Category: Applications

New Outernet Hardware “Dreamcatcher”: An RTL-SDR with Embedded Computing Hardware

Over on the Outernet forums Outernet CEO Syed has just released pictures of the latest upcoming Outernet receiver called “Dreamcatcher”. The new receiver is an RTL-SDR, LNA, filter, and embedded Linux capable computing hardware all on board a single PCB. The full specs are pasted below:

  • L-band SAW filter (1525 – 1559 MHz)
  • Two-stage L-band LNA with 34dB gain
  • 0.5 PPM TCXO
  • RF bypass for tuning from 24 – 1600 MHz – use as a regular RTL-SDR!
  • USB ports
  • GPIO forest
  • UARTs, I2C, SPI headers (unpopulated) for driving external hardware
  • Two microSD card holders – for boot and storage!
  • 1 GHz CPU
  • 256 MB RAM Now 512 MB RAM
  • USB wifi dongle (not shown) – STA+ AP mode capable!
  • Lots of LEDs! and Switches!
  • microUSB OTG
  • microUSB power port
  • Audio In/Out
  • Speaker with 1.4 W integrated audio amplifier
  • Fully mainline (4.10) Kernel and (2017.01) Uboot support!
    *** JST battery is being removed

On the Roadmap:

  • armbian/debian support

This is a fully-integrated SDR receiver – RF frontend, SDR, Compute, Wifi – Everything!

Outernet is an L-band satellite service that aims to be a download only “library in the sky”. Currently they are broadcasting from Inmarsat and Alphasat geostationary satellites which can be received from almost anywhere in the world. We have a tutorial on receiving and decoding their signal here. Every day almost 20 MB of data is sent down, and this includes data like news, weather forecasts, APRS, wikipedia articles, books and more. In the future you will be able to pay to upload private files or messages. This could be useful for sending messages to people isolated from cell phone reception, or for operating remote hardware.

Previously Outernet sold a DIY version of their receiver which included an RTL-SDR V3 or E4000 dongle, LNA+filter, a C.H.I.P embedded computer, and a patch antenna. Recently they have changed to their custom RTL-SDR hardware which is called the “SDRx”. The SDRx includes the RTL-SDR, LNA and filter on a single PCB. Over time it seems that they are moving in the direction of integration of all components onto a single PCB and this can be seen in the Dreamcatcher which now also includes the computing hardware. This is especially good news as the $9 C.H.I.P computing hardware has been almost impossible to acquire since its release.

The Dreamcatcher looks to be also not just useful for Outernet, but also for general projects that can be done on embedded hardware as there is a port which bypasses the L-Band filter.

Back in 2014 we posted about the XiOne. This was also to be an RTL-SDR and computing hardware built onto the same PCB. It would have been controlled via a WiFi connection and apps on a smart phone/tablet. Unfortunately the XiOne Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign never reached its target so the project faded away. The Dreamcatcher is somewhat similar in that both are RTL-SDRs with onboard computing hardware and WiFi connectivity.

The Dreamcatcher is not yet for sale, but it is currently under production. From the looks of the discussion on the forums, it looks like it will sell for $149 USD. Outernet have said that they are sending us a review sample, so keep an eye out for the review in the coming weeks.

The Outernet Dreamcatcher: RTL-SDR + LNA + Filter + Computing Hardware on a single PCB.
The Outernet Dreamcatcher: RTL-SDR + LNA + Filter + Computing Hardware on a single PCB.

YouTube Videos: NOAA Satellite Tutorial and Building a Radio Telescope

Over on the Thought Emporium YouTube channel the team have uploaded two videos that may be of interest to radio hobbyists. The first video shows a nice overview about receiving NOAA weather satellite images. They explain everything from scratch for complete novice, so the videos are great for almost anyone to watch and learn about radio and SDR concepts. The blurb of the first video reads:

Over the past 2 months, me and my friend Artem have been building antennas to receive signals from weather satellites as they pass overhead. This video chronicles our progress through this project and goes through some of the science involved in working with radio and receiving transmissions. We explore how dipoles work and how to build them, and how we built our final double cross antenna. We used an SDR (software defined radio) called a HackRF to do the work of interpreting the received signals and then decoded them with some special software. We pulled images from 4 satellites: NOAA 15, 18 and 19 as well as METEOR M2. The satellites broadcast immediately as they take the images and no images are stored, so we’re likely the only ones on earth with these images.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjClTnZ4Xh4

The second video is about building a radio telescope. Like the NOAA video, they explain all concepts in a simple and easy to understand way, so that anyone even without any radio knowledge can understand what the project is about. In the video they also show how they use a 3D printer to create a tracking mount which can point a satellite dish. They then use the dish to create a satellite heat map. The blurb reads:

Over the last 2 months me and my friend Artem (you met him in the last video) built our first radio telescope. It was built mostly out of off the shelf components, like a satellite dish and Ku band LNB, as well as some parts we 3d printed. When all was said and done we had a system that could not only take images of the sky in radio frequencies (in this case 10-12ghz), but could also be used to track satellites. With it, we were able to see the ring of satellites in geosynchronous orbit, over 35,000km away, This is only the first of what I suspect will be many more telescopes like this. Next time we’ll be building ones that are far larger and can see things like the hydrogen lines so we can image the milky way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeah3fFYlnA

YouTube Talk: Hunting Rogue WiFi Devices using the HackRF SDR

Over on YouTube a video titled “Hunting Rogue WiFi Devices using the HackRF SDR” has been uploaded. The talk is given by Mike Davis at the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) Cape Town. The talk’s abstract reads:

Rogue WiFi Access Points are a serious security risk for today’s connected society. Devices such as the Hak5 Pineapple, ESP8266-based ‘throwies’, or someone with the right WiFi card and software can be used to intercept users’ traffic and grab all of their credentials. Finding these rogue devices is a very difficult thing to achieve without specialised equipment. In this talk Mike will discuss the work he has been doing over the past year, to use the HackRF SDR as a RF Direction-finding device, with the goal of hunting down various malicious RF devices, including car remote jammers.

The talk starts off with the basics, explaining what the problems with WiFi devices are, what the HackRF and SDR is, and then goes on to explain some direction finding methods that Mike has been using. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfKk9sPbEW4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArkLheiEMkw

welle.io: A New RTL-SDR & Airspy DAB/DAB+ Decoder Available for Windows/Linux

Thanks to Albrecht Lohofener for submitting to us his new software package called ‘welle.io’ which is a free DAB and DAB+ decoder and player that supports the RTL-SDR (directly or also via rtl_tcp) and Airspy software defined radios. The software can be run on both Windows and Linux, and also supports Raspberry Pi 2/3 and cheap Chinese Windows 10 tablets.

Albrecht writes that his software is a fork of the qt-dab codebase, with the development goal being to create an easy to use DAB/DAB+ software receiver. The software is still under heavy development, and Albrecht mentions that he is looking for fellow developers and testers to help improve the software and report any bugs. Albrecht writes:

I’m proud to introduce a new open source DAB/DAB+ reception application welle.io https://www.welle.io. welle.io is a fork of qt-dab http://github.com/JvanKatwijk/qt-dab (old dab-rpi and sdr-j-dab) with the goal to develop an easy to use DAB/DAB+ reception application. It supports high DPI and touch displays and it runs even on cheap computers like Raspberry Pi 2/3 and 100€ China Windows 10 tablets. As input devices welle.io supports rtlsdr and airspy.

Currently daily Windows binary builds are available over on the projects GitHub. For Linux and Raspberry Pi users you’ll need to compile the code from source, but in the future he plans to provide Ubuntu snaps.

We gave the welle.io software a brief test and it ran as expected. There is an automatic channel scan feature which scans through all the possible DAB channels and an advanced mode for seeing technical information such as the frequency, SNR and error rates. The software also has a nice touchscreen friendly GUI which automatically downloads and displays the DAB/DAB+ program guide information.

Welle.io DAB/DAB+ decoder for the RTL-SDR and Airspy.
Welle.io DAB/DAB+ decoder for the RTL-SDR and Airspy.

UnoSDR: A New Multi-Mode RTL-SDR Compatible Receiver Program

Programmer Vi Vitaliy recently wrote into us and wanted to share his new ‘UnoSDR’ software defined radio receiver software for Windows. This is a general purpose multi-mode receiver which is compatible with the RTL-SDR. The blurb reads:

UnoSDR is a simple, modern, intuitive interface, small and fast PC-based DSP application for Software Defined Radio (SDR). It’s written in C++ and Qt Quick cross-platform framework. Typical applications are Shortwave listening, Ham Radio, Radio Astronomy and Spectrum analysis.

UnoSDR supports both the RTL-SDR and soundcard based SDRs. With the RTL-SDR UnoSDR must be run via an rtl_tcp server. The software is for the Windows platform, but it seems that there is also an Android version, although this may not yet support the RTL-SDR as we could not get it to connect to our rtl_tcp server.

We tested the Windows version and it ran well despite a few glitches with trying to get the software to connect. There is also a bit of a delay when tuning due to the use of rtl_tcp, and the delays that using a network stream entail even when connected to the localhost. Also we only saw support for AM, USB, LSB and WFM modes. The other modes may be added later as the software still appears to be in development.

UnoSDR
UnoSDR
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR02QNfIMQA

Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder Updated: New Paid LES Decoder + EGC Visualization

The Tekmanoid EGC STD-C decoder was recently updated and a new commercial paid version was released. The paid version now supports the decoding of LES STD-C messages. Previously the only other decoder that we knew of which was able to decode LES messages was the www.inmarsatdecoder.com software. The inmarsatdecoder.com software costs €100, and while the price for the Tekamanoid decoder is not advertised, it is less than €100, and a bit more affordable for the average person.

Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder Receiving LES Message.
Tekmanoid STD-C Decoder Receiving LES Message.

The free versions of both decoders only decode the EGC broadcast messages which contain SafetyNET messages. These include messages like weather reports, shipping lane activity and hazards such as submarine cables and oil rig movements, pirate activity, refugee ship reports, missing ship reports, and military exercise warnings. 

The paid version can decode the other non-broadcast private LES STD-C channels. LES STD-C channels typically contain email like messages sent to and from ships. Mostly it’s company messages about the ship route plans, cargo discussions, repair/fault discussions, ship performance information and weather reports etc. Sometimes small files are also downloaded. Each Inmarsat satellite contains about 7 LES channels each run by a different telecommunications company, so one may be of interest to you.

The paid version of the Tekmanoid decoder also has a nice feature for visualizing the SafetyNET EGC messages. Every now and then an alert containing coordinates and an area is sent out. Usually it is something like a distress alert from an EPIRB or the search area for a missing vessel. The decoder generates an HTML file that displays these areas on a map, alongside the text message.

STD-C EGC Distress Alert on map
STD-C EGC Distress Alert on map

The author of the Tekamnoid software allowed us to test his new paid version for free. We ran the software using signal from an Outernet patch antenna and LNA. An RTL-SDR V3 + SDR# was used as the receiver, and the audio was piped to the Tekmanoid decoder with VB-Cable. Decoding was almost flawless on both LES and EGC STD-C channels. In a previous recent update the Tekmanoid decoder was updated for improved decoding performance, and now in our opinion it is almost or just as good as the inmarsatdecoder.com software.  

If you are interested in learning more about decoding Inmarsat STD-C we have a tutorial available here. LES channels for the Inmarsat satellite in operation over your geographic location can be found on UHF-Satcom’s website.

LES STD-C Inmarsat Channels
LES STD-C Inmarsat Channels

Remember that LES STD-C messages are not publicly broadcast, so in some countries it may not be legal to receive them. Most countries will have a law that says you can receive and decode the data, but you may not act upon or use to your advantage any information from the messages.

Aerial TV: An Android DVB-T Decoder for the RTL-SDR

On the Google Play store a new RTL-SDR compatible app called ‘Aerial TV’ has been released (in beta) by Martin Marinov. Aerial TV allows you to watch DVB-T HD TV on your android device, with an RTL-SDR connected to it via USB OTG cable. Martin is also the author of the popular SDR Touch Android program and the RTL2832U Android driver port. 

The new software requires a different DVB-T driver app to be installed first, which is also provided by Martin. This is because the RTL-SDR needs to be operated in a mode different to the way that the SDR drivers use it in. Martin has also open sourced his Android DVB-T driver and it is available on GitHub.

Aerial TV is currently free on the Google Play store, but looks like it may eventually have some in-app purchases. Also, it is currently marked as ‘Unreleased’ on Google Play, which is essentially a beta version, so you might expect there to be some bugs.

Aerial TV Screenshot
Aerial TV Screenshot

Over on YouTube user GiamMa-based researchers SDR R&D IoT has uploaded a video showing Aerial TV scanning for TV channels, and then eventually playing some video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3hThfHnmKY

HackRF Sweep Spectrum Analyzer for Windows

A few weeks ago the HackRF drivers and firmware were updated and one new feature added was hackrf_sweep. This new feature allows us to scan across the spectrum at up to 8 GHz per second, which means that a full 0 – 6 GHz scan can complete in under a second.

Previously only Linux software such as QSpectrumAnalyzer was compatible with hackrf_sweep, but now over on GitHub user pavsa has released a new Windows based Spectrum Analzyer which is compatible with hackrf_sweep.

We gave the software a test and it ran flawlessly with our HackRF. The features include:

  • Optimized for only one purpose – to use HackRF as a spectrum analyzer
  • All changes in settings restart hackrf_sweep automatically
  • Easy retuning
  • hackrf_sweep integrated as a shared library
  • Peak display
  • High resolution waterfall plot

Remember that to run the software you will need to have updated your HackRF to the latest firmware. The spectrum analyzer software is also Java based, so you’ll need to have the Java JRE for Windows x64 installed.