VR Spectrum Analyzer

At one point or another, we’ve probably all wished we had a VR headset that would allow us to fly around our designs. While not quite the same, thing, [manahiyo831] has something that might even be better: a VR spectrum analyzer. You can get an idea of what it looks like in the video below, although that is actually from an earlier version.

The video shows a remote PC using an RTL dongle to pick up signals. The newer version runs on the Quest 2 headset, so you can simply attach the dongle to the headset. Sure, you’d look like a space cadet with this on, but — honestly — if you are willing to be seen in the headset, it isn’t that much more hardware.

What we’d really like to see, though, is a directional antenna so you could see the signals in the direction you were looking. Now that would be something. As it is, this is undeniably cool, but we aren’t sure what its real utility is.

What other VR test gear would you like to see? A Tron-like logic analyzer? A function generator that lets you draw waveforms in the air? A headset oscilloscope? Or maybe just a giant workbench in VR?

A spectrum analyzer is a natural project for an SDR. Or things that have SDRs in them.

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Improving Cheap SDR Antennas

[VK3YE] knows there are at least two things wrong with the cheap antennas you get with most SDR dongles. First, they are too short. You’d like to have enough to pull out a quarter wavelength on the longest frequency you want to operate. The second problem is there’s no real ground. He fixed both of these problems, as you can see in the video below.

The result might be called an ugly duckling rather than a rubber ducky. But it does seem to work. You could probably come up with something nicer to reseal the base, but the tape does work. A nice 3D printed housing would work, too, and might improve the appearance. We also thought about the goop you use on tool handles.

We actually have simply cut these antennas off and reused the cable and connector to hook up a better antenna. You might get more mileage out of that approach. On the other hand, the magnetic base and reasonably small form factor is pretty attractive.

If you want to do before and after testing, we’d suggest using Python. Or, just bite the bullet and build something that looks like it belongs in a movie.

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Automated Radiosonde Tracking Via Open Source

Meteorological organisations across the world launch weather balloons on a regular basis as a part of their work in predicting whether or not it will rain on the weekend. Their payloads are called radiosondes, and these balloons deliver both telemetry and location data throughout their flightpath. Hobbyists around the globe have devoted time and effort to tracking and decoding these signals, and now it’s possible to do it all automatically, thanks to Radiosonde Auto RX.

The basis of the project is the RTL-SDR, everyone’s favourite low-cost software defined radio receiver. In this case, software is used to first hunt for potential radiosonde signals, before then decoding them and uploading the results to a variety of online services. Some of these are designed for simple tracking, while others are designed for live chase and recovery operations. Currently, the software only covers 3 varieties of radiosonde, but the team are eager to expand the project and have requested donations of other radiosondes for research purposes.

The team recently conducted a talk at linux.conf.au regarding the project, which goes into detail as to the decoding and tracking of the radiosonde data. If you’re eager to try it out, download the software, fetch your TV dongle and get cracking. You might also consider tracking cubesats while you’re at it. Video after the break.

via [crazyoperator], thanks to Slds Ernesto for the tip!

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Testing The Outernet Dreamcatcher SDR

What do you get when you cross an ARM-based Linux PC and an RTL-SDR? Sounds like the start of a joke, but the answer is Outernet’s Dreamcatcher. It is a single PCB with an RTL-SDR software defined radio, an L-band LNA, and an Allwinner A13 processor with 512MB of RAM and a 1 GHz clock speed. The rtl-sdr site recently posted a good review of the $99 board.

We’ll let you read the review for yourself, but the conclusion was that despite some bugs, the board was no more expensive than pulling the parts together separately. On the other hand, if you uses, for example, a Raspberry Pi 3, you might expect more support and more performance.

Despite the L-band hardware, there is a bypass antenna jack that allows you to receive other frequencies. There’s also two SD slots, one to boot from and another for storage. Several pieces of software had trouble running on the somewhat sluggish CPU, although some software that is optimized for the particular processor used fared better. You can read the details in the review.

The board is interesting, although unless you have a special packaging problem, you are probably as well off to combine a Pi and a dongle, as we have seen so many times before. If you have more horsepower you can even make the Pi transmit, although we’d suggest some filtering if you were going to do that for real.

Why No Plane Parachutes? And Other Questions.

This week I was approached with a question. Why don’t passenger aircraft have emergency parachutes? Whole plane emergency parachutes are available for light aircraft, and have been used to great effect in many light aircraft engine failures and accidents.

But the truth is that while parachutes may be effective for light aircraft, they don’t scale. There are a series of great answers on Quora which run the numbers of the size a parachute would need to be for a full size passenger jet. I recommend reading the full thread, but suffice it to say a ballpark estimate would require a million square feet (92903 square meters) of material. This clearly isn’t very feasible, and the added weight and complexity would no doubt bring its own risks.

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RTLSDR

Decoding Satellite-based Text Messages With RTL-SDR And Hacked GPS Antenna

[Carl] just found a yet another use for the RTL-SDR. He’s been decoding Inmarsat STD-C EGC messages with it. Inmarsat is a British satellite telecommunications company. They provide communications all over the world to places that do not have a reliable terrestrial communications network. STD-C is a text message communications channel used mostly by maritime operators. This channel contains Enhanced Group Call (EGC) messages which include information such as search and rescue, coast guard, weather, and more.

Not much equipment is required for this, just the RTL-SDR dongle, an antenna, a computer, and the cables to hook them all up together. Once all of the gear was collected, [Carl] used an Android app called Satellite AR to locate his nearest Inmarsat satellite. Since these satellites are geostationary, he won’t have to move his antenna once it’s pointed in the right direction.

Hacked GPS antenna
Hacked GPS antenna

As far as antennas go, [Carl] recommends a dish or helix antenna. If you don’t want to fork over the money for something that fancy, he also explains how you can modify a $10 GPS antenna to work for this purpose. He admits that it’s not the best antenna for this, but it will get the job done. A typical GPS antenna will be tuned for 1575 MHz and will contain a band pass filter that prevents the antenna from picking up signals 1-2MHz away from that frequency.

To remove the filter, the plastic case must first be removed. Then a metal reflector needs to be removed from the bottom of the antenna using a soldering iron. The actual antenna circuit is hiding under the reflector. The filter is typically the largest component on the board. After desoldering, the IN and OUT pads are bridged together. The whole thing can then be put back together for use with this project.

Once everything was hooked up and the antenna was pointed in the right place, the audio output from the dongle was piped into the SDR# tuner software. After tuning to the correct frequency and setting all of the audio parameters, the audio was then decoded with another program called tdma-demo.exe. If everything is tuned just right, the software will be able to decode the audio signal and it will start to display messages. [Carl] posted some interesting examples including a couple of pirate warnings.

If you can’t get enough RTL-SDR hacks, be sure to check out some of the others we’ve featured in the past. And don’t forget to send in links to your own hacking!

Why You Should Care About Software Defined Radio

It hasn’t become a household term yet, but Software-Defined Radio (SDR) is a major player on the developing technology front. Whether you’re building products for mass consumption, or just playing around for fun, SDR is worth knowing something about and I’ll prove it to you.

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