Snatch radio waves with the USRP

Radio frequencies coming through to your computer? It’s official, and has nothing to do with streaming audio as we would commonly think of it.

USRP, or Universal Software Radio Peripheral, the brainchild of a Linux expert named Matt Ettus. The device promises not just radio reception but a whole variety of other services as well, from GPS and HDTV to opening your garage door.

Using just an antenna, a few cables, a laptop, and his own ingenuity, Ettus and his business partner, Eric Blossom, have built a device that can deliver on all those promises. GPS can be accessed using the USRP, and local information can be gleaned, such as what shops people are visiting or which phone numbers are being dialed more often.

The device can also decode HDTV, which was Blossom’s original intention. Imagine watching hi-def TV on your laptop without having to resort to high-dollar purchases. (The USRP system isn’t cheap, but it isn’t prohibitively expensive, either.)

As for garage door openers, well, those broadcast on radio frequencies and so can be controlled using one of the USRP systems. Conceivably, emergency signals can also be transmitted, if the right frequency is attained.

Blossom and Ettus are working on a radar application of the USRP at the moment. Flyby monitoring might be in their future and in yours.


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