Remoticon Video: Basics Of RF Emissions Debugging Workshop

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.

Professionally-made probes in several sizes
Build your own probes from magnet wire

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.

I really enjoyed how Alex started his demo with “The Right WayTM” of doing things — using a proper spectrum analyzer to visualize data from the probes. But the real interesting part is “The Hacker WayTM” which leverages an RTL-SDR dongle and some open-source software to get the same job done. Primarily that means using SDRAngel and QSpectrumAnalyzer which are both included in the DragonOS_LTS which can be run inside of a virtual machine.
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Fox Hunting With Software-Defined Radio

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.

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Software-Defined Radio Made Easy

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.

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