Category: RTL-SDR

Automatically Starting rtl_tcp on a Remote PC via Android

Over on his YouTube channel M Khanfar has put together a tutorial for an interesting idea. The idea is to use an automatic SSH connection to tell your Windows PC to run rtl_tcp whenever you open SDRTouch or RFAnalyzer on your Android device. SDRTouch and RFAnalyzer are both Android based SDR applications and rtl_tcp is a server which allows both apps to connect to a remote RTL-SDR over a network connection.

To set this up, Khanfar first sets up OpenSSH on his Windows PC which allows a secure remote connection to the PC. On his Android device he then installs MacroDroid and RaspController. MacroDroid is an app that help you automate tasks on your Android device, and RaspController is an app designed for remotely controlling a Raspberry Pi, but also works on Windows via the SSH connection. These apps are then setup so that an SSH connection to the Windows PC is automatically opened whenever SDRTouch is run. From within the SSH connection rtl_tcp is then started.

Full text instructions are available in the video description.

Automate MacroDroid with RTL_TCP through OpenSSH under Windows 10

KerberosSDR Tracking a Drone Carrying an FM Beacon

KerberosSDR is our 4-channel phase coherent capable RTL-SDR unit that we previously successfully crowdfunded back in 2018.  With a 4-channel phase coherent RTL-SDR interesting applications like radio direction findingpassive radar and beam forming become possible. It can also be used as 4 separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring. KerberosSDR is currently in stock and available on the Othernet store.

Recently Zuokun Li et al from the University of East China Normal University published an open access conference paper that documents their results at using a KerberosSDR to track a drone. As typical drone control frequencies at 2.4 GHz are outside the range of the RTL-SDRs used on the KerberosSDR, they carried a 446 MHz FM beacon on the drone.

In their experiment they set up both circular and linear antenna arrays for the KerberosSDR, then flew the drone in front of the antenna array while recording the bearings calculated by the KerberosSDR system. The results showed that the KerberosSDR was able to successfully track the drone's bearing with either antenna array, however the linear array produced more accurate results as expected.

We note that a linear array cannot differentiate if an object is in front or behind the array. However, if this knowledge is known it can be used instead of a circular array to get more accurate bearings that are less affected by multipath.

If you're interested in this, you might also like our articles on using a KerberosSDR to track a weather balloon, to locate a P25 transmitter, or our Android app in car demos

The KerberosSDR + Drone Setup
Results from the drones at three locations.

New Updates to the librtlsdr RTL-SDR Driver Fork

Thank you to Hayati Ayguen for letting us know that he and others have submitted a slew of updates to the "librtlsdr" fork of the librtlsdr RTL-SDR drivers. The improvements made to the development branch are extensive and are pasted below, and Hayati also has also created some presentation slides about his improvements. Hayati also notes that there are several open issues being tracked, and he has labelled some as "help wanted" where help and testing would be appreciated.

If you have tested any of the new features of tools, please let us know how they work in the comments!

"Driver" Library Features

  • added support for special USB (vendor) VID 0x1209 (product) PID 0x2832: "Generic RTL2832U":
  • added support for using RTLSDR-Dongle from remote - see rtl_rpcd and README.rtlsdr_rpc
  • improvements for R820T/2 tuner also see https://codingspirit.de/librtlsdr-driver.pdf
    • added better bandwidth support
      • added smaller bandwidths, improving selectivity: 290, 375, 420, 470, 600, 860, 950, 1100, 1300, 1500, 1600, 1750, 1950 kHz. These are coarse measured values .. which might get adjusted in future.
      • bandwidth filters utilize tuner's low- and highpass filters at IF
    • added spectrum flipping (inside tuner) - and back in RTL2832
      • the band edges (low/high-pass) have different steepness; the steeper edge can be selected with the mixer sideband (rtlsdr_set_tuner_sideband()), to achieve better attenuation depending on signal scenario
    • added (automatic) control over VGA (variable gain amplifier)
      • VGA gain (besides LNA and Mixer) can be utilized and set to automatic, letting it controlled from RTL2832U. Having all automatic (AGC) including activation of digital AGC in RTL2832 (rtlsdr_set_agc_mode()), oversteering effects got reduced (a lot).
      • gain range now up to 100 dB
    • deactivated "Filter extension under weak signal" for a stable filter characteristic
    • added shifting of IF-center, to receive away from DC. See rtlsdr_set_tuner_band_center()
  • probably some more: it's highly probable, that this list is incomplete

"Driver" Library API

  • added rtlsdr_set_and_get_tuner_bandwidth(), which also delivers the bandwidth. [ with rtlsdr_set_tuner_bandwidth() does not deliver the bandwidth ]
  • added rtlsdr_set_tuner_band_center(), to set center of the filtered tuner band
  • added rtlsdr_set_tuner_sideband(), to set mixer sideband
  • added rtlsdr_set_tuner_gain_ext(), special for R820T/2 tuner
  • added rtlsdr_set_tuner_if_mode(), sets AGC modes in detail
  • added rtlsdr_set_ds_mode() including threshold frequency
  • added rtlsdr_ir_query()
  • added rtlsdr_set_opt_string() and rtlsdr_get_opt_help() for configuration of 'driver' - especially from command line
  • added rtlsdr_set_tuner_i2c_register(), rtlsdr_get_tuner_i2c_register() and rtlsdr_set_tuner_i2c_override() exposing hacking of tuner-specific I2C registers
  • added rtlsdr_get_ver_id(), to allow discrimination between osmocom library - or this fork
  • added rtlsdr_get_version()

Added Tools

  • added rtl_ir: display received IR signals.
    • requires the IR diode of an RTL-SDR - which might not exist!
  • added rtl_rpcd: a Remote Procedure Call server for RTL-SDR dongles.
    • for use, set environment variable "RTLSDR_RPC_IS_ENABLED"
    • optionally set environment varibales "RTLSDR_RPC_SERV_ADDR" and "RTLSDR_RPC_SERV_PORT". These default to "127.0.0.1" and "40000".
    • requires cmake option WITH_RPC
  • added rtl_raw2wav: save rtl_sdr or rtl_fm's output (pipe) into a wave file, including some meta information like timestamp and frequency
  • added rtl_udp: same as rtl_tcp - just using UDP instead of TCP
  • added rtl_wavestat: display wave file meta information
  • added rtl_wavestream: stream raw data (in specified format)

Improved Tools

  • rtl_fm:
    • added command file option '-C', which can trigger actions depending on signal. have a look at README.rtlfm_cmdfile.
    • added command line interface option '-E rdc', to enable dc blocking on raw I/Q data at capture rate
    • added CLI option '-E rtlagc', to enable rtl2832's digital agc
    • added CLI option '-E bclo', to use tuner bandwidths low corner as band center
    • added CLI option '-E bchi', to use tuner bandwidths high corner as band center
    • added CLI option '-O', to set RTL driver options seperated with ':', e.g. -O 'bc=30000:agc=0'
    • added CLI option '-R', to specify number of seconds to run
    • added CLI option '-H', to write wave Header to file, producing a wave file with meta information, compatible with several SDR programs
    • added CLI option '-o', to request oversampling (4 recommended) for processing gain
  • not just rtl_fm, but many tools have more options. compare all the details by starting with command line option '-h'.

"Driver" Library's UDP-Server - only on Windows

  • enabled by cmake option PROVIDE_UDP_SERVER for tests. OFF by default
  • activated by rtlsdr_set_opt_string(): "port=1" or "port=<udp_port>", default port number: 32323
  • purpose is to allow configuration at runtime with a simple text protocol, e.g. with netcat
  • for detailed protocol, see comment section in parse() of librtlsdr.c. or look for sections with '#ifdef WITH_UDP_SERVER'

RTL_TCP TCP-PROTOCOL

  • allows non-GPL programs, e.g. QIRX, to utilize the RTLSDR stuff in a license compliant way
  • added several control functions in rtl_tcp, not existing in osmocom release: UDP_ESTABLISH, UDP_TERMINATE, SET_I2C_TUNER_REGISTER, SET_I2C_TUNER_OVERRIDE, SET_TUNER_BW_IF_CENTER, SET_TUNER_IF_MODE, SET_SIDEBAND, REPORT_I2C_REGS
  • control functions documented in rtl_tcp.h
  • (by default) control port number 1234, configurable via command-line-interface (CLI)
  • response(s) at +1 of control port: 1235, configurable via CLI
  • protocol details in protocol_rtl_tcp.txt

YouTube Guide to Setting up and Running RTLion

RTLion is a software framework for RTL-SDR dongles that currently supports various features such as a power spectrum plot and frequency scanning. The software can run on a Raspberry Pi 3 and all features are intended to be accessed via an easy to use web browser interface, or via an Android app. The software can also be run with Docker, making it useful for IoT applications.

Over on YouTube M Khanfar has uploaded a comprehensive tutorial video explaining how to setup and run the RTLion server software on a Linux computer. He goes on to demonstrate and explain how to use the server via the web interface and also via the RTLion Android app.

 

RTLion Setup and Running Guide

Amazon US Warehouses Restocked + Other Product Updates

Just noting that Amazon US warehouses have now been restocked with most of our products including RTL-SDR Blog V3 dongles, Broadcast AM and FM Filters, coax adapters, wideband LNA and our metal case upgrade for the SDRplay RSP1A. Amazon ships domestically within the USA, and shipping is free with Prime or orders over $25.

Please visit our store at www.rtl-sdr.com/store for links to the products on Amazon, or to purchase via our global shipping warehouse in China. Some customers may also be interested in our Aliexpress store. Aliexpress orders ship with Aliexpress Shipping which can be better for some countries.

Other product updates below:

FlightAware Prostick+: Due to popular demand, we have restocked out China based shipping warehouse with the FlightAware Prostick+ ADS-B optimized RTL-SDR.

KerberosSDR: Our coherent 4-tuner RTL-SDR called KerberosSDR is back in stock at the Othernet store, and within the next few months will be releasing new software updates.

Active L-Band Patch Antenna: Our patch antenna for Inmarsat and Iridium satellites has been redesigned and is in the final process of prototyping. Production is due to begin within the next month, and it will take about two more months. The new version is larger in size, but has a big improvement in terms of SNR. 

ADS-B Optimized LNA: Our optimized ADS-B LNA will also be back in stock at the China based shipping warehouse by the end of this week. Due to pandemic related supply issues there are some minor component changes and slight changes to the pass band width, but overall performance is equal if not better.

NanoVNA V2 S-A-A-2 Original HCXQS Manufactured: We are waiting on the new stock from the manufacturer and expect to be back in stock in a week or so. We are also working on a high quality enclosure that should be ready in 1-2 months.

Also as a reminder, please remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. As we get closer to Christmas we plan to run a number of competitions and giveaways on these platforms.

Some products in our store

DEFCON 2020 Aerospace Village SDR Talks

A few weeks ago we posted about the recently uploaded talks listed on the Defcon YouTube channel. However, there is a second YouTube channel dedicated to talks presented as part of the Defcon Aerospace Village which was also held virtually. A number of these talks involve software defined radios and RTL-SDRs and so may be of interest to readers. We have listed a few interesting talks below, but the full list can be found on their YouTube channel.

 

Reporters use ADS-B Data to Uncover the Role US Private Contractors Play in East African Air Operations

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) have recently run a story about how they have used ADS-B aircraft data to uncover the role that US civilian aircraft contractors are playing in the East African "kill chain". The investigation began over concerns that while civilian contractors do not pull the trigger, they may be becoming too involved in the process of determining exactly who will be killed in combat via data collection and analysis through their high tech surveillance aircraft. In the article they also note how many of these civilian contractors hide their true owners behind a chain of multiple LLC companies, thus reducing any accountability for their actions.

OCCRP also supports the Dictator Alert project which we have posted about in the past. In a related article titled "Mapping the Secret Skies: Lessons Learned From Flight Data" Emmanuel Freudenthal who helped setup the Dictator Alert project discusses how censorship free ADS-B tracking is helping journalists uncover new stories. In the article he notes how he uses uncensored ADS-B data together with the leaked Paradise Papers to reveal the true owners of aircraft hidden behind multiple LLC and shell companies. Regarding the "kill chain" article Emmanuel's post also explains how the story came to be:

An upcoming OCCRP story focuses on U.S. surveillance flights over Somalia. The U.S. military operates out of a small air base at Manda Bay just over the border in Kenya. We had a tip that it would be worth checking on planes in the area, so we set up an antenna nearby, which fed us information about planes taking off and landing from the base.

We eventually had to take down the antenna due to security concerns. But we managed to collect data on a number of planes that had been purchased by obscure shell companies and modified with advanced surveillance equipment before being sent to Kenya.

Why is this article posted on this blog? ADS-B data from aircraft is most often received these days via RTL-SDR dongles due to their low cost, so it is interesting to see to what extent cheap SDRs may be affecting the world via this type of reporting.

We note that ADS-B Exchange is the only censorship free ADS-B data aggregator available. All other online flight trackers censor flights from the government as well as from some private jets that may be owned by high profile company directors or in some cases dictators. The argument for censorship is that ADS-B data collection may be made illegal otherwise.

In a previous post we also discussed how censorship free ADS-B data from ADS-B Exchange revealed how military Blackhawk helicopters and Predator drones were used for surveillance during the early Black Lives Matter protests. 

Emmanuel installs an ADS-B antenna in Liberia

KerberosSDR: Tracking a Weather Balloon Radiosonde with Radio Direction Finding

The KerberosSDR is our 4-channel phase coherent capable RTL-SDR unit that we previously successfully crowdfunded back in 2018.  With a 4-channel phase coherent RTL-SDR interesting applications like radio direction finding, passive radar and beam forming become possible. It can also be used as 4 separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring.

KerberosSDR can be purchased from our partner store at https://othernet.is/products/kerberossdr-4x-coherent-rtl-sdr.

In one of our latest tests we've been able to track a weather balloon radiosonde via the direction finding ability of KerberosSDR. These balloons are launched twice daily by meteorological agencies around the world, and the radiosonde carried by the balloon transmits an RS-41 signal continuously throughout it's flight sending back telemetry such as weather information and GPS coordinates. The KerberosSDR tracks the bearing towards the balloon using only the raw signal - it does not decode. Having the actual GPS location from the RS41 data allows us to compare and confirm that the KerberosSDR is indeed tracking the bearing of the balloon.

In this test we used the excellent 4-element dipole array made by Arrow Antennas. In particular we used the 406 MHz element version as the RS-41 signal is broadcast at 403 MHz. The antenna array is mounted on the roof, the KerberosSDR is in the attic connected to a Raspberry Pi 4. Our KerberosSDR Android app is used to plot the bearings. A separate RTL-SDR running on the video recording PC is connected to it's own antenna and is used to receive and decode the RS41 signal. The free software RS41 Tracker is used to decode and map the balloon for location confirmation. 

We are currently using the latest beta code in development (unreleased at the time of this post - it will be released within 1 to 2 months) which handles non-continuous intermittent signals better.

Arrow Antennas 4-Element Dipole Array Mounted on Roof

The short video below shows a timelapse of the RS41 decoder tracking a balloon which circled the south of our KerberosSDR. The red line indicates the zero degree direction of the antenna array, while the blue line indicates the estimated direction of the balloon determined via the MUSIC radio direction finding technique.

The GPS balloon map from RS41 tracker is overlayed on top of the KerberosSDR Android app map for clarity via video editing. We can see that it mostly tracks the balloon to within a few degrees. When the blue bearing line diverges this is due to the balloon's line of sight path to the antennas being obscured by terrain, buildings or trees. When this is the case a multipath signal reflecting off surrounding hills tends to become dominant.

In the second short video below the weather balloon tracked northwards. Towards the north, north west and north east we have antenna obstructions in the form of rising terrain, houses and hills, so the overall accuracy is poorer. However, it still tracks within a few degrees most of the time.

Finally the YouTube video below shows the same as the above, but in the second half includes the full screen including the KerberosSDR DoA graphs and SDR# waterfall showing signal strength.

KerberosSDR Tracking a Weather Balloon Radiosonde with Radio Direction Finding

In the future we hope to test with two or more KerberosSDR units producing multiple bearing lines on RDFMapper, hopefully resulting in cross points that can be used to estimate the actual location of the balloon.