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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Great antenna for software defined radio is really easy to make


The University of Kent’s hackerspace, TinkerSoc, recently had a talk on software-defined radio using an incredibly inexpensive USB TV tuner. Of course this is nothing new to Hackaday readers, but they did manage to build one of the best antennas for their TV dongle. It’s a discone antenna, and is perfectly suited for tuning into a whole bunch of really cool things such as weather balloons and aircraft transponders.

The idea discone antenna looks exactly like its namesake; a metal disk attached to a metal cone. Of course with the frequencies the RTL software-defined radio deals with, it’s rarely necessary to build antennas out of sheet metal. The team at TinkerSoc built their discone out of galvanized garden wire and attached it to the input of their TV tuner.

All the dimensions for their discone antenna were gleaned from [ve3sqb]‘s antenna design programs. Since TinkerSoc designed their antenna for 110 MHz, it ended up being pretty large. For higher frequencies, though, a discone antenna become fairly small and more than portable enough for a mobile rig.

Pictures from weather satellites with a USB TV tuner


Several times a day, a NOAA weather satellite passes over your head, beaming down pictures of weather systems and cloud formations. These transmissions aren’t encrypted, and given the requisite hardware it’s possible for you to download these images from space as [Lovro] shows us in a tutorial video.

To get these near real-time satellite pictures, [Lovro] used one of those USB TV tuners we’ve grown so fond of. A somewhat specialized antenna is required to receive the right hand polarized transmissions from NOAA weather satellites, but with a few bits of wood and wire, [Lovro] made a helical antenna to listen in on the weather satellites transmitting around 137 MHz. After gathering a whole bunch of data from the satellites with SDRsharp, [Lovro] used an image decoder to turn an audio file into a picture taken from space just hours ago.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen images from a NOAA weather satellite downloaded with a software defined radio; last year [hpux735] did just that with a somewhat inexpensive Softrock SDR. [Lovro]‘s use of a USB TV tuner to receive the transmission from NOAA satellites is a lot easier on the pocketbook, though, with the largest expense being an investment in time to build a helical antenna.

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

Still more software defined radio fun on the Mac

Even though the world of software defined radio started out as a Linux-only endeavor, several recent software releases have put the ball fully into the court of OS X users. [hpux735]‘s new Cocoa Radio release provides a (nearly) fully functional software defined radio for anyone with a USB TV tuner and a mac.

Earlier this week, we saw (and tested)  [Elias]‘ port of gqrx and were reasonably impressed. [hpux735]‘s app does the same job and also provides the source so you can compile it yourself.

Previously, [hpux735] ported the osmocom driver for these RTL2832U-based USB TV tuner dongles to the Mac and wrote a small Cocoa driver. The new Cocoa Radio software uses this driver and adds all the features you’d expect from a software radio package; in the title pic for this post, you can see a top 40 radio station near my house and their insipid hatred of dynamic range.

[hpux735] posted a few videos of his development process. You can check those out after the break.

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Real time GPS decoding with software defined radio

In case the Realtek RTL2832u-based USB TV tuner dongle isn’t useful enough, the folks behind a project to get a software defined GPS receiver off the ground successfully plotted GPS data in real-time with this very inexpensive radio.

Previously, we’ve seen these dongles grab data from GPS satellites - useful if you’re building a GPS-based clock – but this build required hours of data collection to plot your location on a map.

The folks working on the GNSS-SDR project used an RTL2832 USB TV tuner and a Garmin active GPS antenna to track up to four GPS satellites in real-time and plot a location accurate to about 200 meters.

The Google Earth plot for this post shows the data collected by the GNSS-SDR team; the antenna was fixed at the red arrow for the entirety of the test, and the  yellow lines represent a change in the calculated location every 10 seconds. Amazing work, and only goes to show what this remarkable piece of hardware is capable of.