Manual Antenna Tuner Shows How Homebrewing Is Done

If there’s anything about amateur radio that has more witchcraft in it than the design and implementation of antennas, we don’t know what it would be. On the face of it, hanging out a chunk of wire doesn’t seem like it should be complicated, but when you dive into the details, building effective antennas and matching them to the job at hand can be pretty complex.

That doesn’t mean antenna topics have to remain a total mystery, of course, especially once someone takes the time to explain things properly. [Charlie Morris (ZL2CTM)] recently did this with a simple antenna tuner, a device used to match impedances between a transmitter and an antenna. As he explains in the first video below, his tuner design is really just a Wheatstone bridge where the antenna forms half of one leg. A toroidal transformer with multiple taps and a variable capacitor forms an LC circuit that matches the high impedance antenna, in this case a multi-band end-fed halfwave, with the nominal 50-ohm load expected by the transceiver. A small meter and a diode detector indicate when the bridge is balanced, which means the transceiver is seeing the proper load.

The second video below shows the final implementation of the tuner; as a fan of QRP, or low-power operation, [Charlie] favors simple, lightweight homebrew gear that can be easily taken into the field, and this certainly fits the bill. A final video shows the tuner in use in the field, with a NanoVNA proving what it can do. As usual, [Charlie] protests that he not an expert and that he’s just documenting what he did, but he always does such a good job of presenting the calculations involved in component selection that any ham should be able to replicate his builds.

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Fox Hunting With Software-Defined Radio

Fox hunting, or direction finding, is a favorite pastime in the ham radio community where radio operators attempt to triangulate the position of a radio transmission. While it may have required a large amount of expensive equipment in the past, like most ham radio operations the advent of software-defined radio (SDR) has helped revolutionize this aspect of the hobby as well. [Aaron] shows us how to make use of SDR for direction finding using his custom SDR-based Linux distribution called DragonOS.

We have mentioned DragonOS before, but every iteration seems to add new features. This time it includes implementation of a software package called DF-Aggregator. The software (from [ckoval7]), along with the rest of DragonOS, is loaded onto a set of (typically at least three) networked Raspberry Pis. The networked computers can communicate information about the radio waves they receive, and make direction finding another capable feature found in this distribution.

[Aaron] has a few videos showing the process of setting this up and using it, and all of the software is available for attempting something like this on your own. While the future of ham radio as a hobby does remain in doubt, projects like this which bring classic ham activities to the SDR realm really go a long way to reviving it.

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Indoor Antennas Worthy Of 007

Many ham radio operators now live where installing an outdoor antenna is all but impossible. It seems that homeowner’s associations are on the lookout for the non-conformity of the dreaded ham radio antenna. [Peter] can sympathize, and has a solution based on lessons of spycraft from the cold war.

[Peter] points out that spies like the [Krogers] needed to report British Navy secrets like the plans for a nuclear boomer sub to Russia but didn’t want to attract the attention of their neighbors. In this case, the transmitter itself was so well-hidden that it took MI5 nine days to find the first of them. Clearly, then, there wasn’t a giant antenna on the roof. If there had been, the authorities could simply follow the feedline to find the radio. A concealed spy antenna might be just the ticket for a deed-restricted ham radio station.

The antenna the [Kroger’s] used was a 22-meter wire in the attic of their home. Keep in mind, the old tube transmitters were less finicky about SWR and by adjusting the loading circuits, you could transmit into almost anything. Paradoxically, older houses work better with indoor antennas because they lack things like solar cell panels, radiant barriers, and metallic insulation.

Like many people, [Peter] likes loop antennas for indoor use. He also shows other types of indoor antennas. They probably won’t do as much good as a proper outdoor antenna, but you can make quite a few contacts with some skill, some luck, and good propagation. [Peter] has some period spy radios, which are always interesting to see. By today’s standards, they aren’t especially small, but for their day they are positively tiny. Video after the break.

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FM Radio From Scratch Using An Arduino

Building radio receivers from scratch is still a popular project since it can be done largely with off-the-shelf discrete components and a wire long enough for the bands that the radio will receive. That’s good enough for AM radio, anyway, but you’ll need to try this DIY FM receiver if you want to listen to something more culturally relevant.

Receiving frequency-modulated radio waves is typically more difficult than their amplitude-modulated cousins because the circuitry necessary to demodulate an FM signal needs a frequency-to-voltage conversion that isn’t necessary with AM. For this build, [hesam.moshiri] uses a TEA5767 FM chip because of its ability to communicate over I2C. He also integrated a 3W amplifier into this build, and everything is controlled by an Arduino including a small LCD screen which displays the current tuned frequency. With the addition of a small 5V power supply, it’s a tidy and compact build as well.

While the FM receiver in this project wasn’t built from scratch like some AM receivers we’ve seen, it’s still an interesting build because of the small size, I2C capability, and also because all of the circuit schematics are available for all of the components in the build. For those reasons, it could be a great gateway project into more complex FM builds.

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Gathering Eclipse Data Via Ham Radio

A solar eclipse is coming up in just a few weeks, and although with its path of totality near the southern tip of South America means that not many people will be able to see it first-hand, there is an opportunity to get involved with it even at an extreme distance. PhD candidate [Kristina] and the organization HamSCI are trying to learn a little bit more about the effects of an eclipse on radio communications, and all that is required to help is a receiver capable of listening in the 10 MHz range during the time of the eclipse.

It’s well-known that certain radio waves can propagate further depending on the time of day due to changes in many factors such as the state of the ionosphere and the amount of solar activity. What is not known is specifically how the paths can vary over the course of the day. During the eclipse the sun’s interference is minimized, and its impact can be more directly measured in a more controlled experiment. By tuning into particular time stations and recording data during the eclipse, it’s possible to see how exactly the eclipse impacts propagation of these signals. [Kristina] hopes to take all of the data gathered during the event to observe the doppler effect that is expected to occur.

The project requires a large amount of volunteers to listen in to the time stations during the eclipse (even if it is not visible to them) and there are only a few more days before this eclipse happens. If you have the required hardware, which is essentially just a receiver capable of receiving upper-sideband signals in 10 MHz range, it may be worthwhile to give this a shot. If not, there may be some time to cobble together an SDR that can listen in (even an RTL-SDR set up for 10 MHz will work) provided you can use it to record the required samples. It’s definitely a time that ham radio could embrace the hacker community.

HackRF PortaPack Firmware Spoofs All The Things

The HackRF is an exceptionally capable software defined radio (SDR) transceiver, but naturally you need to connect it to a computer to actually do anything with it. So the PortaPack was developed to turn it into a stand-alone device with the addition of a touchscreen LCD, a few buttons, and a headphone jack. With all the hardware in place, it’s just a matter of installing a firmware capable enough to do some proper RF hacking on the go.

Enter MAYHEM, an evolved fork of the original PortaPack firmware that the developers claim is the most up-to-date and feature packed version available. Without ever plugging into a computer, this firmware allows you to receive, decode, and re-transmit a dizzying number of wireless protocols. From firing off the seating pagers at a local restaurant to creating a fleet of phantom aircraft with spoofed ADS-B transponders, MAYHEM certainly seems like it lives up to the name.

[A. Petazzoni] recently put together a detailed blog post about installing and using MAYHEM on the HackRF/PortaPack, complete with a number of real-world examples that show off just a handful of possible applications for the project. Jamming cell phones, sending fake pager messages, and cloning RF remotes is just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

It’s not hard to see why some have already expressed concern about the project, but in reality, none of these capabilities are actually new. This firmware simply brings them all together in one easy-to-use package, and while there might be an argument to be made about proliferation, we all know that the responsibility to behave ethically rests on the user and not the tools.

Learning SDR And DSP Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, November 11th at noon Pacific for Learning SDR and DSP Hack Chat with Marc Lichtman!

“Revolution” is a term thrown about with a lot less care than it probably should be, especially in fields like electronics. It’s understandable, though — the changes to society that have resulted from the “Transistor Revolution” or the “PC Revolution” or more recently, the “AI Revolution” have been transformative, often for good and sometimes for ill. The common thread, though, is that once these revolutions came about, nothing was ever the same afterward.

Such is the case with software-defined radio (SDR) and digital signal processing (DSP). These two related fields may not seem as transformative as some of the other electronic revolutions, but when you think about it, they really have transformed the world of radio communications. SDR means that complex radio transmitters and receivers, no longer have to be implemented strictly in hardware as a collection of filters, mixers, detectors, and amplifiers; instead, they can be reduced to a series of algorithms running on a computer.

Teamed with DSP, SDR has resulted in massive shifts in the RF field, with powerful, high-bandwidth radio links being built into devices almost as an afterthought. But the concepts can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, at least when digging beyond the basics and really trying to learn how SDR and DSP work. Thankfully, Dr. Marc Lichtman, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, literally wrote the book on the subject. “PySDR: A Guide to SDR and DSP using Python” is a fantastic introduction to SDR and DSP that’s geared toward those looking to learn how to put SDR and DSP to work in practical systems. Dr. Lichtman will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about his textbook, to answer your questions on how best to learn about SDR and DSP, and to discuss what the next steps are once you conquer the basics.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, November 11 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

[Banner image credit: Dsimic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

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