Hak5, a popular YouTube technology show has recently been dedicating a bunch of episodes to RTL-SDR projects. Recently we posted about their efforts with ADS-B, and some GNURadio tutorials. Their most recent video discusses AIS (Automatic Identification System) which is a system similar to ADS-B which ships use to transmit their location to create a modern GPS based radar system.
The Hak5 video discusses how AIS works and also shows how to use an RTL-SDR to receive it. In their tutorial they use SDR#, VBCable and ShipPlotter to receive and view AIS data on map. Note that we also have an AIS tutorial here.
Identify And Locate Ships Via AIS Transmissions!, Hak5 1610
The HackRF One, a TX/RX capable software defined radio for 10 MHz – 6 GHz is now available for preorder at certain resellers for $299USD . Micheal, the man behind the HackRF expects the Kickstarter HackRF rewards to be shipped in June. Then after shipping the HackRF reward units, the resellers will receive their units.
HackRF One from Great Scott Gadgets is a Software Defined Radio peripheral capable of transmission or reception of radio signals from 10 MHz to 6 GHz. Designed to enable test and development of modern and next generation radio technologies, HackRF One is an open source hardware platform that can be used as a USB peripheral or programmed for stand-alone operation.
10 MHz to 6 GHz operating frequency
up to 20 million samples per second
8-bit quadrature samples (8-bit I and 8-bit Q)
compatible with GNU Radio, SDR#, and more
software-configurable RX and TX gain and baseband filter
software-controlled antenna port power (50 mA at 3.3 V)
SMA female antenna connector
SMA female clock input and output for synchronization
convenient buttons for programming
internal pin headers for expansion
Hi-Speed USB 2.0
open source hardware
HackRF One has an injection molded plastic enclosure and ships with a micro USB cable. An antenna is not included. ANT500 is recommended as a starter antenna for HackRF One.
Recently a bunch of amateur radio nano-satellites known as ‘Kicksats‘ were launched on the latest SpaceX rocket. So far the Kicksat carrier has been successfully deployed, which is essentially the box containing the nano-satellites. On May 4, the nano-satellites known as ‘sprites’ are due to be deployed from the carrier.
Both the carrier and Kicksat sprites have telemetry signals which are receivable with the RTL-SDR. As the sprites transmit using only 10mW of power, a high gain Yagi antenna and an LNA are required to receive their signals.
Over on YouTube user mutezone has posted a video comparing the RTL-SDR with upconverter against a Softrock Ensemble II software defined radio. The Softrock Ensemble II is an SDR dedicated to the HF frequencies and is thus expected to have better performance for that purpose. Mutezone writes
A performance between the Softrock Ensemble II vs the RTL-SDR (R820T) on shortwave. Here we are trying to see which one is best at receiving AM broadcasters. Both SDRs were using the same longwire antenna connected to an ATU (Antenna Tuning Unit).
Although I know this comparison is somewhat unfair, since the RTL-SDR is not meant for shortwave & the Softrock is, it is to show that there is a difference in performance, even though the RTL-SDR has a much wider frequency range & cannot be beaten when it comes to value for money. My opinion is that if you want an SDR that should deliver on HF / Shortwave performance, then go for a dedicated one like the Softrock, Afedri, SDR-IQ or any others that do the same job on the market. Even when using a decent HF Upconverter, the RTL-SDR will still not match the performance of more upmarket HF SDRs.
Softrock Ensemble II vs RTL-SDR HF/ Shortwave test
Over on YouTube, Hak5 a electronics enthusiast channel has posted a video showing an interesting ADS-B project they undertook.
The Hak5 team took a quadcopter up on top of a high mountain, attached to it a WiFi Pineapple (a small WiFi equipped Linux computer), an RTL-SDR dongle and a coax collinear antenna and then flew it up high. They ran dump1090, a Linux based ADS-B decoder on the WiFi pineapple and then broadcast the decoded information back to a laptop on the ground.
Although the results were less than favourable, it is still an interesting project to explore. Their poor results may be due to a nearby RF broadcast tower which could have been overloading the dongle, or EMF from the quadcopter motors.
Tracking Aircraft over 300 miles away! Mountain + Drone + SDR, Hak5 1609
At the beginning of March we posted about Tom Zicarelli who had created a Max/MSP wrapper for the RTL-SDR. Back then he said he was also working on a wrapper for PureData (PD). Now Tom has written the wrapper and uploaded a video showing a demonstration of the RTL-SDR working in PD. He has also uploaded a new Max/MSP wrapper video. Tom plans to make the wrapper available in the next few months.
Max/MSP and Pure Data are graphical programming tools for creating music, sound, video and interactive graphics applications.
The Ettus USRP B210 is an advanced $1,100 software defined radio that is capable of both transmit and receive. Balint, one of the researchers at Ettus, has posted a video showing how he was able to play a light hearted prank on some of his colleagues using the B210.
Tyler Watt has posted over on his blog a new post showing some tips on the use of SDR#. He makes use of animated gifs to clearly show the action in SDR# that he is performing. If you’ve been wanting to learn more about how to use SDR#, or what the various options do, check out his guide.
To do this he used the RTL-SDR Scanner software which allows you to create a composite spectrum over a frequency range wider than the maximum 3.2 MHz of bandwidth the RTL-SDR provides. The wideband noise generator was cleverly constructed out of a diode operating in it’s reverse breakdown mode.
Apart from the obvious excessive spurs, this method worked quite well and the shape of the filter is clearly visible.