RF category

Tracksoar V2 – the smallest, lightest, open source APRS tracker

What is Tracksoar

Tracksoar is one of the smallest, lightest, open source APRS trackers available. It makes tracking weather balloons, model rockets, RC aircraft, and anything else that flies simple and easy. It is able to report location, altitude, temperature pressure and humidity to the internet or direct to an amateur radio once a minute for up to twelve hours with just 2xAA batteries. Because Tracksoar is open source you can add your own modules to accommodate custom sensors, inputs or outputs to meet your specific requirements. Tracksoar can also use a range of drop in transmitters to allow for easy world wide operation. By flying Tracksoar on a weather balloon you can reduce the required helium and balloon costs per launch and it can pay for itself with just 2 launches. No other APRS solution offers this level of integration, compact size, and customization. Additionally all profits from Tracksoar sales go to supporting the Santa Barbara Hackerspace and improving the resources we offer to the community.

Tracksoar V2

To make the Tracksoar V2 even more beginner friendly we’ve done away with the serial jumpers and the programming shield. The new Tracksoar is based on the ATmega32u4, which means built in USB which we make accessible via a micro USB port. Since we freed up the serial port we no longer need to use jumpers to connect and disconnect the serial port for programming, one less sticking point while getting started with the Tracksoar.

Here’s a list of the new features and upgrades in the Tracksoar V2:

  • USB Micro connector
  • 4 layer board to improve RF performance
  • Improved battery life
  • GPS power backup
  • Removable mounting points
  • More available GPIO
  • No programming shield or jumpers required
  • New and improved firmware

[source: www.tracksoar.com]

Ultrastable UHF transmitter – A super Tiny Radio Transmitter

Dire situations require unpleasant solutions, an excellent example of this statement is spying and we have seen what the NSA has done in this regard. It goes against proper ethical character, however, it might be needed in certain circumstances. Usually, the first thing a person who wants to spy would do would be to check and closely monitor the internet presence or life of the party being suspected and possibly try to access their profile(s). You could also buy an expensive bug or listening device, plant it somewhere the person goes every day, this could be the person’s house and start eavesdropping.

Another method could be to hire a private investigator or a detective to monitor the person’s actions. However, if they are suspicions, you would probably want to do things discreetly. Going the professional route might work, but is also expensive and somewhat not fun to do (less of learning involved). Do It Yourself (DIY) is the talk of the day, why don’t we go that route? And it’s not like this will be the first time someone is doing that, I once did a project sometime ago that can eavesdrop conversation from a person behind a wall.

TomTechTod released an open source radio transmitter, which measures 5mm by 9mm and is powered by a small battery which has a 4.8mm diameter. This device is actually the smallest radio transmitter I have heard of, and it is super tiny, yet this 433 megahertz (Mhz) transmitter has a high-frequency oscillator and a low-frequency amplifier to ensure maximum efficiency no matter the condition.

Other features include the microphone, the battery holder, two transistors, a resonator too. There is also an antenna with a wire and a resistor. The board is 0.8m thick and can transmit up to 120 meters even with obstacles in the area.

One great advantage that comes with going for a super tiny board such as this one is that the PCBs are not expensive thereby making the board super cheap. The boards are being sold for just 45 cents each.

Files needed to create your own transmitter can be found here, with just a bit of soldering here and there, you have your very own spy bug. A super tiny one to be precise. Of course, I am not encouraging you to start spying on everyone you see I am just saying you should go and have fun.

Epiq Solutions Develops Wideband RF Transceiver SDR Module Running Linux On Zynq SoC

Epiq Solutions, a company from the USA, has included a new member of its Sidekiq line of Software-defined radio (SDR) add-on cards called the Sidekiq Z2. Dimensions of this card are only 51 x 30 x 5mm, the size of a full-size mini-PCIe card, the Sidekiq Z2 computer-on-module is advertised as “the world’s smallest wideband RF transceiver + Linux computer in a product-ready module”. The module is most suitable for handheld RF testing and measurement, remote RF sensing, wireless security applications, and CubeSat/UAS datalinks. A carrier board is also available with this module.

Sidekiq Z2 SDR Module
Sidekiq Z2 SDR Module

Unlike previous Sidekiq cards, the Sidekiq Z2 can act as a standalone computer, running Linux on a Xilinx Zynq-7000 series Arm/FPGA SoC. Like the original Sidekiq, which is available in mini-PCIe or M.2 form factors, the Sidekiq Z2 operates at 70MHz to 6GHz. There’s also a Sidekiq X2, which uses the VITA57.1 FMC form factor, which supports 1MHz to 6GHz frequencies.

Epiq claims, the new Sidekiq Z2 can boot Linux in under two seconds, with a typical system power consumption under 2 Watts. The Zynq comes with 512MB DDR3L RAM and 32MB QSPI flash. The SoC drives USB 2.0 OTG, serial UART, JTAG, and GPIO signals to a carrier board.

The shielded AD9634 1Rx + 1Tx transceiver has a 4-band Rx pre-select filter bank and an up to 61.44 Msamples/sec sample rate. The 40MHz TCVCXO ref clock features +/- 1 PPM stability. The 3.3V, 8-gram module supports -40 to 85°C temperatures. The module also offers many U.FL antenna connectors.

The company offers a Sidekiq Z2 Evaluation Kit (EVK) that includes two Sidekiq Z2 cards pre-loaded and supported by Analog Devices’ open source IIO reference design, along with two simple carrier cards. An optional Platform Development Kit (PDK) offers enhanced support and an optimized FPGA reference design to maximize processing capability of the FPGA. Epiq Solutions also presents applications for embedded RF spectrum analysis as well as 2G/3G/4G cellular network survey.

The Sidekiq Z2 is available now at a price of $649 for 1,000+ unit orders. The Sidekiq Z2 EVK and PDK also appear to be available, with pricing undisclosed. More information may be found in the Epiq Solutions Sidekiq Z2 announcement and product page.

moRFeus – A field-configurable wideband frequency converter and signal generator

MoRFeus is a 30 MHz–6 GHz field-configurable Fractional-N wideband frequency converter and signal generator. Its LCD display and button interface enable dynamic field-level configuration – from switching between signal generator and other modes, to setting the local oscillator frequency and more. It was designed for wideband frequency up- and down-conversion – with an LO frequency range of 85 MHz–5.4 GHz and input/output frequency range of 30 MHz–6 GHz

MoRFeus is small, lightweight, and functional. It was designed for low spurious emissions and is packaged in a precision-milled aluminum enclosure.

General Specifications

  • Input voltage: 5 V
  • ESD protection (RF IN and OUT ports): IEC 61000-4-2 contact discharge, 8 KV
  • Bias voltage: 5 V
  • Active bias current protection: 425 mA
  • Mixer input/output isolation: see mixer performance
  • Input IP3: +23 dBm
  • RF/IF input absolute maximum power: +15 dBm
  • Operating temperature -40 to +85
  • Storage temperature range -65 to +150
  • Dimensions: 88 mm x 38 mm x 68 mm
  • Weight: 7.4 oz

moRFeusis live on crowdsupply.com and available for 149 USD.

moRFeus – A field-configurable wideband frequency converter and signal generator – [Link]

PacketMonitor32 – An ESP32-Based Packet Monitor with OLED

Wi-Fi Packet Monitors are usually a computer program or sometimes a piece of computer hardware that can be used to intercept and log traffic over a Wi-Fi network. My favorite software tool of all is the popular Wireshark which I have used several times for hacking Wi-Fi based hardware, like integrating the common Wi-Fi smart socket with OpenHAB. Packet monitor tools give the possibility of seeing what type of data is being sent out by a wireless device and provides us with the chance of conjoining that data for our purpose.

ESP32 Packet Monitor

Apart from the use of software for packet capture, we can also leverage hardware for this. The Espressif Systems ESP8266 and the ESP32 modules have been a go-to module for a lot of makers regarding Wi-Fi/IoT applications. Stefan Kremser aka Spacehuhn who first launched an Esp8266 based packet monitor, earlier last year has released an improved opensource ESP32-based packet monitor which is available on Tindie and Aliexpress for purchase.

The original Packet Monitor board put together by Spacehuhn is based around the ESP8266 and allowed you to see data packets flying around you in real-time. It tells how many Wi-Fi packets are sent every second and on which channel. It is also able to display the result on a small OLED Screen. The ESP32 version comes with some new features.

Then new ESP32 Packet monitor includes some new features to the existing ESP8266 Packet monitor. It adds an SD card support for capturing and saving traffic data with the possibility analyzing that data at other time, unlike the ESP8266 which shows only the current packet only, the ESP32 version displays an average RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator), and of course offer an improved performance due to the increased power of ESP32. It is built around the ESP32-Wrover module, which has 4MB Flash and 4MB PSRAM.

Like it’s predecessor ESP8266 PacketMonitor, the ESP32 PacketMonitor32 has a 1.3-inch OLED for displaying the traffic data. It can be powered via its micro USB jack or with a Lipo battery that also includes both over-charging and over-discharging protection. The board comes in two different versions, the one with an external (IPEX) antenna support, and one with a PCB antenna support. The one with the IPEX antenna offers increased range but won’t work without the antenna connected. It is possible to run on your code on the board or use the Spacehuhn packet monitoring software.
The PacketMonitor32 board is avaiable now for purhase on Tindie, and on AliExpress, with a price tag of $19.

Drones- A Blessing or a Curse?

The increasing popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) has created a lot of security issues and possible privacy threats. Drone manufacturers have made them easy to fly so that any person without any experience can buy one and fly it without reading the instruction manual first. This has made them attractive for consumers, but also for criminals. Most of them have a camera to allow the user to go to distances beyond their sight. As a result, drones are now being used by many companies to make deliveries such as Amazon, by people to take selfies, by explorers, by authorities etc. This increased amount of usage may pose security threats to privacy and commercial space.

For example, there is already reported cases of drones almost crashing into military aircrafts, or invading the helicopters flying area when trying to put out a forest fire, hacked drones, or drones being used to smuggle drugs. Additionally, there are a lot of reports involving drones constantly flying over private properties while recording. Drones are difficult to detect because of their size, so the company Aaronia produced a new drone detection system that tracks the high-frequency signal between these devices and it´s remote control.

The device consists of a IsoLOG 3D antenna, a Spectran V5 spectrum analyzer and a plug in for the RTSA software. It offers the user a long detection range, functionality in poor visibility, high resolution of signal detection, portability, drone identification etc.

This system provides detailed information of signal distribution, and can be combined with different devices to provide a bigger range of detection. It can be programmed to set off an alarm when some selected parameters are exceeded. The IsoLOG 3D has 16 sectors that provide full 360 RF spectrum overview including an image of the monitored area. It has W signal sensitivity and continuous data streaming with up to 4 TB per day.

Militaries could use this device to protect large areas, and even in the future to stop the drones from entering areas where they could interfere with life threatening situations or confidentiality sensitive scenarios. For now, only detection is possible, but it is a huge step toward fixing the security concern posed by drones. Some parts in the United States have already implemented laws to register all drones and to prohibit the users from flying them above certain heights and close to airports. These governmental measures can help the Aaronia device to easily identify the drones, and the device could help the authorities to stop people from breaking the law.


NFC Key Protects Your Data by Disconnecting Chips From Antenna

Cameron Coward @ blog.hackster.io writes:

Like most connected technology these days, near-field communication (NFC) is susceptible to hacking. By its very nature, NFC is normally accessible by anyone nearby. NFC, as it was originally intended, is designed to provide data wirelessly to any nearby readers without requiring a power source of its own.

Fortunately, N-O-D-E, one of our favorite open source hardware developers, has come up with a solution called the NFC Key. This handy little keychain-friendly device protects your NFC chips in the simplest way possible: by physically disconnecting them from the antenna. Without the antenna connected, the chips just cannot be powered or transmit data.

NFC Key Protects Your Data by Disconnecting Chips From Antenna – [Link]

WattUp – RF based Wireless Charging at a Distance

WattUp Far Field Transmitter

Recently, many big companies such as Samsung have developed wireless chargers which work by induction. These chargers usually consist of a station which needs to be in contact with the device in order to charge. The station defeats the purpose of being able to move and walk while still charging the device. Energeous, a global leader in RF- based wireless charging, created the award-winning device WattUp in order to give mobile power to everyone.

The WattUp transmitter converts electricity into radio frequencies, then beams the energy to nearby devices that have the right receiving equipment. This system has proved to be more practical than induction since it can work from up to 3 feet away. Energeous wants to make a wire free charging ecosystem by taking into advantage the fact that the transmitter can charge multiple devices at a time, and as WIFI it would be able to charge your phone even if you are Samsung and the transmitter is Apple. All kind of devices can be charged using WattUp including (but not limited to) cameras, smartphones, tablets, wearables, and toys.

The receiver uses multiples antennas to collect the micro energy beams created by the transmitter (which makes it safe because power is received in small amounts). There is also an application available in which you can control the devices that are receiving power, how much power for each one, and even what times you want it charging. For example, you can prioritize cellphone charging in peak hours of use and leave other electronics to charge at night just with the click of a button.

The WattUp has already been FCC (federal communications commission) approved, and Energeous offers a variety of prices depending on the range of the transmitter, but it is still not available in the market. The company will be in CES 2018 showing their product, this event will take place on January 9th– 12th in Las Vegas.

Wireless charging not only benefits consumers, but also offers real benefits in terms of efficiency, productivity, and safety in industrial applications. Moreover, cables require maintenance and are easily damaged which makes them unreliable and expensive to maintain. In hospitals there is a constant need for big equipment that uses battery packs or cables, but to maintain a sterile environment WattUp could be a good alternative. Furthermore, in the future this technology could be used to power electric cars avoiding the need for charging every 10 to 40 miles.


Changing Hospital Waiting Rooms with RFID Technology

Engineers at Cornell university have created a new system for measuring vitals, which could revolutionize hospital experience for everybody. Usually, getting sick means having to go to the hospital which because of today´s procedures takes almost all your day (if not more), and most of the time is spent in waiting rooms. What if you could be “attended” while still in the waiting room? Because of RFID technology this is now possible with a device that can measure your vitals while you wait.

RFID (short for radio frequency identification) uses electromagnetic fields to track and identify tags attached to objects. Passive tags collect energy from a nearby RFID reader (they don’t require a battery) and can operate several meters away. The signal from the reader induces a small electric current enough to operate the CMOS of the tag.

This new system uses cheap sensor that don’t require their own power supplies, while the reader powers them and gathers data wirelessly. These tags are applied to the skin, and using radio waves they can measure blood pressure, breath rate, heart rate etc. The reader can gather data from hundreds of these tags at the same time, and they are cheap to produce. Nowadays, the price of the tags depends on memory, type of packaging and the volume of tags requested, but passive tags cost around 7 to 15 U.S cents.

As a result, not only waiting times could be shortened, but the work of many doctors and nurses could be lightened. Currently, monitoring vitals takes a lot of equipment which is expensive and big. With this new technology, big and not practical equipment will be no longer needed, and the work done by many devices will be done by a small sticker with the size of a finger or smaller.

In the beginning RFID had security issues because anyone could access the information on the tags, but nowadays security protocols have been implemented to encrypt and protect users data. This makes this device not only practical and affordable, but also safe and private.


ESP8266 WiFi Analyzer

This instrucatables show how to make an ESP8266 version WiFi Analyzer clone.

WiFi Analyzer is a handy app in Android, it help to visualize the WiFi signal information around you. It is very useful for helping select a right channel for setting a new AP. If you selected a channel that as same as another AP near you, you may encounter interference and degrade the network performance.

ESP8266 WiFi Analyzer – [Link]