Low cost, long range, or low power — when it comes to wireless connectivity, historically you’ve only been able to pick two. But a group at the University of Washington appears to have made a breakthrough in backscatter communications that allows reliable data transfer over 2.8 kilometers using only microwatts, and for pennies apiece.
For those unfamiliar with backscatter, it’s a very cool technology that modulates data onto RF energy incident from some local source, like an FM broadcast station or nearby WiFi router. Since the backscatter device doesn’t need to power local oscillators or other hungry components, it has negligible power requirements. Traditionally, though, that has given backscatter devices a range of a few hundred meters at most. The UW team, led by [Shyamnath Gollokota], describe a new backscatter technique (PDF link) that blows away previous records. By combining the spread-spectrum modulation of LoRa with the switched attenuation of incident RF energy that forms the basis for backscatter, the UW team was able to cover 2800 meters for under 10 microwatts. What’s more, with printable batteries or cheap button cells, the backscatter tags can be made for as little as 10 cents a piece. The possibilities for cheap agricultural sensors, ultracompact and low power wearable sensors, or even just deploy-and-forget IoT devices are endless.
We’ve covered backscatter before, both for agricultural uses and for pirate broadcasting stations. Backscatter also has also seen more cloak and dagger duty.
Continue reading “Hybrid Technique Breaks Backscatter Distance Barrier”
There are two radio modulation schemes everyone should know. Amplitude modulation changes the amplitude — or ‘volume’, if you will — of a carrier frequency and turns all radio into channels owned and operated by a church. Frequency modulation changes the pitch of a carrier frequency and is completely run by Clear Channel. Amateur radio operators are familiar with dozens of other modulation schemes, but there’s one hardly anyone touches. Phase modulation is weird and almost unheard of, but that doesn’t mean you can’t implement it on an FPGA. [nckm] is transmitting audio using phase modulation on an FPGA (Russian, here’s the Google Translatrix).
This hardware is just an Altera MAX10 board, with a single input used for serial data of the audio to be transmitted, and two outputs, each connected to a few bits of wire for a quarter-wave antenna. No, there’s no output filter or anything else except for a few bits of wire. It’s an experiment, chillax.
The Verilog for this project receives an audio signal as serial data in mono, 22050 BPS, 8-bit unsigned samples. These samples are fed into a dynamic PLL with phase shift in the FPGA. Shifting the phases also changes the frequency, so [nckm] can receive this audio signal with the FM transmitter on his phone.
Is this really phase modulation if it’s being received by an FM radio? Eh, maybe. PM and FM are closely related, but certainly distinguishable as modulation schemes in their own right. You can grab [nckm]’s code over on the gits, or check out the video demo below.
Continue reading “Phase Modulation With An FPGA”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen DIYers sending music over a laser beam but the brothers [Armand] and [Victor] are certainly in contention for sending the music the longest distance, 452 meter/1480 feet from their building, over the tops of a few houses, through a treetop and into a friend’s apartment. The received sound quality is pretty amazing too.
In case you’ve never encountered this before, the light of the laser is modulated with a signal directly from the audio source, making it an analog transmission. The laser is a 250mW diode laser bought from eBay. It’s powered through a 5 volt 7805 voltage regulator fed by a 12V battery. The signal from the sound source enters the circuit through a step-up transformer, isolating it so that no DC from the source enters. The laser’s side of the transformer feeds the base of a transistor. They included a switch so that the current from the regulator can either go through the collector and emitter of the transistor that’s controlled by the sound source, giving a strong modulation, or the current can go directly to the laser while modulation is provided through just the transistor’s base and emitter. The schematic for the circuit is given at the end of their video, which you can see after the break.
They receive the beam in their friend’s apartment using solar cells, which then feed a fairly big amplifier and speakers. From the video you can hear the surprisingly high quality sounds that results. So check it out. It also includes a little Benny Hill humor.
Continue reading “Sending Music Long Distance Using A Laser”
Researchers at University College London successfully transferred data over an optical transmission system at a rate of 1.125 Tb/s. That’s over ten times as fast as typical commercial optical systems, and thousands of times faster than the standard broadband connection. The study appeared in Scientific Reports and takes advantage of encoding techniques usually seen in wireless systems.
The prototype system uses fifteen channels on different wavelengths. Each channel used 256QAM encoding (the same as you see on cable modems, among other things). A single receiver recovers all of the channels together. The technology isn’t commercially available yet. It is worth noting that the experiment used a transmitter and receiver very close to each other. Future tests will examine how the system performs when there are hundreds or thousands of feet of optical fiber between them.
Continue reading “Suddenly, 4G Feels Slow”
Morse code qualifies as a digital mode, although organic brains are somewhat better at copying it than electronic ones. Ham radio operators that did “phone” (ham-talk for voice) started out with AM modulation. Sometime after World War II, there was widespread adoption of single side band or SSB. SSB takes up less bandwidth and is more reliable than AM modulation. On the digital side, hams turned to different and more sophisticated digital transmission types with computers pushing bandwidth down and reliability up. However, a recent trend has been to encode voice over ham radio–sort of VoIP with radio instead of Ethernet–using an open source program called freedv.
[AA6E] made a very informative video where he carries on a QSO (a conversation) with a distant station using freedv. What makes it interesting, is towards the end when the two stations switch to regular SSB. The difference is dramatic and really points out how even with less bandwidth (roughly 3 kHz for SSB vs 1.25 kHz), the digital mode is superior. The freedv software (available for Windows or Linux) compresses audio to 700-1600 bits per second and spreads it over 16 QPSK signals.
Continue reading “Hams Talk Digital”
Back in the bad ‘ol days of computing, hard drives cost as much as a car, and floppy drives were incredibly expensive. The solution to this data storage problem offered by all the manufacturers was simple – an audio cassette. It’s an elegant solution to a storage problem, and something that has applications today.
[Jari] was working on a wearable message badge with an 8-pin ATTiny. To get data onto this device, he looked at his options and couldn’t find anything good; USB needs two pins and the firmware takes up 1/4 of the Flash, UART isn’t available on every computer, and Bluetooth and WiFi are expensive and complicated. This left using audio to send digital data as the simplest solution.
[Jari] went through a ton of Wikipedia articles to figure out the best modulation scheme for transferring data with audio. What he came up with is very simple: just a square wave that’s changed by turning a pin off and on. When the audio is three samples long without crossing zero, the data is 0. When it’s five samples long without crossing zero, the data is 1. There’s a 17-sample long sync pulse, and with a small circuit that acts as a zero crossing detector, [Jari] had a simple circuit that would transfer data easily and cheaply.
All the code for this extremely cheap modem is available on GitHub.
[brmarcum] takes us back to analog building block basics with his Frequency Modulation and Demodulation tutorial. Frequency Modulation (FM) sounds simple at first, but understanding the electronics behind modulation and demodulation of an FM signal can be confusing. We’ve covered the basics before, but FM is so tightly associated with broadcast radio that searches often become muddled with references to RF, stereo, antennas, and transmitters.
[brmarcum] hopes to fill that gap with a simple circuit that modulates an audio signal to FM, then demodulates and amplifies it to be played on a small speaker. He used a Digilent Analog Discovery kit in his experiments, but an oscilloscope (an older analog scope would be perfect here) would work for output. Signal generation duties could easily be handled by a 555 circuit at the low end, and a computer sound card at the higher end.
[brmarcum] obviously put some time into his tutorial, but it’s not a tome of FM modulation. He’s broken down the modulation and demodulation circuits into their basic op-amp stages with examples of what the signal should look like on a scope after each stage. That’s the beauty here. By building and testing each section, anyone new to analog can learn how things work. In places where the theory behind what’s going on gets too in-depth for an Instructable, [brmarcum] gives links to Wikipedia.