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.
These days we’re surrounded by high-speed electronics and it’s no small feat that they can all play nicely in near proximity to each other. We have RF emissions standards to thank, which ensure new products don’t spew forth errant signals that would interfere with the data signals traveling through the ether. It’s long been the stuff of uber-expensive emissions testing labs, and failure to pass can leave you scratching your head. But as Alex Whittimore shows in this workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, you can do a lot of RF emissions debugging with simple and inexpensive tools.
You can get a surprisingly clear picture of what kind of RF might be coming off of a product by probing it on your own workbench. Considering the cost of the labs performing FCC and other certifications, this is a necessary skill for anyone who is designing a product headed to market — and still damn interesting for everyone else. Here you can see two examples of the probes used in the process. Although one is a pack of professional tools and other is a bit of enameled wire (magnet wire), both are essentially the same: a loop of wire on which a magnetic field will induce a very small current. Add a Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA) and you’ll be up and measuring in no-time.
I really enjoyed how Alex started his demo with “The Right WayTM” of doing things — using a proper spectrum analyzer to visualize data from the probes. But the real interesting part is “The Hacker WayTM” which leverages an RTL-SDR dongle and some open-source software to get the same job done. Primarily that means using SDRAngel and QSpectrumAnalyzer which are both included in the DragonOS_LTS which can be run inside of a virtual machine.
Designing your own integrated circuits as a one-person operation from your home workshop sounds like science fiction. But 20 years ago, so did rolling your own circuit boards to host a 600 MHz microcontroller with firmware you wrote yourself. Turns out silicon design isn’t nearly as out of reach as it used to be and Matt Venn shows us the ropes in his Zero to ASIC workshop.
Held during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, this is a guided tour of the tools used in the Skywater PDK — the Process Design Kit that is an open-source ASIC toolkit produced in a partnership between Google and SkyWater Technology. We covered the news when first announced back in June, but this the most comprehensive look we’ve seen into the actual design process.
Matt builds up the demo starting from the very simple design of an N-channel MOSFET with click-and-drag tools similar to graphics editing software. The good news it that although you can draw your own structures like this, for digital designs you won’t have to. A wide variety of IP has been contributed to the open source project allowing basic building blocks to be pulled in using HDL. However, the power of drawing structures will certainly be the playground for those needing analog design as part of their projects.
As with EDA software used for circuit boards, the PDK includes design rule checks to ensure you aren’t violating the limits of the 130 nm chip fab. There’s some other black magic in there too, as Matt specifically mentions an antenna rules check to safeguard your design from being fried by induced current on “large” (microscopically so) metalized runs during the fabrication process.
The current workflow involves grinding through a large number of configuration files, something Matt admits took him a long time to wrap his head around. However, what’s available for proofing your design is very impressing. He demonstrates SPICE simulation to calculate timings, and shows numerous examples of verification drawings generated by the compilation process, either in the form of seeing the structures as they will be laid out, or as logical flow charts. This is crucial as a single run will take 2-3 months to come back from fab — you want to get things right before buttoning up the project. Incidentally, that’s know as “tapeout”, a term you’ve likely heard before and he says it comes from reels of magnetic tape containing the design being removed from the computer and sent to production. Who knew? (This tidbit in strikethrough appears to be incorrect).
But wait, there’s more to this than just designing the things. Part of the intrigue of the Skywater-PDK project is that Google bought into covering a group run about once per quarter so that open-source designs can be ganged onto a multi-project wafer free of charge to the people submitting them. That’s pretty awesome and we’re giddy to hear news of people getting their wafer-level chip scale devices — also known as flip chips — back for testing. Matt is planning a more in-depth paid course on the topic. For now, get a taste of what’s involved from this excellent workshop found after the break.
Hacking is about pushing the envelope to discover new and clever ways to use things in ways their original designers never envisioned. [Charlyn Gonda]’s Hackaday Remoticon workshop “Making Glowly Origami” was exactly that; a combination of the art of origami with the one of LEDs. Check out the full course embedded below, and read on for a summary of what you’ll find. Continue reading “Remoticon Video: Making Glowy Origami With Charlyn Gonda”→
We’re impressed to see the continued flow of new and interesting ways to utilize 3D printing despite its years in the hacker limelight. At the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon [Billie Ruben] came to us from across the sea to demonstrate how to use 3D printing and fabric, or other flexible materials, to fabricate new and interesting creations. Check out her workshop below, and read on for more detail about what you’ll find.
The workshop is divided into two parts, a hands-on portion where participants execute a fabric print at home on their own printer, and a lecture while the printers whirr away describing ways this technique can be used to produce strong, flexible structures.
The technique described in the hands on portion can be clumsily summarized as “print a few layers, add the flexible material, then resume the printing process”. Of course the actual explanation and discussion of how to know when to insert the material, configure your slicer, and select material is significantly more complex! For the entire process make sure to follow along with [Billie]’s clear instructions in the video.
The lecture portion of the workshop was a whirlwind tour of the ways which embedded materials can be used to enhance your prints. The most glamourous examples might be printing scales, spikes, and other accoutrement for cosplay, but beyond that it has a variety of other uses both practical and fashionable. Embedded fabric can add composite strength to large structural elements, durable flexibility to a living hinge, or a substrate for new kinds of jewelry. [Billie] has deep experience in this realm and she brings it to bear in a comprehensive exposition of the possibilities. We’re looking forward to seeing a flurry of new composite prints!
When you want to quickly pull together a combination of media and user interaction, looking to some building blocks for the heavy lifting can be a lifesaver. That’s the idea behind Max, a graphical programming language that’s gained a loyal following among anyone building art installations, technology demos (think children’s museum), and user Kiosks.
Guy Dupont gets us up to speed with a how to get started with Max workshop that was held during the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon. His crash course goes through the basics of the program, and provides a set of sixteen demos that you can play with to get your feet under you. As he puts it, if you need sound, video, images, buttons, knobs, sensors, and Internet data for both input and output, then Max is worth a look. Video of the workshop can be found below.
If only you could get your hands on the code to fix the broken features on your beloved electronic widget. But wait, hardware hackers have the skills to write their own firmware… as long as we can get the compiled binary into a format the hardware needs.