If you have ever browsed an amateur radio magazine you could be forgiven for receiving the impression that it is a pursuit exclusively for the wealthy. Wall-to-wall adverts for very large and shiny transceivers with hefty price tags abound, and every photograph of someone’s shack seems to sport a stack of them.
Of course, this is only part of the story. Amateur radio is and always has been an astonishingly diverse interest, and away from the world of shiny adverts you’ll find a lot of much more interesting devices. A lot of radio amateurs still design and build their own equipment, and the world of homebrew radio is forever producing new ideas.
One such project came to our attention recently, the Minima, an all-band HF SSB transceiver. It’s an interesting device for several reasons, it uses readily available components, it’s an impressively simple design, and it should cost under $100 to build. This might sound a little far-fetched, were it not from the bench of [Ashhar Farhan, VU2ESE], whose similarly minimalist BITX single band SSB transceiver set a new standard for accessible SSB construction a few years ago.
The circuit shares some similarities with the tried-and-tested BITX, using bi-directional amplifier building blocks. The mixers are now FETs rather than diodes, the intermediate frequency has moved from 9MHz to 20MHz, and the local oscillator is now an Arduino-controlled clock generator. The whole thing is designed to be built dead-bug-style if necessary, and two prototypes have been built. We’d expect this design to follow a similar evolution to the BITX, with the global community of radio amateurs contributing performance modifications, and no doubt with some kit suppliers producing PCBs and kits. We think this can only be a good thing, and look forward to covering some of the results.
Finishing up on the topic of CMOS bus logic I am going to show a couple of families with unique properties that may come in handy one day.
High Voltage Tolerant Family: AHC/AHCT
First up is a CMOS logic family AHC/AHCT that has one of the protection diodes on the input removed. This allows a 5V input voltage to be applied to a device powered by 3.3V so that I don’t have to add a gate just for the translation. Any time I can translate and do it without any additional gate delays I am a happy engineer.
Of course the example above works in a single direction and bidirectional does start to get more complicated. Using a bidirectional buffer such as a 74AHCT245 will work for TTL translation when going from 3.3V back to 5V providing there is a direction control signal present.
Anybody can grab a USB TV tuner card and start monitoring the airwaves, but to get into the real meat of radio you’ll need your amateur radio license. Once you have that, the bandwidth really opens up… if you can afford the equipment. However, [spaceneedle] and friends have dramatically lowered the costs while increasing the possibilities of owning a radio by creating this ham radio shield for the Arduino.
The HamShield, is a versatile shield for any standard Arduino that allows it to function like an off-the-shelf radio would, but with a virtually unlimited number of functions. Anything that could be imagined can be programmed into the Arduino for use over the air, including voice and packet applications. The project’s sandbox already includes things like setting up mesh networks, communicating over APRS, setting up repeaters or beacons, monitoring weather stations, and a whole host of other ham radio applications.
HamShield operates on a wide range of frequencies and only uses a 250 mW amplifier. The power draw is small enough that the HamShield team operated it from a small solar panel, making it ideal for people in remote areas. The project is currently gathering funding and has surpassed their goal on Kickstarter, branding itself appropriately as the swiss army of amateur radio. The transceiver seems to be very robust, meaning that the only thing standing in the way of using this tool is simply writing the Arduino code for whatever project you want to do, whether that’s as a police scanner or even just a frequency counter. And if you want to follow along on hackaday.io, the project can be found here.
You can buy a dongle with a weird industrial connector that fits under the dash of any car on the road for $15. This is just a simple ODB-II transceiver meant for reading error codes and turning a Crown Vic into a police interceptor. There’s a lot more to the CAN Bus than OBD-II; robots and industrial control units, for instance, and Hackaday alum [Eric] has developed an open source tool for all things CAN.
[Eric] built this tool because of a lac of open-source tools that can talk CAN. There are plenty of boards floating around that can reset codes in a car using OBD-II, but an open hardware CAN device doesn’t really exist.
The CANtact is a small board outfitted with a USB port on one end, a DE-9 port on the other, and enough electronics to talk to any CAN device. The hardware on the CANtact is an STM32F0 – an ARM Cortex M0 that comes with USB and CAN interfaces. This chip connects to a Microchip CAN transceiver, and that’s pretty much all you need to talk to cars and industrial automation equipment. If doing something legal, moral, or safe with the CAN bus in your car isn’t your thing, Wired reports you can digitally cut someone’s brake lines.
On the software side of things, the CANtact can interface with Wireshark and the CANard Python library. All the files, from hardware to software, are available on the Github. Oh, CANtact was at Black Hat Asia, which means [Eric] was at Black Hat Asia. We should have sent stickers with him.
This week, we’re taking the wayback machine to 1940 for an informative, fast-paced look at the teleprinter. At the telegram office’s counter, [Mary] recites her well-wishes to the clerk. He fills out a form, stuffs it into a small canister, and sends it whooshing through a tube down to the instrument room. Here, an operator types up the telegram on a fascinating electro-mechanical device known as a teleprinter, and [Mary]’s congratulatory offering is transmitted over wires to her friend’s local telegraph office hundreds of miles away.
We see that the teleprinter is a transceiver that mechanically converts the operator’s key presses into a 5-digit binary code. For example, ‘y’ = 10101. This code is then transmitted as electrical pulses to teleprinters at distant offices, where they are translated back into alphanumerical data. This film does a fantastic job of explaining the methods by which all of this occurs and does so with an abstracted, color-coded model of the teleprinter’s innards.
The conversion from operator input to binary output is explained first, followed by the mechanical translation back to text on the receiving end. Here, it is typed out on a skinny paper tape by the type wheel shown above. Telegraphists in the receiving offices of this era cut and pasted the tape on a blank telegram in the form of meaningful prose. Finally, it is delivered to its intended recipient by a cheeky lad on a motorbike.
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.
The prototype model is designed for use with the Atmel AT90USBKey, and uses the LUFA USB framework. The protocol and packet format was revised, and a Hamming Code implementation was built using look-up tables to give error control. Finally once the prototype was ready to go [hpux735] created some awesome little PCB’s that contain the AVR, radio, antenna hookups, and blinky lights (no project is complete without blinky lights) are all ready to go when you are.
This project has come quite a long way, covers 3 blog pages, uses a fair bit of ribbon cable, but you just got to love when a plan comes together.