Low Parts Count ARM SDR

[Alberto di Bene] wanted to build an SDR for relatively low frequencies. Usually, you’d start with some front end to get the radio frequency signal down where you can work with it. But [Alberto] practically just fed an antenna into an STM32F429 Discovery board and did all the radio processing in the onboard ARM chip.

There is a little more to it than that, but only a little. If you open the PDF file on [Alberto’s] site, you’ll see there is a simple front end filter (a transformer, along with a few capacitors and inductors). This low pass filter prevents high frequencies from reaching the ARM processor’s analog to digital converter. In addition, a capacitor and a couple of resistors ensure the converter only sees positive voltages.

The CPU digitizes the incoming signal and processes it, demodulating several different types of radio transmission. The recovered audio is sent through the onboard digital to analog converter.

In addition to an input filter, the output also needs a filter to prevent high frequencies from reaching the speaker. Unlike the input filter, this one is a bit more complicated. The inductors needed for a passive filter were too large to be practical, so the output filter is an active one with a few transistors. The only other external circuitry is the power supply for the Discovery board.

The document does a great job of explaining the rationale behind the design choices and how the whole system works. It also includes simulations of both analog and digital filters used in the design.

This is really bare metal SDR and reading the code is educational. However, if you want to start with something simpler, consider GNU Radio and either an SDRPlay or a cheap RTL-SDR dongle.


Retrotechtacular: The Omega Navigational System

In 1971, the United States Navy launched the Omega navigational system for submarines and surface ships. The system used radio frequencies and phase difference calculations to determine global position. A network of eight (VLF) transmitter sites spread around the globe made up the system, which required the cooperation of six other nations.

Omega’s fix accuracy was somewhere between one and two nautical miles. Her eight transmitter stations were positioned around the Earth such that any single point on the planet could receive a usable signal from at least five stations. All of the transmitters were synchronized to a Cesium clock and emitted signals on a time-shared schedule.

LOP-thumbA ship’s receiving equipment performed navigation by comparing the phase difference between detected signals. This calculation was based around “lanes” that served to divvy up the distance between stations into equal divisions. A grid of these lanes formed by eight stations’ worth of overlapping signals provides intersecting lines of position (LOP) that give the sailor his fix.

In order for the lane numbers to have meaning, the sailor has to dial in his starting lane number in port based on the maps. He would then select the pair of stations nearest him, which were designated with the letters A to H. He would consult the skywave correction tables and make small adjustments for atmospheric conditions and other variances. Finally, he would set his lane number manually and set sail.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Omega Navigational System”

The Alexanderson Transmitter: Very-low Frequency Radio Rides Again!

Is your ham radio rig made of iron and steel? Is it mechanically driven? Classified as a World Heritage Site? We didn’t think so. But if you’d like to tune in one that is, or if you’re just a ham radio geek in need of a bizarre challenge, don’t miss Alexanderson Day 2015 tomorrow, Sunday, June 28th

The Alexanderson Transmitter design dates back to around 1910, before any of the newfangled tube technology had been invented. Weighing in at around 50 tons, the monster powering the Varberg Radio Station is essentially a high-speed alternator — a generator that puts out 17.2 kHz instead of the 50-60 Hz  that the electric companies give us today.

Most of the challenge in receiving the Alexanderson transmitter broadcasts are due to this very low broadcast frequency; your antenna is not long enough. If you’re in Europe, it’s a lot easier because the station, SAQ, is located in Sweden. But given that the original purpose of these behemoths was transcontinental Morse code transmission, it only seems sporting to try to pick it up in the USA. East Coasters are well situated to give it a shot.

And of course, there’s an app for that. The original SAQrx VLF Receiver and the extended version both use your computer’s sound card and FFTs to extract the probably weak signal from the noise.

We scouted around the net for an antenna design and didn’t come up with anything more concrete than “few hundred turns of wire in a coil” plugged into the mic input.  If anyone has an optimized antenna design for this frequency, post up in the comments?

Thanks [Martin] for the tip!

All about VLF radio

If you’re interested in learning about Very Low Frequency communications take a look at what Larry has to offer on his site. He’s put together a guide to VLF receivers that is short enough to read and clear enough to understand with rudimentary knowledge of circuits. He builds a simple receiver as a working example and a high-powered transmitter that can put out over 2600 watts. Let’s face it, radio operators were the original electronic hackers. Get back to our roots and learn the ways of the transistor.

[Thanks Buddy]

EM Brace for sensing magnetic fields

We’ve discussed the notion of using machines to add or improve sensory input to the body before, and we’ve found another project with the same idea. [Nick Hasty] has developed an object he calls the EM Brace, which allows the user to sense electromagnetic fields with a wave of the hand.

The device works by connecting two antennas to an enclosure that contains a speaker. The enclosure is intended to be worn on the back with a harness securing it in place and wrapping the arms around the wearer’s body. The antennas are incorporated into a pair of gloves. When the antennas pick up electromagnetic radiation, the speaker emits a low frequency sound waves. They vibrate the enclosure and the arms, which in turn vibrate the body, signaling to the wearer that he or she is in an electromagnetic field, also referred to as hertzian space. A good deal of detail about the project can be found on his blog, or if you prefer, download his thesis paper in(PDF).

[via Make]