Tracking ships using software-defined radio (SDR)


When we first started hearing about software-defined radio hacks (which often use USB dongles that ring it at under $20) we didn’t fully grasp the scope of that flexibility. But now we’ve seen several real-life examples that drive the concept home. For instance, did you know that SDR can be used to track ships? Ships large and small are required by may countries to use an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder. The protocol was originally developed to prevent collisions on large ships, but when the cost of the hardware became affordable the system was also brought to smaller vessels.

[Carl] wrote in to share his project (which is linked above). Just like the police scanner project from April this makes use of RTL-SDR in the form of a TV tuner dongle. He uses the SDRSharp software along with a Yagi-UDA. The captured data is then decoded and plotted on a map using ShipPlotter.

SDR as a Police and Fire radio scanner


If you’ve lost interest in that DVB dongle you bought to give software defined radio a try you should bust it back out. [Harrison Sand] just finished a guide on how to use SDR to listen in on Police and Fire radio bands.

The project, which results in the crystal clear audio reception heard after the break, uses a whole lists of packages on a Windows box to access the emergency bands. SDRSharp, which has been popular with other DVB dongle hacks, handles the hardware work. In this case the dongle is a Newsky TV28T v2 module that he picked up for a few bucks. He’s also using some support programs including the Digital Speech Decoder which turns the data into audio.

We wonder how many areas this will work for. It was our understanding that law enforcement was moving to encrypted communications systems. But all we really know about it is that you can jam the system with a children’s toy.

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Stealing cars and ringing doorbells with radio


The cheap software defined radio platforms that can be built out of a USB TV tuner aren’t getting much love on the Hackaday tip line of late. Thankfully, [Adam] sent in a great guide to cracking sub-GHz wireless protocols wide open, and ringing doorbells, opening cars, and potentially setting houses on fire in the process.

The first wireless hack [Adam] managed to whip up is figuring out how a wireless doorbell transmitter communicates with its receiver. [Adam] connected a FUNcube software defined radio dongle (although any one of the many USB TV tuner dongles we’ve seen would also work) and used GNU Radio to send the radio signals received to a WAV file. When looking at this audio file in Audacity, [Adam] saw the tell-tale signs of digital data, leaving with a string of 1s and 0s that would trigger his wireless doorbell.

The FUNcube dongle doesn’t have the ability to transmit, though, so [Adam] needed a more capable software defined radio to emulate the inner workings of a doorbell transmitter. He found one in the Ettus Research USRP, a software designed radio that’s doing a good job of keeping [Balint], Hackaday SDR extraordinaire, very busy. By sending the data [Adam] decoded with the FUNcube dongle over the USRP, he was able to trigger his wireless doorbell using nothing but a few hundred dollars of radio equipment and software ingenuity.

Doorbells are a low-stakes game, so [Adam] decided to step things up a little and unlock his son’s car by capturing and replaying the signals from a key fob remote. Modern cars use a rolling code for their keyless entry, so that entire endeavour is just a party trick. Other RF-enabled appliances, such as a remote-controlled mains outlet, are a much larger threat to home and office security, but still one [Adam] managed to crack wide open.

Hackaday Links: February 22, 2013

Playstation π


Yeah, it’s another home made Raspberry Pi case, but [Gabriel]‘s Mini Playstation 3.14 is the bee’s knees. The enclosure was once a metal gift box originally intended for gift cards. With a few whacks of a Dremel, the world finally has a new PS3 that runs Linux.

Up there with The Secret Life of Machines


[Mattias] sent in a tip about a really cool TV show airing in Sweden. It’s called Mekatronik, and it’s basically the interesting parts of Mythbusters where [Jamie] and [Adam] build random cool stuff. It’s a Swedish language program, so if anyone would like to make some subs for the episodes, we’ll be more than happy to link to it again.

Web-based software defined radio


The amateur radio club at University of Twente in the Netherlands came up with something really cool: a web-based software defined radio.  So what, you ask? It’s just streaming audio or something over the Internet? Nope. You can actually control this SDR over the web.

We’re deeply sorry for turning the hardware turn to slag. Really, we are.

Junk box Tesla coil


[JJ] whipped up a homemade Tesla coil out of junk he had lying around. Basically, it’s a piece of PVC pipe, a tennis ball, and aluminum foil. Even the transformer was pulled from a long-forgotten project. [JJ] is getting some really good arcs, so we’ll call this a win.

Time circuits active


[Danilo] was invited to a costume party with a movie theme. He wanted something Back to the Future-is, so he whipped up a flux capacitor (translation). It’s based on a PIC12F675, with the microcontroller running a bit of code that flashes the LEDs just like the movie. Now on to the hoverboard project…

bladeRF, your next software defined radio


By now you might have a bit weary of your small and inexpensive TV tuner dongle software defined radio. Yes, using a USB TV dongle is a great introduction to SDR, but it has limited bandwidth, limited frequency range, and can’t transmit. Enter the bladeRF, the SDR that makes up for all the shortcomings of a USB dongle, and also serves as a great wireless development platform.

The bladeRF is able to receive and transmit on any frequency between 300 MHz and 3.8 GHz. This, along with a powerful FPGA, ARM CPU, and very good ADCs and DACs makes it possible to build your own software defined WiFi adapter, Bluetooth module, ZigBee radio, GPS receiver, or GSM and 4G LTE modem.

It’s an impressive bit of kit, but it doesn’t exactly come cheap; the bladeRF is available on the Kickstarter for $400. The folks behind the bladeRF seem to be doing things right, though, and are using their Kickstarter windfall for all the right things like a USB vendor ID.

There’s a video of two bladeRFs being used as a full duplex modem. You can check that out after the break.

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Open source software defined radio transceiver


As the year draws to a close, we must look back and look at the advances in amateur radio this year. The RTL-SDR tuner hack, a USB TV Tuner to create a software defined radio receiver, is one of the greatest hacks of the last 12 months and a great justification for 2012 being the year of software defined radio receivers. 2013 is shaping up to have even more advances in the state of software defined radio. This time we’ll be transmitting as well, possibly with [AE9RB]‘s Peaberry SDR transceiver.

The Peaberry SDR transceiver is a kit to both transmit and receive on every HAM band between 160 meters (1.8 MHz) to 17 meters (18 MHz). It does this through a USB interface and a 48kHz, 24-bit interface that is (or will shortly be) compatible with all the major SDR interfaces.

While the Peaberry SDR requires an amateur radio license to operate, we can’t wait to see what else will be coming to the software defined radio scene in the next year.

Thanks [Zach] for sending this one in.

Building a better software defined radio (and transmitting as well)

By now most Hackaday readers should be familiar with this year’s latest advance in software defined radio. With a simple USB TV tuner dongle, it’s possible to receive FM broadcasts, GPS data from satellites, and even telemetry from aircraft flying overhead. There is one limitation to this setup, though: it’s receive only. Hacker extraordinaire [Michael Ossmann] is looking to make a better software defined radio called the HackRF.

The HackRF is an incredibly ambitious project – able to receive just about anything between 100 MHz and 6 GHz (this includes everything from the top of the FM radio band to cordless phones, cell phones, WiFi, and basically any radio technology that has been commercialized in the last 15 years), the HackRF is also able to transmit. Yes, with the HackRF it’s possible to build your own software-defined WiFi module, or just broadcast bogus GPS information.

Compared to the $20 TV tuner SDR dongles we’ve played around with, the HackRF isn’t exactly cheap. [Mossmann] figures he’ll be able to sell the device for about $300. A fair bit of change, but much, much less than professional, commercial SDR solutions.

A very cool advance in the state of SDR, but reason dictates we must suggest that everyone who wants a HackRF to start studying for their amateur radio exam now. Being a licensed radio operator won’t stop you from any sort of malicious intent, but with at least with licensing comes with the possibility of knowing what evil you’re doing.

You can check out the wiki for the HackRF over on the gits along with the current hardware design