Portable Classroom Upgrade: Smaller, Cheaper, Faster

[Eric] at MkMe Lab has a dream: to build a cheap, portable system that provides the electronic infrastructure needed to educate kids anywhere in the world. He’s been working on the system for quite a while, and has recently managed to shrink the suitcase-sized system down to a cheaper, smaller form-factor.

The last time we discussed [Eric]’s EduCase project was as part of his Hackaday Prize 2016 entry. There was a lot of skepticism from our readers on the goals of the project, but whatever you think of [Eric]’s motivation, the fact remains that the build is pretty cool. The previous version of the EduCase relied on a Ku-band downlink to receive content from Outernet, and as such needed to stuff a large antenna into the box. That dictated a case in the carry-on luggage size range. The current EduCase is a much slimmed-down affair that relies on an L-band link from the Inmarsat satellites, with a much smaller patch antenna. A low-noise amp and SDR receiver complete the downlink, and a Raspberry Pi provides the UI. [Eric]’s build is just a prototype at this point, but we’re looking forward to seeing everything stuffed into that small Pelican case.

Yes, Outernet is curated content, and so it’s not at all the same experience as the web. But for the right use case, this little package might just do the job. And with a BOM that rings up at $100, the price is right for experimenting.

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Five-Watt SDR Transceiver for Hams

The availability of cheap SDR hardware created a flourishing ecosystem for SDR software, but a lot of the hardware driving the revolution was still “cheap”. In the last few years, we’ve seen quality gear replacing the TV dongles in many setups, and down-converters designed for them to allow them to work on the ham bands.

But something that’s purpose-built might be a better option if ham radio, particularly the shortwave portion thereof, is your goal. First off, you might want to transmit, which none of the TV dongles allow. Then, you might want a bit of power. Finally, if you’re serious about short-wave, you care more about the audio quality than you do immense bandwidth, so you’re going to want some good filters on the receiving end to help you pull the signal out of all the noise.

rs-hfiq_block_diagram_featuredThe RS-HFIQ 5 W SDR transceiver might be for you. It’s up on Kickstarter right now, and it’s worth looking at if you want a fully open source (schematics, firmware, and software) shortwave SDR rig. It’s also compatible with various open frontends.

The single-board radio isn’t really a full SDR in our mind — it demodulates the radio signal and sends a 96 kHz IQ signal across to your computer’s soundcard where it gets sampled and fully decoded. The advantage of this is that purpose-built audio rate DACs have comparatively high resolution for the money, but the disadvantage is that you’re limited to 96 kHz of spectrum into the computer. That’s great for voice and code transmissions, but won’t cut it for high-bandwidth data or frequency hopping applications. But that’s a reasonable design tradeoff for a shortwave.

Still, an SDR like this is a far cry from how simple a shortwave radio can be. But if you’re looking to build up your own SDR-based shortwave setup, and you’d like to hack on the controls more than on the radio itself, this looks like a good start.

Cache Shortwave Signals for Later with this SDR Spectrum Grabber

Shortwave listening has always been a mainly nocturnal hobby. To get the real DX, one had to wait for favorable ionospheric conditions after sunset and spend hours twisting knobs while straining to pick voices from half a planet away out of the noise. But who has time for that in today’s world? And what of the poor city-dwelling SWL, with antenna limitations and often elevated noise floor in the urban jungle?
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Building A LoRa PHY With SDR

The Internet of Things is terrible when it’s your toaster. The real fun happens when you have hundreds or thousands of sensors sending data back to a base station every day. That requires low power, and that means LPWAN, the Low Power Wide Area Network.

There are a lot of options for LPWAN, but few are a perfect fit. LoRa is one of the rare exceptions, offering years of operation on a single AA cell, and range measured in miles. Layers two and three of LoRa are available as public documentation, but until now layer one has been patented and proprietary. At the GNU Radio Conference, [Matt Knight] gave a talk on reverse engineering the LoRa PHY with a software defined radio. Now, LoRa is open to everyone, and anyone can decode the chirps transmitted from these tiny, low power devices.

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An SDR For The Rest Of Them

If you are a radio enthusiast it is very likely that you will own at least one software defined radio. With the entry point into the world of SDRs starting with the ultra-cheap RTL2382 based USB receiver sticks originally designed for digital TV, it’s a technology that passed long ago into the impulse purchase bracket.

If you are not a radio enthusiast, or not even a Hackaday reader, you may not have heard of SDR technology. Even the humblest up-to-date radio or TV may well contain it somewhere within its silicon, but at the user interface it will still resemble the device you would have had in the 1950s: analogue tuning, or a channel-flipper.

It is interesting to see an attempt to market a consumer device that is unashamedly an SDR, indeed that is its unique selling point. The Titus II SDR bills itself as the “World’s First Consumer Ready SDR Package”, and is based around an Android tablet mated with a 100 kHz to 2 GHz SDR tuner and a pair of speakers in a portable radio styled case. It will support all modes including digital broadcasting through software plugins, and there will be an open plugin API for developers. They are taking pre-orders, and claim that the launch price will be under $100.

It sounds like an exciting product, after all who wouldn’t want a radio with those capabilities at that price! However it leaves us wondering whether the price point is just a little too ambitious for the hardware in question, and we’ll reluctantly say we’ll believe it when we see real devices on the market. A $100 consumer price doesn’t get you much in the tablet world, and that is from high-volume Chinese manufacturing without the extra cost of the SDR hardware and the overhead of smaller volume from a niche product. There are pictures online of real prototypes at trade shows, but we’d like to see a website with fewer renders and more hard plastic.

There is another angle to this device that might interest Hackaday readers though. It should remind anyone that building one yourself is hardly a difficult task. Take an RTL2382 stick with or without the HF modification, plug it into a tablet with an OTG cable, install an app like SDR Touch, and away you go. 3D print your own case and speaker surrounds as you see fit, and post the result on hackaday.io.

Via the SWLing Post.

A Vintage Interface For A Modern Radio

The arrival of affordable software defined radio technologies over the last couple of decades has completely changed the way that radio amateurs and other radio enthusiasts approach the airwaves. There’s a minor problem with most software defined receivers though, being by their nature software driven they will usually rely on a host computer for their interface. Thus the experience is one of clicking mouse buttons or using keyboard shortcuts rather than the mechanical analogue dial interfaces that provided easy control of older radios.

Meccano encoder mounts for the win!
Meccano encoder mounts for the win!

This is a problem that has been addressed by [Jon Hudson, G4ABQ], with one of his SDRplay receivers. He’s mounted it and its control PC in the chassis of a very aged and non-functional Marconi CR100 communication receiver, and given it a control interface that only uses the Marconi’s front panel controls (YouTube link). A rotary encoder has been grafted onto the Marconi tuning capacitor with what looks like some Meccano, and in turn that feeds an Arduino which behaves as a keyboard for the benefit of the PC. Some extra buttons have been added for mode selection, spectrum zoom and shift, and care appears to have been taken to give their labels a period feel. Arduino code came courtesy of [Mike Ladd, KD2KOG]. The result is a very controllable SDR receiver, albeit one in a rather large case.

If you are interested in the project then we are told that it will be on the RS stand at Electronica in Munich next week, meanwhile we’ve put the video below the break.

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Transmitting Analog TV, Digitally

If you want to really understand a technology, and if you’re like us, you’ll need to re-build it yourself. It’s one thing to say that you understand (analog) broadcast TV by reading up on Wikipedia, or even by looking at scope traces. But when you’ve written a flow graph that successfully transmits a test image to a normal TV using just a software-defined radio, you can pretty easily say that you’ve mastered the topic.

9944491474271463115_thumbnail[Marble] wrote his flow for PAL, but it should be fairly easy to modify it to work with NTSC if you’re living in the US or Japan. Sending black and white is “easy” but to transmit a full color image, you’ll need to read up on color spaces. Check out [marble]’s project log.

Hackaday has another hacker who’s interested in broadcasting to dinosaur TVs: [CNLohr]. Check out his virtuoso builds for the ATtiny and for the ESP8266.

(Yes, the headline image is one of his earlier trials with black and white from Wikipedia — we just like the look.)