Tiny Transmitter Brings Out the Spy Inside You

When it comes to surveillance, why let the government have all the fun? This tiny spy transmitter is just the thing you need to jumpstart your recreational espionage efforts.

We kid, of course — you’ll want to stay within the law of the land if you choose to build [TomTechTod]’s diminutive transmitter. Barely bigger than the 337 button cell that powers it, the scrap of PCB packs a fair number of surface mount components, most in 0201 packages. Even so, the transmitter is a simple design, with a two transistor audio stage amplifying the signal from the MEMS microphone and feeding an oscillator that uses a surface acoustic wave (SAW) resonator for stability. The bug is tuned for the 433-MHz low-power devices band, and from the video below, it appears to have decent range with the random wire antenna — maybe 50 meters. [TomTechTod] has all the build files posted, including Gerbers and a BOM with Digikey part numbers, so it should be easy to make one for your fieldcraft kit.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of electronic espionage, boy, have we got you covered. Here’s a primer on microphone bugs, a history of spy radios, or how backscatter was used to bug an embassy.

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Circuit VR: Oscillating Bridges

Circuit VR is where we talk about a circuit and examine how it works in simulation with LT Spice. This time we are looking at a common low-frequency oscillator known as the Wien bridge oscillator.

What makes an oscillator oscillate? A circuit with amplification that gets the same amount of the output signal fed back into its input, in phase, will oscillate. This is the Barkhausen criterion. Here, we’re going to look into what makes an oscillator work in simulation, and gain some insight into what happens when there’s too much feedback and too little.

In particular, we’ll look at the Wien bridge oscillator, a very simple design that originated as a way to measure impedance back in 1891. Modern versions add some additional features, but let’s start with the most simple implementation and work our way up.

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Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days by Getting Goofy

The Golden Age of Radio Shack was probably sometime in the mid-1970s, a time when you could just pop into the local store and pay 49 cents for the resistors you needed to complete a project. Radio Shack was the place to go for everything from hi-fi systems to CB radios, and for many of us, being inside one was very much a kid in a candy store scenario.

That’s not to say that Radio Shack was perfect, but one thing it did very well was the education and grooming of the next generation of electronics hobbyists, primarily through their “Science Fair” brand. Some of us will recall the P-Box kits from that line, complete projects with all the parts and instructions in a plastic box with a perfboard top. These kits were endlessly entertaining and educational, and now [NetZener] has recreated the classic neon “Goofy Light” P-Box project.

As it was back in the day, the Goofy Light is almost entirely useless except for learning about DC-DC converters, multivibrators, RC timing circuits, and the weird world of negative resistance. But by using the original Science Fair instructions, compiling a BOM that can be filled from Mouser or Digikey, and making up a reasonable facsimile of the original P-Box chassis, [NetZener] has done a service to anyone looking for a little dose of nostalgia.

It would be interesting if someone brought back the P-Box experience as a commercial venture, offering a range of kits with circuits like the originals. If that happens, maybe some of the offerings will be based on that other classic from Radio Shack’s heyday.

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ESP32 Makes for World’s Worst Radio Station

We can say one thing for [bitluni]: the BOMs for his projects, like this ESP32 AM radio transmitter, are always on the low side. That’s because he leverages software to do jobs traditionally accomplished with hardware, always with instructive results.

In this case, the job at hand is creating an RF oscillator in the broadcast AM band and modulating some audio onto it. From his previous experience using an ESP32 to watch video on an oscilloscope, [bitluni] knew that the microcontroller’s DACs were up to the task of producing an 800-kHz signal, and he managed to produce a more-or-less sine wave carrier with some clever code. His sketch takes data from a header file, modulates it onto the carrier, and sends it out over the ether using a short stub of wire for an antenna. The range is severely limited, but for what it is, it gets the job done and shows the basics. And as a bonus, [bitluni] included a bit of JavaScript that turns an audio file into a header file that’s ready to go out over the airwaves for all your trolling needs.

If you’re looking for a little more range for your low power transmitter and you’re a licensed amateur operator, you might want to explore the world of QRP radio.

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Zenith’s New Watch Oscillator is Making Waves

Swiss watchmaker Zenith has created what many mechanical watch fanatics are calling the biggest improvement to mechanical watch accuracy since the invention of the balance spring in 1675. The Caliber ZO 342 is a new type of harmonic oscillator that runs at 15 Hz, which is almost four times the speed of most watches. The coolest part? It’s fabricated out of silicon using Deep Reactive Ion Etching (DRIE), and it single-handedly replaces about 30 components.

Before explaining how Zenith’s oscillator works and why this is such exciting news, it’s important to understand why the balance spring and balance wheel were such a big step forward when they were the newest thing. The system was invented by [Christiaan Huygens], a Dutch mathematician and scientist. [Huygens] had previously invented the pendulum clock, which is widely accepted as the first precision timepiece.

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Tesla Coil uses Vintage Tube

We’ve seen a fair amount of Tesla coil builds, but ones using vacuum tubes are few and far between. Maybe it’s the lack of availability of high power tubes, or a lack of experience working with them among the younger crop of hackers. [Radu Motisan] built a vacuum tube Tesla coil several years back, and only just managed to tip us off recently. Considering it was his first rodeo with vacuum tubes, he seems to have done pretty well — not only did he get good results, he also managed to learn a lot in the process.

His design is based around a GI-30 medium power dual tetrode. The circuit is a classical Armstrong oscillator with very few parts and ought to be easy to build if you can lay your hands on the tricky parts. The high voltage capacitors may need some scrounging. And of course, one needs to hand-wind the three coils that make up the output transformer.

Getting the turns ratios of the coils right is quite critical in obtaining proper power transfer to the output. This required a fair amount of trial error before [Radu] could get it right.

The use of a 20W fluorescent tubelight ballast to limit the inrush current is a pretty nice idea to prevent nuisance tripping of the breakers. If you’d like to try making one of your own, head over to his blog post where you will find pictures documenting his build in detail. If you do decide to make one, be extremely careful — this circuit has lethal high voltages in addition to the obvious ones, since it operates directly from 220 V utility supply.

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One Transistor RTL-SDR Upconverter

Even if you haven’t used one, you’ve probably seen the numerous projects with the inexpensive RTL-SDR USB dongle. Originally designed for TV use, the dongle is a software defined radio that many have repurposed for a variety of radio hacking projects. However, there’s one small issue. By default, the device only works down to about 50 MHz or so. There are some hacks to change that, but the cleanest way to get operation is to add an upconverter to shift the frequency you want higher. Sounds complicated? [Qrp-Gaijin] shows how to do it with a single transistor. You can see some videos of the results, below.

Actually, [Qrp-Gaijin] built an earlier version but wasn’t satisfied with the performance. He found that his original oscillator was driving an overtone crystal at its fundamental frequency. The device worked, but only because the oscillator was putting out harmonics, including the third harmonic at the actual needed frequency (49.8 MHz).

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