THP Quarterfinalist: 3GHz Spectrum Analyzer

spectrum analyzerRadio seems to be an unofficial theme for The Hackaday Prize, with a few wireless frameworks for microcontrollers and software defined radios making their way into the quarterfinal selection. [roelh]‘s project is a little different from most of the other radio builds. It’s a simple spectrum analyzer, but one that works up to 3GHz.

The hardware is a mishmash of chips including an ADL5519 power detector, an Si4012 for the local oscillator, and a MAX2680 mixer. An Atmel XMega takes care of all the on board processing, displaying the spectrum on a small LCD, writing data to an SD card, and sending data over a 3.5mm jack that doubles as either an analog input or a half duplex RS232 port.

Seen in the video below, [roelh]‘s spectrum analyzer is more or less finished, complete with a nice looking enclosure. Now [roelh] is working on documentation, porting his source to English, and getting all the files ready to be judged by our real judges.

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

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How To: Hack Your Way Into Your Own Gated Community

RF Signal Decryption and Emulation

Does your Gated Community make you feel secure due to the remote-controlled gate keeping the riffraff out? Residents of such Gated Communities in Poland are now shaking in fear since [Tomasz] has hacked into his own neighborhood by emulating the signal that opens the entrance gate. Shockingly, this only took about 4 hours from start to finish and only about $20 in parts.

Most of these type of systems use RF communication and [Tomasz's] is no difference. The first step was to record the signal sent out by his remote. A USB Software Defined Radio transmitter/receiver coupled with a program called SDR# read and recorded the signal without a hitch. [Tomasz] was expecting a serialized communication but after recording and analyzing the signal from several people entering the community it became clear that there was only one code transmitted by everyone’s remote.

Now that he knows the code, [Tomasz] has to figure out a way to send that signal to the receiver. He has done this by making an RF transmitter from just a handful of parts, the meat and potatoes being a Colpitts oscillator and a power amplifier. This simple transmitter is connected to a DISCOVERY board that is responsible for the modulation tasks. [Tomasz] was nice enough to make his code available on his site for anyone that is interested in stopping by for a visit.

A Modular 1GHz Spectrum Analyzer


[MrCircuitMatt] has been doing a lot of radio repair recently, quickly realized having a spectrum analyzer would be a useful thing to have. Why buy one when you can build one, he thought, and he quickly began brushing up on his RF and planning out the design of a 1000 MHz spectrum analyzer

The project is based on Scotty’s Spectrum Analyzer, a sweep-mode, modular 1GHz spectrum analyzer that is, unfortunately, designed entirely in ExpressPCB. [Matt] didn’t like this proprietary design software tied to a single board house. The basic building blocks of [Scotty]‘s spectrum analyzer were transferred over to KiCAD, the boards sent off to a normal, Chinese board house.

In the second video, [Matt] goes over the design of the control board, a small module that connects the spectrum analyzer to the parallel port of a PC. There’s a lot of well thought out design in this small board, a good thing, too, since he’s powering his VCO with a switched mode supply. The control board has a 32-bit I/O, so how’s he doing that with a parallel port, what is ultimately an 8-bit port? A quartet of 74ACT573, a quad buffer with latch enable. Using the eight data lines on the parallel port allows him to toggle some pins while the ancient pins on the parallel bus – Strobe, Select Printer, and Line Feed control the latches on each of the buffers. This gives him the ability to write to 32 different pins in his spectrum analyzer with a parallel port.

Right now, [Matt] is wrapping up the construction of his control board, with the rest of the modules following shortly. He thinks the completed analyzer might even be cheaper than a professional, commercial offering, and we can’t wait to see another update video.

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Making a 20dB Low Noise Amplifier for a 400MHz radio

[Will] recently tipped us about a 400MHz Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) module he made. His detailed write-up starts by explaining the theory behind an amplifying chain. Assuming a 50 Ohm antenna system receives a -70dBm signal, the total peak to peak voltage would be less than 200uV (.0002 volts). If the first amplifying stage doesn’t consist of an LNA, then the added noise would later be amplified by the other elements of your system.

[Will] then detailed how he picked his LNA on Digikey, mainly by looking for one that had a less than 1dB Noise Figure. His final choice was the Sky65047: a small budget-priced 0.4-3.0GHz low noise amplifier with a theoretical gain of 20dB at 400MHz. He made the PCB you can see in the picture above, removing the soldermask on the signal path in order to lower the permitivity. Because of a few mistakes present in the application note, it took [Will] quite a while to get his platform up and running with a 20dB gain but a 4.5dB NF. He also measured the input return loss using a directional coupler, which ended up being quite close to the datasheet’s 14dB number.

Automatic Antenna Tuner

Automatic Antenna Tuner

To get the best power transfer into an antenna, tuning is required. This process uses a load to match the transmission line to the antenna, which controls the standing wave ratio (SWR).

[k3ng] built his own automatic antenna tuner. First, it measures the SWR of the line by using a tandem match coupler. This device allows the forward and reflected signals on the line to be extracted. They are buffered and fed into an Arduino for sampling. Using this data, the device can calculate the SWR. The RF signal is also divided and sampled to measure frequency.

To automate tuning, an Arduino switches a bank of capacitors and inductors in and out of the circuit. By varying the load, it can find the ideal matching for the given antenna and frequency. Once it does, the settings are stored in EEPROM so that they can be recalled later.

After the break, check out a video of the tuner clicking its relays and matching a load.

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Cleaning Slides with Plasma

Plasma Cleaner

[Ben Krasnow] hacked together a method of cleaning sides using plasma. His setup uses a mechanical vacuum pump to evacuate a bell jar. This bell jar is wrapped with a copper coil, which is connected to an RF transmitter. By transmitting RF into the coil, plasma is created inside the bell jar.

Plasma cleaning is used extensively in the semiconductor industry. Depending on the gas used, it can have different cleaning effects. For example, an oxygen rich environment is very effective at breaking down organic bonds and removing hydrocarbons. It is used after manual cleaning to ensure that all impurities in the solvents used for cleaning are fully removed. According to [Ben], it’s possible to get a surface atomically clean using this process, and even remove the substrate if the energy levels are too high.

These machines are usually expensive and specialized, but [Ben] managed to cook one up on his bench. After the break, check out a video walk through of [Ben]‘s plasma cleaner

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Android and Arduino RF Outlet Selector


Cyber Monday may be behind us, but there are always some hackable, inexpensive electronics to be had. [Stephen's] wireless Android/Arduino outlet hack may be the perfect holiday project on the cheap, especially considering you can once again snag the right remote controlled outlets from Home Depot. This project is similar to other remote control outlet builds we’ve seen here, but for around $6 per outlet: a tough price to beat.

[Stephen] Frankenstein’d an inexpensive RF device from Amazon into his build, hooking the Arduino up to the 4 pins on the transmitter. The first step was to reverse engineer the communication for the outlet, which was accomplished through some down and dirty Arduino logic analyzing. The final circuit included a standard Arduino Ethernet shield, which [Stephen] hooked up to his router and configured to run as a web server. Most of the code was borrowed from the RC-Switch outlet project, but the protocols from that build are based on US standards and did not quite fit [Stephen's] needs, so he turned to a similar Instructables project to work out the finer details.

Stick around after the break for a quick video demonstration, then check out another wireless outlet hack for inspiration.

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