard and duct tape and built a pinhole camera. [Ben] wanted a digital camera. Not any digital camera, but a color digital camera, and didn’t want to deal with pixel arrays or lenses. Impossible, you say? Not when you have a bunch of integral transforms in your tool belt.

[Ben] is only using a single light sensor that outputs RGB values for his camera – no lenses are found anywhere. If, however, you scan a scene multiple times with this sensor, each time blocking a portion of the sensor’s field of view, you could reconstruct a rudimentary, low-resolution image from just a single light sensor. If you scan and rotate this ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor’s field of view, reconstructing the image is called a Radon transform, something [Ben] has used a few times in his studies.

camera [Ben]’s camera consists of the Adafruit RGB light sensor, an Arduino, a microSD card, a few servos, and a bunch of printed parts. The servos are used to scan and rotate the ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor for each image. The output of the sensor is saved to the SD card and moved over to the computer for post-processing.

After getting all the pixel data to his laptop, [Ben] plotted the raw data. The first few pictures were of a point source of light – a lamp in his workspace. This resulted in exactly what he expected, a wave-like line on an otherwise blank field. The resulting transformation kinda looked like the reference picture, but for better results, [Ben] turned his camera to more natural scenes. Pointing his single pixel camera out the window resulted in an image that looked like it was taken underwater, through a piece of glass smeared with Vaseline. Still, it worked remarkably well for a single pixel camera. Taking his camera to the great outdoors provided an even better reconstructed scene, due in no small part to the great landscapes [Ben] has access to.

Timelapse Photography on an Android-Powered Dolly

camera dolly

If you’re heading off on a trip to Alaska, you need to make sure you have plenty of supplies on hand for the wilderness that awaits. If you’re [Bryce], that supply list includes some interesting photography equipment, including a camera dolly that he made to take time-lapse video of the fantastic scenery.

On the hardware side, the dolly carries the camera on a rail that is set up on a slant. The camera starts on one side and moves up and towards the otherside which creates a unique effect in the time-lapse. The rig is driven by a stepper motor, and rides on some pretty fancy bearings. The two cameras [Bryce] plans to use are a Canon T2i and a EOS-M which sit on the top from a tripod.

The software and electronics side is interesting as well. Instead of the usual Arduino, [Bryce] opted for controlling the rig through Android and a IOIO board. This gives the project a lot of options for communications, including Bluetooth. The whole thing is powered by a 19V battery pack. If you’re looking for something a little simpler, you might want to check out the egg timer for time lapse! Check out the video of [Bryce]’s rig in action after the break.

Continue reading “Timelapse Photography on an Android-Powered Dolly”

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.