Keep An Eye On The Neighborhood With This Passive Radar

If your neighborhood is anything like ours, walking across the street is like taking your life in your own hands. Drivers are increasingly unconcerned by such trivialities as speed limits or staying under control, and anything goes when they need to connect Point A to Point B in the least amount of time possible. Monitoring traffic with this passive radar will not do a thing to slow drivers down, but it’s a pretty cool hack that will at least yield some insights into traffic patterns.

The principle behind active radar – the kind police use to catch speeders in every neighborhood but yours – is simple: send a microwave signal towards a moving object, measure the frequency shift in the reflected signal, and do a little math to calculate the relative velocity. A passive radar like the one described in the article linked above is quite different. Rather than painting a target with an RF signal, it relies on signals from other transmitters, such as terrestrial TV or radio outlets in the area. Two different receivers are used, both with directional antennas. One points to the area to be monitored, while the other points directly to the transmitter. By comparing signals reflected off moving objects received by the former against the reference signal from the latter, information about the distance and velocity of objects in the target area can be obtained.

The RTL-SDR test used a pair of cheap Yagi antennas for a nearby DVB-T channel to feed their KerberosSDR four-channel coherent SDR, a device we last looked at when it was still in beta. Essentially four SDR dongles on a common board, it’s available now for $149. Using it to build a passive radar might not save the neighborhood, but it could be a lot of fun to try.

Quantum Radar Hides In Plain Sight

Radar was a great invention that made air travel much safer and weather prediction more accurate, indeed it is even credited with winning the Battle of Britain. However, it carries a little problem with it during times of war. Painting a target with radar (or even sonar) is equivalent to standing up and wildly waving a red flag in front of your enemy, which is why for example submarines often run silent and only listen, or why fighter aircraft often rely on guidance from another aircraft. However, researchers in Italy, the UK, the US, and Austria have built a proof-of-concept radar that is very difficult to detect which relies upon quantum entanglement.

Despite quantum physics being hard to follow, the concept for the radar is pretty easy to understand. First, they generate an entangled pair of microwave photons, a task they perform with a Josephson phase converter. Then they store an “idle” photon while sending the “signal” photon out into the world. Detecting a single photon coming back is prone to noise, but in this case detecting the signal photon disturbs the idle photon and is reasonably easy to detect. It is likely that the entanglement will no longer be intact by the time of the return, but the correlation between the two photons remains detectable.

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Bike-Mounted Synthetic-Aperture Radar Makes Detailed Images

Synthetic-aperture radar, in which a moving radar is used to simulate a very large antenna and obtain high-resolution images, is typically not the stuff of hobbyists. Nobody told that to [Henrik Forstén], though, and so we’ve got this bicycle-mounted synthetic-aperture radar project to marvel over as a result.

Neither the electronics nor the math involved in making SAR work is trivial, so [Henrik]’s comprehensive write-up is invaluable to understanding what’s going on. First step: build a 6-GHz frequency modulated-continuous wave (FMCW) radar, a project that [Henrik] undertook some time back that really knocked our socks off. His FMCW set is good enough to resolve human-scale objects at about 100 meters.

Moving the radar and capturing data along a path are the next steps and are pretty simple, but figuring out what to do with the data is anything but. [Henrik] goes into great detail about the SAR algorithm he used, called Omega-K, a routine that makes use of the Fast Fourier Transform which he implemented for a GPU using Tensor Flow. We usually see that for neural net applications, but the code turned out remarkably detailed 2D scans of a parking lot he rode through with the bike-mounted radar. [Henrik] added an auto-focus routine as well, and you can clearly see each parked car, light pole, and distant building within range of the radar.

We find it pretty amazing what [Henrik] was able to accomplish with relatively low-budget equipment. Synthetic-aperture radar has a lot of applications, and we’d love to see this refined and developed further.

[via r/electronics]

Enforce Speed Limits With A Rusty Bike

They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and that certainly held true in the case of this bicycle that was used to measure the speed of cars in one Belgian neighborhood. If we understand the translation from Dutch correctly, the police were not enforcing the speed limit despite complaints. As a solution, the local citizenry built a bicycle with a radar gun that collected data which was then used to convince the police to enforce the speed limit on this road.

The bike isn’t the functional part of this build, as it doesn’t seem to have been intended to move. Rather, it was chosen because it is inconspicuous (read: rusty and not valuable) and simply housed the radar unit and electronics in a rear luggage case. The radar was specially calibrated to have less than 1% error, and ran on a deep cycle lead acid battery for around eight days. Fitting it with an Arduino-compatible shield and running some software (provided on the github page) is enough to get it up and running.

This is an impressive feat of citizen activism to provide the local police with accurate data to change a problem in a neighborhood. Not only was the technology put to good use, but the social engineering involved with hiding expensive electronics in plain sight with a rusty bicycle is a step beyond what we might have thought of as well.

Thanks to [Jo_elektro] for the tip!

A Doppler Radar Module From First Principles

If you’ve ever cast your eyes towards experimenting with microwave frequencies it’s likely that one of your first ports of call was a cheaply-available Doppler radar module. These devices usually operate in the 10 GHz band, and the older ones used a pair of die-cast waveguide cavities while the newer ones use a dielectric resonator and oscillator on a PCB. If you have made your own then you are part of a very select group indeed, as is [Reed Foster] and his two friends who made a Doppler radar module their final project for MIT’s 6.013 Applications of Electromagnetics course.

Their module runs at 2.4 GHz and makes extensive use of the notoriously dark art of PCB striplines, and their write-up offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of this type of design. We see their coupler and mixer prototypes before they combined all parts of the system into a single PCB, and we follow their minor disasters as their original aim of a frequency modulated CW radar is downgraded to a Doppler design. If you’ve never worked with this type of circuitry before than it makes for an interesting read.

We’ve shown you a variety of commercial Doppler modules over the years, of which this teardown is a representative example.

When Will Our Cars Finally Speak The Same Language? DSRC For Vehicles

At the turn of the 21st century, it became pretty clear that even our cars wouldn’t escape the Digital Revolution. Years before anyone even uttered the term “smartphone”, it seemed obvious that automobiles would not only become increasingly computer-laden, but they’d need a way to communicate with each other and the world around them. After all, the potential gains would be enormous. Imagine if all the cars on the road could tell what their peers were doing?

Forget about rear-end collisions; a car slamming on the brakes would broadcast its intention to stop and trigger a response in the vehicle behind it before the human occupants even realized what was happening. On the highway, vehicles could synchronize their cruise control systems, creating “flocks” of cars that moved in unison and maintained a safe distance from each other. You’d never need to stop to pay a toll, as your vehicle’s computer would communicate with the toll booth and deduct the money directly from your bank account. All of this, and more, would one day be possible. But only if a special low-latency vehicle to vehicle communication protocol could be developed, and only if it was mandated that all new cars integrate the technology.

Except of course, that never happened. While modern cars are brimming with sensors and computing power just as predicted, they operate in isolation from the other vehicles on the road. Despite this, a well-equipped car rolling off the lot today is capable of all the tricks promised to us by car magazines circa 1998, and some that even the most breathless of publications would have considered too fantastic to publish. Faced with the challenge of building increasingly “smart” vehicles, manufacturers developed their own individual approaches that don’t rely on an omnipresent vehicle to vehicle communication network. The automotive industry has embraced technology like radar, LiDAR, and computer vision, things which back in the 1990s would have been tantamount to saying cars in the future would avoid traffic jams by simply flying over them.

In light of all these advancements, you might be surprised to find that the seemingly antiquated concept of vehicle to vehicle communication originally proposed decades ago hasn’t gone the way of the cassette tape. There’s still a push to implement Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC), a WiFi-derived protocol designed specifically for automotive applications which at this point has been a work in progress for over 20 years. Supporters believe DSRC still holds promise for reducing accidents, but opponents believe it’s a technology which has been superseded by more capable systems. To complicate matters, a valuable section of the radio spectrum reserved for DSRC by the Federal Communications Commission all the way back in 1999 still remains all but unused. So what exactly does DSRC offer, and do we really still need it as we approach the era of “self-driving” cars?

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EF50: The Tube That Changed Everything

From today’s perspective, vacuum tubes are pretty low tech. But for a while they were the pinnacle of high tech, and heavy research followed the promise shown by early vacuum tubes in transmission and computing. Indeed, as time progressed, tubes became very sophisticated and difficult to manufacture. After all, they were as ubiquitous as ICs are today, so it is hardly surprising that they got a lot of R&D.

Prior to 1938, for example, tubes were built as if they were light bulbs. As the demands on them grew more sophisticated, the traditional light bulb design wasn’t sufficient. For one, the wire leads’ parasitic inductance and capacitance would limit the use of the tube in high-frequency applications. Even the time it took electrons to get from one part of the tube to another was a bottleneck.

There were several attempts to speed tubes up, including RCA’s acorn tubes, lighthouse tubes, and Telefunken’s Stahlröhre designs. These generally tried to keep leads short and tubes small. The Philips company started attacking the problem in 1934 because they were anticipating demand for television receivers that would operate at higher frequencies.

Dr. Hans Jonker was the primary developer of the proposed solution and published his design in an internal technical note describing an all-glass tube that was easier to manufacture than other solutions. Now all they needed was an actual application. While they initially thought the killer app would be television, the E50 would end up helping the Allies win the war.

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