Category: Other

Army Builds Wideband DC to 20 GHz Quantum Receiver

Back in July 2019 we posted about a new development in radio technology known as "Atomic Radio" or "Quantum Radio". In that post we discussed an article that explained the concept and science behind the idea and noted how some researchers described the possibility of a very wideband capable receiver.  

Recently the US Army has described how they built a quantum radio that can receive from DC to 20 GHz. If you're interested in the science, the paper is published in the Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics and it is available on sci-hub. The radio uses something called a Rydberg sensor which they describe below. 

The Rydberg sensor uses laser beams to create highly-excited Rydberg atoms directly above a microwave circuit, to boost and hone in on the portion of the spectrum being measured. The Rydberg atoms are sensitive to the circuit's voltage, enabling the device to be used as a sensitive probe for the wide range of signals in the RF spectrum.

Army researcher Kevin Cox notes how this is the first implementation that can operate over such a wide frequency range:

"All previous demonstrations of Rydberg atomic sensors have only been able to sense small and specific regions of the RF spectrum, but our sensor now operates continuously over a wide frequency range for the first time," said Dr. Kevin Cox, a researcher at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory. "This is a really important step toward proving that quantum sensors can provide a new, and dominant, set of capabilities for our Soldiers, who are operating in an increasingly complex electro-magnetic battlespace."

Quantum radios may be one of the next big leaps in radio technology. However as they require lasers and the space of a small laboratory the technology will probably be restricted to the military and institutions for the time being.

A Rydberg sensor setup (LEFT), The experimental setup for a Rydberg Quantum Radio Receiver (RIGHT)

RF Power Snitch: RF Power Measurement Companion for Protecting RF Equipment

Thank you to Majodi Ploegmakers who wrote in and wanted to share a product he's created that might be useful for some RF enthusiasts. The product is called the "RF Power Snitch", and is a tool used to quickly measure RF input power to determine if input power from a signal source is too strong and could damage measurement equipment such as an SDR or NanoVNA. The product is not yet for sale, but Majodi has an availability notification signup page.

NickStick Design Announces - RF Power Snitch –
“Your RF Measurement Companion”

The Netherlands: Today, NickStick Design, an electronics design company for Makers, announced their RF Power Snitch. After a successful launch of SwarmDrive through Crowd Supply last year, NickStick Design went on and designed another useful tool for makers in the RF (Radio Frequency) domain this time.

Of the company’s recent crowd funding campaign, Majodi said, “We were very pleased with the interest our last, somewhat niche, product received. It spurred us on to develop and realize our next idea”.

Today, the RF domain has become accessible to everyone through affordable tools that many could only dream of before. The only tool missing though, is a simple device for checking the, potential, destructive power of the signals one would want to analyze. Because, although tools like the TinySA, NanoVNA or SDR devices are extremely affordable today, for a maker it is still an investment worth protecting.

That’s why our goal was to develop a low-cost companion device that can help makers and experimenters (especially beginners) in the RF domain to gain insight in the power levels of a signal before hooking things up to their valuable test equipment. As an extra to this we also made it possible to attach an MCU for doing power readings and plotting.

Website: https://powersnitch.nickstick.nl

The RF Power Snitch
The RF Power Snitch

TinySDR: An OpenSource SDR for IoT Applications

We recently came across a relatively new SDR design that is called "TinySDR". The design is entirely open source and is focused on helping analyze wireless Internet of Things (IoT) applications. Currently the device is not manufactured and sold by anyone, but the open source Altium Designer PCB files, BOM and firmware can be found on their GitHub.

Over on hackster.io Tom Fleet has also given the TinySDR a writeup. He notes that the design is based around the AT86RF215 transceiver chip and a Lattice Semiconductor ECP5 FPGA. The board is split into an input for 2.4 GHz and a sub-GHz input. On the GitHub there are currently demo files available to turn the SDR into LoRa and FSK modulators.

The TinySDR

Arecibo Radio Telescope Collapses: A look back at some SDR fun with Arecibo

The Arecibo Radio Telescope has collapsed. Once the largest single dish radio telescope in the world at 305m, Arecibo was mostly used for radio astronomy research. However, the dish was made famous in 1974 for deliberating beaming a message into space as part of a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) experiment. It also played a part in popular culture, being a part of several famous films such as Golden Eye and Contact.

As part of it's goodbye we thought we'd highlight a few old posts where Arecibo was used together with SDRs for some interesting applications.

Back in 2014 we saw engineers hook up USRP software defined radios to Arecibo in order to contact the lost ISEE-3 NASA spacecraft (Wikipedia Article). The idea was to contact the solar orbiting spacecraft which was last heard from in 2008, and get it to fire it's thrusters in order to reuse it for a new mission. The idea was initially abandoned by NASA, however a crowdfunding campaign raised US$125,000 which funded the project.

The project required finding and researching the original spacecraft documentation, and implementing the modulators and demodulators in GNU Radio. Whilst being successful in communicating with the satellite, ultimately the project failed due to the satellite's nitrogen tanks which had long leaked empty. But the fact that they were even able to find and communicate with the spacecraft using Arecibo was a major achievement. If you're interested in that project, Balint's 2015 talk on YouTube is an interesting watch. 

Later in 2017 we saw how Arecibo was used for an Ionospheric heating experiment which involved transmitting 600kW of net power into the Ionosphere. This resulted in SDR users around the world being able to receive the signal. Other posts involve u/moslers Reddit post where he toured Arecibo and showed how they used a familiar program, HDSDR, as part of their monitoring suite.

So goodbye to Arecibo. However, we can look forward to the 500 meter Chinese FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope) giving us new opportunities for single dish radio observations in the future.

Arecibo Radio Observatory

Etherify 4: Using PC Ethernet RF Leakage to Transmit QRSS CW

Recently we've posted about Etherify a few times, mostly about how the unintentional RF leakage from the Raspberry Pi 4 Ethernet hardware is really strong and can be modulated to transmit data. In one of his latest posts Jacek Lipkowski (SQ5BPF) explores if Ethernet ports on PC's exhibit any sort of RF leakage too, and if it can be modulated into a data signal.

The answer is yes, there is some RF leakage, however unlike the Pi 4 the speed at which the leakage can be modulated is much slower, and also the signal strength is much lower. Despite the slow modulation speed, Jacek was still able to transmit data by using QRSS CW, which is essentially just very slow morse code. Using this idea he was able to transmit, and receive the CW signal with an RTL-SDR over a distance of 3 meters at 375 MHz, 625 MHz and 250 MHz. The signal strength is nothing like the Pi 4's Ethernet RF leakage which can be received strongly from over 50 meters away however.

Etherify: Transmitting QRSS CW via Ethernet RF leakage from PC to PC

Etherify: Pi 4 Exhibits Very Strong Ethernet RF Leakage

Not too long ago we posted about Jacek Lipkowski (SQ5BPF)'s project called "Etherify" which seeks to use unintentional RF radiation from Ethernet hardware/cables to transmit arbitrary signals such as morse code and FSK. During his earlier experiments he noted how he felt that the Raspberry Pi 4 had an unusually strong radiated Ethernet signal. In his recent post Jacek investigates this further.

Indeed his new tests seem to confirm that the Pi 4 has excessive RF leakage from the Ethernet hardware. His latest results have shown that he was able to receive the Ethernet leakage strongly from 50 meters away without any cable connected to the Ethernet port to act as a radiator. Jacek's post contains a number of demonstration videos such as the one below.

He admits that his particular Pi 4 unit might be unique in this regard. If anyone else tests this and can confirm excessive leakage, please let us know in the comments.

Ethernet RF leakage received strongly from 50m away without any antenna on the Pi 4

Etherify 3 demo

Hack Chat: Learning SDR and DSP with Marc Lichtman

On Wednesday Nov 11 Noon Pacific time, Hackaday will hold a hack chat (group text chat session) with Marc Lictman, author of the free online book "PySDR: A Guide to SDR and DSP using Python". We posted about the release of this book last month, noting that it is probably one of the best books in terms of explaining DSP fundamental concepts in an easy to understand way. Hackaday write:

Join us on Wednesday, November 11th at noon Pacific for Learning SDR and DSP Hack Chat with Marc Lichtman!

“Revolution” is a term thrown about with a lot less care than it probably should be, especially in fields like electronics. It’s understandable, though — the changes to society that have resulted from the “Transistor Revolution” or the “PC Revolution” or more recently, the “AI Revolution” have been transformative, often for good and sometimes for ill. The common thread, though, is that once these revolutions came about, nothing was ever the same afterward.

Such is the case with software-defined radio (SDR) and digital signal processing (DSP). These two related fields may not seem as transformative as some of the other electronic revolutions, but when you think about it, they really have transformed the world of radio communications. SDR means that complex radio transmitters and receivers, no longer have to be implemented strictly in hardware as a collection of filters, mixers, detectors, and amplifiers; instead, they can be reduced to a series of algorithms running on a computer.

Teamed with DSP, SDR has resulted in massive shifts in the RF field, with powerful, high-bandwidth radio links being built into devices almost as an afterthought. But the concepts can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, at least when digging beyond the basics and really trying to learn how SDR and DSP work. Thankfully, Dr. Marc Lichtman, an Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, literally wrote the book on the subject. “PySDR: A Guide to SDR and DSP using Python” is a fantastic introduction to SDR and DSP that’s geared toward those looking to learn how to put SDR and DSP to work in practical systems. Dr. Lichtman will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about his textbook, to answer your questions on how best to learn about SDR and DSP, and to discuss what the next steps are once you conquer the basics.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, November 11 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Andreas Spiess Shows how to Properly use a NanoVNA V2

Over on his channel popular electronics YouTuber Andrea Spiess has uploaded a tutorial video showing how to properly use a NanoVNA V2. The NanoVNA V2 is a vector network analyzer which can be used to measure and tune things like antennas, filters and cables. In the video Andreas aims to explain the differences between the VNA, Spectrum Analyzer and VSWR meter, what you can measure with a VNA, how to read the VNA results, the limitations of cheap VNAs, why and how to calibrate, and a review of the overall quality.

Andreas explains these concepts in a very easy to understand way, so this video is a great start if you've ordered a NanoVNA.

How to properly use a NanoVNA V2 Vector Network Analyzer (Tutorial)