Balloon Antenna Doesn’t Need A Tower

What do you do with floral wire and balloons from Dollar Tree? If you are [Ham Radio Crash Course], you make a ham radio antenna. Floral wire is conductive, and using one piece as a literal sky hook and the other as a ground wire, it should do something. He did use, as you might expect, a tuner to match the random wire length.

The first attempt had too few balloons and too much wind. He eventually switched to a non-dollar store helium tank. That balloon inflates to about 36 inches and appears to have plenty of lift. It looks like by the end he was using two of them.

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Radio Build Goes Outside The Box

It’s easy to get caught up in a build and forget that the final version usually needs some sort of enclosure, especially things with sensitive electronics in them. The [Director of Legal Evil] at the LVL1 Louisville Hackerspace notes as much in his recent radio build. It seems as though the case was indeed an afterthought, but rather than throwing it in a nondescript black project enclosure it was decided to turn the idea of a project enclosure itself inside-out.

The radio build is based on an SI4732 radio receiver which is a fairly common radio module and is easily adaptable. It needs a microcontroller to run though, so a Maple STM32 platform was chosen to do all of the heavy lifting. The build includes a screen, some custom analog controls, and a small class D audio amplifier, but this is the point it begins to earn its name: the Chaos Radio. While playing around with the project design in CAD, a normal design seemed too bland so one was chosen which makes the radio look like the parts are exploding outward from what would have been a more traditional-style enclosure.

While the project includes a functioning radio receiver, we have to complement the creator for the interesting display style for this particular set of hardware. It can get boring designing the same project enclosures time after time, so anything to shake things up is often welcomed especially when it puts all of the radio components on display like this. In fact, it’s reminiscent of some of [Dmitry]’s projects, an artist known for deconstructing various common household appliances like this CD Player.

Thanks to [Jose] for the tip!

The Evil Crow Is Ready To Cause Some RF Mayhem

There’s no doubt that the RTL-SDR project has made radio hacking more accessible than ever, but there’s only so far you can go with a repurposed TV tuner. Obviously the biggest shortcoming is the fact that you can only listen to signals, and not transmit them. If you’re ready to reach out and touch someone, but don’t necessarily want to spend the money on something like the HackRF, the Evil Crow RF might be your ideal next step.

This Creative Commons licensed board combines two CC1101 radio transceivers and an ESP32 in one handy package. The radios give you access to frequencies between 300 and 928 MHz (with some gaps), and the fact that there are two of them means you can listen on one frequency while transmitting on another; opening up interesting possibilities for relaying signals. With the standard firmware you connect to a web interface running on the ESP32 to configure basic reception and transmission options, but there’s also a more advanced RFQuack firmware that allows you to control the hardware via Python running on the host computer.

Using the Evil Crow RF without a computer.

One particularly nice feature is the series of buttons located down the side of the Evil Crow RF. Since the device is compatible with the Arduino IDE, you can easily modify the firmware to assign various functions or actions to the buttons.

In a demonstration by lead developer [Joel Serna], the physical buttons are used to trigger a replay attack while the device is plugged into a standard USB power bank. There’s a lot of potential there for covert operation, which makes sense, as the device was designed with pentesters in mind.

As an open source project you’re free to spin up your own build of the Evil Crow RF, but those looking for a more turn-key experience can order an assembled board from AliExpress for $27 USD. This approach to hardware manufacturing seems to be getting popular among the open source crowd, with the Open-SmartWatch offering a similar option.

[Thanks to DJ Biohazard for the tip.]

A Superheterodyne Receiver With A 74xx Twist

In a world with software-defined radios and single-chip receivers, a superheterodyne shortwave radio might not exactly score high on the pizzazz scale. After all, people have been mixing, filtering, and demodulating RF signals for more than a century now, and the circuits that do the job best are pretty well characterized. But building the same receiver using none of the traditional superhet trappings? Now that’s something new.

In what [Micha] half-jokingly calls a “74xx-Defined Radio”, easily obtained discrete logic chips, along with some op-amps and a handful of simple components, take the place of the tuned LC circuits and ganged variable capacitors that grace a typical superhet receiver. [Micha] started by building an RF mixer out of a 74HC4051 analog multiplexer, which with the help of a 2N3904 phase splitter forms a switching mixer. The local oscillator relies on the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) in a 74HC4046 PLL, a chip that we’ve seen before in [Elliot Williams]’ excellent “Logic Noise” series. The IF filter is a simple op-amp bandpass filter; the demodulator features an op-amp too, set up as an active half-wave rectifier. No coils to wind, no capacitors to tune, no diodes with mysterious properties — and judging by the video below, it works pretty well.

It may not be the most conventional way to tune in the shortwave bands, but we always love the results of projects that are artificially constrained like this one. Hats off to [Micha] for the interesting trip down the design road less travelled.

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Web Tool Cranks Up The Power On DJI’s FPV Drone

Apparently, if the GPS on your shiny new DJI FPV Drone detects that it’s not in the United States, it will turn down its transmitter power so as not to run afoul of the more restrictive radio limits elsewhere around the globe. So while all the countries that have put boots on the Moon get to enjoy the full 1,412 mW of power the hardware is capable of, the drone’s software limits everyone else to a paltry 25 mW. As you can imagine, that leads to a considerable performance penalty in terms of range.

But not anymore. A web-based tool called B3YOND promises to reinstate the full power of your DJI FPV Drone no matter where you live by tricking it into believing it’s in the USA. Developed by the team at [D3VL], the unlocking tool uses the new Web Serial API to send the appropriate “FCC Mode” command to the drone’s FPV goggles over USB. Everything is automated, so this hack is available to anyone who’s running a recent version of Chrome or Edge and can click a button a few times.

There’s no source code available yet, though the page does mention they will be putting up a GitHub repository soon. In the meantime, [D3VL] have documented the command packet that needs to be sent to the drone over its MODBUS-like serial protocol for others who might want to roll their own solution. There’s currently an offline Windows-only tool up for download as well, and it sounds like stand-alone versions for Mac and Android are also in the works.

It should probably go without saying that if you need to use this tool, you’ll potentially be violating some laws. In many European countries, 25 mW is the maximum unlicensed transmitter power allowed for UAVs, so that’s certainly something to keep in mind before you flip the switch. Hackaday isn’t in the business of dispensing legal advice, but that said, we wouldn’t want to be caught transmitting at nearly 60 times the legal limit.

Even if you’re not interested in fiddling with drone radios, it’s interesting to see another practical application of the Web Serial API. From impromptu oscilloscopes to communicating with development boards and conference badges, clever developers are already finding ways to make hardware hacking easier with this new capability.

[Thanks to Jules for the tip.]

Web Pages (and More) Via Shortwave

If you are a ham radio operator, the idea of sending pictures and data over voice channels is nothing new. Hams have lots of techniques for doing that and — not so long ago — even most data transmissions were over phone lines. However, now everyone can get in on the game thanks to the cheap availability of software-defined radio. Several commercial shortwave broadcasters are sending encoded data including images and even entire web pages. You can find out more at the Swradiogram website. You can also find step-by-step instructions.

WINB in Pennsylvania and WRMI Florida both have shows that include interspersed data. To play along, you’ll need a decoder like Fldigi or TIVAR. If you don’t have sufficient radio gear, you can probably borrow some from the Internet.

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Getting On The Air With A 10-Minute-ish Ham Transmitter

Artificially constrained designs can be among the most challenging projects to build, and the most interesting to consider. The amateur radio world is no stranger to this, with homebrew radio designs that set some sort of line in the sand. Such designs usually end up being delightfully minimalist and deeply instructive of first principles, which is one reason we like them so much.

For a perfect example of this design philosophy, take a look at [VK3YE]’s twist on the classic “10-Minute Transmitter”. (Video, embedded below.)

The design dates back to at least the 1980s, when [G4RAW] laid down the challenge to whip up a working transmitter from junk bin parts and make a contact within 15 minutes — ten for the build and five for working the bands. [VK3YE] used the “oner” — one-transistor — design for his 10-minute transmitter, but invested some additional time into adding a low-pass filter to keep his signal clean, and a power amplifier to boost the output a bit.

Even with the elaborations, the design is very simple and easy to understand. Construction is the standard “ugly style” that hams favor for quick builds like this. There are no parts that would be terribly hard to find, and everything fits into a small metal box. The video below shows the design and build, along with some experiments with WebSDR receivers to check out range both with and without the power amplifier.

Seeing these kinds of builds really puts us in the mood for some low-power action. Could something like this pop up in “The $50 Ham” series? Quite possibly yes.

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