Tagged: passive radar

KrakenSDR Update: New Prototypes, Software Updates, Campaign to Release Soon

KrakenSDR is our 5-tuner coherent software defined radio based on RTL-SDR. It is the successor to the KerberosSDR and will be crowdfunded on Crowd Supply with the campaign due to begin soon. Please sign up to the KrakenSDR Crowd Supply mailing list to be notified as soon as the campaign begins, and to check out our previous videos demonstrating the unit in action.

With a 5-channel phase coherent RTL-SDR interesting applications like radio direction finding (RDF), passive radar and beam forming become possible. It can also be used as five separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring.

KrakenSDR Updates

Like many other projects we have been severely delayed by COVID work restrictions and the effects it's having on the supply chain, and I'd like to thank everyone who is keen to get a hold of a KrakenSDR for their patience. But the ball is rolling faster now and we have finally received our latest KrakenSDR prototypes! Testing has been ongoing for the last few days, and apart from a few minor issues everything is working brilliantly. At this stage we are confident in the design and are making plans to begin the crowdfunding campaign soon.

The latest KrakenSDR Prototype PCB running on a Pi 4.

Supply Chain Constraints

The first batch will unfortunately be limited to 1000 units maximum due to supply constraints and we expect this first batch to be ready 2-3 months after the campaign finishes. So if you are after a unit ASAP, please ensure you are on the CrowdSupply mailing list as we fully expect demand for the first batch to outstrip the supply.

But if you are willing to wait, batch 2 will be still be available at the campaign special price. we will have a second batch available for early preorder at a discount (sorry due to higher than expected shipping and skyrocketing component prices we can't discount the second batch at the moment). Please keep in mind that the second batch will be at least 6 months away due to the long supply chain resulting from the pandemic.

Next Steps

The next stages in hardware development will involve finalizing our custom milled aluminum enclosure, testing one last prototype, and beginning mass manufacturing when the crowd funding campaign is over.

Work on the software is ongoing, but the beta version of our new DAQ firmware and direction finding DSP software layer is stable and already available on the krakensdr GitHub at https://github.com/krakenrf. Everything resides in the development branches and there is full documentation on the code structure available in the Documentation folder. This code can also be used on the KerberosSDR by editing the configuration files to specify 4 receivers instead of 5.

By the time the units ship out we will have a ready to use SD card image for the Raspberry Pi 4 and a quickstart guide available.

KrakenSDR DAQ and DOA DSP Web Interface

Android App

We have also been working at improving the Android direction finding companion app. This app was made during the KerberosSDR release a couple of years ago, and is used to plot and log the direction finding bearings being generated by the Kerberos/KrakenSDR unit, combining it against the GPS and movement data generated by the Android phone. This Android phone + KrakenSDR combination results in a powerful multipath resistant radio direction finding tool, and once enough data has been collected (usually after a few minutes of driving) it is able to determine where the most likely transmitter location is.

The upgraded app makes use of the full 360 degrees of direction of arrival and multipath data that is generated by the KrakenSDR, resulting in a more accurate determination of the transmitter location, and a better understanding of the uncertainties. It also allows users to visualize multipath. There are also various bug fixes and improvements made overall. We are planning to transition this app into a paid app, but all KrakenSDR backers will receive a license for free and the older KerberosSDR app will remain free.

KrakenSDR Android App Improvements

KrakenSDR Antennas

To work as a radio direction finder, KrakenSDR needs five antennas. If you plan to use them in a circular array, they need to be omnidirectional antennas such as whips or dipoles. So to go along with the KrakenSDR we will be selling an optional set of five magnetic whip antennas which can be mounted on for example, the roof of a car. (Please note the magwhips shown in the photo may differ slightly from the final ones sold).

KrakenSDR Magnetic Whips on a Car Roof

We have also been working with Arrow Antennas in the USA, who are producing a KrakenSDR 5-element dipole array antenna which is great for use in fixed sites (for example on the roof of a house). The antenna will be sold by Arrow antennas (not by us), and the future link (not active yet) will be http://www.arrowantennas.com/arrowii/kraken.html. We expect them to generate this page within the next few days. This antenna has been used in all our fixed site experiments as you can see in some of the YouTube videos, and works very well. (The image below show a prototype, we're told the final version may look slightly different.)

Arrow Antenna 5-element antenna array for the KrakenSDR

Future Work

DAQ & Direction of Arrival (DOA / Radio Direction Finding) :
Work on the DAQ and DSP software is coming along well and this is mostly complete and runs stable on a Raspberry Pi 4. There are just now bug fixes and minor features being added. Intermittent 'bursty' signal handing is already working, but we are working on improving it's sensitivity to weak bursty narrowband CW signals which can still be problematic to detect. The Android app is also currently being field tested.

Passive Radar:
Work on new passive radar software is also ongoing and we expect to have something ready for experimentation and with quickstart guides before shipping. At the moment it is also still possible to use the older KerberosSDR software for passive radar, but we believe the new DAQ core software will run things much smoother. The goal for the new software is to not only plot a range-doppler map, but to combine it with direction finding and be able to plot radar detections on a map. This feature may require operation on a device faster than the Raspberry Pi 4, such as GPU based device like a NVIDIA Jetson.

Beam Forming, Interferometry:
One application we think the KrakenSDR would be great with is amateur radio astronomy via interferometry. The ability to combine multiple small hydrogen line dishes spread out over several meters of area should result in much greater radio imaging resolution, without needing to deal with a single huge dish. It may also allow for electrically steering a beam without needing to rotate the dishes.

Advanced Direction Finding + Advanced Log Management:
At the moment networked direction finding (direction finding via multiple fixed or mobile sites spread out around a city or area) is possible via the third party RDF Mapper software, but we aim to create our own advanced platform in the near future. The goal is to have software that will automatically log and alert when a signal of interest appears. For some examples we can see this being used to help coastguard locate distressed marine pleasurecraft that typically do not have AIS via their VHF radios, locate emergency beacons, for animal/wildlife/asset tracking, and monitoring for illegal/interference transmissions.

At this stage the core DAQ+DSP software will also be updated to support monitoring multiple simultaneous channels within the available 2.56 MHz bandwidth, and with a scanning and beacon ID detection feature.

Research into field applications:
One example we hope to test is the operation of KrakenSDR on a drone. With great line of sight from up in the sky, localizing a transmitter should be fast. Another example could be actually visualizing signals like light via augmented reality.

Some of our previous KerberosSDR and KrakenSDR posts might also be of interest.

KrakenSDR: Passive Radar Demonstration

KrakenSDR is a 5-tuner coherent software defined radio based on RTL-SDR. It is the successor to the KerberosSDR and will be crowdfunded on Crowd Supply in a couple of months time. Please sign up to the KrakenSDR Crowd Supply mailing list to be notified as soon as the campaign begins.

The KrakenSDR (prototype - enclosure may change slightly)

Passive Radar uses existing FM, TV or mobile phone transmitters. The signal from these transmitters reflects off objects such as road vehicles and aircraft. By using two antennas on two receive channels, and an algorithm to compare the reflected signal against a clean reference copy of the actual signal, we can achieve a radar like display of bi-static range vs doppler speed.

In this test KrakenSDR is used as a two antenna passive radar system. The reference antenna points towards a horizontally polarized 620 MHz DVB-T transmitter, and the surveillance antenna points towards an Airport.

Passive Radar setup with two TV Yagis

Reflections of aircraft and road vehicles can be seen on the map as red dots/trails. Notice how we can also determine the overall neighborhood activity of road vehicles as we pointed out in a previous KerberosSDR post.

Of note is that we've placed the surveillance antenna in a vertically polarized configuration. With passive radar you want to keep the reference signal out of the surveillance channel, as ideally the surveillance channel only receives the reflections. Using the surveillance antenna in vertical polarization achieves 20dB attenuation of the horizontally polarized DVB-T signal. The reflections are assumed to be randomly polarized, so the vertically polarized antenna should pick up the reflection just the same no matter what polarization is used. This scheme woks especially well in our setup as the angle between the reference transmitter and target reflected objects is small.

This test uses the older KerberosSDR code (slightly modified to allow for trails), however new passive radar code is being worked on for the new KrakenSDR code base which will be released later this year. We expect the new code to also be able to make use of GPU accelerated CUDA hardware, such as the NVIDIA Jetson. This will allow for a much faster update rate and/or more processing gain.

The new KrakenSDR code will also try to make use of the additional three unused channels. With these extra channels we should be able to add a direction finding array that will help to plot on a map the actual location and elevation of the reflections.

KrakenSDR Passive Radar Demonstration 1

KerberosSDR Currently On Sale – Ends Midnight Sunday 1 Nov

KerberosSDR is currently on sale for US$150 over on the Othernet store


If you weren't aware KerberosSDR is our 4-channel phase coherent capable RTL-SDR unit that we previously crowdfunded back in 2018. With a 4-channel phase coherent RTL-SDR interesting applications like radio direction finding (RDF), passive radar and beam forming become possible. It can also be used as 4 separate RTL-SDRs for multichannel monitoring.

In previous posts we've shown some interesting experiments performed with the KerberosSDR. For example:

We note that V2 of our KerberosSDR demo software is also on the way but a little delayed. We are aiming to release a beta around the end of the year, or early next year at the latest. The new software will have better handling of bursty intermittent signals, and paves the way for new developments coming in 2021 such as combined passive radar direction finding.

The KerberosSDR: 4x Tuner Coherent Capable RTL-SDR
The KerberosSDR: 4x Tuner Coherent Capable RTL-SDR
KerberosSDR Android App for Direction Finding
KerberosSDR Android App for Direction Finding
KerberosSDR Passive Radar Display Peak Hold
An Example of KerberosSDR Passive Radar Display Peak Hold Displaying Aircraft and Road Tracks


Tracking RTL-SDR Passive Radar Detections with a Kalman Filter

Back in January we posted about Max Manning's work about building a passive radar system out of two RTL-SDR dongles modified to share the same local oscillator. He's recently extended this code, adding the ability to automatically track any detected objects on the range-doppler display.

Passive Radar works by using already existing powerful transmitters such as those for TV/FM. A receiver listens for these signals being reflected off of objects like aircraft and vehicles, and compares the reflection with a signal received directly from the transmitter. From this information a doppler (speed) vs range graph of detected objects can be calculated and displayed.

By measuring the path an object travels across the range-doppler display some interesting information about the objects movement can be obtained. However, the display can be noisy, with the reflected object often coming in and out of view on the display. In order to track an object across the range-doppler display in the face of these uncertainties Max uses a Kalman filter to obtain smoothed results. A Kalman filter is an algorithm which combines actual data with predicted data, with the weighting depending on measurement confidence. The result is shown in the video below. A smooth and accurate track of an aircraft can be seen.

Max notes that in the future he'll be working on tracking multiple aircraft detected by the passive radar, and also incorporating direction finding data in his results in order to get cartesian coordinates which could be plotted on a map.

We note that Max's GNU Radio code should be compatible with our KerberosSDR unit, which already has the clock sharing hack built in to the hardware.

KerberosSDR: Tracking Aircraft on a Map via Passive Radar and Beamforming Only (Future Code Demonstration)

If you've been following KerberosSDR development (our US$149 4 channel coherent RTL-SDR), then you'll know that one interesting experiment that you can set up with it is a passive radar. Passive radar makes use of already exiting strong transmitters that broadcast signals such as FM, DAB and HDTV.

With one directional antenna pointing towards the transmitter, and one pointing in the general direction of moving objects like aircraft, it's possible to detect the transmitted signal being reflected off the aircraft's body.From the time delay and doppler shift detected in the reflected signal, a simple distance/speed plot showing the aircraft in motion can be created. This previous post shows an example of what information you could potentially collect in a range/speed graph over time. In the past we've also used passive radar to detect vehicles and measure how much traffic is in a neighbourhood.

However, with two antennas we can only get the detected object's range and distance information. If we use four antennas (one pointing towards the transmitter, and three pointing in the direction of objects), it is possible to use beam forming techniques combined to obtain an estimated map coordinate of the object. This is possible as we then we have distance information available from the passive radar algorithm, and bearing information available from the beam forming algorithm.

Tamas Peto who wrote our open source KerberosSDR code has been working on some new upcoming features for the KerberosSDR software, and beamformed direction finding of passive radar is one of them.  We note that to be clear this software is not yet released, and we still expect there to be several months before it is ready. At the moment all data was processed manually offline after collecting data with a KerberosSDR as part of this early test.

The image below shows an example of a recent measurement made from an aircraft. The red tracks show the actual ADS-B GPS coordinates of the aircraft, and the black line indicates the positional data measured from a DAB signal reflecting off the aircraft body. The orange line to the east indicates the main lobe of the three beam formed directional antennas, and the lines to the west indicate transmit towers.

The measured trajectory is only about 1-2 km off the actual one. Tamas notes that the position offset may be because at the moment altitude is not measured yet.

If you're interested in more information, Tamas created a PowerPoint presentation which can be downloaded from our Google Drive.

Passive Radar with Beamforming and Direction Finding
Passive Radar with Beamforming and Direction Finding

Other upcoming features that are planned for the KebrerosSDR code include being able to use direction finding on short bursty signals, improvements to networked direction finding and beamforming which may be useful for applications like radio astronomy and performance improvements.

KerberosSDR can be purchased from the Othernet store or Hacker Warehouse, and every purchase helps us fund development of more interesting features like passive radar beamforming!

A FM Radio Passive Radar System from Two RTL-SDR Dongles

Over on his blog, Max Manning has posted about his senior year design project which was an RTL-SDR based passive radar system that he created with his project partner Derek Capone. Max's writeup explains what passive radar is, and how the theory works in a very easy to understand way, utilizing graphs and short animations to help with the understanding. The rest of the post then goes into some deeper math, which is also fully explained.

Passive Radar works by using already existing powerful transmitters such as those for TV/FM. A receiver listens for these signals being reflected off of objects like aircraft and vehicles, and compares the reflection with a signal received directly from the transmitter. From this information a speed/range graph of detected objects can be calculated

For hardware, the team used two RTL-SDR dongles with the local oscillators connected together. A standard dipole is used as the reference antenna, and a 5-element Yagi is used as the surveillance antenna.

Max's post is a great read for those trying to understand how to do passive radar with a KerberosSDR which is our 4x coherent input RTL-SDR unit available from the Othernet store or Hacker warehouse. Being a radio capable of coherency, it is useful for applications like passive radar and direction finding. 

Their code is all open source and available on GitHub. We note that their code should also work with KerberosSDR with only either zero to minor modifications required. However, for the KerberosSDR we also have our own passive radar code available which might be a little easier to setup via the GUI.

Passive Radar with Two RTL-SDR dongles sharing a single clock.
Passive Radar with Two RTL-SDR dongles sharing a single clock.

KerberosSDR 4-Channel RTL-SDR Passive Radar with Peak Hold Display

Recently we've been testing a simple peak hold for the KerberosSDR passive radar display. This results in some nice graphs that show aircraft and vehicle activity over time. 

Passive radar works by using already existing transmitters such as those for HDTV and listening for reflections that bounce off of RF reflective objects. With a two antenna setup, it is possible to generate a bistatic range/doppler speed graph of reflected objects.

With the reference Yagi antenna pointed towards a 600 MHz DVB-T tower, and the surveillance antenna pointed to an airport we were able to obtain the graph below. The top two large traces show aircraft heading towards our station, whereas the bottom traces show aircraft leaving the airport. Also visible are multiple blips with smaller doppler speeds, and these correspond to vehicles.

KerberosSDR Passive Radar Display Peak Hold
KerberosSDR Passive Radar Display Peak Hold

The code on the KerberosSDR git will be updated in a few days time. We are also working on a more comprehensive passive radar tutorial that will try to explain concepts like processing gain, bistatic ranges and other important tips for getting good passive radar results. At the same time we're also working on improving direction finding ease of use by prototyping antenna switches for calibration, and working on getting 4-channel beamformed passive radar working which will allow us to plot passive radar returns on a real map.

The KerberosSDR is our 4-channel phase coherent capable RTL-SDR unit that we previously 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 is currently available from the Othernet store and Hacker Warehouse for US$149.95.

Passive Doppler Aircraft Scatter with a VOR Beacon and an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube Meine Videokasetten has posted a video showing how he's been using an RTL-SDR to detect aircraft landing and taking off via the scatter on a VOR beacon. VOR (aka VHF Omnidirectional Range) is a navigational beacon that is transmitted between 108 MHz and 117.95 MHz from a site usually at an airport. Although as it is an older technology it is slowly being phased out in some places. 

An interesting observation can be made that is unrelated to the actual operation and use of VOR navigation. When an aircraft passes near the VOR beacon it results in the signal reflecting and scattering off the metal aircraft body. As the aircraft is moving quickly, it also results in a frequency doppler shift that can be seen on an RF waterfall display.

In his video Meine Videokasetten uses an RTL-SDR and OpenWebRX to receive the VOR signal. He then pipes the audio output of that signal into Speclab which allows him to get significantly increased FFT resolution for the waterfall. This increased resolution allows him to clearly see the doppler scattering effects of aircraft on the VOR transmission. He notes that it's possible from the scattering to determine if an aircraft is taking off or landing.

Passive doppler radar on VOR beacon transmitter .:°:. A let's test it out

We note that back in 2015 we posted about the ability to "fingerprint" aircraft using this technique. Different types of aircraft will result in unique patterns on the waterfall. In that post they used analogue TV carriers which are not very common in most countries anymore, so it's good to see that this can be used with VOR signals too.

Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter
Comparing large and small aircraft with aircraft scatter with an analogue TV transmitter. From previous post.