[Scott Manley] Explains GPS Jamming

We always think of [Scott Manley] as someone who knows a lot about rockets. So, if you think about it, it isn’t surprising he’s talking about GPS — after all, the system uses satellites. GPS is used in everything these days, and other forms of navigation are starting to fall by the wayside. However, the problem is that the system is vulnerable to jamming and spoofing. This is especially important if you fear GPS allowing missiles or drones to strike precise targets. But there are also plenty of opportunities for malicious acts. For example, drone light shows may be subject to GPS attacks from rival companies, and you can easily imagine worse. [Scott] talks about the issues around GPS spoofing in the video, which you can see below.

Since GPS satellites are distant, blocking the signal is almost too easy, sometimes happening inadvertently. GPS has technology to operate in the face of noise and interference, but there’s no way to prevent it entirely. Spoofing — where you produce false GPS coordinates — is much more difficult.

Continue reading “[Scott Manley] Explains GPS Jamming”

GPS At Any Speed

[Mellow_Labs] was asked to create a GPS speedometer. It seems simple, but of course, the devil is in the details. You can see the process and the result in the video below.

We have to admit that he does things step-by-step. The first step was to test the GPS module’s interface. Then, he tried computing the speed from it and putting the result on a display. However, testing in the field showed that the display was not suitable for outdoor use.

That prompted another version with an OLED screen. Picking the right components is critical. It struck us that you probably need a fast update rate from the GPS, too, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Continue reading “GPS At Any Speed”

WSPR To The Wind With A Pi Pico High Altitiude Balloon

They say that if you love something, you should set it free. That doesn’t mean that you should spend any more on it than you have to though, which is why [EngineerGuy314] put together this Raspberry Pi Pico high-altitude balloon tracker that should only set you back about $12 to build.

This simplified package turns a Pico into a tracking beacon — connect a cheap GPS module and solar panel, and the system will transmit the GPS location, system temperature, and other telemetry on the 20-meter band using the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) protocol. Do it right, and you can track your balloon as it goes around the world.

The project is based in part on the work of [Roman Piksayin] in his Pico-WSPR-TX package (which we covered before), which uses the Pico’s outputs to create the transmitted signal directly without needing an external radio. [EngineerGuy314] took this a step further by slowing down the Pico and doing some clever stuff to make it run a bit more reliably directly from the solar panel.

The system can be a bit fussy about power when starting up: if the voltage from the solar panel ramps up too slowly, the Pico can crash when it and the GPS chip both start when the sun rises. So, a voltage divider ties into the run pin of the Pico to keep it from booting until the voltage is high enough, and a single transistor stops the GPS from starting up until the Pico signals it to go.

It’s a neat hack that seems to work well: [EngineerGuy314] has launched three prototypes so far, the last of which traveled over 62,000 kilometers/ 38,000 miles.

PCB of the antenna about to be modded, with components desoldered and different parts of the circuit highlighted

Make A GPS Antenna Compatible With Same Manufacturer’s Receiver

GPS can be a bit complex of a technology – you have to receive a signal below the noise floor, do quite a bit of math that relies on the theory of relativity, and, adding insult to injury, you also have to go outside to test it. Have you ever wondered how GPS antennas work? In particular, how do active GPS antennas get power down the same wire that they use to send signal to the receiver? Wonder not, because [Tom Verbeure] gifts us a post detailing a mod letting a fancy active GPS antenna use a higher-than-expected input voltage.

[Tom]’s post has the perfect amount of detail – enough pictures to illustrate the entire journey, and explanations to go with all of it. The specific task is modifying a Symmetricom antenna to work with a Symmetricom GPS receiver, which has a puzzling attribute of supplying 12V to the antenna instead of more common 3.3V or 5V. There’s a few possible options detailed, and [Tom] goes for the cleanest possible one – replacing the voltage regulator used inside of the antenna.

With a suitable replacement regulator installed and a protection diode replaced, the antenna no longer registers as a short circuit, and gets [Tom] a fix – you, in turn, get a stellar primer on how exactly active GPS antennas work. If your device isn’t ready to use active GPS antennas, [Tom]’s post will help you understand another GPS antenna hack we covered recently – modifying the Starlink dish to use an active antenna to avoid jamming on the frontlines.

Automatic Position Reporting Over HF Radio

While most of us carry cell phones that have GPS and other location services, they require a significant amount of infrastructure to be useful. Drive from Washington to Alaska like [Lonney] did a while back, where that infrastructure is essentially nonexistent, and you’ll need to come up with some other solutions to let friends and family know where you are.

A tool called the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) is fairly robust in the very high frequency (VHF) part of the amateur radio spectrum, but this solution still relies on a not-insignificant amount of infrastructure for the limited distances involved with VHF. [Lonney] adapted a few other tools to get APRS up and running in the HF range, letting his friends keep tabs on him even from the most remote locations.

Continue reading “Automatic Position Reporting Over HF Radio”

AI-Powered Bumper Sticker Provides Context-Sensitive Urban Camouflage

While we absolutely support the right of everyone to express their opinions, it seems to us that it’s rarely wise to turn your vehicle into a mobile billboard for your positions. Aside from potentially messing up the finish on your car, what’s popular and acceptable at home might attract unwanted attention while traveling abroad, leading to confrontations that might make your trip a little more eventful than it needs to be.

So why not let technology help you speak your mind in a locally sensitive manner? That’s the idea behind [Pegor]’s “smahtSticker”, an AI-powered bumper sticker that provides the ultimate in context-sensitive urban camouflage. The business end of smahtSticker — we’re going to go out on a limb here and predict that [Pegor] hails from the Boston area — is an 8.8″ (22-cm) wide HDMI display capable of 1920×480 resolution. That goes on the back of your car and is driven by a Raspberry Pi Zero with a GPS module. The Pi grabs a geolocation every second, and if you’ve moved more than 25 feet (7.6 m) — political divisions are at least that granular in the US right now, trust us — it grabs your current ZIP code using GeoPy. That initiates a query to the OpenAI API to determine the current political attitudes in your location, which is used to select the right slogan to display. You’ll fit in no matter where you wander — wicked smaht!

Now, of course, this is all in good fun, and with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The display isn’t weatherized at all, so that would need to be addressed if one felt like fielding this. Also, ZIP codes may be good for a lot of things, but it’s not the best proxy for political alignment, so you might want to touch that part up.

How Airplanes Mostly Stopped Flying Into Terrain And Other Safety Improvements

We have all heard the statistics on how safe air travel is, with more people dying and getting injured on their way to and from the airport than while traveling by airplane. Things weren’t always this way, of course. Throughout the early days of commercial air travel and well into the 1980s there were many crashes that served as harsh lessons on basic air safety. The most tragic ones are probably those with a human cause, whether it was due to improper maintenance or pilot error, as we generally assume that we have a human element in the chain of events explicitly to prevent tragedies like these.

Among the worst pilot errors we find the phenomenon of controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), which usually sees the pilot losing track of his bearings due to a variety of reasons before a usually high-speed and fatal crash. When it comes to keeping airplanes off the ground until they’re at their destination, here ground proximity warning systems (GPWS) and successors have added a layer of safety, along with stall warnings and other automatic warning signals provided by the avionics.

With the recent passing of C. Donald Bateman – who has been credited with designing the GPWS – it seems like a good time to appreciate the technology that makes flying into the relatively safe experience that it is today.

Continue reading “How Airplanes Mostly Stopped Flying Into Terrain And Other Safety Improvements”