The Things Network Sets 702 km Distance Record For LoRaWAN

Many of us will have at some time over the last couple of years bought a LoRaWAN module or two to evaluate the low power freely accessible wireless networking technology. Some have produced exciting and innovative projects using them while maybe the rest of us still have them on our benches as reminders of projects half-completed.

If your LoRaWAN deployment made it on-air, you’ll be familiar with the range that can be expected. A mile or two with little omnidirectional antennas if you are lucky. A few more miles if you reach for something with a bit of directionality. Add some elevation, and range increases.

A couple of weeks ago at an alternative society festival in the Netherlands, a balloon was launched with a LoRaWAN payload on board that was later found to have made what is believed to be a new distance record for successful reception of a LoRaWAN packet. While the balloon was at an altitude of 38.772 km (about 127204.7 feet) somewhere close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands, it was spotted by a The Things Network node in Wroclaw, Poland, at a distance of 702.676km, or about 436 miles. The Things Network is an open source, community driven effort that has built a worldwide LoRaWAN network.

Of course, a free-space distance record for a balloon near the edge of space might sound very cool and all that, but it’s not going to be of much relevance when you are wrestling with the challenge of getting sensor data through suburbia. But it does provide an interesting demonstration of the capabilities of LoRaWAN over some other similar technologies, if a 25mW (14dBm) transmitter can successfully send a packet over that distance then perhaps it might be your best choice in the urban jungle.

If you’re curious about LoRaWAN, you might want to start closer to home and sniff for local activity.

Doppler Module Teardown Reveals the Weird World of Microwave Electronics

Oscillators with components that aren’t electrically connected to anything? PCB traces that function as passive components based solely on their shape? Slots and holes in the board with specific functions? Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of microwave electronics, brought to you through this teardown and analysis of a Doppler microwave transceiver module.

We’ve always been fascinated by the way conventional electronic rules break down as frequency increases. The Doppler module that [Kerry Wong] chose to pop open, a Microsemi X-band transceiver that goes for about $10 on eBay right now, has vanishingly few components inside. One transistor for the local oscillator, one for the mixer, and about three other passives are the whole BOM. That the LO is tuned by a barium titanate slug that acts as a dielectric resonator is just fascinating, as is the fact that PB traces can form a complete filter network just by virtue of their size and shape. Antennas that are coupled to the transceiver through an air gap via slots in the board are a neat trick too.

[Kerry] analyzes all this in the video below and shows how the module can be used as a sensor. If you need a little more detail on putting these modules to work, we’ve got some basic circuits you can check out.

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Scribble Your Way To Quick Printed Circuit Boards

There are a variety of techniques employed by electronic constructors seeking the convenience of a printed circuit board without the inconvenience of making a printed circuit board. Dead bug style construction in which the components float on a spiders-web of soldered leads above a ground plane is one, Manhattan style construction in which pads made from small cut squares of bare copper-clad PCB are glued on top of a groundplane is another.

[Freestate QRP] has another take on this type of electronics, with what he calls “Scribble style” construction. He cuts away copper from bare board to create pads and rudimentary tracks, and for him the magic ingredient comes from his choice of an engineer’s scribe to do the job. This is where the “scribble” comes from, creating a pad is as simple as drawing it with the scribe.

Of course, this technique is not entirely new, constructors have been doing this type of work for years with Dremel tools, hand engraving tools, and similar. If you’ve ever tried to do it with a knife or scalpel you will know that it’s hardly an easy task with those hand tools so the prospect of another one doing a better job is rather interesting. He’s ready and able to demonstrate it in action, showing us a couple of RF circuits using the technique.

Have you tried this technique, or one like it? How did you get on, tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, you might like to read our own [Dan Maloney]’s look at dead bug and Manhattan construction.

Attack Some Wireless Devices With A Raspberry Pi And An RTL-SDR

If you own one of the ubiquitous RTL-SDR software defined radio receivers derived from a USB digital TV receiver, one of the first things you may have done with it was to snoop on wide frequency bands using the waterfall view present in most SDR software. Since the VHF and UHF bands the RTL covers are sometimes a little devoid of signals, chances are you homed in upon one of the ISM bands as used by plenty of inexpensive wireless devices for all sorts of mundane control tasks. Unless you reside in the depths of the wilderness, ISM band sniffing will show a continuous procession of chirps; short bursts of digital data. It is surprising, the number of radio-controlled devices you weren’t aware were in your surroundings.

Some of these devices, such as car security keys, are protected by rolling encryption schemes to deter would-be attackers. But many of the more harmless devices simply send a command in the open without the barest of encryption. The folks at RTL-SDR.com put up a guide to recording these open data bursts on a Raspberry Pi and playing them back by transmitting them from the Pi itself.

It’s not the most refined of attack because all it does is take the recorded file and retransmit it with the [F5OEO] RPiTX software. But they do demonstrate it in action with a wireless lightbulb, a door bell, a wireless relay, and a remote-controlled switched socket. Since the data in question is transmitted as OOK, or on-off keying, the RPiTX AM mode stands in for the transmitter.

You can see it in action in the video below the break. Now, have you investigated the ISM band chirps in your locality?

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A Ham Radio Go-Box Packed with Functionality

“When all else fails, there’s ham radio.” With Hurricane Harvey just wrapping up, and Irma queued up to clobber Florida this weekend, hams are gearing up to pitch in with disaster communications for areas that won’t have any communications infrastructure left. And the perfect thing for the ham on the go is this ham shack in a box.

Go-boxes, as they are known, have been a staple of amateur radio field operations for as long as there have been hams. The go-box that [Fuzz (KC3JGB)] came up with is absolutely packed with goodies that would make it a perfect EmComm platform. The video tour below is all we have to go on, but we can see a tri-band transceiver, an RTL-SDR dongle and a Raspberry Pi with a TFT screen for tracking satellites. The Pi and SDR might also be part of a NOAA satellite receiver like the one [Fuzz] describes in a separate video; such a setup would be very valuable in natural disaster responses. Everything is powered by a 12-volt battery which can be charged from a small solar panel.

[Fuzz] is ready for action, and while we genuinely hope he and other hams won’t be needed in Florida, it doesn’t seem likely at this point. You can read more about the public service face of ham radio, or about an even more capable go-box.

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19 RTL-SDR Dongles Reviewed

Blogger [radioforeveryone] set out to look at 19 different RTL-SDR dongles for use in receiving ADS-B (that’s the system where airplanes determine their position and broadcast it). Not all of the 19 worked, but you can read the detailed review of the 14 that did.

Granted, you might not want to pick up ADS-B, but the relative performance of these inexpensive devices is still interesting. The tests used Raspberry PI 3s and a consistent antenna and preamp system. Since ADS-B is frequently sent, the tests were at least 20 hours in length. The only caveat: the tests were only done two at a time, so it is not fair to directly compare total results across days.

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Wearable Foxhunt Transmitter for Conventions

Amateur radio operator [KE4FOX] wanted to build his own 2M fox hunt transmitter for use at conventions. It would be contained in a 1020 Pelican micro case and attached to a person who would walk around transmitting a signal, leaving the hams to track down the fox. The project uses a DRA818 VHF/UHF transceiver plugged into a low-pass filter combined with a hardware DTMF decoder, all controlled by an ATmega328P and powered by a 11.2 mAh battery.

[KE4FOX] also etched his own PCB, using the PCB toner transfer method, folding a sheet of transfer paper around the board to align both layers. Then he etched the board using cupric chloride. When assembling the board he realized he had made a terrible error, assuming the transceiver module’s pins went in the top layer when in fact they should have gone in the bottom layer. He solved this by soldering in the module in upside down.

He dropped the project into the 1020 and installed an SMA antenna. After he assembled the project he found out that the level shifter he used on the Arduino’s 5 V data didn’t work as expected and it was stuck at a single frequency. Something to work on for V2!

We publish a large number of amateur radio posts here on Hackaday, including fox hunting with Raspberry Pi and how to make a TDOA directional antenna.

[thanks, that Kat!]