Tiny UHF Tracker Transmitter

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Introduction: Tiny UHF Tracker Transmitter

This is a little circuit that could be used to track an object up to 400m.

It is essentially an SAW stabilized OOK modulated RF transmitter. The modulation is done with two low frequency ultra low power oscillators that activate the transmitter every two seconds for a short period.

With the setup shown here I got up to 400m range. Current consumption is about 180uA average so it'll work for a couple of days with the little button cell. Frequency 915MHz.

Step 1: Circuit

The first oscillator to the left activates the second to its right every 2 seconds or so. The second oscillates at about 800 to 900Hz. Its output signal modulates the RF transmitter which is essentially just a SAW based oscillator with some of the RF energy coupled to a whip antenna.

The adjustment of the RF oscillator can be tricky but works fine with the components shown here. The jumper resistor over the SAW element allows the frequency to be adjusted near the SAW fundamental frequency, then the jumper is removed and the circuit will oscillate at the SAW frequency.

The lower you go in frequency the easier this adjustment will be, so you could go for 433MHz for example too. The component to be changed would be the inductor then (about 22nH).

Use NPO caps for the RF area. The type of the inductor is not critical, I used ceramic.

The circuit would actually benefit from a buffer stage or a matched antenna output, but frankly I didn't fell like investing more time in it. :-) If you want to experiment, I added a pic with a matching circuit for 433MHz that worked pretty well, The inductor for the oscillator changes to about 22nH in that case.

(If you click on the image twice and then on "original DIY file" just below the low resolution picture it will open in hi-res.)

Step 2: Build

Building it requires a hotplate and solder paste or a soldering iron with a fine tip and steady hands.

Make your own PCB layout or download mine from here: Google drive link These are EAGLE files, Schematic and BOM are also included.

Upload the .brd file to your favourite cheap PCB manufacturer, I used Oshpark.com, will take two to three weeks and then:

1. Put solder paste on every pad a component will be placed on

2. Place all components

3. Heat the entire board on a hotplate and wait until the solder paste liquifies

4. Remove the board form the hotplate , let it cool down

5. Flip the board around and solder the battery holder on it

6. Solder the antenna wire into the hole

7. Important: Put some conformal coating or silicon etc on the component side. This will protect the circuit from contamination and humidity. The LF oscillators use pretty high resistance values, which means they are easily detuned if for example you put your finger on it.

Step 3: Range and Stability

The RF frequency is SAW stabilized so shouldn't drift. I did not test the circuit in extrem conditions, but it worked fine from room temp to minus 15C.

Range was about 400m line-of-sight ( does that make sense in this case? :-) )

You can play around with the antenna length and also try to increase the ground area adding some conductive material to the GND pin of the battery holder for example. The short green wire increased the range in my case.

Step 4: Receiver

The receiver is comprised of a YAGI antenna, an adjustable attenuator and a RTL-SDR receiver.

The RTL-SDR dongle is connected to a cellphone that runs a paid app called RF analyzer. It's not expensive.

If you mount the antenna on a car for example the dongle could be connected to a Windows PC though, and there is free software available for Windows.

The YAGI antenna design came form here: https://273k.net/gsm/designing-and-building-a-gsm-antenna/yagi/

There are many other designs on the net and you could also buy an antenna.

The RTL-SDR dongle comes from here: https://www.rtl-sdr.com/buy-rtl-sdr-dvb-t-dongles/

It's an incredible versatile and very useful gadget for the occasional RF Hobbyist, AND its price is unbeatable.

The attenuator is made of a shielded box with three DPDT switches and attenuates 10dB for each stage. Use small resistors and short connections. Its performance at these high frequencies I didn't feel like evaluating but it attenuates a good amount and that's all that counts. I didn't use any particular website for this part so you have to look this up for yourself. Search for How-Tos of RF attenuators with resistors.

Step 5: See It in Action

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    59 Comments

    0
    you21
    you21

    7 months ago

    Hello, thanks for your circuit. If i would use your circuit in vhf (140 Mhz), should I have to modify the inductance or is it better to choice a SAW with oscillation about 140Mhz.
    Do you think it is possible to easily increase the range with this simple circuit without lose ti much energy? Thanks for your work.

    0
    jgarrido
    jgarrido

    3 years ago

    This has great implications in my field of wildlife tracking. Any expectations of how many mAh it would take to power this thing for say, 3, 6 or 8 months? Or how to change the pulse to once per 5 seconds? (to conserve battery).

    Any updates or new methods?

    0
    aa77260
    aa77260

    Reply 11 months ago

    any success in your trials? looking for the same solution

    0
    saintofinternet
    saintofinternet

    1 year ago

    hi... this is a wonderful project... i want to build something similar but with GPS+GPRS and which can run on Solar... with a unique ID for it to be tracked across long distances.

    anything you think can be done?

    0
    aa77260
    aa77260

    Reply 11 months ago

    would like to doo the same for wildlife tracking

    0
    jonkeegan
    jonkeegan

    3 years ago

    Thank you for posting this! I'm trying to build a similar setup for falconry. My wife has a tiny transmitter that she snaps to the ankle of the red tailed hawk that she works with, and it sends out a chirp at 216 MHz. The receivers all cost > $500USD which seems crazy given the flexibility of SDR.

    I noticed in your video, when the signal beeped, the RF Analyzer app let out a chirp. Is that some sort of control you have in the app? When looking at the signal emitted by the transmitter on a regular SDR waterfall app (like GQRX), it doesn't appear to be an actual audio signal, just a burst of RF energy. I'm looking for the same sort of feedback, which is what you find using the falconry UHF radio locator receivers.

    Thanks!

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    4 years ago

    Hi, I would like to make this but I can't understand the section about tuning. What is it that needs tuning, are some of the components adjustable with a screwdriver? They look too small. Or maybe I need to change some of the components to different values in order to tune this? Can I use an oscilloscope? I've made microcontroller and surfacemount pcb stuff before but never rf so I have no idea. If you could tell me or direct me to another website which explains this that would be really appreciated. Thanks!!!

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    Reply 4 years ago

    .... sorry, I mean the section where you say

    "The adjustment of the RF oscillator can be tricky but works fine with the components shown here. The jumper resistor over the SAW element allows the frequency to be adjusted near the SAW fundamental frequency, then the jumper is removed and the circuit will oscillate at the SAW frequency".

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    Reply 4 years ago

    p.s. thank you for posting this it looks really great! :)

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    Reply 4 years ago

    hi again, if I didn't use NP0 capacitors will that make a big difference do you think?

    0
    TomTechTod
    TomTechTod

    Reply 4 years ago

    For RF circuits, everything that influences the oscillation frequency should be NPO.

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    Reply 4 years ago

    Ok, thanks very much!! :)

    0
    TomTechTod
    TomTechTod

    Reply 4 years ago

    No need to tune anything if using component values from the schematic. If you change the SAW resonator you will need to reajust some values as I described.

    0
    _shara_
    _shara_

    Reply 4 years ago

    ah, ok, thanks!!! :) I will have a go and see how it goes, I plan to use it for tracking animals (for my post-grad. zoology course). If I can get it working I will then try to find a way to make the battery last longer. Thanks again!

    0
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE

    5 years ago

    LOOK my friend also very cheap and READY to use with an app on your phone, you can see track movement, where the watch was in FOOTPRINTS on a map, you can set boundaries, and MUTCH MUTCH MORE.

    LINK. https://www.banggood.com/Anti-Lost-Smart-Watch-GPS...

    and look soon on my website how i even make it smaller to use it on smaller drones..www.wannaduino.com and all for FREE

    i help others i love OUR COMMUNITY and OPEN SOURCE

    WannaDuino www.wannaduino.com

    0
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE

    5 years ago

    sorry to be rude, but to walk around with that GIANT ANTENNA setup, would not work.

    if you can make the receiver as small as the telephone oke, but this is nothing compared with the transmitter i already have and receivers for my drones, called RSSI work amazingly and i use also GPS in a watch style cost 14USD and works by an app, so in that case you work backwards in time instead of forward?

    You can buy it here,

    https://www.banggood.com/?p=NI03162039418201508L

    GPS type: GPS tracker
    Screen size: 0.96" LED
    Communication Module: GSM / GPRS
    GPRS:Class 12 TCP IPbuild in GSm MODULE
    GPS Senstivity: -159 dbm
    GPS Positioning Accuracy: 10m (2D RM)
    Gsm Positioning Accuracy: 50-200mm
    Speed Accuracy: 0.1m/s
    Maximum Altitude: 18000m
    Stand-by time: 100 hours
    Battery Capacity: 400mA

    instr watch.png
    0
    RicksterInstructables
    RicksterInstructables

    Reply 5 years ago

    How do you use RSSI and a GPS watch to find a lost drone?

    0
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE

    Reply 5 years ago

    with an app that comes with the watch

    0
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE
    RANDOM KNOWLEDGE

    Reply 5 years ago

    the RSSI is already in EVERY transmitter these days, it is a home beakon that beeps and give you live data on screan if you are close or the wrong way,

    BUT your receiver needs to have it too, but mots of them have it with our hobby becauzzz of the HIGH cost of our drones

    0
    TomTechTod
    TomTechTod

    Reply 5 years ago

    You are comparing apples to oranges. Yes it's backwards in time you are right, the point is to use a single miniature button cell and a PCB size of what I showed though. If anybody is willing to post an instructable for free how to built an GPS based transmitter that size I would be happy to see it. :-)

    Your link doesn't lead to an actual product.