Information on the air: Software defined radio

Software defined radio (SDR) is a way for a computer to send and receive information to any device which communicates over radio frequency bands.   This definition comprehends a surprising amount of cultural technology, including AM, FM, ham radio, car key fobs, marine weather, satellite, and smart home devices (WiFi, Bluetooth).  In this workshop, we will explore how (very) low-cost open source hardware and drag and drop software tools can be used to manifest software defined radio and explore information and digital cultural activity as it manifests in the urban radio frequency spectrum, as described in Anthony Dunne's Hertzian Tales (2014).

The workshop covers the basics of using transceivers and open source software.

Over the course of this workshops, students will:

  • Examine the development and use of software defined radio hardware solutions (a $10 USB SDR dongle is provided)
  • Explore various open source software packages designed to work with SDR
  • Build a working FM receiver virtually, by dragging and dropping programming blocks and connecting their inputs and outputs
  • Evaluate various sources of cultural data, 'ambient information' in the wild (like your car key fob)
  • Utilize analytic representations of ambient radio frequency data, such as the waterfall
  • Understand the law around the use of these technologies and observe/apply appropriate privacy
  • Consider the future use of these techniques, such as virtual electronics and 'smart radio'

This workshop is for beginners, no programming is required.  Please bring your headphones.  Students will work in pairs using the equipment is provided.

Should you fail to withdraw 48+ hours in advance, thereby preventing your colleagues on the waitlist from filling in your spot, your library account will be charged $10 per missed workshop.  Please note, it is your responsibility to sign next to your name on the attendance sheet for each workshop session.  A blank signature spot will result in a penalty charge.


Brian Sutherland, M. Ed., PhD Candidate, Pervasive and Sustainable Computing (Semaphore/KMDI - UofT), Lecturer in Biomedical Communications (Institute for Medical Sciences - UofT)