The Outernet Dreamcatcher has recently gone on sale and is now only $39 USD. Previously it was priced at $79 and $59 USD. The Dreamcatcher is an RTL-SDR and computing board all built onto the same PCB. It has two SMA inputs - one is an L-band filtered and amplified input and the other is a standard wideband port good for all frequencies covered by a standard R820T2 RTL-SDR. For $39 it appears that you get the board itself, and a WiFi dongle, but no antennas, cables or SD cards are supplied with the unit.
In you are interested in the Dreamcatcher then back in June we posted a comprehensive review of it as well as their ceramic L-band patch antenna. Since then we've found that the Dreamcatcher has become much more stable and is very useful for applications like setting up a dedicated ADS-B receiver/feeder. At this price the Dreamcatcher is even better value than using a Raspberry Pi 3 plus external RTL-SDR dongle which can end up costing over $60 USD.
According to Outernet stocks appear to be fairly limited so this price probably won't last for too long.
Note: We'd advise not purchasing this for use with the Outernet data signal as we're unsure if that signal is going to last for much longer. Purchase it as a general purpose radio/computer instead.
The second post is a review of the relatively new NooElec Nano 3, which is a small form factor RTL-SDR that comes with a TCXO and metal case. Akos shows how the form factor is good for using it with Mobile phones. Akos opens the unit up and shows us how the unit is sandwiched inside the metal case with two thermal pads for improved heat dissipation. Later in the review he also discusses the MCX connector, TCXO and heat.
For his tests he used a Raspberry Pi 3 and compares two dongles at a time. The results are about as would be predicted. The tiny Nano dongles are usually the worst performers due to their trade off in size vs heat dissipation and internally generated noise. The standard sized dongles all perform about the same, but the dongles with heatsinking perform the best. Of course the FlightAware dongles still get the best ADS-B reception due to their significantly lower noise figure thanks to the built in ADS-B LNA.
One interesting finding is that Akos shows that heat does play a noticeable role in performance of these dongles at 1090 MHz. Akos noticed that the better heatsinking on the RTL-SDR Blog V3 or cooler days improved reception.
In the post he shows how to make a cheap quarter wave ground plane antenna for ADS-B and then goes on to show the installation steps required to get PiAware running on the C.H.I.P. He also mentions his Power over Ethernet (PoE) setup which allows him to power the RTL-SDR and C.H.I.P via an Ethernet cable which also provides the network connection. A power setup like this is great for getting your receiver in a remote location without coax cable losses, although you do need to watch the voltage drop on the Ethernet cable.
The C.H.I.P is a cheap $9 single board computer that had a successful Kickstarter back in 2015. Unfortunately since the Kickstarter it has been almost impossible to obtain a unit (we’ve been waiting over a year). Hopefully more will ship soon.
HamRadio360 is a bi-weekly podcast all about ham radio and related topics. On their June 13 podcast Nick, KK6LHR came on to discuss his experiences with decoding ADS-B with cheap SDR radio like the RTL-SDR. In the podcast they talk about the history of ADS-B, what it is, the difference between the 1090 MHz and 978 MHz frequencies, what all of the terms and acronyms mean, feeding sites like flightaware and flightradar24 and of course how to decode it with various forms of software packages.
These days it’s quite easy to share your ADS-B reception on the internet with giant worldwide aggregation sites like flightaware.com and flightradar24.com. These sites aggregate received ADS-B plane location data received by RTL-SDR users from all around the world and display it all together on a web based map.
However, what if you don’t want to share your data on these sites but still want to share it over the internet with friends or others without directly revealing your IP address? Some of the team at beame.io have uploaded a post that shows how to use their beame.io service to securely share your ADS-B reception over the internet. Beame.io appears to be a service that can be used to expose local network applications to the internet via secure HTTPS tunneling. Essentially this can allow someone to connect to a service on your PC (e.g. ADS-B mapping), without you revealing your public IP address and therefore exposing your PC to hacking.
On their post they show how to set up the RTL-SDR compatible dump1090 ADS-B decoder on a Raspberry Pi, and then connect it to their beame-instal-ssl service.
Over on YouTube user icholakov has uploaded a new video showing how easy it can be to build a cheap ADS-B antenna out of a simple paper clip and coax connector. Modern aircraft carry an ADS-B transceiver and antenna which broadcasts the current GPS location of the aircraft. This is used for collision avoidance and air traffic control, but anyone with a receiver like an RTL-SDR can also receive and decode these signals, and plot locally received air traffic on Google maps. We have a tutorial for decoding ADS-B signals available here.
In the video Thomas Cholakov (N1SPY) explains the concept behind the antenna design, which is a standard 1/4 wave ground plane cut to the correct dimensions for ADS-B at 1090 MHz. He cuts 5 pieces of the same length, with one piece used as the active whip element, and four pieces used in the ground plane element. The paper clip pieces are then soldered onto a coaxial connector and then the antenna is ready to be used.
Amazon Echo is a smart home device which is essentially a hands free speaker that responds to voice commands in a similar way to ‘Okay Google’ and Siri does on your phone. With voice commands you can ask it to do things like play music, make a call or send a message, answer any question, control smart home devices like fans and locks and order items from Amazon.
The Echo skill gathers the live local ADS-B plane data via dump1090’s json output which runs on a networked Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR dongle attached. The data is loaded into a database, which is then queried for the closest plane to the Echo’s location. Finally the program scrapes the closest flights departure and arrival data from FlightRadar24 before speaking it through the Echo’s speaker. Nicks code is freely available over on his GitHub page.
Alexa Plane Spotting Skill
This project reminds us of a previous post where we posted about Simon Aubury’s work in creating a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR based aircraft camera tracking system. Simon’s system used live ADS-B data to point a camera directly at aircraft as they passed over his house.
It also reminded us of this British Airways video billboard that was popular a few years ago. The ad featured a young boy who would point directly at passing aircraft with text displaying the flight information. They used a commercial networked ADS-B device to gather live ADS-B data (internet based ADS-B data from sites like flightradar24.com has a time lag, so it is not suitable for time sensitive applications like this), and whenever a passing British Airways aircraft was detected the ad would play.
Cannes Lions Grand Prix 2014 Direct Lion British Airways Magic of Flying Ogilvy One, London