It’s no secret that the Steam Deck is a powerful computer, especially for its price point. It has to be capable enough to run modern PC games while being comfortable as a handheld, all while having a useful amount of battery life. Thankfully Valve didn’t lock down the device like most smartphone manufacturers, allowing the computer to run whatever operating system and software the true owner of the device wants to run. That means that a whole world of options is open for this novel computer, like using it to set up an 802.11ah Wi-Fi network over some pretty impressive distances.
Of course the Steam Deck is more of a means to an end for this project; the real star of the show is DragonOS, a Debian-based Linux distribution put together by [Aaron] to enable easy access to the tools needed for plenty of software-defined radio projects like this one. Here, he’s using it to set up a long-distance Wi-Fi network on one side of a lake, then testing it by motoring over to the other side of the lake to access the data from the KrakenSDR setup running on the Deck, as well as performing real-time capture of IQ data that was being automatically demodulated and feed internally to whispercpp.
While no one will be streaming 4K video over 802.11ah, it’s more than capable of supporting small amounts of data over relatively large distances, and [Aaron] was easily able to SSH to his access point from over a kilometer away with it. If the lake scenery in the project seems familiar at all, it’s because this project is an extension of another one of his DragonOS projects using a slightly lower frequency to do some impressive direction-finding, also using the Steam Deck as a base of operations.
DragonOS, a Debian-based Linux distribution specifically packaged for software-defined radio functionality, roared onto the wavelengths during the beginnings of the various pandemic lockdowns last year. Since then [Aaron], the creator of the OS, has been busy adding features to the distribution as well as creating plenty of videos which show off its capabilities and also function as how-tos for people who might want to learn about software-defined radio. The latest is a video about using this software to detect radio signals in certain specified spectrums.
This build uses two RTL-SDR devices paired with the DragonOS software suite to automatically detect active frequencies within a specified frequency range and that aslo exceed a threshold measured above the average noise floor. The video includes the setup of the software and its use in detecting these signals, but also includes setup of influxdb and Grafana which provide logging capabilities as well. Using this setup, multiple receivers either local or over the internet can then be configured to dump all the identified frequencies, powers, and time stamps into DragonOS.
[Aaron] has also been helping developers to build the SDR4space.lite application which includes GPS support, so he hopes that in a future video a user will be able to easily associate location to identified frequencies. Projects like these also serve as a reminder that getting into software-defined radio is as easy as buying a $10 USB radio receiver and configuring some free software to do anything that you can imagine like tracking ships and airplanes in real time.
These days we’re surrounded by high-speed electronics and it’s no small feat that they can all play nicely in near proximity to each other. We have RF emissions standards to thank, which ensure new products don’t spew forth errant signals that would interfere with the data signals traveling through the ether. It’s long been the stuff of uber-expensive emissions testing labs, and failure to pass can leave you scratching your head. But as Alex Whittimore shows in this workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, you can do a lot of RF emissions debugging with simple and inexpensive tools.
You can get a surprisingly clear picture of what kind of RF might be coming off of a product by probing it on your own workbench. Considering the cost of the labs performing FCC and other certifications, this is a necessary skill for anyone who is designing a product headed to market — and still damn interesting for everyone else. Here you can see two examples of the probes used in the process. Although one is a pack of professional tools and other is a bit of enameled wire (magnet wire), both are essentially the same: a loop of wire on which a magnetic field will induce a very small current. Add a Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA) and you’ll be up and measuring in no-time.
Fox hunting, or direction finding, is a favorite pastime in the ham radio community where radio operators attempt to triangulate the position of a radio transmission. While it may have required a large amount of expensive equipment in the past, like most ham radio operations the advent of software-defined radio (SDR) has helped revolutionize this aspect of the hobby as well. [Aaron] shows us how to make use of SDR for direction finding using his custom SDR-based Linux distribution called DragonOS.
We have mentioned DragonOS before, but every iteration seems to add new features. This time it includes implementation of a software package called DF-Aggregator. The software (from [ckoval7]), along with the rest of DragonOS, is loaded onto a set of (typically at least three) networked Raspberry Pis. The networked computers can communicate information about the radio waves they receive, and make direction finding another capable feature found in this distribution.
[Aaron] has a few videos showing the process of setting this up and using it, and all of the software is available for attempting something like this on your own. While the future of ham radio as a hobby does remain in doubt, projects like this which bring classic ham activities to the SDR realm really go a long way to reviving it.
Just a few decades ago, getting into hobby radio meant lots of specialty hardware, and making changes to your setup to work on various frequencies wasn’t particularly easy. Since software-defined radio (SDR) came onto the scene in an accessible way for most of us, this barrier to entry was reduced significantly and made the process of getting on the air a lot easier. It goes without saying that it does require some software, but [Aaron]’s latest project makes even getting that software extremely simple.
What he has done is created a custom Linux distribution based on Debian, called DragonOS, with the entire suite of SDR programs needed to get up and running. Out of the box, it supports RTL-SDR, HackRF and LimeSDR packages and even includes other fun tools you’ll need like Kismet. There are several video demonstrations of his distribution, including using RTL-SDR for ADS-B reception, and also shows off several custom implementations of the OS in various scenarios on his YouTube channel. The video linked below also shows how to set up the distribution in a virtual machine, so you can run this even if you don’t have a computer to dedicate to SDR.
Getting into SDR has never been easier, and the odds of having something floating around in the junk drawer that you can use to get started are pretty high. The process is exceptionally streamlined with [Aaron]’s software suite. If you’re a little short on hardware, though, there’s no better place to get started than with the classic TV-tuner-to-SDR hack from a few years back.