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At the heart of many amateur radio and other projects lies the VFO, or Variable Frequency Oscillator. Decades ago this would have been a free-running LC tuned circuit, then as technology advanced it was replaced by a digital phase-locked-loop frequency synthesiser and most recently a DDS, or Direct Digital Synthesis chip in which the waveform is produced directly by a DAC. The phase-locked loop (PLL) remains a popular choice due to ICs such as the Si5351 but is rarely constructed from individual chips as it once might have been. [fvfilippetti] has revisited this classic circuit by replacing some of its complexity with an Arduino (Spanish language, Google Translate link).

The internals of a PLL frequency synthesiser
The internals of a PLL frequency synthesiser. Image by Chetvorno – CC0

A PLL is a simple circuit in which one oscillator is locked to another by controlling it with a voltage derived from comparing the phase of the two. Combining a PLL with a set of frequency dividers creates a frequency synthesiser, in which a variable frequency oscillator can be locked to a single frequency crystal with the output frequency set by the division ratios. The classic PLL chip is the CMOS 4046 which would have been combined with a pile of logic chips to make a frequency synthesiser. The Arduino version uses the Arduino’s internal peripherals to take the place of crystal oscillator, dividers, and phase comparator, resulting in an extremely simple physical circuit of little more than an Arduino and a VCO for the 40 metre amateur band. The code can be found on GitLab, should you wish to try for yourself.

It would be interesting to see how good this synthesiser is at maintaining both a steady frequency and minimal phase noise. It’s tempting to think of such things as frequency synthesisers as a done deal, so it’s always welcome to see somebody bringing something new to them. Meanwhile if PLLs are new to you, we have just the introduction for you.

Microcontrollers tend to consume other kinds of electronics. A project you might once have done with a 555 now probably has a cheap microcontroller in it. Music synthesizers? RC controllers? Most likely, all microcontroller-based now. We always thought RF electronics would be immune to that, but the last decade or two has proven us wrong. Software-defined radio or SDR means you get the RF signal to digital as soon as possible and do everything else in software. If you want an introduction to SDR, Elektor now has an inexpensive RF shield for the Arduino. The Si5351-based board uses that oscillator IC to shift RF signals down to audio frequencies and then makes it available to the PC to do more processing.

The board is available alone or as part of a kit that includes a book. There’s also a series of Elektor articles about it. There’s also a review video from Elektor about the board in the video, below.

We peeked at the schematic and the shield is more for letting the Arduino control the radio by changing the oscillator frequency rather than performing the SDR functions. The IQ signals appear on the PC’s soundcard via a microphone or line-in jack, and don’t really route to the Arduino.

That’s a shame because some of the 32-bit Arduinos might be able to do some interesting things with the right hardware. Plus there are many capable CPU and FPGA boards that have Arduino shield-compatible layouts. That could have led to some interesting possibilities.

Then again, having a programmable signal source on the Arduino isn’t a bad thing and compared to the older version of the board, the new board offers easier breakout for the oscillator signals.

If you want to learn more about how SDR works, try starting with spreadsheets. However, if you want to graduate to something more practical, try our series on GNU Radio.

 

 

It is getting harder and harder to tell homemade projects from commercial ones. A good case in point is [Mirko’s] all band radio which you can see in the video below the break. On the outside, it has a good looking case. On the inside, it uses a Si4730 radio which has excellent performance that would be hard to get with discrete components.

The chip contains two RF strips with AGC, built-in converters to go from analog to digital and back and also has a DSP onboard. The chip will do FM 64 to 108 MHz and can demodulate AM signals ranging from 153 kHz to 279 kHz, 520 kHz to 1.71 MHz, and 2.3 MHz to 26.1 MHz. It can even read RDS and RBDS for station information. The output can be digital (in several formats) or analog.

The radio takes serial (I2C) commands, and the Arduino converts the user interface so that you can control it. The chip comes in several flavors, each with slightly different features. For example, the Si4731 and Si4735 have the RDS/RBDS decoder, and the shortwave mode is available on Si4734 and Si4735. Confused? Page 2 of the programming guide should help. According to [Mirko], he used a 4730, but it still did shortwave with the 4735 library.

Breakout boards with the chip are just a few bucks. It appears the chip has the technical capability to receive single sideband, but it requires a poorly documented patch. It is in recent versions of this library, though.

We always smile when we think that AM is still alive and kicking. Perhaps this is the modern take on that first crystal radio project.

Over the winter, [Michael LeBlanc] thought a good way to spend his time during those long dark nights would be to scratch build his own direct conversion receiver. He was able to find plans for such a project easily enough online, but where’s the fun in following instructions? The final result incorporates what he found online with his own unique tweaks and artistic style.

[Michael] based his receiver on a modified approach to the DC40 created by [Ashhar Farhan], a name likely familiar to readers involved in amatuer radio. He further modified the design by swapping out the audio amplifier for a TDA2003A, and bolted on a digital tuner by way of an Arduino and a Si5351 clock generator. There’s a small OLED to show the current frequency, which is adjusted with a high-quality Bourns EM14 optical encoder so he can surf the airwaves in the comfort and style.

The digital tuner mated to the analog DC40 receiver gives the radio an interesting duality, which [Michael] really embraces with his enclosure design. Obsensibly he wanted to keep the two halves of the system in their own boxes to minimize any interference, but the 3D printed case exaggerates that practical consideration into a fascinating conversation piece.

The analog and digital compartments are askew, and their rotary controls are on opposite sides. The radio looks like it might topple over if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole thing is bolted together, complete with brass inserts for the printed parts. The integrated carry handle at the top somehow manages to make it look vintage and ultra-modern at the same time. Rarely do you see a printed enclosure that’s both meticulously designed inside and aesthetically pleasing externally. [Michael] earned his 3D Printing Merit Badge for sure with this one.

Over the winter, [Michael LeBlanc] thought a good way to spend his time during those long dark nights would be to scratch build his own direct conversion receiver. He was able to find plans for such a project easily enough online, but where’s the fun in following instructions? The final result incorporates what he found online with his own unique tweaks and artistic style.

[Michael] based his receiver on a modified approach to the DC40 created by [Ashhar Farhan], a name likely familiar to readers involved in amatuer radio. He further modified the design by swapping out the audio amplifier for a TDA2003A, and bolted on a digital tuner by way of an Arduino and a Si5351 clock generator. There’s a small OLED to show the current frequency, which is adjusted with a high-quality Bourns EM14 optical encoder so he can surf the airwaves in the comfort and style.

The digital tuner mated to the analog DC40 receiver gives the radio an interesting duality, which [Michael] really embraces with his enclosure design. Obsensibly he wanted to keep the two halves of the system in their own boxes to minimize any interference, but the 3D printed case exaggerates that practical consideration into a fascinating conversation piece.

The analog and digital compartments are askew, and their rotary controls are on opposite sides. The radio looks like it might topple over if it wasn’t for the fact that the whole thing is bolted together, complete with brass inserts for the printed parts. The integrated carry handle at the top somehow manages to make it look vintage and ultra-modern at the same time. Rarely do you see a printed enclosure that’s both meticulously designed inside and aesthetically pleasing externally. [Michael] earned his 3D Printing Merit Badge for sure with this one.

In the world of ham radio, a “Fox Hunt” is a game where participants are tasked with finding a hidden transmitter through direction finding. Naturally, the game is more challenging when you’re on the hunt for something small and obscure, so the ideal candidate is a small automated beacon that can be tucked away someplace inconspicuous. Of course, cheap is also preferable so you don’t go broke trying to put a game together.

As you might expect, there’s no shortage of kits and turn-key transmitters that you can buy, but [WhisleyTangoHotel] wanted to come up with something that could be put together cheaply and easily from hardware the average ham or hacker might already have laying around. The end result is a very capable “fox” that can be built in just a few minutes at a surprisingly low cost. He cautions that you’ll need a ham license to legally use this gadget, but we imagine most people familiar with this particular pastime will already have the necessary credentials.

The heart of this build is one of the fairly capable, but perhaps more importantly, incredibly cheap Baofeng handheld radios. These little gadgets are likely familiar to the average Hackaday reader, as we discussed their dubious legal status not so long ago. At the moment they are still readily available though, so if you need a second (or third…), you might want to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

At any rate, in the setup that [WhisleyTangoHotel] has outlined, the Baofeng radio is connected up to an MP3 player which is loaded up with a recording of your message and FCC callsign that plays in a loop. An Arduino and a relay module are then used to key the transmitter automatically by grounding out the microphone connector. As it so happens, the lanyard mount on the Baofeng is a convenient ground point and allows you to hook the whole thing up quickly with alligator clips.

If you’re looking for something a little more compact, we’ve previously covered a very nice wearable transmitter which can be used for fox hunting. We’ve even seen a gutted FRS radio stuck into a rocket if you want to take your hunt to the next level.

(altro…)

The field of radio control has benefited much from the onward march of technology. Where a basic 2-channel setup would once have cost hundreds of dollars, it’s now possible to get a high-end 2.4GHz 9-channel rig for well under $100, shipped to your door. However, the vast majority of these systems are closed-source and built for purpose. Sometimes, there are benefits to doing things your own way, and that’s precisely what this project does.

At its heart, it’s a simple combination. An Arduino Pro Mini talks to a NRF24L01 which handles the wireless communication. At that point, it’s up to you – throw in as few or as many controls as you like. For this build, [HowToMechatronics] has gone with a twin-stick setup, with a pair of potentiometers and twin toggle switches to round out the options.

The build comes in handy, as it’s possible to program in whatever features you may need for a given project. [HowToMechatronics] has used it to control a hexapod robot, among other projects. It’s a build that shows that with cheap and readily available parts, it’s possible to whip up a custom solution to suit your needs.

If this topic interests you.it’s worth saying that even those closed source radio control products can sometimes be hacked.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

When was the last time you poured water onto your radio to turn it on?

Designed collaboratively by [Tore Knudsen], [Simone Okholm Hansen] and [Victor Permild], Pour Reception seeks to challenge what constitutes an interface, and how elements of play can create a new experience for a relatively everyday object.

Lacking buttons or knobs of any kind, Pour Reception appears an inert acrylic box with two glasses resting on top. A detachable instruction card cues the need for water, and pouring some into the glasses wakes the radio.

Inside, two aluminium plates —  acting as capacitive touch sensors — are connected to an Arduino using the Tact library from NANDSudio. Wekinator — a machine learning tool — enabled [Knudsen] to program various actions to control the radio. Pouring water between the glasses changes stations, rotating and tweaking the glass’ positions adjusts audio quality, and placing a finger in the glass mutes it temporarily.

It’s a great concept for a more engaging piece of tech, if perhaps a little unnerving to be pouring water around household electronics. Best take preventative measures before applying this idea elsewhere.

Students from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research combined a commercial satellite dish, a satellite finder and an Arduino, and produced a workable radio telescope. The satellite dish provides the LNB (low noise block) and the associated set-top box is used only for power.  Their LNB employs an aluminum foil shield to block extraneous signals.

In addition to the hardware, the team built Python software to analyze the data and show several practical applications. They used known geostationary satellites to calibrate the signal from the finder (digitized by the Arduino) to determine power per unit voltage. They also calculated the beam width (about 3.4 degrees) and used the sun for other calibration steps.

The paper notes that some designs use the ubiquitous RTL-SDR, but this limits the bandwidth to about 3 MHz. The satellite finder detector is inherently broadband and the team claims a bandwidth for their scope of 1.1 GHz. Some designs (like the Itty Bitty) use a dual LNB to have both. If you are too lazy to build any hardware, you can still get into the radio telescope data crunching game.

If you want an introduction to radio astronomy, you might enjoy Dr. John Morgan’s lecture, in the video below.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, radio hacks

There’s an old saying that the nice thing about standards is there are so many of them. For digital voice modes, hams have choices of D-Star, DMR, System Fusion, and others. An open source project, the Multimode Digital Voice Modem (MMDVM), allows you to use multiple modes with one set of hardware.

There are some kits available, but [flo_0_] couldn’t wait for his order to arrive. So he built his own version without using a PCB. Since it is a relatively complex circuit for perf board, [flo_0_] used Blackboard to plan the build before heating up a soldering iron. You can see the MMDVM in action below.

The build includes an Arduino, of course, and the neat perf board wiring makes for a good-looking project. We’ve covered digital voice that uses PCs before and even some digital ham modes that use an Arduino. Or check out the MMDVM project for more info.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, radio hacks


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