How to build your own Raspberry Pi flight tracker using SDR hardware

It’s the way of technology that some possibilities tickle us more than others, eliciting that unmistakable sense of wonder that such things can really be done. For myself, I’m a sucker for flight tracker information.

Not quite a slack-jawed yocal pointing at the sky, but still a slight cognitive skip that you are actually connected with remote planes moving in real time through the skies above you, all mapped and ordered.

I’m showing my age, maybe. But how about taking things a step further and achieving this with a Raspberry Pi?

Finished Plane Watcher - How to build your own Raspberry Pi flight tracker using SDR hardware

Well, DesignSpark blogger Andrew Back has shared step-by-step instructions to build your own Pi-based flight tracker, using SDR hardware to track aircraft hundreds of kilometres away.

Using Adafruit’s SDR USB stick and the PiTFT Plus 3.5 Raspberry Pi Touchscreen, plus a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, he shows how you can build your own low-cost plane watcher. It displays the tracking information from the Mode-S transponders of aircraft.

Andrew takes you through the full set up and provides details of the variety of software options available for receiving and decoding Mode-S transmissions for a more sophisticated display.

On the hardware side, he writes about the SDR receiver:

The tiny RTL2832U-based SDR receiver (124-5461) was designed and originally marketed for DVB-T reception. However, thanks to the efforts of a Linux kernel hacker some five or so years ago it’s possible to get raw samples from the device, rather than just a demodulated DVB signal. Which means that wireless systems can then be implemented in software, giving immense flexibility.

The RTL2832U chip is generally paired with a tuner IC and in the case of the USB receiver from Adafruit, it’s an R820T, which enables reception from 24MHz to 1,850MHz. It should be noted that with 8-bit ADC resolution and an effective number of bits (ENOB) of approximately 7-bit, RTL-SDR hardware is not going to compete favourably in terms of dynamic range with more expensive SDR platforms, but for many uses it is sufficient and does represent incredible value for money.

He also covers the Linux commands to setup the display in an optimal manner.

Finally, he covers a simple web application, based on Goggle Maps, with the aircraft positions marked along with altitude data, etc.

PPanim - How to build your own Raspberry Pi flight tracker using SDR hardware

Check it out. You can read the full blog at DesignSpark »


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