Phase Coherent Beamforming SDR

The days when software defined radio techniques were exotic are long gone, and we don’t miss them one bit. A case in point: [Laakso Mikko’s] research group has built a multichannel receiver using 21 cheap RTL-SDR dongles to create a phase coherent array. This is useful for everything from direction finding and passive radar or beam forming. The code is also available on GitHub.

The phase coherence does require the dongle’s tuner can turn off dithering. That means the code only works with dongles that use the R820T/2. The project modifies the dongles to use a common clock and a switchable reference noise generator.

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Tuning Into Medical Implants With The RTL-SDR

With a bit of luck, you’ll live your whole life without needing an implanted medical device. But if you do end up getting the news that your doctor will be installing an active transmitter inside your body, you might as well crack out the software defined radio (SDR) and see if you can’t decode its transmission like [James Wu] recently did.

Before the Medtronic Bravo Reflux Capsule was attached to his lower esophagus, [James] got a good look at a demo unit of the pencil-width gadget. Despite the medical technician telling him the device used a “Bluetooth-like” communications protocol to transmit his esophageal pH to a wearable receiver, the big 433 emblazoned on the hardware made him think it was worth taking a closer look at the documentation. Sure enough, its entry in the FCC database not only confirmed the radio transmitted a 433.92 MHz OOK-PWM encoded signal, but it even broke down the contents of each packet. If only it was always that easy, right?

The 433 ended up being a coincidence, but it got him on the right track.

Of course he still had to put this information into practice, so the next step was to craft a configuration file for the popular rtl_433 program which split each packet into its principle parts. This part of the write-up is particularly interesting for those who might be looking to pull data in from their own 433 MHz sensors, medical or otherwise

Unfortunately, there was still one piece of the puzzle missing. [James] knew which field was the pH value from the FCC database, but the 16-bit integer he was receiving didn’t make any sense. After some more research into the hardware, which uncovered another attempt at decoding the transmissions from the early days of the RTL-SDR project, he realized what he was actually seeing was the combination of two 8-bit pH measurements that are sent out simultaneously.

We were pleasantly surprised to see how much public information [James] was able to find about the Medtronic Bravo Reflux Capsule, but in a perfect world, this would be the norm. You deserve to know everything there is to know about a piece of electronics that’s going to be placed inside your body, but so far, the movement towards open hardware medical devices has struggled to gain much traction.

Raspberry Pi Hat Adds SDR With High Speed Memory Access

An SDR add-on for the Raspberry Pi isn’t a new idea, but the open source cariboulite project looks like a great entry into the field. Even if you aren’t interested in radio, you might find the project’s use of a special high-bandwidth memory interface to the Pi interesting.

The interface in question is the poorly-documented SMI or Secondary Memory Interface. [Caribou Labs] helpfully provides links to others that did the work to figure out the interface along with code and a white paper. The result? Depending on the Pi, the SDR can exchange data at up to 500 Mbps with the processor. The SDR actually uses less than that, at about 128 Mbps. Still, it would be hard to ship that much data across using conventional means.

On the radio side, the SDR covers 389.5 to 510 MHz and 779 to 1,020 MHz. There’s also a wide tuning channel from 30 MHz to 6 GHz, with some exclusions. The board can transmit at about 14 dBm, depending on frequency and the receive noise figure is under 4.5 dB for the lower bands and less than 8 dB above 3,500 MHz. Of course, some Pis already have a radio, but not with this kind of capability. We’ve also seen SMI used to drive many LEDs.

Remoticon Video: Learning The Basics Of Software-Defined Radio (SDR)

Have you dipped your toe into the SDR ocean? While hacker software-defined radio has been a hot topic for years now, it can be a little daunting to try it out for the first time. Here’s your change to get your legs under you with the SDR overview workshop presented by Josh Conway during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon.

Josh’s presentation starts with a straightforward definition of SDR before moving to an overview of the hardware and software that’s out there. Hardware designs for radios can be quite simple to build, but they’ll be limited to a single protocol — for instance, an FM radio can’t listen in on 433 Mhz wireless doorbell. SDR breaks out of that by moving to a piece of radio hardware that can be reconfigured to work with protocols merely by making changes to the software that controls it. This makes the radio hardware more expensive, but also means you can listen (and sometimes transmit) to a wide range of devices like that wireless doorbell or automotive tire pressure sensors, but also radio-based infrastructure like airplane transponders and weather satellites.

This is the quickstart you want since it explains  a lot of topis at just the right depth. The hardware overview covers RTL-SDR, ADALM-PLUTO, HackRF, KerberosSDR, and BladeRF (which we just featured over the weekend used on the WiFi procotol). For software, Josh recaps GQRX, SDR#, SDRAngel, ShinySDR, Universal Radio Hacker, Inspectrum, SigDigger, RPITX, GnuRadio Companion, and REDHAWK. He also takes us through a wide swath of the antenna types that are out there before turning to questions from the workshop attendees.

If SDR is still absent in your toolbox, now’s a great time to give it another look. Once you’ve made it through the ‘hello world’ stage, there’s plenty to explore like those awesome RF Emissions testing tricks we as in another Remoticon talk.

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Doing WiFi With Software Defined Radio

Software defined radio lets RF hardware take on a broad spectrum of tasks, all based on how that hardware is utilized in code. The bladeRF 2.0 micro xA9 is one such device, packing a fat FPGA with plenty of room for signal processing chains on board. As a demonstration of its abilities, [Robert Ghilduta] set about writing a software-defined WiFi implementation for the platform.

The work is known as bladeRF-wiphy, as it implements the PHY, or physical layer of the WiFi connection, in the 7-layer OSI networking model. Modulation and demodulation of the WiFi signal is all handled onboard the Cyclone V FPGA, with the decoded 802.11 WiFI packets handed over to the Linux mac80211 module which handles the MAC level, or medium access control. Thanks to the capability baked into mac80211, the system can act as either an access point or an individual station depending on the task at hand.

[Robert] does a great job of explaining the why and the how of implementing WiFi modulation on an FPGA, as well as some basics of modem development in both software and hardware. It’s dense stuff, so for those new to the field of software defined radio, consider taking some classes to get yourself up to speed!

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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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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