If you dabble in the ham radio hobby we’re sure you’ve heard of GPS position monitoring or tracking using APRS packet data commonly transmitting over the VHF ham band and FM modulated. One of the issues you’ll face using this common method is range limitations of VHF. [Mike Berg] a.k.a [N0QBH ] tipped us off to his latest project to greatly increase the range of a standalone APRS system utilizing the HF bands on single-sideband (SSB).
There are some unique challenges transmitting packet data using SSB over HF bands. High Frequency APRS has been around for decades utilizing FSK AX.25 packet transmissions at 300 baud, but it was quite susceptible to noise and propagation aberrations. More recently PSK-31 at the slower 31 baud speed helped alleviate many of these issues. [Mike] utilized the somewhat updated APRS with PSK-63 and the “APRS Messenger” program to overcome these challenges. [Mike’s] hardware solution consists of a PIC 16F690 micro which is coded to receive data from a GPS receiver, convert it into PSK-63 and then transmit on 30 meters over an attached HF radio. A second receiving station or stations at great distances can pick up and decode the transmission using the “APRS Messenger” program connected to the receiving radio over the computer’s soundcard. The program can then forward the tracking information, if good, to tracking websites like FindU.com and APRS.FI.
You can build your own FreeTrak63 by downloading [Mike’s] parts list, assembly code, HEX file, manual and schematic. The PCB is available on OSH Park if you don’t want to make your own or wire point-to-point. Let’s not forget to mention how hackable this hardware is, being really just an eight bit DAC, micro, serial in and radio out. One could reprogram this hardware to do other modulation schemes like AX.25 packet or MFSK16, the sky’s the limit. If short-distance on VHF with existing Internet linked receiver networks using an Arduino compatible platform is more to your taste, then checkout the Trackuino open source APRS Tracker.
His space agency hardware might be in Southern Appalachia, but he can control it from anywhere in the world. That’s right, [Travis Goodspeed] started his own space agency — well kinda. The first piece of hardware operated by the organization is this dish for tracking moving targets in near space.
The main part of the build is a Felcom 82B dish which was designed to be a satellite link for naval vessels. The image showing the back side of it exposes all of the extras he built into the system. Don’t worry though, a dome goes over the top to keep the weather out without encumbering its operation.He uses an SDR dongle to handle the radio communications. That connects to a BeagleBone which pipes the data to his handheld over the Internet.
It’s amazing to see this type of hobby project. It wasn’t that long ago that you needed an entire room of hardware to communicate with satellites.
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.
This is [Paul Mandel’s] Ground-truth velocity sensor. That’s a fancy name for a device which tracks the movement of a vehicle by actually monitoring the ground its travelling over. This differs from simply measuring wheel rotation (which is how traditional odometers work) in that those systems are an indirect measurement of motion. For us the interesting part is the use of an ADNS-3080 single-chip optical mouse sensor on the left. It’s cheap, accurate, and only needs to be ruggedized before being strapped to the bottom of a car.
[Paul] designed a case that would protect the electronics and allow the sensor to mount on the uneven underbelly of a vehicle. The optical chip needs to be paired with a lens, and he went with one that cost about ten times as much as the sensor. Data is fed from the sensor to the main system controller using the PIC 18F2221. One little nugget that we learned from this project is to poll a register that always returns a default value as a sanity check. If you don’t get the expected value back it signals a communications problem, an important test for hardware going into the vibration-hell that is automotive technology.
Instead of walking his kid to the bus stop like he used to, [Paul Wallich] lets this quadcopter watch his son so he doesn’t have to. It is quite literally an automated system for tracking children — how wild is that?
The idea came to him when wishing there was a way to stay inside the house during the winter months while still making sure his kid got to the bus stop okay. [Paul] picked up a quadcopter kit and started looking at ways to add monitoring. He found the easiest technique was to include a cellphone and watch via a video chat app. But that is only part of the build as he would still have to fly the thing. After searching around he found a beacon that can be placed in the backpack. It has a GPS module, an RF modem, and runs a stripped down Python scripting shell. Whenever the GPS data changes (signaling his son is on the move) it uplinks with the quadcopter and gives it the new coordinates.
This goes a long way to making your family a police state. May we also recommend forcing the children to punch a time clock?
[G. Eric Rogers] is a radar-systems engineer who just happens to live within sight of the aircraft approach path for the local airport. We wonder if that was one of the criteria when looking for a home? Naturally, he wanted his own home-based system for tracking the airplanes. He ended up repurposing a motorized telescope for this purpose.
The system does not actually use Radar for tracking. Instead, the camera strapped to the telescope is feeding a video experimenter shield. A tracking algorithm analyzes the video and extrapolates vector data. From there, the base unit can be controlled by the Arduino via an RS232 interface.
There are some bugs in the system right now. The Arduino has something of an ADHD problem, losing interesting and going to sleep in the middle of the tracking process. [Eric’s] workaround uses the RS232 board to periodically reset the Arduino, but he hopes to squash this bug soon.
Check out this solar-powered Stirling engine (translated). The build is part of a high school class and they packed in some really nice features. The first is the parabolic mirror which focuses the sun’s rays on the chamber of the engine. The heat is what makes it go, and the video after the breaks shows it doing just that.
But the concept behind the mirror makes for an interesting challenge. The light energy is focused at a narrow point. When the sun moves in the sky that point will no longer be at an efficient position to power the engine. This issue is solved by a pair of stepper motors which can reposition the dish. It’s done automatically by an Arduino Uno which makes readings from four LDR (photoresistors) in that cardboard tube mounted at the top of the dish. If the light intensity is the same for all four, then the tube is pointed at the sun. If not, the motors are tweaked to get the best angle possible.
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