Messages From Hell: Human Signal Processing

Despite the title, there’s no religious content in this post. The Hell in question is the German inventor [Rudolph Hell]. Although he had an impressive career, what most people remember him for is the Hellschreiber–a device I often mention when I’m trying to illustrate engineering elegance. What’s a Hellschreiber? And why is it elegant?

The first question is easy to answer: the Hellschreiber is almost like a teletype machine. It sends printed messages over the radio, but it works differently than conventional teletype. That’s where the elegance comes into play. To understand how, though, you need a little background.

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Spectrum Painting on 2.4 GHz

Give a software-defined radio (SDR) platform to a few thousand geeks, and it’s pretty predictable what will happen: hackers gotta hack. We’re only surprised that it’s happening so soon. Spectrum Painter is one of the first cool hacks to come out of the rad1o badge given out at the CCCamp 2015. It makes it dead-simple to send images in Hellschreiber mode on a few different SDR hardware platforms.

What we especially like about the project is its simplicity. Don’t get us wrong, we’re tremendous fans of GNURadio and the GNURadio Companion software radio hacking environment. But if you just want to do something simple, like send a picture of a smiley-face, the all-capable GNURadio suite is overkill.

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The HellZXchreiber


Hellschreiber – German for ‘light pen’ – was developed in the 20s as a way to transmit text in a way that was much more robust than the teletypes of the time. These devices were used to great effect by the Germans in WWII, and later became popular with wire services and was used until the 80s. The fax machine then happened, and no one really cared about Hellschreiber, save for a few plucky amateur radio enthusiasts.

In the early 90s, a few of these amateur radio enthusiasts realized they could use their personal computers to communicate with this extremely simple protocol that’s also very resilient against interference and weak radio links. [Danjovic] is following in their footsteps by decoding Hellschreiber on an old ZX Spectrum clone.

[Danjovic] tested his code with the sound sample found in the Hallschreiber wiki article and some text generated by Fldigi. Everything works beautifully, an [Dan] can even change the intensity of the text with the volume control – a very useful feature should the HellZXchreiber ever make it out into the field.

Source and image files available for all you strange Speccy fans. Everyone else can check out the videos below.

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Raspberry Pi used as a beacon transmitter


[m0xpd] got his hands on an inexpensive AD9850 DDS Module from eBay but needed a way to control it. He took inspiration from the projects that used a PIC microcontroller, but decided to add his own twist by using a Raspberry Pi to build a multi-mode beacon transmitter.

At the center of this breadboarded circuit lies the green AD9850 module. To its left is a level converter he built to get the 3.3V levels from the RPi board to work with the rest of the 5V hardware. The signal then feeds into a QRP amplifier and a low pass filter.

He didn’t start from square one when it came time to write the code for the RPi. Instead he grabbed an Arduino sketch for the very same DDS and ported it over to Python. The first test signal was his call sign sent in Morse code at QRSS speeds. But he also managed to get Hellschreiber messages working, making it a multiple-mode device.

[via Solder Smoke]

Hellduino: Hellschreiber radio transmissions from an Arduino board

[Mark VandeWettering] was experimenting with a simple transmitting circuit and an Arduino. The circuit in the project was designed by [Steve Weber] to broadcast temperature and telemetry data using Morse Code. But [Mark] wanted to step beyond that protocol and set out to write a sketch that broadcasts using the Hellschreiber protocol.

This protocol transmits glyph images, which are decoded as you see above. For some reason we can’t help but think this is like Captcha for radio enthusiasts. We have seen Hellschreiber used with AVR microcontrollers before, but this is the first Arduino implementation that we’ve come across. [Mark] does a great job of demonstrating his project in the video after the break. He mentions that the transmitter has no antenna, but is still being picked up by his receiving antenna mounted behind his house.

Since [Mark] doesn’t really cover the hardware he used, you will need to look back at [Steve’s] original design schematics for more information.

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[Scott] made a single-chip Hellschreiber on earth

[Scott Harden] is drilling teeth by day and designing radios that send secret messages by night. He’s set his sights on the Hellschreiber protocol which was used by the Germans in World War II along with their Enigma encryption system. The protocol is a viable alternative for transmitting and receiving code in environments with too much background noise for other communication systems.

His goal was to develop his own transmitter using just one microcontroller. He picked an ATmega48 and coupled it with a 40 MHz crystal oscillator. [Scott] mentions that there is no other hardware necessary, but static messages stored in an array so you’d need some other hardware to push your own characters through via the chip’s UART or otherwise. The AVR sends messages by converting the data into audio using PWM. That signal is fed into the crystal oscillator, which produces an amplitude modulated signal (AM) that can then be transmitted.

Check out his video after the break for a demonstration. He’s decoding the transmitted data using a free program called Ham Radio Deluxe.

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