Barebones AM Transmitter Test

Okay, so I put the bare bones transmitter in the previous entry to the test. Before I go any farther, let’s hit the legal. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS. I DID NOT DO THIS. THIS IS HYPOTHETICAL ONLY. ATTEMPTING ANYTHING SIMILAR TO WHAT IS ABOUT TO BE DESCRIBED MAY BE ILLEGAL IN YOUR COUNTRY. DO NOT ATTEMPT! THE DESCRIBED CIRCUITRY HAS NO OUTPUT FILTERING AND MAY SERVE AS AN EFFECTIVE RADIO JAMMER. EAT FRUITS AND VEGGIES DAILY. Anyway, I changed the circuitry a bit though. I kept the oscillator (50.0000MHz) continuously powered and programmed the ATTiny 2313 microcontroller (using PWM output) to oscillate (high/low) to the base of a transistor (NPN). In this way the microcontroller PWM output didn’t supply power to the oscillator, but rather grounded it, effectively removing power from it. In retrospect, I should have added a resistor between the oscillator and the transistor so that it didn’t completely ground it, because I think the oscillator would have functioned better if it were not fully grounded. Anyway, I got a big boost in range this way. Yesterday I couldn’t even hear the signal in the parking lot of my apartment, whereas today I heard it loud and clear. I decided to take a drive with my scanner, laptop, and argo to see how far away I could get. With this bare bones transmitter setup (using my ungrounded 2m jpole antenna NOT TUNED for the transmitter frequency) I was able to detect it over 4000 ft away. The receiving antenna was a 2m ~1ft high antenna magmounted on top of my car. In retrospect, I should have built a decent antenna and kept ARGO running at my apartment and drove the transmitter farther and farther away. I presume that my transmitter is functioning decently, and that if I attached it to a proper antenna (and had a better receiving antenna) I might be able to get some cross-town distance? I’m still n00b. I’m learning. That’s the point though right?

Here’s the signal (on my laptop) as I drove away…

This is where I was when the signal died. The red dot is my apartment (transmitter location), and the signal began to die right as I traveled south on Chickasaw past Lake Underhill (~4000 ft away). This immediate loss may be due to the fact that I passed under power lines which parallel Lake Underhill which interrupted the line-of-sight path between my 3rd story apartment balcony and me. If this were the case, supposedly if I kept driving south the signal may have improved.


     

A Foot in the QRSS Door

I’ve been unbelievably busy over the past couple weeks. Last Thursday my boss approached me and asked if I could work over the weekend. He wanted to complete and submit a grant by the deadline (Monday at 5pm). Scientific research grants are not easy to prepare. ~40 pages of forms to fill out, biographies to design for each of the lab workers, budget appropriation plans, animal handling protocol approval forms, plus 12 pages of scientific dialogue explaining the experiment. Now, I know that it may not sound like much, but trust me – it’s a very dense (11 and 9pt Arial font, single spaced) paper which takes about 2.5 hours for me to read from start to finish. Being the only native English speaker in the laboratory, I’m expected to assist in the polishing of its dialogue, as well as thoroughly evaluate its scientific content and offer suggestions. To make a long story short, I worked really hard (really long days) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to accomplish this. Monday afternoon when it was done (at about 4pm) I went home and collapsed in exhaustion. I don’t know how my boss does it! He worked on it far more than I did, and over that weekend he didn’t sleep much at all. Anyway, in exchange for my over-weekend work I got Tuesday and Wednesday off.

So, what did you do on your mid-week weekend? Well, I knew in advance that I’d have two days to bask in freedom and to do whatever I wanted. I prepared ahead of time by ordering a small handful (I think 4?) of ATMEL AVR type ATTiny2313 chips from Digi-Key at $2.26 per chip. I know I could have gotten better deals elsewhere “Like $1.88 per chip from RoboticsWorld) but the truth is that I had a random assortment of items I wanted to buy, and although all these different companies offered them, I feel I saved in the long run by ordering everything from a single source, cutting down on shipping costs. I also was impressed by the delivery time! I got my boxes in the mail on Monday. Way better (and cheaper) than ordering from the UK or Hong Kong.

The first thing I did with these chips was try to program them. Unlike the embarrassingly-easy PICAXE chips which can be programmed a form of BASIC cod from 2 wires of a serial port, the AVR series of chips are usually programmed from assembly-level code. Thankfully, C code can be converted to equivalent ASM (thanks to AVR-GCC) and loaded onto these chips. The result is a much faster and more powerful coding platform than the PICAXE chips. PICAXE chips are great for rapid development or for a starting platform for microcontroller education, but I feel that I’m ready to tackle something new. Anyway, I built a straight-through parallel programmer for my ATTiny2313 chips. It was based upon the dapa configuration and connects to the appropriate pins of the ATTiny 2313. However I would recommend that you be safe (protect your parallel port and microcontrollers) by installing the proper resisters (~1k?) between the devices, but I didn’t do this. No no. I live on the wild side. I eat danger for breakfast.

I decided to dive right in to the world of digital RF transmission and should probably go to jail for it. I blatantly violated FCC regulations and simply wired my microcontroller to be able to control the power level given to a 3.579545 MHz oscillator. Check out the circuit. The antenna is the copper wire sticking vertically out of the breadboard.

These crystals release wide bands of RF not only near the primary frequency (F), but also on the harmonic frequencies (F*n where n=1,2,3…). I was able to pick up the signal on my (uber-old) scanner at its 9th harmonic (32.215905 MHz). Supposedly the harmonic output power is inversely proportional to n. Therefore the frequency I’m listening to represents only a fraction of the RF power the crystal is putting out at its primary frequency. Unfortunately the only listening device I have (currently) is the old scanner, which can only listen above 30 mhz.

Remember when I talked about the illegal part? Yeah, I detected harmonic signals being emitted way up into the high 100s of MHz. I don’t think it’s a big deal because I doubt the signal is getting very far, but I’m always concerned about irritating people (Are people trying to use Morse code at one of the frequencies? Am I jamming my neighbors’ TV reception?) so I don’t keep it on long. Once I get some more time, I’ll build the appropriate receiver circuits (I have another matched crystal) and install a low-pass filter (to eliminate harmonics) and maybe even get a more appropriate radio license (I’m still only technician). But for now, this is a proof-of-concept, and it works. Check out the output of the scanner.

Something I struggled with for half an hour was how to produce a tone with a microcontroller and the oscillator. Simply supplying power to the oscillator produces a strong RF signal, but there is no sound to it. It’s just full quieting when it’s on, and static noise when it’s off. To produce an AM tone, I needed amplitude modulation. I activated the oscillator by supplying power from the microcontroller with one pin (to get it oscillating), and fed it extra juice in the form of timer output from another pin. The fluctuation in power to the oscillator (without power-loss) produced a very strong, loud, clear signal (horizontal lines). I wrote code to make it beep. Frequency can be adjusted by modifying the timer output properties. The code in the screenshot is very primitive, and not current (doesn’t use timers to control AM frequency), but it worked. I’m sure I’ll write more about it later.


     

Unlimited Freedom: Day 1

Two hours after getting home from work I’m already basking in the newfound carefreeness thanks to the successful completion of my thesis defense (and graduation requirements). Yesterday I went to skycract, early this morning I posted a schematic diagram of a basic circuit concept for a radio/microphone interface box with tone generating functions, and this afternoon I finished its assembly. It’s hacked together, I know, but it’s a PROTOTYPE and is for functional use only. What does it do? It’s complicated, and I described it in the previous entry. It’s basically just an exercise in microchip programming! Here are some photos…

Here’s that internal photo I promised I’d get posted yesterday…

Here’s the little setup with the main control unit and a DC to DC regulated power supply / serial microchip programmer I made.

Here’s the main control box. Notice the “2-way lighted switches” which I described in the previous entry (I posted the schematic). I found that proper grounding (floating pin prevention) was critical to their proper function. I’m still new to these chips, so I’m learning, but I’m making progress!

Getting a little artsy with my photographs now… this is the core of the device. It’s a picaxe 14m!

This is a ~? to 5v regulated power supply I built. The headphone adapter is for easy connection to the serial port. It has a power switch and a program/run switch (allowing use of pin 13, serial out) while still “connected” to the PC.

I wanted to toss this picture out there. I’ve slightly improved the connection between my radio’s coax cable to the ghettorigged jpole antenna I made.

I’m able to get relatively AMAZING results from this very unimpressive hack job, but it’s probably not likely to do much to my assembly skills (and lack of tuning), and more likely due to the fact that I have a beautiful unobstructed view of middle/southern Orlando from the 3rd story of my apartment balcony! I could probably wire up a rubber duck on a stick and get impressive results with that view! I’ll miss my reception when I move.

I just realized I didn’t post an image of the inside (complex wiring) of the device. Maybe later.