DIY Passive Radar System Verifies ADS-B Transmissions

Like most waves in the electromagnetic spectrum, radio waves tend to bounce off of various objects. This can be frustrating to anyone trying to use something like a GMRS or LoRa radio in a dense city, for example, but these reflections can also be exploited for productive use as well, most famously by radar. Radar has plenty of applications such as weather forecasting and various military uses. With some software-defined radio tools, it’s also possible to use radar for tracking aircraft in real-time at home like this DIY radar system.

Unlike active radar systems which use a specific radio source to look for reflections, this system is a passive radar system that uses radio waves already present in the environment to track objects. A reference antenna is used to listen to the target frequency, and in this installation, a nine-element Yagi antenna is configured to listen for reflections. The radio waves that each antenna hears are sent through a computer program that compares the two to identify the reflections of the reference radio signal heard by the Yagi.

Even though a system like this doesn’t include any high-powered active elements, it still takes a considerable chunk of computing resources and some skill to identify the data presented by the software. [Nathan] aka [30hours] gives a fairly thorough overview of the system which can even recognize helicopters from other types of aircraft, and also uses the ADS-B monitoring system as a sanity check. Radar can be used to monitor other vehicles as well, like this 24 GHz radar module found in some modern passenger vehicles.

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Nearly-Destroyed Commodore Gets New Life

We all have our shiny, modern computers for interacting with the modern world, but at times they can seem a little monochromatic. Even the differences between something like macOS and Windows for the average user often boil down to which operating system loads an Internet browser. There are obviously more differences than that, but back in the 80s it was much more extreme with interoperability a pipe dream in most cases. What keeps drawing people to maintaining and using computers from that chaotic era is more tangible compared to modern machines, and that is meant quite literally; computers from this era can be saved from an extreme amount of degradation like this Commodore that was nearly completely destroyed before it was re-discovered.

The first step was to restore the case of this Commodore PC20-III, but the restoration of the computer’s internals took a bit more time. First, the entire board was de-soldered, with any rare chips being set aside for future use. Unfortunately the board itself was too corroded and otherwise damaged to be used, but since these were just two-layer boards it could be photographed and then re-created in CAD software to make a near-perfect duplicate of the original. The team at [The Cave] took the opportunity to add patch wires which would have been present in the original machine into the PCB, and made some other upgrades as well like adding sockets to various chips that would have been originally soldered to the board.

The passive components, especially capacitors, were brand new as well and some period-correct components such as a monitor and keyboard finish out the build. The computer boots on the first try, and is quickly put through its paces testing the hard disk drive, using the old floppy drive, and even playing a few video games from the era. The fact that retrocomputers like these are easy (by modern standards) to reverse engineer and restore surely leads to their continued popularity, and we’ve seen everything from C64s to this 128DCR get a similar full restoration.

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Keep Tabs On PC Use With Custom Analog Voltmeter

With the demands of modern computing, from video editing, streaming, and gaming, many of us will turn to a monitoring system of some point to keep tabs on CPU usage, temperatures, memory, and other physical states of our machines. Most are going to simply display on the screen but this data can be sent to external CPU monitors as well. This retro-styled monitor built on analog voltmeters does a great job of this and adds some flair to a modern workstation as well.

The build, known as bbMonitor, is based on the ESP32 platform which controls an array of voltmeters via PWM. The voltmeters have been modified with a percentage display to show things like CPU use percentage. Software running on the computers sends this data in real time to the ESP32 so the computer’s behavior can be viewed at a glance. Each voltmeter is also augmented with RGB LEDs that change color from green to red as use increases as well. The project’s creator, [Corebb], also notes that the gauges will bounce around if the computer is under heavy load but act more linearly when under constant load, also helping to keep an eye on computer status.

While the build does seem to rely on a Windows machine to run the software for export to the monitor, all of the code is open-sourced and available on the project’s GitHub page and could potentially be adapted for other operating systems. And, as far as the voltmeters themselves go, there have been similar projects in the past that use stepper motors as a CPU usage monitor instead.

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A Smart Power Distribution Unit For Home Automation

Power distribution units, as the name implies, are indispensable tools to have available in a server rack. They can handle a huge amount of power for demands of intensive computing and do it in a way that the wiring is managed fairly well. Plenty of off-the-shelf solutions have remote control or automation capabilities as well, but finding none that fit [fmarzocca]’s needs or price range, he ended up building his own essentially from scratch that powers his home automation system.

Because it is the power supply for a home automation system, each of the twelve outlets in this unit needed to be individually controllable. For that, three four-channel relay boards were used, each driven by an output on an ESP32. The ESP32 is running the Tasmota firmware to keep from having to reinvent the wheel, while MQTT was chosen as a protocol for controlling these outlets to allow for easy integration with the existing Node-RED-based home automation system. Not only is control built in to each channel, but the system can monitor the power consumption of each outlet individually as well. The entire system is housed in a custom-built sheet metal enclosure and painted to blend in well with any server rack.

Adding a system like this to a home automation system can simplify a lot of the design, and the scalable nature means that a system like this could easily be made much smaller or much larger without much additional effort. If you’d prefer to keep your hands away from mains voltage, though, we’ve seen similar builds based on USB power instead, with this one able to push around 2 kW.

Implantable Battery Charges Itself

Battery technology is the major limiting factor for the large-scale adoption of electric vehicles and grid-level energy storage. Marginal improvements have been made for lithium cells in the past decade but the technology has arguably been fairly stagnant, at least on massive industrial scales. At smaller levels there have been some more outside-of-the-box developments for things like embedded systems and, at least in the case of this battery that can recharge itself, implantable batteries for medical devices.

The tiny battery uses sodium and gold for the anode and cathode, and takes oxygen from the body to complete the chemical reaction. With a virtually unlimited supply of oxygen available to it, the battery essentially never needs to be replaced or recharged. In lab tests, it took a bit of time for the implant site to heal before there was a reliable oxygen supply, though, but once healing was complete the battery’s performance leveled off.

Currently the tiny batteries have only been tested in rats as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the chemistry and electricity generation capabilities, but there didn’t appear to be any adverse consequences. Technology like this could be a big improvement for implanted devices like pacemakers if it can scale up, and could even help fight diseases and improve healing times. For some more background on implantable devices, [Dan Maloney] catches us up on the difficulties of building and powering replacement hearts for humans.

Downloading Satellite Imagery With A Wi-Fi Antenna

Over the past century or so we’ve come up with some clever ways of manipulating photons to do all kinds of interesting things. From lighting to televisions and computer screens to communication, including radio and fiber-optics, there’s a lot that can be done with these wave-particles and a lot of overlap in their uses as well. That’s why you can take something like a fairly standard Wi-Fi antenna meant for fairly short-range communication and use it for some other interesting tasks like downloading satellite data.

Weather satellites specifically use about the same frequency range as Wi-Fi, but need a bit of help to span the enormous distance. Normally Wi-Fi only has a range in the tens of meters, but attaching a parabolic dish to an antenna can increase the range by several orders of magnitude. The dish [dereksgc] found is meant for long-range Wi-Fi networking but got these parabolic reflectors specifically to track satellites and download the information they send back to earth. Weather satellites are generally the target here, and although the photons here are slightly less energy at 1.7 GHz, this is close enough to the 2.4 GHz antenna design for Wi-Fi to be perfectly workable and presumably will work even better in the S-band at around 2.2 GHz.

For this to work, [dereksgc] isn’t even using a dedicated tracking system to aim the dish at the satellites automatically; just holding it by hand is enough to get a readable signal from the satellite, especially if the satellite is in a geostationary orbit. You’ll likely have better results with something a little more precise and automated, but for a quick and easy solution a surprisingly small amount of gear is actually needed for satellite communication.
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Flute Now Included On List Of Human Interface Devices

For decades now, we’ve been able to quickly and reliably interface musical instruments to computers. These tools have generally made making and recording music much easier, but they’ve also opened up a number of other out-of-the-box ideas we might not otherwise see or even think about. For example, [Joren] recently built a human interface device that lets him control a computer’s cursor using a flute instead of the traditional mouse.

Rather than using a MIDI interface, [Joren] is using an RP2040 chip to listen to the flute, process the audio, and interpret that audio before finally sending relevant commands to control the computer’s mouse pointer. The chip is capable of acting as a mouse on its own, but it did have a problem performing floating point calculations to the audio. This was solved by converting these calculations into much faster fixed point calculations instead. With a processing improvement of around five orders of magnitude, this change allows the small microcontroller to perform all of the audio processing.

[Joren] also built a Chrome browser extension that lets a flute player move a virtual cursor of sorts (not the computer’s actual cursor) from within the browser, allowing those without physical hardware to try out their flute-to-mouse skills. If you prefer your human interface device to be larger, louder, and more trombone-shaped we also have a trombone-based HID for those who play the game Trombone Champ.