Software-defined radios or SDRs have provided a step-change in the way we use radio. From your FM broadcast receiver which very likely now has single-application SDR technology embedded in a chip through to the all-singing-all-dancing general purpose SDR you’d find on an experimenter’s bench, control over signal processing has moved from the analogue domain into the digital. The possibilities are limitless, and some of the old ways of building a radio now seem antiquated.
[Pete Juliano N6QW] is an expert radio home-brewer of very long standing, and he’s proved there’s plenty of scope for old-fashioned radio homebrewing in an SDR with his RADIG project. It’s an SDR transceiver for HF which does all the work of quadrature splitting and mixing with homebrewed modules rather than the more usual technique of hiding it in an SDR chip. It’s a very long read in a diary format from the bottom up, and what’s remarkable is that he’s gone from idea to working SDR over the space of about three weeks.
So what goes into a homebrew SDR? Both RF preamplifier, filters, and PA are conventional as you might expect, switched between transmit and receive with relays. A common transmit and receive signal path is split into two and fed to a pair of ADE-1 mixers where they are mixed with quadrature local oscillator signals to produce I and Q that is fed to (or from in the case of transmit) a StarTech sound card. The local oscillator is an Si5351 synthesiser chip in the form of an SDR-Kits USB-driven module, and the 90 degree phased quadrature signals are generated with a set of 74AC74 flip-flops as a divider.
Running the show is a Raspberry Pi running Quisk, and though he mentions using a Teensy to control the Si5351 at the start of his diary it seems from the pictures of the final radio that the Pi has taken on that work. It’s clear that this is very much an experimental radio as it stands with wired-together modules on a wooden board, so we look forward to whatever refinements will come. This has the feel of a design that could eventually be built by many other radio amateurs, so it’s fascinating to be in at the start.
Computer mice existed long before the Mac, and most of the old 8-bit computers had some software that could use a mouse. These mice had balls and quadrature encoders. While converters to turn these old mice into USB devices exist, going the other way isn’t so common. [Simon] has developed the answer to that problem in the form of SmallyMouse2. It turns a USB mouse into something that can be used with the BBC Micro, Acorn Master, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga, Atari ST and more.
The design of the SmallyMouse2 uses an AT90USB microcontroller that supports USB device and host mode, and allows for a few GPIOs. This microcontroller effectively converts a USB mouse into a BBC Micro user port AMX mouse, generic quadrature mouse, and a 10-pin expansion header. The firmware uses the LUFA USB stack, a common choice for these weird USB to retrocomputer projects.
The project is completely Open Source, and all the files to replicate this project from the KiCad project to the firmware are available on [Simon]’s GitHub. If you have one of these classic retrocomputers sitting in your attic, it might be a good time to check if you still have the mouse. If not, this is the perfect project to delve into to the classic GUIs of yesteryear.
For those of us whose interests lie in radio, encountering our first software defined radio must have universally seemed like a miracle. Here is a surprisingly simple device, essentially a clever mixer and a set of analogue-to-digital or digital-to-analogue converters, that can import all the complex and tricky-to-set-up parts of a traditional radio to a computer, in which all signal procession can be done using software.
When your curiosity gets the better of you and you start to peer into the workings of a software defined radio though, you encounter something you won’t have seen before in a traditional radio. There are two mixers fed by a two local oscillators on the same frequency but with a 90 degree phase shift, and in a receiver the resulting mixer products are fed into two separate ADCs. You encounter the letters I and Q in relation to these two signal paths, and wonder what on earth all that means.
Human input devices are a consumable on our computers today. They are so cheap and standardised, that when a mouse or a keyboard expires we don’t think twice, just throw it away and buy another one. It’ll work for sure with whatever computer we have, and we can keep on without pause.
On earlier machines though, we might not be so lucky. The first generation of computers with mice didn’t have USB or even PS/2 or serial, instead they had a wide variety of proprietary mouse interfaces that usually carried the quadrature signals direct from the peripheral’s rotary sensors. If you have a quadrature mouse that dies then you’re in trouble, because you won’t easily find a new one.
Fortunately there is a solution. In the intervening decades the price of computing power has fallen to the extent that you can buy a single board computer with far more than enough power to interface with a standard USB mouse and emulate a quadrature mouse all at the same time. This was exactly the solution [Andrew Armstrong] took to provide a replacement mouse for his Atari ST, he used a Raspberry Pi as both USB host and quadrature mouse emulator (YouTube link) through its GPIOs.
Rotary encoders are great devices. Monitoring just a few pins you can easily and quickly read in rotation and direction of a user input (as well as many other applications). But as with anything, there are caveats. I recently had the chance to dive into some of the benefits and drawbacks of rotary encoders and how to work with them.
I often work with students on different levels of electronic projects. One student project needed a rotary encoder. These come in mechanical and optical variants. In a way, they are very simple devices. In another way, they have some complex nuances. The target board was an ST Nucleo. This particular board has a small ARM processor and can use mbed environment for development and programming. The board itself can take Arduino daughter boards and have additional pins for ST morpho boards (whatever those are).
The mbed system is the ARM’s answer to Arduino. A web-based IDE lets you write C++ code with tons of support libraries. The board looks like a USB drive, so you download the program to this ersatz drive, and the board is programmed. I posted an intro to mbed awhile back with a similar board, so if you want a refresher on that, you might like to read that first.
Reading the Encoder
The encoder we had was on a little PCB that you get when you buy one of those Chinese Arduino 37 sensor kits. (By the way, if you are looking for documentation on those kinds of boards, look here.; in particular, this was a KY-040 module.) The board has power and ground pins, along with three pins. One of the pins is a switch closure to ground when you depress the shaft of the encoder. The other two encode the direction and speed of the shaft rotation. There are three pull-up resistors, one for each output.
I expected to explain how the device worked, and then assist in writing some code with a good example of having to debounce, use pin change interrupts, and obviously throw in some other arcane lore. Turns out that was wholly unnecessary. Well… sort of.
As a contrast to the first MIDI controller, this would be a stripped-down build, with just three faders, LEDs for eye candy, a pair of pots for gain control, and a hard disk surrounded by six anti-vandal buttons. The hard disk is the star of the show, acting as a rotary encoder.
When manually spun, the hard disk generates a few phases of sinusoidal waves. The faster you spin it, the higher the amplitude and frequency. These signals are far too weak to be sampled directly by a microcontroller, and for digital control – as in, MIDI – you don’t need to read the analog signals anyway. These signals were turned digital with the help of an LM339 quad comparator. With two of these comparators and signals out of the hard disk that are 90 degrees out of phase, quadrature encoding is pretty easy.
The software for this MIDI controller is based on the OpenDeck Platform, a neat system that allows anyone to create their own MIDI controllers and devices. It’s also a great looking board that seems to perform well. Video below.