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[Mike]’s investigation combined several avenues of investigation. In terms of decoding live radio signals, he selected a KiwiSDR software defined radio. Combined with a Digilent Nexys 2 FPGA, it was now possible to get live data off the air and into the PC quickly for decoding. In concert with this, [Mike] used a sample of raw GPS data captured in Nottingham, UK in order to test his code. After much experimentation, [Mike] was able to get the data decoded with 700 lines of C code. Decoding three minutes worth of data took all night, but further development allowed things to be sped up over 200 times. For the curious, the code is up on Github to convert raw ADC samples into actual location fixes.
[Jay Doscher] shares a quick GPS project he designed and completed over a weekend. The device is called the CLUE Tracker and has simple goals: it shows a user their current location, but also provides a compass heading and distance to a target point. The idea is a little like geocaching, in that a user is pointed to a destination but must find their own way there. There’s a 3D printed enclosure, and as a bonus, there is no soldering required.
[Jay] did a nice job of commenting and documenting the code, so this could make a great introductory CircuitPython project. No soldering is required, which makes it a little easier to re-use the parts in other projects later. This helps to offset costs for hackers on a budget.
The fact that a device like this can be an afternoon or weekend project is a testament to the fact that times have never been better for hobbyists when it comes to hardware. CircuitPython is also a fast-growing tool, and projects like this can help make it easy and fun to get started.
As the Raspberry Pi in its various forms continues to flow into the wild by the thousands, it’s interesting to see its user base expand outside beyond the hacker communities. One group of people who’ve also started taking a liking to it is sailing enthusiasts. [James Conger] is one such sailor, and he built his own AIS enabled chart plotter for a fraction of the price of comparable commercial units.
Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a GPS tracking system that uses transponders to transmit a ship’s position data to other ships or receiver stations in an area. This is used for collision avoidance and by authorities (and hobbyists) to keep an eye on shipping traffic, and allow for stricken vessels to be found easily. [James]’ DIY chart plotter overlays the received AIS data over marine charts on a nice big display. A Raspberry Pi 3B+, AIS Receiver Hat, USB GPS dongle and a makes up the core of the system. The entire setup cost about $350. The Pi runs OpenCPN, an open source chart plotter and navigation software package that [John] says is rivals most commercial software. As most Pi users will know the SD card is often a weak link, so it’s probably worth having a backup SD card with all the software already installed just in case it fails during a voyage.
If your only experience with Garmins is from that one rental car a few years back, it may surprise you that some of them, mostly the handheld outdoor units, allow custom maps. This sounds cool until you find out the limitations. Unless you upgrade to premium, it doesn’t allow map files larger than 3MB. What’s worse, it will choke the resolution of maps larger than one megapixel. Well, bust out your virtual hiking boots, because [facklere]’s gonna take you down the trail of DIY digital cartography.
You can use any map you want as long as its not completely fictional (although wandering the maps of middle-earth would be a fun hack on top of this one). Your map can be paper, PDF, or parchment; it just has to be converted to JPEG. The map [facklere] wanted to use was a huge PDF, so as a bonus, he shows how to get from PDF to JPEG in GIMP. Then comes the fiddly part — rooting the map in reality by overlaying it on real roads using Google Earth.
You’ve still got a huge map. Now what? The secret sauce is tiling. [facklere] used KMZfactory, a free map editor for Garmin maps that goes the extra mile to split the tiles for you, keeping them under the 1MP limit. Once that’s done, just upload it to your unit and hit the road.
GPS is available on most smart phones, which is all well and good unless you drive out into a place with weak service. Unless you want to go into the before-time and buy a standalone GPS (and try to update the maps every so often) or go even further back and print out MapQuest directions, you’ll need another solution to get directions. Something like this project which sends GoogleMaps directions over SMS.
The project is called RouteMe by [AhadCove]. It runs on a Raspberry Pi at his home which is constantly monitoring an email inbox. Using Google Voice to forward incoming text messages as emails to the Pi, the system works when your phone has a cell signal but no data connection. The Pi listens for specific commands in that SMS-to-Email connection and is able to send directions back to the phone via text message. That’s actually a neat hack you may remember from the olden days where you can send email as SMS using the phone number as the address.
If you find yourself lost in the woods with just your phone often enough, [AhadCove] has all of the code and detailed directions on how to set this up on his GitHub site. But don’t discount this particular task, anything you can script on the Pi can now be controlled via SMS without relying on a service like Twilio.
This maps hack is a pretty ingenious solution to a problem that more than a few of us have had, and it uses a lot of currently-available infrastructure to run as well. If you want another way of navigating without modern tech, have a go at dead reckoning in a car.
Precision time is ubiquitous today thanks to GPS and WWVB. Even your Macbook or smartphone displays time which is synchronized to the NIST-F1 clock, a cesium fountain atomic clock (aka the ‘Atomic Clock’) that is part of a global consortium of atomic clocks known as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Without precise timing there would be train collisions, markets would tumble, schools would not start on time, and planes would fall out of the sky.
But how was precision timing achieved in the 19th century during the era of steam, brass, and solenoids? One of the first systems of precision timing kept trains running safely and on time, rang the bells at school, and kept markets trading by using a special clock designed by the Self Winding Clock Company. Through measurements of celestial objects by the US Naval Observatory, and time synchronization pulses broadcast by the Western Union telegraph network, this system synchronized time across the United States in an era where the speed of our train system was out-pacing by the precision of our clocks.
Those clocks were designed so well that many of them are still around and functioning. One of these 100-year-old self-winding clocks made its way onto my workbench. I did what any curious hacker would do, figured out how the synchronization worked and connected it to a clock source with atomic precision. Let’s take a look!
We may not always be aware of it, but the daily function of the technological world around us is extremely dependent on satellite navigations systems. It helps the DHL guy deliver those parts you were waiting for, and keeps the global financial and communication systems running with precision timing. So, when these systems have a bad day, they can spread misery across the globe. To keep an eye on these critical constellations, [Bert Hubert] and friends set up a global open source monitoring network that aims to track every satellite in the GPS, Galileo, BeiDou and GLONASS constellations.
Off-the-shelf GNSS receivers are used to feed navigation messages to a machine running Linux/OSX/OpenBSD. The messages are processed to calculate the position (ephemeris), extract atomic clock timings and status codes of each satellite. Publicly available orbital data is then used to make an informed guess regarding the identity of the satellite in question.
All this data enables [Bert] to determine ephemeris discontinuities, time offsets, and atomic clock jumps. The project’s twitter feed, @GalileoSats, is very active with interesting updates. Go check it out! All the collected data is available for research purposes and the software is up on Github.
GPS hacks are never in short supply around here and another open source satellite network, SatNOGS has been featured a number of times on Hackaday after it won the 2014 Hackaday Prize.