Endlessly Curious

[NOTE TO READERS: The next few sentence will be explained.]

Over the past few months I’ve read articles about ADS-B receivers. They’re made from digital TV dongles and Raspberry Pi, credit card sized, computers. I was instantly hooked.


I am endlessly curious. Lots of things interest me, especially if they involve math and computers.

[NOTE TO READERS: The next few sentence will be explained.]

Over the past few months I’ve read a few articles about ADS-B receivers. They’re made by plugging a digital TV dongle into a “Raspberry Pi.” The Pi is a credit card sized computer.

They had me at ADS-B.

ADS-B is for Automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast. It’s a method where planes notify each other and the tower where they are. ADS-B is much more accurate than radar. It allows crews onboard planes to see who’s around them too.

IMG_20151125_150051That’s a Raspberry Pi 2B on the left. A full fledged quad core, video optimized teeny computer. It was designed and is built by a non-profit educational foundation in Britain. Their purpose is to give kids a cheap and dirty way to learn about computers and what makes them work.

Plugged into the Pi is a DVB TV dongle. In Europe these are used to watch digital television. The dongle is a software controlled radio. I threw in some new software and -voila- it’s now a radio listening to the ADS-B frequency.

The software is developed and made available by FlightAware.com. They get my data and upgrade me to a pro account. I’m part of a community of thousands around-the-world. It’s actually pretty amazing. 8080To gin up interest, FlightAware compiles my stats and rates me against other listeners.

This is day five. My gear has spotted 2,539 planes, receiving 59,422 position reports. I’m their 4,510th best site. Is there a participation trophy?

The charts and reports I see from the little Raspbery Pi suggest I need to optimize my receiver to hear more. I can see planes land at John Wayne. I should see LAX and Long Beach too.

Like I said, endlessly curious.

10 thoughts on “Endlessly Curious”

  1. OK, you’ve piqued my curiosity. What if something like a Chromecast were plugged into the Pi? For video instead of audio? And output to a monitor. I’ll have to look into this. Some fascinating prospects…

  2. Geoff, can you publish or e-mail a few links for us Ham Radio mad scientist-type experimenters to gin up one of these? Sources for hardware and software would be cool…

  3. thought that there was a FAA regulation that there was a 5 – 10 min delay for security reasons on location of planes on flight tracking sites, or is all the new technology just eliminating all of that now. ADS-B seems to be making it available for everyone that knows how to do it.

  4. Vinnya,
    There is a security delay for radar relayed data. ADS-B is a new regulation that allows for aircraft to ‘talk’ to each other. This is easily picked up and extremely accurate. As the idea behind this is to be a safety device for other aircraft it is picked up by any antennae that can pick up the data. There are ways to block the aircraft data (tail number, type, etc.) those aircraft will only show up as an object – once again to preserve the safety benefits.

    A neat site to check out which uses ADS-B really well is http://www.flightradar24.com

    Geoff I think you could push data to this site as well…


  5. Now this may sound as shallow as a puddle compared to all your scientific usage of equipment and data, but can the DVB TV dongle be used in the US to receive digital TV as it is in Europe? Since our cable company was recently bought up by Atlantic Broadband, I want to become a cable cutter!

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