Gathering Eclipse Data Via Ham Radio

A solar eclipse is coming up in just a few weeks, and although with its path of totality near the southern tip of South America means that not many people will be able to see it first-hand, there is an opportunity to get involved with it even at an extreme distance. PhD candidate [Kristina] and the organization HamSCI are trying to learn a little bit more about the effects of an eclipse on radio communications, and all that is required to help is a receiver capable of listening in the 10 MHz range during the time of the eclipse.

It’s well-known that certain radio waves can propagate further depending on the time of day due to changes in many factors such as the state of the ionosphere and the amount of solar activity. What is not known is specifically how the paths can vary over the course of the day. During the eclipse the sun’s interference is minimized, and its impact can be more directly measured in a more controlled experiment. By tuning into particular time stations and recording data during the eclipse, it’s possible to see how exactly the eclipse impacts propagation of these signals. [Kristina] hopes to take all of the data gathered during the event to observe the doppler effect that is expected to occur.

The project requires a large amount of volunteers to listen in to the time stations during the eclipse (even if it is not visible to them) and there are only a few more days before this eclipse happens. If you have the required hardware, which is essentially just a receiver capable of receiving upper-sideband signals in 10 MHz range, it may be worthwhile to give this a shot. If not, there may be some time to cobble together an SDR that can listen in (even an RTL-SDR set up for 10 MHz will work) provided you can use it to record the required samples. It’s definitely a time that ham radio could embrace the hacker community.

RESQ Hunts For Lost Hikers From The Air

When lost hiking out in the back country, a cell phone might not seem like the most useful tool. Absent a signal from the cellular network, it’s not possible to make outgoing calls for help. However, carrying your phone may just make it a lot easier for rescuers to find you, and [Eric] is making a tool to do the job.

The handheld version of ResQ features a directional Yagi antenna to help pinpoint the location of the signal.

[Eric]’s project is named ResQ, and aims to find lost hikers by detecting the beacon packets from a cellphone’s WiFi adapter. The project comes in two forms; a handheld unit with a directional Yagi antenna, and a drone-mounted unit that can overfly terrain to scan for signals.

ResQ is built around the ESP8266, which is a cheap and accessible way to build a custom WiFI scanner. Currently, the system is able to detect WiFi devices and log MAC addresses along with timestamps and GPS location data to an SD card to help rescuers locate lost individuals. Future plans involve adding a live downlink to the drone such that any pings can be reported live for rescuers to investigate.

Similar systems exist commercially, primarily working with cell signals rather than WiFi. Costs are prohibitively high for many organisations though, so we can see ResQ filling in gaps as a useful tool to have. We’ve featured other radio gear for search and rescue before, too. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: February 23, 2020

If you think your data rates suck, take pity on New Horizons. The space probe, which gave us lovely pictures of the hapless one-time planet Pluto after its 2015 flyby, continued to plunge and explore other, smaller objects in the Kuiper belt. In January of 2019, New Horizons zipped by Kuiper belt object Arrokoth and buffered its findings on the spacecraft’s solid-state data recorders. The probe has been dribbling data back to Earth ever since at the rate of 1 to 2 kilobits per second, and now we have enough of that data to piece together a story of how planets may have formed in the early solar system. The planetary science is fascinating, but for our money, getting a probe to narrowly miss a 35-kilometer long object at a range of 6.5 billion km all while traveling at 51,500 km/h is pretty impressive. And if as expected it takes until September to retrieve all the data from the event at a speed worse than dialup rates, it’ll be worth the wait.

Speaking of space, if you’re at all interested in big data, you might want to consider putting your skills to work in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The Berkeley SETI Research Center has been feeding data from the Green Bank Telescope and their Automated Planet Finder into the public archive of Breakthrough Listen, a 10-year, $100 million initiative to scan the million closest stars in our galaxy as well as the 100 nearest galaxies for signs of intelligent life. They’re asking for help to analyze the torrents of data they’re accumulating, specifically by developing software and algorithms to process the data. They’ve set up a site to walk you through the basics and get you started. If you’re handy with Python and have an interest in astronomy, you should check it out.

Staying with the space theme, what’s the best way to get kids interested in space and electronics? Why, by launching a satellite designed to meme its way across the heavens, of course. The Mission for Education and Multimedia Engagement satellite, or MEMESat-1, is being planned for a February 2021 launch. The 1U cubesat will serve as an amateur radio repeater and slow-scan TV (SSTV) beacon that will beam down memes donated to the project and stored on radiation-hardened flash storage. In all seriousness, this seems like a great way to engage the generation that elevated the meme to a modern art form in a STEM project they might otherwise show little interest in.

It looks as though Linux might be getting a big boost as the government of South Korea announced that they’re switching 3.3 million PCs from Windows to Linux. It’s tempting to blame Microsoft’s recent dropping of Windows 7 support for the defenestration, but this sounds like a plan that’s been in the works for a while. No official word on which distro will be selected for the 780 billion won ($655 million) effort, which is said to be driven by ballooning software license costs and a desire to get out from under Microsoft’s thumb.

And finally, in perhaps the ickiest auction ever held, the “Davos Collection” headed to the auction block this week in New York. The items offered were all collected from the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the world’s elites gather to determine the fate of the 99.999%. Every item in the collection, ranging from utensils and glassware used at the many lavish meals to “sanitary items” disposed of by the billionaires, and even hair and fluid samples swabbed from restrooms, potentially holds a genetic treasure trove in the form of the DNA it takes to be in the elite. Or at least that’s the theory. There’s a whole “Boys from Brazil” vibe here that we find disquieting, and we flatly refuse to see how an auction where a used paper cup is offered for $8,000 went, but if you’d like to virtually browse through the ostensibly valuable trash of oligarchs, check out the auction catalog.

This WiFi Spoofing Syringe Is For External Use Only

A browse through his collected works will tell you that [El Kentaro] loves to build electronics into interesting enclosures, so when he realized there’s enough room inside a 150 ml plastic syringe to mount an ESP8266, a battery, and a copious amount of RGB LEDs, the “Packet Injector” was the inescapable result.

Granted, the current incarnation of this device doesn’t literally inject packets. But [El Kentaro] wasn’t actually looking to do anything malicious, either. The Injector is intended to be a fun gag for him to bring along to the various hacker cons he finds himself at, like his DEAUTH “bling” necklace we saw at DEF CON 26, so having any practical function is really more icing on the cake than a strict requirement.

In the end, the code he came up with for the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH that uses the FakeBeaconESP8266 library to push out fictitious networks on demand. This is a trick we’ve seen used in the past, and makes for a relatively harmless prank as long as you’re not pumping out any particularly unpleasant SSIDs. In this case, [El Kentaro] punctuates his technicolor resplendency with beacons pronouncing “The WiFi Doctor is Here.”

But the real hack here is how [El Kentaro] controls the device. Everything is contained within the syringe chamber, and he uses a MPL3115A2 I2C barometric pressure sensor to detect when it’s being compressed. If the sensor reads a pressure high enough over the established baseline, the NeoPixel Ring fires up and the fake beacon frames start going out. Ease up on the plunger, and the code detects the drop in pressure and turns everything back off.

If this build has piqued your interest, [El Kentaro] gave a fascinating talk about his hardware design philosophy during the WOPR Summit that included how he designed and built some of his “greatest hits”; including a Raspberry Pi Zero enclosure that was, regrettably, not limited to external use.

Temperature Sensor And Simple Oscillator Make A Value-Added HF Beacon

Sometimes the best projects are the simple, quick hits. Easily designed, fast to build, and bonus points for working right the first time. Such projects very often lead to bigger and better things, which appears to be where this low-power temperature beacon is heading.

In the world of ham radio, beacon stations are transmitters that generally operate unattended from a known location, usually at limited power (QRP). Intended for use by other hams to determine propagation conditions, most beacons just transmit the operator’s call sign, sometimes at varying power levels. Any ham that can receive the signal will know there’s a propagation path between the beacon and the receiver, which helps in making contacts. The beacon that [Dave Richards (AA7EE)] built is not a ham beacon, at least not yet; operating at 13.56 MHz, it takes advantage of FCC Part 15 regulations regarding low-power transmissions rather than the Part 97 rules for amateur radio. The circuit is very simple — a one-transistor Colpitts oscillator with no power amplifier, and thus very limited range. But as an added twist, the oscillator is keyed by an ATtiny13 hooked to an LM335 temperature sensor, sending out the Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature in Morse every 30 seconds or so. The circuit is executed in Manhattan style, which looks great and leaves plenty of room for expansion. [Dave] mentions adding a power amp and a low-pass filter to get rid of harmonics and make it legal in the ham bands.

Beacons are just one of the ways for hams to get on the air without talking. Another fun way to analyze propagation is WSPR, which is little like an IoT beacon.

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ESP8266 Broadcasts Memorial WiFi Spam

John Perry Barlow, founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, died on February 7th, 2018. To say that he left his mark on the Internet, and by extension modern culture, is something of an understatement. He may not be a household name, but between this activism (online and off), lectures, written work, and various entrepreneurial projects, his 70 years of life were surely not wasted. Barlow was once quoted as saying “I want to be a good ancestor”, and by pretty much any metric it would seem he made good on that goal.

To mark his passing, [Moritz Metz] came up with a rather unusual memorial. Using a bit of code on an ESP8266 board, he created a device that would broadcast out Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspaceline-by-line in the form of 228 WiFi SSIDs. Perhaps not the most effective way to get Barlow’s words out to the people, but we’ll give him extra points for style.

The code itself is based on FakeBeaconESP8266, which as the name implies, allows the user to create fake WiFi networks. to broadcast the manifesto of your choosing, you need only add in the appropriate sendBeacon() lines at the bottom of the code. It would appear that prefixing each line with a number is required to make devices scanning for networks show the lines of text in proper sequence. At least on the devices demoed, anyway.

Just to be clear: you should definitely not do this. Jamming up the local environment with a bunch of fake networks is a pretty terrible idea. But as a memorial for a man who occasionally claimed to be an anarchist, you could do worse. Plus we have to admit “Giants of Flesh and Steel” is an awesome name for a network.

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Ultrasonic Tracking Beacons Rising

An ultrasonic beacon is an inaudible sound with encoded data that can be used by a listening device to receive information on just about anything. Beacons can be used, for example, inside a shop to highlight a particular promotion or on a museum for guided tours where the ultrasonic beacons can encode the location. Or they can be used to track people consumers. Imagine if Google find outs… oh, wait… they already did, some years ago. As with almost any technology, it can be used to ‘do no harm’ or to serve other purposes.

Researchers from the Technische Universitat Braunschweig in Germany presented a paper about Ultrasonic Side Channels on Mobile Devices and how can they be abused in a variety of scenarios , ranging from simple consumer tracking to deanonymization. These types of ultrasonic beacons work in the 18 kHz – 20 kHz range, which the human being doesn’t have the ability to hear, unless you are under twenty years old, due to presbycusis. Yes, presbycusis. This frequency range can played via almost any speaker and can be picked up easily by most mobile device microphones, so no special hardware is needed. Speakers and mics are almost ubiquitous nowadays, so there is a real appeal to the technology.

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