Inspect The RF Realm With Augmented Reality

Intellectually, we all know that we exist in a complex soup of RF energy. Cellular, WiFi, TV, public service radio, radar, ISM-band transmissions from everything from thermometers to garage door openers — it’s all around us. It would be great to see these transmissions, but alas, most of us don’t come from the factory with the correct equipment.

Luckily, aftermarket accessories like RadioFieldAR by [Manahiyo] make it possible to visualize RF signals. As the name suggests, this is an augmented reality system that lets you inspect the RF world around you. The core of the system is a tinySA, a pocket-sized spectrum analyzer that acts as a broadband receiver. A special antenna is connected to the tinySA; unfortunately, there are no specifics on the antenna other than it needs to have a label with an image of the Earth attached to it, for antenna tracking purposes. The tinySA is connected to an Android phone — one that supports Google’s ARCore — by a USB OTG cable, and a special app on the phone runs the show.

By slowly moving the antenna around in the field of view of the phone’s camera, a heat map of signal strength at a particular frequency is slowly built up. The video below shows it in action, and the results are pretty cool. If you don’t have a tinySA, fear not — [Manahiyo] has a version of the app that supports a plain old RTL-SDR dongle too. That should make it easy for just about anyone to try this out.

And if you’re feeling deja vu about this, you’re probably remembering the [Manahiyo]’s VR spectrum analyzer, upon which this project is based.

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Say The Magic Word, And The TinySA Goes Ultra

We’ve looked at the TinySA spectrum analyzer in the past. However, the recent Ultra edition offers an increase in range from 800 MHz to 6 GHz. How does it work? [IMSAI Guy] tells us in a recent video that you can watch below. In addition to an increased frequency range, the new device offers a larger display and enhancements to the signal generator and bandpass filtering. It also has an optional LNA. All this, of course, is at a price since the Ultra sells at a little more than twice the original unit’s price. Still, $120 or so for a 6 GHz spectrum analyzer isn’t bad.

For some reason, you have to put a passcode in to enable the Ultra mode, although the passcode appears to be common knowledge and available on the device’s wiki. You can presume they could, at some point, make this feature or others require a paid passcode, but for now, it is just a minor inconvenience. Reminds us of a certain oscilloscope that’s become quite popular in our community.

One thing you should be aware of, however, is that the Ultra mode uses a mixer to downconvert the incoming signal to the ordinary 800 MHz range. That means, as you can see in the video, that the local oscillator puts out some signal at the input. The level is relatively low, but still something to be aware of if you are trying to make a precision measurement.

The video compares the device to an HP 8591E spectrum analyzer. It tops out at 1.8 GHz and runs about $2,500 new. Even on eBay, you can expect to pay between $500 and $1000 for one of these. The results seem to be comparable, for the most part.

We looked at the device’s predecessor back in 2020. We also did a full-blown review a little bit later.

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Product Review: The TinySA, A Shirt-Pocket Sized Spectrum Analyzer

I suppose most of us have had the experience of going to the mailbox and seeing that telltale package in the white plastic bag, the sign that something has just arrived from China. This happened to me the other day, and like many of you it was one of those times when I puzzled to myself: “I wonder what I bought this time?”

With so many weeks or months between the time of your impulsive click on the “Buy Now” button on AliExpress or eBay and the slow boat from China actually getting the package to your door, it’s easy enough to forget what exactly each package contains. And with the price of goods so low, the tendency to click and forget is all the easier. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but I like surprises as much as the next person, so I was happy to learn that I was now the owner of a tinySA spectrum analyzer. Time for a look at what this little thing can do.

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TinySA Is A $49 Spectrum Analyzer

The NanoVNA made network analyzers cheap enough for almost everyone. Now you can get a $49 spectrum analyzer to go with it. Is it worth it? Watch [IMSAI Guy]’s video after the break for his opinion. From the website:

  • Spectrum Analyzer with two inputs, high-quality MF/HF/VHF input for 0.1MHZ-350MHz, lesser quality UHF input for 240MHz-960MHz.
  • Switchable resolution bandpass filters for both ranges between 2.6kHz and 640kHz
  • Color display showing 290 scan points covering up to the full low or high-frequency range.
  • Input Step attenuator from 0dB to 31dB for the MF/HF/VHF input.
  • When not used as Spectrum Analyzer it can be used as Signal Generator, MF/HF/VHF sinus output between 0.1MHZ-350MHz, UHF square wave output between 240MHz-960MHz.
  • A built-in calibration signal generator that is used for automatic self-test and low input calibration.
  • Connected to a PC via USB it becomes a PC controlled Spectrum Analyzer
  • Rechargeable battery allowing a minimum of at least 2 hours portable use

A lot of cheap scopes and PC-based scopes can do spectrum analysis, too, of course, so this isn’t as exotic as a VNA. But at this price, having a dedicated instrument might be worth it to you, especially if you don’t care about frequency below 100 MHz.

There are some limitations, of course, but the price is right. [IMSAI Guy] shows a few oddities that he didn’t like, but overall, it seemed like a good value. If you have a modern scope it may already do this function, or you might be able to do a software solution. If you only need audio frequencies and you want novelty, try some ping pong balls Continue reading “TinySA Is A $49 Spectrum Analyzer”