Listening to Electromagnetic Interference with a RTLSDR Dongle

Being curious by nature, [Marios] decided to see what kind of radio-frequency emissions may be generated by an Arduino connected to a simple breadboard wire, and more importantly try to pick them up using a RTLSDR dongle. Electromagnetic interferences are disturbances that affect electrical circuits due to either electromagnetic induction or electromagnetic radiation. Before going into the market, all electrical devices are thoroughly checked for unwanted electromagnetic emissions so they usually aren’t obvious suspects when such problems arise.

Using the Arduino embedded PWM controller in fast PWM mode and by manipulating the duty cycle, he actually managed to create a primitive form of amplitude modulation and was able to transfer a very simple audible signal at several frequencies up to 1.75GHz. Embedded after the break here is video of the system at work.

As a side note, did you know that during the solar storm of 1859 the EMI were so strong that the telegraph operators received several shocks? Pipelines maintenance systems also have to be aware of such events, that can lead sensors to provide inaccurate results.

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Custom HTPC and Home Media Server


[Benoit Frigon]‘s builds are a tribute to tidiness: both his HTPC and media server are elegant creations packed full of features. He has quite the knack for clean builds in this form factor; his PBX server was met with high praise earlier this summer.

For the HTPC, [Benoit] gutted and cleaned an old DVR case and modified it to house a Mini-ITX board. He added standoff mounts to support the motherboard, then sketched up a template for the IO shield as a guide for cutting the back panel. The front of the DVR case originally had a 4-digit 7-segment display and a few simple buttons. Though he kept the original button layout, [Benoit] chose to replace the segment displays with a 20×2 character LCD. The new display is controlled via a python script on the HTPC, which runs an OpenElec Linux distro with XBMC 12.0.

The HTPC’s hard drive bay is a bit lighter these days, because [Benoit] decided to migrate his media storage to a separate server. Inside the new home media server is yet another Mini-ITX motherboard with an embedded Atom N2800 that runs Ubuntu Server. Live television streams via a WinTV HVR-2550 TV tuner and TVHeadend software. The case originally suspended the tuner from the IO bracket on the back (and nowhere else), which left the rest of the card dangerously unsupported inside. [Benoit] solved the problem by building an additional aluminum bracket that firmly holds both the PCIe riser and the tuner. Check out both builds’ pages for downloadable templates, software details and bill of materials.

A Comparison of Hacker Friendly SDRs

3 SDRs

In the market for a software defined radio? [Taylor Killian] wrote a comprehensive comparison of several models that are within the price range of amateurs and hobbyists.

You can get started with SDR using a $20 TV tuner card, but there’s a lot of limitations. These cards only work as receivers, are limited to a small chunk of the radio spectrum, and have limited bandwidth and sample rates. The new SDRs on the market, including the bladeRF, HackRF, and USRP offerings are purpose built for SDR experimentation. You might want an SDR to set up a cellular base station at Burning Man, scan Police and Fire radio channels, or to track ships.

[Taylor] breaks down the various specifications of each radio, and discusses the components used in each SDR in depth. In the end, the choice depends on what you want to do and how much you’re willing to spend. This breakdown should help you choose a hacker friendly SDR.

[Balint] is starting a software-defined radio tutorial series

A few months ago, we saw a hack where a $20 USB TV tuner was transformed into a software-defined radio capable of reading GPS signals, listening to radio transmissions between aircraft and a control tower, and even a simple FM radio. This project is a perfect introduction to the RTL-SDR and Ham radio scene, but getting these projects up and running can be a bit overwhelming for anyone who hasn’t played around with this before. [Balint] is tackling this problem head on with a series of YouTube tutorials to get SDR noobs up and running with GNU Radio and the Realtec USB TV tuner.

To demonstrate the power of software-defined radio, [Balint] is using GNU Radio and the USB TV tuner that started it all, the Ezcap EZTV668 (conveniently back in stock at DealExtreme, but other options exist). Because software-defined radio is a touch confusing for a beginner to wrap their head around, [Balint] is beginning his tutorial series by explaining radio sources, sinks, and the GNU Radio interface.

Already, [Balint] has put up 5 tutorials and made the flowgraph files available in his gr-baz project. He’s doing a wonderful job opening up the software-defined radio scene to beginners, but he’s still looking for some feedback. If you have a suggestion on what [Balint] should cover next, leave a note in the YouTube comments and we’re sure [Balint] will get around to that eventually.

Playing air traffic controller with software defined radio

Being an air traffic controller is a very cool career path – you get to see planes flying around on computer screens and orchestrate their flight paths like a modern-day magician. [Balint] sent in a DIY aviation mapper so anyone can see the flight paths of all the planes in the air, with the added bonus of not increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.

[Balint]‘s Aviation Mapper uses software defined radio to overlay RADAR and ACARS messages from aircraft and control towers in an instance of Google Earth running in a web browser. After grabbing all the radio data from a software defined radio, [Balint]‘s server parses everything and chucks it into the Google Earth framework. There’s a ton of info, pictures, and explanations of the inner machinations of the hardware on [Balint]‘s official project page.

Right now, Aviation Mapper only displays planes within 500 km of Sydney airspace, but [Balint] is working on expanding the coverage with the help of other plane spotters. If you’re willing to help [Balint] expand his coverage, be sure to drop him a line.

Of course, [Balint] is the guy who gave us a software radio source block for those cheap USB TV tuner dongles. Just a few days ago we saw these dongles receiving GPS data, so we’re very impressed with what these little boxes can do in the right hands. [Balint] says his Aviation Mapper application will work with any GNU Radio receiver, so it’s entirely possible to copy his work with a handful of TV tuner dongles.

After the break, there’s two videos of [Balint] sitting at the end of the runway near the Sydney airport watching arrivials come in right above his head and on his laptop. It’s very cool, but we’d be interested in an enterprising hacker in the New York City area copy [Balint]‘s work.

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Those USB TV tuners used for SDR can also grab GPS data

Talk about versatile hardware. These inexpensive TV tuner dongles can also grab GPS data. You may remember seeing this same hardware used as a $20 option for software defined radio. But [Michele Bavaro] decided to see what other tricks they could pull off.

Would it surprise you that he can get location data accurate to about 20 centimeters? That figure doesn’t tell the whole story, as readings were taken while the dongle was stationary for three hours, then averaged to achieve that type of accuracy. But depending on what you need the data for this might not be a problem. And [Michele] does plan to implement real-time GPS data in his next iteration of the project. He plans to use an SDR acquisition algorithm to measure doppler shift in accounting for the slow clock speed of the dongles compared to standard GPS receivers. We can understand how that would work, but we’re glad he has the skills to actually make it happen because we’re at a loss on how the concept could be implemented.

[via Reddit]