So it turns out that walking around with $4,000 worth of hardware on your head isn’t quite the peak technology experience that some people thought it would be. We’re talking about the recently released Apple Vision Pro headset, which early adopters are lining up in droves to return. Complaints run the gamut from totally foreseeable episodes of motion sickness to neck pain from supporting the heavy headset. Any eyeglass wearer can certainly attest to even lightweight frames and lenses becoming a burden by the end of the day. We can’t imagine what it would be like to wear a headset like that all day. Ergonomic woes aside, some people are feeling buyer’s remorse thanks to a lack of apps that do anything to justify the hefty price tag. The evidence for a wave of returns is mostly gleaned from social media posts, so it has to be taken with a grain of salt. We wouldn’t expect Apple to be too forthcoming with official return figures, though, so the ultimate proof of uptake will probably be how often you spot one in the wild. Apart from a few cities and only for the next few weeks, we suspect sightings will be few and far between.
Over the years here at Hackaday, we’ve covered a range of stories about the ongoing panic surrounding drone flights. From plastic bags reported as drone incidents through to airports closed with no evidence of drones being involved, it’s clear that drone fliers are an embattled group facing a legal and aeronautical establishment that seems to understand little about them or their craft.
It sometimes seems to be a no-win situation for fliers, but perhaps [XJet] has something which might improve matters. He’s published a video showing off a portable ADS-B receiver which could be used by drone pilots to check for any aircraft in the vicinity and perhaps more importantly allow the drone community to take the moral high ground when problems occur.
The receiver isn’t particularly special, being a Raspberry Pi with LCD screen and an RTL-SDR receiver in a nice 3D printed enclosure. He says he’ll be publishing all software and build details in due course. But it’s the accessibility which makes it such a good idea, instead of being a very expensive safety device it’s a receiver that could probably be made with a less powerful Pi for under $100.
There is of course a flaw in the plan, that not all pilots are concerned enough for their safety to fit an ADS-B transponder to their aircraft, and so are invisible to both the thus-equipped drone pilot and air traffic control alike. This puts the onus on pilots to consider ADS-B an essential, but from the drone flier’s point of view we’d consider that a spotter should be part of their group anyway.
Curious what the fuss is about? Let us take you on a journey.
Real-time flight data used to be something that was only available to air traffic controllers, hunched over radar scopes in darkened rooms watching the comings and goings of flights as glowing phosphor traces on their screens. But that was then; now, flight tracking is as simple as pulling up a web page. But where’s the fun in that?
To bring some of that old-school feel to his flight tracking, [Jarrett Cigainero] has been working on this ADS-B scope that uses a real radar CRT. As you can imagine, this project is pretty complex, starting with driving the 5FP7 CRT, a 5″ round-face tube with a long-persistence P7-type phosphor. The tube needs about 7 kV for the anode, which is delivered via a homebrew power supply complete with a custom flyback transformer. There’s also a lot going on with the X-Y deflection amps and beam intensity control.
The software side has a lot going on as well. ADS-B data comes from an SDR dongle using dump1090 running on a Raspberry Pi 3B. The latitude and longitude of each plane within range — about 5 nautical miles — is translated to vector coordinates, and as the “radar” sweeps past the location, a pip lights up on the scope. And no, you’re not seeing things if you see two colors in the video below; as [TubeTime] helpfully explains, P7 is a cascade phosphor that initially emits a bright-blue light with some UV in it, which then charges up a long-persistence green phosphor.
Even though multicolored icons and satellite imagery may be more useful for flight tracking, we really like the simple retro look [Jarrett] has managed to pull off here, not to mention the hackery needed to do it.
In the news among aviation enthusiasts, the ADS-B data aggregation and aircraft tracking site ADSB-Exchange has been sold by its founder to JETNET for a reported $20,000,000. This type of routine financial news is more at home in the business media than on Hackaday, but in this case there’s something a little different at play. ADS-B Exchange is a community driven site whose data comes from thousands of enthusiasts worldwide connecting their ADS-B receivers to its feed API. The sale to a commercial flight data company has not gone down well with this community who are unsurprisingly unimpressed that their free contributions to the website have been sold.
This certainly isn’t the first time a site built on community data has flipped into big business, and while it’s unclear whether JETNET will do a full CDDB and boot out anyone not paying to play, we can understand the users feeling that their work has been sold from under them. On the other hand, how many of us can truly claim their open source beliefs wouldn’t start to buckle once somebody slides a $20m check across the table?
It’s evidently too late for anyone aggrieved by their ADS-B data being sold, but perhaps there’s something else to think about here. We have an established way to recognize open source software in the many well-known software libre licences, but we don’t for crowd-sourced data. Perhaps it’s time for the open-source community to consider this problem and come up with something for future sites like ADS-B Exchange whatever field they may be in, a licence which clearly defines the open terms under which contributors provide the data and those under which site owners can use it. Otherwise we’ll be here again in a few years writing about another aggrieved community, and we think that doesn’t have to happen.
Plane spotting has been a hobby of aviation enthusiasts for generations. Hanging out by the airport, watching aircraft come and go, maybe even listening to Air Traffic Control on a scanner from your local Radio Shack. Yep- we’ve been there, and it can be a lot of fun! But how can those of us who don’t live near a major controlled airport keep up on the action? As demonstrated by the [Information Zulu] YouTube channel’s Live Stream, seen below the break, the action may be closer than you think!
By using publicly available information, software, and some ingenuity, [Information Zulu] has created a live simulation of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for your simulated plane spotting pleasure. Aircraft positional data is gained through an ADSB receiver and piped into a the flight simulator software with a Traffic Injection Addon, and the simulator itself is used to properly place aircraft, set the weather, and even the correct aircraft types and liveries. Setting off the illusion of a real plane spotting adventure is the live Air Traffic Control radio chatter!
We love the creativity that went into not just making all of the software available, but in combining it into a cohesive product that can be viewed 24/7 on YouTube that, if you squint just right, could be mistaken for a view of the real thing.
If you’re not familiar with ADSB and how it’s used to track aircraft in such a way that anybody can receive it with the right equipment, check out this beginner’s course on ADSB from a few years back!
Software-defined radio came on the hacker scene in a big way less than a decade ago thanks to the discovery that a small USB-based TV tuner dongle could be used for receiving all kinds of radio transmissions. Two popular projects from that era are tracking nearby airplanes and boats in real time. Of course, these projects rely on different frequencies and protocols, but if you live in a major port city like [Ian] then his project that combines both into a single user interface might be of interest.
This project uses an RTL-SDR dongle for the marine traffic portion of the project, but steps up to a FlightAware Pro dongle for receiving telemetry from airplanes. Two separate antennas are needed for this, and all of the information is gathered and handled by a pair of Raspberry Pis. The Pis communicate with various marine and air traffic databases as well as handles the custom user interface that knits both sets of information together. This interface was custom-built from a previous project of his and was repurposed slightly to fit the needs of this one.
This is a great project that goes into a lot of interesting detail about how the web traffic moves and how the UI works, so even if you’re not into software-defined radio it might be worth a look. However, it’s also worth noting that it hasn’t been easier to set up a system like this thanks to the abundance and low price of RTL-SDR dongles and the software tools that make setting them up a breeze.
You can imagine how stressful life is for high-power CEOs of billion-dollar companies in these trying times; one is tempted to shed a tear for them as they jet around the world and plan their next big move. But now someone has gone and upset the applecart by coming up with a way to track executive private jets as they travel across North America. This may sound trivial, but then you realize that hedge fund managers pay big money for the exact same data in order to get an idea of who is meeting with whom and possibly get an idea of upcoming mergers and acquisitions. It’s also not easy, as the elites go to great lengths to guard their privacy. Luckily, the OpenSky Network lists all ADS-B traffic its web of ground stations receives, unlike other flight monitoring sites which weed out “sensitive” traffic. Python programs scrape the OpenSky API and cross-reference plane registrations with the FAA database to see which company jets are doing what. There are plenty of trips to Aspen and Jackson Hole to filter out, but with everyone and his little brother fancying themselves a day trader lately, it’s another tool in the toolbox.
We got a nice note from Michelle Thompson this week thanking us for mentioning the GNU Radio Conference in last week’s Links article, and in particular for mentioning the virtual CTF challenge that they’re planning. It turns out that Michelle is deeply involved in designing the virtual CTF challenge, after having worked on the IRL challenges at previous conferences. She shared a few details of how the conference team made the decision to go forward with the virtual challenge, inspired in part by the success of the Hack-A-Sat qualifying rounds, which were also held remotely. It sounds like the GNU Radio CTF challenge will be pretty amazing, with IQ files being distributed to participants in lieu of actually setting up receivers. We wish Michelle and the other challenge coordinators the best of luck with the virtual con, and we really hope a Hackaday reader wins.
Amateur radio is often derided as a hobby, earning the epithet “Discord for Boomers” according to my son. There’s more than a grain of truth to that, but there are actually plenty of examples where a ham radio operator has been able to make a big difference in an emergency. Case in point is this story from the Western Massachusetts ARRL. Alden Jones (KC1JWR) was hiking along a section of the Appalachian Trail in southern Vermont last week when he suddenly got light-headed and collapsed. A passing hiker who happened to be an emergency medical technician rendered aid and attempt to contact 911 on his cell phone, but coverage was spotty and the dispatcher couldn’t hear him. So Alden, by this point feeling a little better, pulled out his handy talkie and made an emergency call to the local repeater. Luckily the Western Massachusetts Traffic Net was just about to start, so they went into emergency mode and coordinated the response. One of the hams even went to the rescue staging area and rigged up a quick antenna to improve the signal so that rescuers could finally get a helicopter to give Alden a ride to the hospital. He’s fine now, and hats off to everyone who pitched in on the eight-hour rescue effort.
And finally, there are obviously a lot of details to be worked out before anyone is going to set foot on the Moon again. We’ve got Top People™ working on all the big questions, of course, but apparently NASA needs a little help figuring out how and where the next men and first women on the Moon are going to do their business. The Lunar Loo Challenge seeks innovative designs for toilets that can be used in both microgravity and on the lunar surface. There is $35,000 in prize money for entrants in the Technical division; NASA is also accepting entries in a Junior division, which could prove to be highly entertaining.