Detecting galactic rotation with software defined radio


Last summer in the heyday of software defined radio via USB TV tuners we asked hackaday readers a question: Is anyone using everyone’s favorite method of SDR for radio astronomy? It took nearly a year, but finally there’s an awesome project to turn a USB TV tuner into a radio telescope. It’s from the fruitful mind of [Marcus Leech] (PDF warning), and is good enough to detect the rotation of the galaxy with a three-foot satellite dish.

News of [Marcus]’ work comes to us from [Carl] over at who has been keeping tabs on the advances of building a radio telescope in a backyard. He’s been collecting a lot of interesting tidbits including this gif showing an arm of the galaxy entering and leaving [Marcus]’ telescope’s field of view over the course of a few hours.

Not only can [Marcus]’ telescope record continium measurements – basically, a single-pixel camera sensitive to only one frequency – it can also produce spectral plots of the sky. Combine the ability to measure multiple frequencies at the same time with the Doppler effect, and [Marcus] can measure the rotation of the galaxy with a USB TV tuner. That’s just awesome in our humble opinion.

If you already have an RTL-SDR TV tuner and a largish satellite dish, [Marcus]’ project should be fairly inexpensive to replicate; the feed assembly is made out of a coffee can, the amplifiers are repurposed satellite television equipment, and all the software – [Marcus]’ own simple_ra tool for GNU Radio – is open source. Of course with a 3 foot diameter dish, it will be impossible to replicate the data from huge radio telescopes. Still, it’s an impressive piece of work that leaves us searching craigslist for an old C-band dish.

Listening to aircraft transponders with a Raspberry Pi

Last year’s big hack was software-defined radio; a small USB TV tuner that could listen in on radio broadcasts anywhere between 64 and 1200 MHz. This year, it’s all about the Raspberry Pi, so it’s surprising we’re only just now seeing a mashup of these two pieces of hardware. [Corq] is using a Raspi and RTLSDR TV tuner to listen in on aircraft transponders, and getting a whole bunch of data from aircraft flying overhead.

Even though the ADS-B decoder [Corq] is using is written for OS X, he’s reading the data coming from the USB TV tuner over the network with a program called Dump1090. This program allows [Corq] to attach his SDR to a Raspbery Pi and put it somewhere the antenna will get good reception – an attic, or an outdoor weatherproof case – and stream data to his desktop over a WiFi or network connection.

With a USB TV tuner and a Raspberry Pi, [Corq] is able read the tail numbers, altitude, latitude, longitude, speed, heading, and even the type of aircraft currently flying over his house. That’s cool enough, but the fact that he can effectively do this over the Internet makes it a brilliant hardware mashup.

Hackaday Links: March 25, 2013

Illegal, yet impressive


Want a soda? Just grab a robot, shove it in a vending machine, and grab yourself one. This video is incredibly French, but it looks like we’ve got a custom-built robot made out of old printers and other miscellaneous motors and gears here. It’s actually pretty impressive when you consider 16 ounce cans weigh a pound.



Okay, we got a lot of emails on our tip line for this one. It’s a group buy for a programmable oscillator over on Tindie. Why is this cool? Well, this chip (an SI570) is used in a lot of software defined radio designs. Also, it’s incredibly hard to come by if you’re not ordering thousands of these at a time. Here’s a datasheet, now show us some builds with this oscillator.

Chiptune/keygen music anywhere


[Huan] has a co-loco’d Raspi and wanted a media server that is available anywhere, on any device. What he came up with is a service that streams chiptune music from your favorite keygens. You can access it with Chrome (no, we’re not linking directly to a Raspberry Pi), and it’s extremely efficient – his RAM usage didn’t increase a bit.

Take it on an airplane. Or mail it.


[Alex]’s hackerspace just had a series of lightning talks, where people with 45-minute long presentations try to condense their talk into 10 minutes. Of course the hackerspace needed some way to keep everything on schedule. A simple countdown timer was too boring, so they went with a fake, Hollywood-style bomb. No, it doesn’t explode, but it still looks really, really fake. That’s a good thing.

Printers have speakers now?


[ddrboxman] thought his reprap needed a nice ‘print finished’ notification. After adding a piezo to his electronics board, he whipped up a firmware hack that plays those old Nokia ringtones. The ringtones play over Gcode, so it’s possible to have audible warnings and notifications. Now if it could only play Snake.

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.

Continue reading “bladeRF, your next software defined radio”

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.