Locating a Radio Transmitter with Direction Finding Techniques and KerberosSDR our 4-Tuner Coherent RTL-SDR

KerberosSDR is our upcoming low cost 4-tuner coherent RTL-SDR. With four antenna inputs it can be used as a standard array of four individual RTL-SDRs, or in coherent applications such as direction finding, passive radar and beam forming. More information can be found on the KerberosSDR main post. Please remember to sign up to our KerberosSDR mailing list on the main post or at the end of this post, as subscribers will receive a discount coupon valid for the first 100 pre-order sales. The list also helps us determine interest levels and how many units to produce.

In this post we'll show an experiment that we performed which was to pinpoint the location of a transmitter using KerberosSDR's coherent direction finding capabilities. RF direction finding is the art of using equipment to determine the location of a transmitting signal. The simplest way is by using a directional antenna like a Yagi to try and determine the bearing based on signal strength. Another method is using a pseudo-doppler or coherent array of antennas to determine a bearing based on phase information.

For the test we tuned the KerberosSDR RTL-SDRs to listen to a signal at 858 MHz and then drove to multiple locations to take direction readings. The antennas were set up as a linear array of four dipole antennas mounted on the windshield of a car. To save space, the dipoles were spaced at approximately a 1/3 the frequency wavelength, but we note that optimal spacing is at half a wavelength. The four dipole antennas were connected to KerberosSDR, with a laptop running the direction finding demo software. 

Low cost direction finding array mounted to vehicle windshield.
Low cost direction finding array mounted to vehicle windshield.

Our open source demo software (to be released later when KerberosSDR ships) developed by Tamás Peto gives us a graph and compass display that shows the measured bearing towards the transmitter location. The measured bearing is relative to the antenna array, so we simply convert it by taking the difference between the car's bearing (determined approximately via road direction and landmarks in Google Earth) and the measured bearing. This hopefully results in a line crossing near to the transmitter. Multiple readings taken at different locations will end up intersecting, and where the intersection occurs is near to where the transmitter should be. 

KerberoSDR SDR Directing Finding DOA Reading
KerberoSDR SDR Directing Finding DOA Reading

In the image below you can see the five bearing measurements that we made with KerberosSDR. Four lines converge to the vicinity of the transmitter, and one diverges. The divergent reading can be explained by multipath. In that location the direct path to the transmitter was blocked by a large house and trees, so it probably detected the signal as coming in from the direction of a reflection. But regardless with four good readings it was possible to pinpoint the transmitting tower to within 400 meters.

In the future we hope to be able to automate this process by using GPS and/or e-compass data to automatically draw bearings on a map as the car moves around. The readings could also be combined with signal strength heatmap data for improved accuracy.

This sort of capability could be useful for finding the transmit location of a mystery signal, locating a lost beacon, locating pirate or interfering transmitters, determining a source of noise, for use during fox hunts and more.

KerberosSDR pinpointing a transmitters location
KerberosSDR pinpointing a transmitters location
KerberosSDR Prototype
KerberosSDR Prototype

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  1. Angus

    I still haven’t received a confirmation email for the mailing list, yet it says I’m already subscribed. Have there been any emails on the list?

    • admin

      No emails sent yet, it’s only going to be used to announce the preorder and coupons, and for any updates from then on. I checked your email and its says your registered, and have already opted in via the confirmation email.

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