To a lot of people, radio-frequency (RF) design is black magic. Even if you’ve built a number of RF projects, and worked your way through the low-lying gotchas, you’ve probably still got a healthy respect for the gremlins lying in wait around every dimly-lit corner. Well, [Michael Ossmann] gave a super workshop at the Hackaday Superconference to give you a guided tour of the better-illuminated spaces in RF design.
[Michael] is a hacker-designer, and his insights into RF circuit design are hard-won, by making stuff. The HackRF One is probably his most famous (and complex) project, but he’s also designed and built a number of simpler RF devices. And the main point of his talk is that there’s a large range of interesting projects that are possible without getting yourself into the fringes of RF design (which require expensive test equipment, serious modelling, or a Ph.D. in electro-wavey-things).
You should watch [Mike]’s workshop which is embedded below. That said, here’s the spoilers. [Mike] suggests five rules that’ll keep your RF design on the green, rather than off in the rough.
Among its many tricks, the Raspberry Pi is capable of putting clock signals signal out on its GPIO pins, and that turns out to be just the thing for synthesizing RF signals in the amateur radio bands. What [Zoltan] realized, though, is that the resulting signals are pretty dirty, so he came up with a clever Pi shield for RF signal conditioning that turns a Pi into a quality low-power transmitter.
[Zoltan] stuffed a bandpass filter for broadband noise, a low-pass filter for harmonics, and a power amplifier to beef up the signal a bit into a tiny shield that is cleverly engineered to fit any version of the Pi. Even with the power amplifier, the resulting transmitter is still squarely in the realm of QRP, and the shield is optimized for use as a WSPR beacon on the 20-meter band. But there’s plenty of Pi software available to let hams try other modes, including CW, FM, SSB, and even SSTV, and other signal conditioning hardware for different bands.
Yes, these are commercially available products, but even if you’re not in the market for a shield like this, or if you want to roll your own, there’s a lot to learn from [Zoltan]’s presentation at the 2015 TAPR Digital Communications Conference (long video below). He discusses the difficulties encountered getting a low-profile shield to be compatible with every version of the Pi, and the design constraints that led to the decision to use SMT components.
Most hobbyists use crystals as an external clock signal for a microcontroller. A less common use would be to make a bandpass filter (BPF) for an RF signal. [Dan Watson] explains his crystal ladder design on his blog and links to several sources for understanding the theory and creating your own crystal ladder band pass filter. If you want a set of these purple PCBs you can order them straight from the purple fab.
One of the sources that [Dan] cites is [Larry Benko]’s personal site which is primarily dedicated to amateur radio projects. Which you can find much more in-depth information regarding the design of a xtal BPF. [Larry] goes into detail about the software he uses and some of the applications of crystal ladder filters.
The process includes measuring individual xtals to determine which ones will work together for your target frequency. [Larry] also walks you through the software simulation process using LTSpice. If you aren’t familiar with Spice simulation you can get caught up by checking out the series of Spice articles by our very own [Al Williams].
There are two sides to every coin. Instead of swiping or using a chip reader with your credit card, some companies offer wireless cards that you hold up to a reader for just an instant. How convenient for you and for anyone who might what to read that data for their own use. The same goes for RFID enabled passports, and the now ubiquitous keycards used for door access at businesses and hotels. I’m sure you can opt-out of one of these credit cards, but Gerald in human resources isn’t going to issue you a metal key — you’re stuck hauling around that RFID card.
It is unlikely that someone surreptitiously reading your card will unlock your secrets. The contactless credit cards and the keylock cards are actually calculating a response based on a stored key pair. But you absolutely could be tracked by the unique IDs in your cards. Are you being logged when passing by an open reader? And other devices, like public transit cards, may have more information stored on them that could be harvested. It’s not entirely paranoid to want to silence these signals when you’re not using them.
One solution is to all of this is to protect your wallet from would-be RFID pirates. At this point all I’m sure everyone is thinking of a tin-foil card case. Sure, that might work unless the malicious reader is very powerful. But there’s a much more interesting way to protect against this: active RFID scrambling with a project called GuardBunny. It’s a card that you place next to whatever you want to protect. It’s not really RFID — I’ll get that in a moment — but is activated the same way and spews erroneous bits back at any card reader. Kristin Paget has been working on GuardBunny for several years now. As of late she’s had less time for active development, but is doing a great thing by letting version 1 out into the world for others to hack on. In her talk at Shmoocon 2016 she walked through the design, demonstrated its functionality, and shared some suggestions for further improvement.
[Henrik’s] new design uses an NXP LPC4320 which uniquely combines an ARM Cortex-M4 MCU along with a Cortex-M0 co-processor. The HackRF also uses this micro as it has some specific features that can be taken advantage of here like the Serial GPIO (SGPIO) which can be tediously configured and high-speed USB all for ~$8 in single quantity. The mixed signal design is done in two boards, a 4 layer RF board and 2 layer digital board.
Like the gentleman he is, [Henrik] has included schematics, board files, and his modified source from the HackRF project in his github repo. There is simply too much information in his post to attempt to summarize here, if you need instant gratification check out the pictures after the break.
Somewhere between the HF projects many of us have worked on, and the visible light spectrum lies the UHF, EHF, SHF, and THF. That’s Ultra, Extremely, Super, and Tremendously High Frequency for those who aren’t in the know. All of them involve frequencies in the gigahertz and terahertz range. While modern computers have made gigahertz a household term, actually working with signals in the gigahertz frequency range is still a daunting prospect. There have always been an elite group of hackers, makers, and engineers who tinker with projects using GHz frequencies. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best GHz projects on Hackaday.io!
We start with [Luke Weston] and Simple, low-cost FMCW radar. For years people like Hackaday’s own [Gregory L. Charvat] have been building simplified radar systems and documenting them for the rest of us. [Luke’s] goal is to make radar systems like this even more accessible for the average hacker. He’s put all the specialized parts on one board. Rather than large Mini Circuits modules, [Luke] went with Hittite microwave parts in chip scale packages. Modulation comes from a Microchip MCP4921 mixed signal DAC. The system works, and has demonstrated transmission and reception 5 GHz to 6 GHz bands. [Luke] has even demonstrated detection of objects at close range using a scope.
[jmilldrum] really gets a lot of use out of his Si5351A breakout board. He’s a ham [NT7S], and the Si5351A can generate multiple square waves ranging from 8 kHz to 160 MHz, so it only stands to reason that it is going to be a useful tool for any RF hacker. His most recent exploit is to use the I2C-controllable chip to implement a Fast Simple QSO (FSQ) beacon with an Arduino.
FSQ is a relatively new digital mode that uses a form of low rate FSK to send text and images in a way that is robust under difficult RF propagation. There are 32 different tones used for symbols so common characters only require a single tone. No character takes more than two tones.