Inspect The RF Realm With Augmented Reality

Intellectually, we all know that we exist in a complex soup of RF energy. Cellular, WiFi, TV, public service radio, radar, ISM-band transmissions from everything from thermometers to garage door openers — it’s all around us. It would be great to see these transmissions, but alas, most of us don’t come from the factory with the correct equipment.

Luckily, aftermarket accessories like RadioFieldAR by [Manahiyo] make it possible to visualize RF signals. As the name suggests, this is an augmented reality system that lets you inspect the RF world around you. The core of the system is a tinySA, a pocket-sized spectrum analyzer that acts as a broadband receiver. A special antenna is connected to the tinySA; unfortunately, there are no specifics on the antenna other than it needs to have a label with an image of the Earth attached to it, for antenna tracking purposes. The tinySA is connected to an Android phone — one that supports Google’s ARCore — by a USB OTG cable, and a special app on the phone runs the show.

By slowly moving the antenna around in the field of view of the phone’s camera, a heat map of signal strength at a particular frequency is slowly built up. The video below shows it in action, and the results are pretty cool. If you don’t have a tinySA, fear not — [Manahiyo] has a version of the app that supports a plain old RTL-SDR dongle too. That should make it easy for just about anyone to try this out.

And if you’re feeling deja vu about this, you’re probably remembering the [Manahiyo]’s VR spectrum analyzer, upon which this project is based.

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Smartphone App Uses AR To Visualize The RF Spectrum

Have you ever wished you could see in the RF part of the radio spectrum? While such a skill would probably make it hard to get a good night’s rest, it would at least allow you to instantly see dead spots in your WiFi coverage. Not a bad tradeoff.

Unwilling to go full [Geordi La Forge] to be able to visualize RF,¬†[Ken¬†Kawamoto] built the next best thing – an augmented-reality RF signal strength app for his smartphone. Built to aid in the repositioning of his router in the post-holiday cleanup, the app uses the Android ARCore framework to figure out where in the house the phone is and overlays a color-coded sphere representing sensor data onto the current camera image. The spheres persist in 3D space, leaving a trail of virtual breadcrumbs that map out the sensor data as you warwalk the house. The app also lets you map Bluetooth and LTE coverage, but RF isn’t its only input: if your phone is properly equipped, magnetic fields and barometric pressure can also be AR mapped. We found the Bluetooth demo in the video below particularly interesting; it’s amazing how much the signal is attenuated by a double layer of aluminum foil. [Ken] even came up with an Arduino with a gas sensor that talks to the phone and maps the atmosphere around the kitchen stove.

The app is called AR Sensor and is available on the Play Store, but you’ll need at least Android 8.0 to play. If your phone is behind the times like ours, you might have to settle for mapping your RF world the hard way.

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