I was looking for a DVB-T dongle to use for a software defined radio idea (something for another day), when I realised that it could very simply be turned into a ADS-B tracker to monitor aircraft locations (to read more about ADS-B perhaps start with the Wikipedia entry). Although I already use an Android app to see aggregated data from across the world, I thought it would be cool to build one myself, especially as the dongle is under £10 and the hard work in coding has already been done by some else (more on that later). This article is a quick write up of the project.
I already had most of the parts I needed for this scattered around the house… But if you are starting from scratch here is a list and approximate prices. If you use a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 instead of the Zero then you won’t need the micro USB to RJ45/USB adapter or micro HDMI to HDMI adapter. A Pi 2 or 3 would therefore cost you a bit more, but not much and perhaps better in the long run, I only used a Zero as I had it sat in a box looking for a purpose to justify it’s existence. You might also get better value if you buy some of the parts in a kit, depending on your preference. I’ve put links to the key ones for illustration purposes, but you might pick them up cheaper elsewhere.
|Raspberry P Zero or Pi 2 or Pi 3||£5.00 if Zero is available. About £30 for Pi3|
|Foxnovo® DVB-T USB TV RTL-SDR FM+DAB Radio Tuner Receiver Stick Realtek RTL2832U+R820T||£9.90, cheaper on auction site?|
|SanDisk Ultra Android 16 GB microSDHC Class 10 Memory Card and SD Adapter up to 80 Mbps, Frustration Free Packaging||£5.00|
|AmazonBasics Wall Charger with USB Outlet (2.1 Amp Output)||£6.99|
|Micro USB to USB cable for charging||£3.99 or cheaper|
|OTG Micro USB to USB adapter (if using Raspberry Pi Zero)||£4.10 or cheaper|
|USB to RJ45+ 3xUSB (if using Raspberry Pi Zero)||About £8 on an auction site|
|Micro HDMI to HDMI adapter (if using Raspberry Pi Zero)||You might only need this to get going, afterwards run the Pi headless.|
|HDMI cable||You might only need this to get going, afterwards run the Pi headless.|
|A monitor or TV with HDMI input, or a VGA monitor and an HDMI to VGA adapter||You might only need this to get going, afterwards run the Pi headless.|
|A cheap USB memory stick (not essential, but good if you want to save data at any time and don’t trust SD cards)||£4.29|
Install operating system
Plug it all together
I’m not going to write detailed instructions on how to plug stuff together, hopefully it’s straightforward…
Boot it up and install software
- Follow the instructions on the Raspberry Pi website if you need help getting the operating system going.
- To install everything else just follow the instructions here.
- Blacklist the drivers that you don’t need. I picked up this top from here.
Again, you’ll find all the instructions you need to run here, including how to start on boot.
Below is a typical evening view as seen from this setup (it’s busier during the day). Maximum ranges seen with the antenna about 5 feet high, in a shed are currently around 115 km, although theoretically the line of site to aircraft is potentially higher (see diagram at bottom). There are “black spots”, or corridors where no aircraft are seen, and the maximum range is different in different directions all due to local obstructions. ADS-B is essentially line-of-sight. Future improvements might be a better antenna and hoisting it up higher to avoid obstructions, particularly a house.