Category: Applications

Using Aisdecoder to decode both AIS channels simultaneously

Recently SV3EXP wrote in to let us know that he has been documenting his experiences with trying to get aisdecoder to decode both AIS channels simultaneously. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System, and is a system used to track the locations of marine vessels. With an RTL-SDR or other SDR radio, and appropriate decoder software you can plot ship positions on a map. As the AIS system uses two separate channels for redundancy, you can get a faster and more reliable update rate if you monitor and decode both channels.

On his blog SV3EXP shows how he uses Linux and the “demod” and “csdr” tools to demodulate multiple channels at the same time from IQ data generated by rtl_fm. The demodulated data is then fed to the aisdecoder software for decoding, and then fed to aisdispatcher for feeding the AISHub.net AIS data aggregation website.

Of course the easier solution to decode both AIS channels at once is to use decoding software that already supports this, such as AISdeco2 or AISrec which can be downloaded at http://xdeco.org, and https://sites.google.com/site/feverlaysoft respectively. But regardless SV3EXP’s method does show an interesting way to demodulate multiple streams using only command line tools.

SV3EXP also wanted to point out that he is selling a bias tee powered PSA4-5043+ based LNA on eBay which is compatible with the bias tee on our RTL-SDR Blog SDR units.

AISHub Coverage Areas
AISHub Coverage Areas

GNU Radio for Windows + Decoding ATSC HDTV on GNU Radio for Windows

Recently an updated set of binaries and build scripts were posted for GNU Radio for Windows. GNU Radio is a graphical digital signal processing language that is compatible with many software defined radios such as the RTL-SDR. Normally it is used on Linux as the Windows builds have been known to be very buggy and difficult  to install. However the latest update appears to make it easier to install. The changes were announced on the GNU Radio mailing list by Geof Nieboer, and he writes:

An updated set of windows binaries and build scripts have been posted. Quick summary:

1- Added gqrx to package
2- Patched 2 x issues which would cause the generic version to crash on non-AVX systems (one in volk, one in FFTW)
3- Added gr-newmod to package

Plus a number of improvements to make the scripts more robust.

Binaries at http://www.gcndevelopment.com/gnuradio/downloads.htm
Scripts at https://github.com/gnieboer/GNURadio_Windows_Build_Scripts

To run GNU Radio for Windows you will need a 64-bit version of Windows 7/8/10. It appears that the installation is as easy as running the installer and waiting for it to download and install the 1.7 GB worth of files.

Also, over on his blog author designing on a juicy cup posted about how he’d been able to get the GNU Radio Windows binaries to run a ATSC HDTV decoder from a file recorded using an SDRplay RSP (ATSC is too wideband for an RTL-SDR to decode). ATSC is the digital TV standard used in North America, some parts of Central America and South Korea. He writes that one advantage to using GNU Radio on Windows is the ability to use a RAM drive for faster file processing.

GNU Radio ATSC Decoder Running on Windows.
GNU Radio ATSC Decoder Running on Windows.

EM-ID: RTL-SDR based Tag-Less ID of Electrical Devices via Eletromagnetic Emissions

Back in November 2015 we posted about Disney Research’s EM-Sense which was an RTL-SDR based smart watch that was able to actually sense and detect the exact (electronic) object the wearer was touching. It worked by using the RTL-SDR to detect the specific electromagnetic emission signature given off by various different electronic devices.

Now Disney research has just released a new paper titled “EM-ID: Tag-less Identification of Electrical Devices via Electromagnetic Emissions”. In this paper the authors describe an RTL-SDR based system which serves as a replacement for RFID tags and readers. RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tags can be used in place of standard barcodes when placed on items as a means for easy inventory and asset tracking. An RFID tag is faster and easier to read than a barcode, but the individual cost of the tag has prevented its widespread adoption.

The Disney research team have put forward the idea that a low cost SDR like the RTL-SDR can be used in place of RFID tags when they would have been used to identify electronic devices. The idea is that the SDR can be used to read the electromagnetic emissions of the electronic device, which can then be used to identify the item, thus eliminating the need for an RFID tag or barcode. Their abstract reads:

Radio Frequency Identification technology has greatly improved asset management and inventory tracking. However, for many applications RFID tags are considered too expensive compared to the alternative of a printed bar code, which has hampered widespread adoption of RFID technology. 

To overcome this price barrier, our work leverages the unique electromagnetic emissions generated by nearly all electronic and electromechanical devices as a means to individually identify them. This tag-less method of radio frequency identification leverages previous work showing that it is possible to classify objects by type (i.e. phone vs. TV vs. kitchen appliance, etc). A core question is whether or not the electromagnetic emissions from a given model of device, is sufficiently unique to robustly distinguish it from its peers. 

We present a low cost method for extracting the EM-ID from a device along with a new classification and ranking algorithm that is capable of identifying minute differences in the EM signatures. Results show that devices as divers as electronic toys, cellphones and laptops can all be individually identified with an accuracy between 72% and 100% depending on device type.

While not all electronics are unique enough for individual identifying, we present a probability estimation model that accurately predicts the performance of identifying a given device out of a population of both similar and dissimilar devices. Ultimately, EM-ID provides a zero cost method of uniquely identifying, potentially billions of electronic devices using their unique electromagnetic emissions.

An EM-ID use case: Identifying difference laptop assets.
An EM-ID use case: Identifying difference laptop assets.

In the paper we can see that the EM-ID hardware is essentially just a direct sampling modified RTL-SDR and antenna. The RTL-SDR is modified to use direct sampling as this allows it to receive 0 – 28 MHz, and thus 0 – 500 kHz where the most useful EM emissions exist. The system process is to basically scan the device using the antenna and RTL-SDR, extract features such as power peaks from the recorded EMI spectrum and then turn this data into a device signature which can then be used to compare against a database of previously recorded and known device signatures. (e.g. light bulb, iPhone).

The EM-ID Hardware: Essentially an RTL-SDR and antenna.
The EM-ID Hardware: Essentially an RTL-SDR and antenna.
The EM-ID Process.
The EM-ID Process.

Hydrogen Line Observation with an RTL-SDR

The RTL-SDR can be used for many interesting radio astronomy applications such as observing the Hydrogen line. Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will rarely emit a photon, but since space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot.

On his website Steve Olney has been writing about his experiments and results with using an RTL-SDR to observe the hydrogen line. On his website he writes that he uses a 3M dish, with an LNA at the antenna to reduce the system NF, a hydrogen line tuned bandpass filter to remove out of band noise, 2 line amps to overcome coax loss, and finally a second LNA just before the RTL-SDR dongle to optimize the signal strength for the ADC. The dongle he uses has been modified to use a TCXO, and is aircooled via a PC fan. He also uses a modified version of the rtlsdr.exe IQ file recorder and his own custom GUI for controlling the RTL-SDR and antenna tracking mechanism.

His results show that he was able to detect the Hydrogen in the Large and Small Magellanic clouds. He also shows a method for converting the 8-bit IQ data down to 1-bit to save disk space, and shows that while some noise is added, the overall result is preserved.

See the related posts for other hydrogen line experiments with the RTL-SDR.

The 3M dish used for hydrogen line detection.
The 3M dish used for hydrogen line detection.
The fan cooled RTL-SDR used to detect the Hydrogen line.
The fan cooled RTL-SDR used to detect the Hydrogen line.

SDRplay Updates: Android Support, ADS-B Decoder Upgrades and Acquisition of Studio1 Software

The SDRplay team have been hard at work during the last few weeks. First they announced beta support for Android via SDRtouch, then they announced an improved ADS-B decoder, and finally they have just announced their acquisition of Studio1. 

The SDRplay is a 12-bit software defined radio with tuning range between 100kHz – 2 GHz. Many consider it along with the Airspy to be the next stage up from an RTL-SDR dongle. 

Android Support

The author of SDRTouch on Android recently announced support for the SDRplay. SDRTouch is a Android program similar in operation to PC based software like SDR#. To access the beta you can sign up at this link. Currently there is support for up to 2 MHz of bandwidth.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMiPVgFbgl8

Improved ADS-B Decoder

Back in March the SDRplay team released ADS-B decoder software for their SDR with the promise of improving its performance in the near future. 

Recently the SDRplay team released an updated version of their ADS-B decoder for the Raspberry Pi which now fully utilizes the full 12-bits of the ADC and takes advantage of the full 8 MHz bandwidth. Jon, the head of marketing at SDRplay writes the following:

We now have an updated beta version of ADS-B for both the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3. This is based upon the 16bit Mutability version of dump1090 developed by Oliver Jowett and unlocks the full 12 bit performance of the RSP1. People should see a significant performance improvement over the dump1090_sdrplus version, which was based upon 8 bit code. The latest beta version can be downloaded in binary form from http://www.sdrplay.com/rpi_adsb.html . Should anyone have questions or feedback, please contact software@SDRplay.com

We plan to eventually compare the SDRplay with the Airspy and RTL-SDR on ADS-B performance. If you are interested we previously did a review of the SDRplay, Airspy and HackRF here, but as the SDRplay did not have ADS-B back then, that particular test was not done.

Acquisition of Studio1 SDR Software

The last major piece of news is that SDRplay have now acquired the Studio1 SDR software. Studio1 is a paid SDR program, similar in nature to SDR#/HDSDR/SDR-Console. Like HDSDR, Studio1 is a spinoff from the old WinRad software. Their press release reads:

SDRplay Limited has today announced that it has reached an agreement with Sandro Sfregola, (formerly CEO of SDR Applications S.a.s.) to acquire all Rights, Title and Interest in Studio 1 a leading software package for Software Defined Radio applications.

Jon Hudson, SDRplay Marketing Director said: “We are delighted to have reached this agreement with Sandro to acquire Studio 1. Studio 1 is the perfect complement to our SDR hardware products and gives us the ideal platform to deliver a complete class leading SDR solution for our customers. We look forward to working with Sandro and further developing Studio 1 to unlock the full capability of our current and future products”.

Hudson added: “Studio1 has established a strong customer base with users of many other SDR hardware products. Studio 1 will continue to be available as a stand-alone product from WoodBoxRadio http://www.woodboxradio.com/studio1.html for the foreseeable future , but we also look forward to further developing Studio 1 to specifically benefit present and future owners of our products”

Sandro Sfregola added: “I am very pleased to have reached this agreement with SDRplay. The long term future for SDR lies in complete end to end solutions and I feel the SDRplay RSP combined with Studio 1 software gives users an outstanding combination of performance and affordability”.

About Studio 1:

Studio1 was developed in Italy by SDR Applications S.a.s. and has hundreds of happy customers around the world.Studio 1 is known for its user friendly stylish GUI, CPU efficiency and advanced DSP capabilities, including features notavailable on other SDR software packages.

www.sdrapplications.it

About SDRplay:

SDRplay limited is a UK company and consists of a small group of engineers with strong connections to the UK Wireless semiconductor industry. SDRplay announced its first product, the RSP1 in August 2014

www.sdrplay.com

We believe that this is a good move for SDRplay, as one of the major issues with the RSP SDR was the lack of decently supported software.

Studio1_banner2

 

Receiving Iridium Satellites with a HackRF Portapack and Cheap Antenna

Recently Jared Boone, creator of the HackRF portapack posted on his blog about his experience with trying to receive Iridium satellite signals. The HackRF is 8-bit, ~0 – 6 GHz, RX/TX capable SDR, and the Portapack is a kit that allows the HackRF to go portable, by adding an LCD screen, battery pack and control wheel. Iridium is an L-band satellite service that provides products such as satellite phones and pagers. Back in December 2014 we posted how it was found that Iridium pager messages could be decoded.

To receive Iridium Jared used a simple ceramic patch antenna mounted on a piece of cheap copper clad fibreglass. This simple antenna was good enough to receive the Iridium signals with good strength. With this set up Jared was able to easily go outside and receive some packets and record them. He writes his next steps are to try and run the Iridium pager decoder on them and see what packets he captured.

Iridium Antenna + HackRF Portapack.
Iridium Antenna + HackRF Portapack.

 

Receiving up to 4.5 GHz with an RTL-SDR and a $5 Directv Downconverter

KD0CQ has recently been experimenting with trying to receive signals at frequencies of up to 4.5 GHz with an RTL-SDR and downconverter. Since a typical R820T/2 RTL-SDR’s maximum frequency limit is about 1.7 GHz, an external downconverter circuit is required. A downconverter converts high frequencies down into the range receivable by the RTL-SDR. For example a downconverter with a 2.4 GHz local oscillator would convert a 3.5 GHz signal down to 1.1 GHz, which can be easily received by an RTL-SDR.

The secret to doing this cheaply is revealed by KD0CQ. He shows that a very cheap $5 Directv SUP-2400 upconverter can be converted into a 2.4 GHz downconverter simply by removing some filters. He writes that he hasn’t uploaded the full set of steps to modify the SUP-2400 yet, but he intends to do so in the near future.

There is also a discussion about this mod on Reddit. Several posters have been discussing what applications a cheap downconverter could open up. Some mentioned applications include receiving various satellites in the C/S bands, DECT cordless phones @ 1.9 GHz, SiriusXM satellite radio @ 2.3 GHz, ISM @ 2.4 GHz, RADARs, RC aircraft control/telemetry/video and ham beacons.

The SUP-2400 Directv upconverter that can be converted into a downconverter.
The SUP-2400 Directv upconverter that can be modified into a downconverter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqcGsnCa3xU

A new RTL-SDR based Portable ADS-B Kit for Pilots is on Kickstarter

Back in March we posted about the FlightBox, a portable RTL-SDR ADS-B 1090ES and 978UAT receiver built for use by pilots in small aircraft. 1090ES provides ADS-B which allows a pilot to see on a map where other aircraft are, and 978UAT provides other services such as weather radar. The FlightBox is essentially a Raspberry Pi 2 combined with two RTL-SDR dongles, two antennas, a GPS receiver and is preloaded with the stratux software. The two channel FlightBox receiver currently sells for $250 USD.

Recently a new similar ADS-B product for pilots made by a different company has been released on Kickstarter. The new product is made by a company called RF-Connect and is similar to the FlightBox, but is powered by an Odroid C1. RF-Connect are also the programmers behind the ADS-B on Android app which was one of the first apps to be able to receive FIS-B weather data and display it on a map. 

The product receives 978UAT and 1090ES ADS-B signals using two RTL-SDR dongles, and then transmits the data via WiFi to an Android or iOS tablet running flight navigation software.

The Kickstarter early backer price is $150 USD for a single channel 978UAT only capable receiver or $200 USD for the dual channel 1090ES and 978UAT receiver. This contrasts with the FlightBox price of $200 and $250 USD for similar products, however the standard backer price for the RF-Connect ADS-B receiver is the same as the FlightBox.

The RF-Connect ADS-B Receiver transmitting data to a tablet.
The RF-Connect ADS-B Receiver transmitting data to a tablet.
The parts inside the ADS-B Receiver. Two RTL-SDR dongles, GPS receiver, two antennas, WiFi dongle, Odroid.
The parts inside the ADS-B Receiver. Two RTL-SDR dongles, GPS receiver, two antennas, WiFi dongle, Odroid.

RF-Connect have also uploaded a video showing their ADS-B on Android app in action.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKna5ZkdVVM