Simple Decoder Serves as Solo Ham’s Test Buddy

For a hobby that’s ostensibly all about reaching out to touch someone, ham radio can often be a lonely activity. Lots of hams build and experiment with radio gear much more than they’re actually on the air, improving their equipment iteratively. The build-test-tweak-repeat cycle can get a little tedious, though, especially when you’re trying to assess signal strength and range and can’t find anyone to give you a report.

To close the loop on field testing, [WhiskeyTangoHotel] threw together a simple ham radio field confirmation unit that’s pretty slick. It relies on the fact that almost every ham radio designed for field use incorporates a DTMF encoder in the microphone or in the transceiver itself. Hams have used Touch Tones for in-band signaling control of their repeaters for decades, and even as newer digital control methods have been introduced, good old analog DTMF hangs in there. The device consists of a DTMF decoder attached to the headphone jack of a cheap handy talkie. When a DTMF tone is received, a NodeMCU connected to the decoder calls an IFTTT job to echo the key to [WTH]’s phone as an SMS message. That makes it easy to drive around and test whether his mobile rig is getting out. And since the receiver side is so portable, there’s a lot of flexibility in how tests can be arranged.

On the fence about ham as a hobby? We don’t blame you. But fun projects like this are the perfect excuse to go get licensed and start experimenting.

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Cell Phone Surveillance Car

There are many viable options for home security systems, but where is the fun in watching a static camera feed from inside your place? The freedom to really look around might have been what compelled [Varun Kumar] to build a security car robot to drive around his place and make sure all is in order.

Aimed at cost-effectiveness and WiFi or internet accessibility, an Android smartphone provides the foundation of this build — skipping the need for a separate Bluetooth or WiFi module — and backed up by an Arduino Uno, an L298 motor controller, and two geared DC motors powering the wheels.

Further taking advantage of the phone’s functionality, the robot is controlled by DTMF tones. Using the app DTMF Tone Generator and outputting through the 3.5mm jack, commands are interpreted by a MT8870DE DTMF decoder module.While this control method carries some risks — as with many IoT-like devices — [Kumar] has circumvented one of DTMF’s vulnerabilities by adding a PIN before the security car will accept any commands.

He obtains a live video feed from the phone using AirDroid in concert with VNC server, and assisted by a servo motor for the phone is enabled to sweep left and right for a better look. A VNC client on [Kumar]’s laptop is able to access the video feed and issue commands. Check it out in action after the break!

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In-Band Signaling: Dual-Tone Multifrequency Dialing

One late night many decades ago, I chanced upon a technical description of the Touch-Tone system. The book I was reading had an explanation of how each key on a telephone sends a combination of two tones down the wire, and what’s more, it listed the seven audio frequencies needed for the standard 12-key dial pad. I gazed over at my Commodore 64, and inspiration hit — if I can use two of the C64’s three audio channels to generate the dual tones, I bet I can dial the phone! I sprang out of bed and started pecking out a Basic program, and in the wee hours I finally had it generating the recognizable Touch-Tones of my girlfriend’s phone number. I held the mouthpiece of my phone handset up to the speaker of my monitor, started the program, and put the receiver to my ear to hear her phone ringing! Her parents were none too impressed with my accomplishment since it came at 4:00 AM, but I was pretty jazzed about it.

Since that fateful night I’ve always wondered about how the Touch-Tone system worked, and in delving into the topic I discovered that it’s part of a much broader field of control technology called in-band signaling, or the use of audible or sub-audible signals to control an audio or video transmission. It’s pretty interesting stuff, even when it’s not used to inadvertently prank call someone in the middle of the night. Continue reading “In-Band Signaling: Dual-Tone Multifrequency Dialing”

Fake Ram: Identifying a Counterfeit Chip

[Robert Baruch‏] had something strange on his hands. He had carefully decapped 74LS189 16×4 static RAM, only to find that it wasn’t a RAM at all. The silicon die inside the plastic package even had analog elements, which is not what one would expect to find in an SRAM. But what was it? A quick tweet brought in the cavalry, in the form of chip analysis expert [Ken Shirriff].

[Ken] immediately realized the part [Robert] had uncovered wasn’t a 74 series chip at all. The power and ground pins were in the wrong places. Even the transistors were small CMOS devices, where a 74 series part would use larger bipolar transistors. The most glaring difference between the mystery device and a real LS819 was the analog elements. The mystery chip had a resistor network, arranged as an R-2R ladder. This configuration is often used as a simple Digital to Analog Converter (DAC).

Further analysis of the part revealed that the DAC was driven by a mask ROM that was itself indexed using a linear feedback shift register. [Ken] used all this information to plot out the analog signal the chip would generate. It turned out to be a rather sorry looking sine wave.

The mystery part didn’t look like any function generator or audio chip of the era. [Ken] had to think about what sort of commodity part would use lookup tables to generate an audio waveform. The answer was as close as his telephone — a DTMF “touch tone” generator, specifically a knockoff of a Mostek MK5085.

Most investigators would have stopped there. Not [Ken] though. He delved into the construction and function of the DTMF generator. You can find the full analysis on his site. This isn’t [Ken’s] first rodeo with decapped chips. He’s previously examined the Intel 8008 and presented a talk on silicon reverse engineering at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference. [Robert] has also shown us how to pop the top of classic ceramic integrated circuits.


Automatic Phone Dialer Illuminates Inner Workings

The invention of the transistor ushered in a lot of technologies that we now take for granted, and one of the less-thought-about areas that it improved living conditions worldwide was by making the touch-tone phone possible. No longer would the world have to fuss with dials to make phone calls, they could simply push some buttons. This technology is still in use today, and it is possible to build external phone dialers that use these tones to make phone calls, as [SunFounder] demonstrates with his latest project.

The tones that a phone makes when a button is pressed correlate with specific frequencies for each number. Automatic dialers like this one help when there are multiple carriers (like different long-distance carriers, for example) where different prefixes can be used to make calls cheaper depending on the destination of the call. A preprogrammed dialer can take all of this complication out of making phone calls. [SunFounder] is able to make a simple dialer from scratch, using an Arduino, its “tone” library, and a speaker that is simply held up to the phone that the call will be placed on.

[SunFounder] points out that he built this more because he’s interested in the inner workings of phones, and not because he needed a purpose-built dialer. It’s a good demonstration of how phones continue to use DTMF though, and how easy it is to interface with such a system. It might also suit a beginner as an introduction to the world of phreaking.

DTMF Robot Makes Rube Goldberg Proud

Sometimes you start building, and the project evolves. Layers upon layers of functionality accrue, accrete, and otherwise just pile up. Or at least we’re guessing that’s what happened with [Varun Kumar]’s sweet “Surveillance Car Controlled by DTMF“.

In case you haven’t ever dug into not-so-ancient telephony, Dual-tone, multi-frequency signalling is what made old touch-tone phones work. DTMF, as you’d guess, encodes data in audio by playing two pitches at once. Eight tones are mapped to sixteen numbers by using a matrix that looks not coincidentally like the old phone keypad (but with an extra column). One pitch corresponds to a column, and one to a row. Figure out which tones are playing, and you’ve decoded the signal.

Anyway, you can get DTMF decoder chips for pennies on eBay, and they make a great remote-control interface for a simple robot, which is presumably how [Varun] got started. And then he decided that he needed a cell phone on the robot to send back video over WiFi, and realized that he could also use the phone as a remote controller. So he downloaded a DTMF-tone-generator app to the phone, which he then controls over VNC. Details on GitHub.

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See Who’s Calling with Caller Pi-D

One of the hardest things in life is watching your parents grow old. As their senses fail, the simplest things become difficult or even impossible for them to do.

[kjepper]’s mom is slowly losing her sight. As a result, it’s hard for her to see things like the readout on the caller ID. Sure, there are plenty of units and phones she could get that have text-to-speech capabilities, but the audio on those things is usually pretty garbled. And yes, a smartphone can natively display a picture of the person calling, but [kjepper]’s mom isn’t technologically savvy and doesn’t need everything else that comes with a smartphone. What she needs is a really simple interface which makes it clear who’s calling.

Initially, [kjepper] tried to capture the caller ID data using only a USB modem. But for whatever reason, it didn’t work until he added an FSKDTMF converter between the modem and the Pi. He wrote some Node.js in order to communicate with the Pi and send the information to the screen, which can display up to four calls at once.  To make a mom-friendly interface, he stripped an old optical mouse down to the scroll wheel and encased it in wood. Mom can spin the wheel to wake the system up from standby, and click it to mark the calls as read. Now whenever Aunt Judy calls the landline, it’s immediately obvious that it’s her and not some telemarketer.

[via r/DIY]