Seminar on covariance-based spectrum sensing

29.09.2014 20:05

Here are the slides from my seminar on a practical test of covariance-based spectrum sensing methods. It was presented behind closed doors and was worth five science collaboration points.

Covariance-based spectrum sensing methods in practice title slide

The basic idea behind spectrum sensing is for a sensor to detect which frequency channels are occupied and which are vacant. This requires detecting very weak transmissions, typically below the noise floor of the receiver. For practical reasons, you want such a sensor to be small, cheap, robust and capable of detecting a wide range of signals.

Covariance-based and eigenvalue-based detectors are a relatively recent development in this field. Simulations show that they are capable of detecting a wide range of realistic transmissions, are immune to noise power changes and can detect signals at relatively low signal-to-noise ratios. They are also interesting because they are not hard to implement on low-cost hardware with limited capabilities.

Over the summer I performed several table-top experiments with a RF signal generator and a few radio receivers. I implemented a few of the methods I found in various published papers and checked how well they perform in practice. I was also interested in what kind of characteristics are important when designing a receiver specifically for such an use case - when using a receiver for sensing, noise properties you mostly don't care about for data reception start to get important.

This work more or less builds upon my earlier seminar on spectrum sensing methods and my work on a new UHF receiver for VESNA. In fact, I have performed similar experiments with the Ettus Research USRP specifically to see how well my receiver would work with such methods before finalizing the design. Since I now finally have a few precious prototypes of SNE-ESHTER on my desk, I was able to actually check its performance. While I don't have conclusive results yet, these latest tests do hint that it does well compared to the bog-standard USRP.

A paper describing the details is yet to be published, so unfortunately I'm told it is under an embargo (I'm happy to share details in person, if anyone is interested though). But the actual code, measurements and a few IPython notebooks with analysis of the measurements are already on GitHub. Feel free to try and replicate my results in your own lab.

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Disassembling Tek P5050 probe

03.09.2014 18:59

We have a big and noisy 4-channel Tektronix TDS 5000 oscilloscope at work that is used in our lab and around the department. Recently, one of its 500 MHz probes stopped working for an unknown reason, as it's bound to happen to any equipment that is used daily by a diverse group of people.

Tektronix P5050 oscilloscope probe.

This is an old Tektronix P5050 voltage probe. You can't buy new ones any more and a similar probe will apparently set the tax payers back around $500. So it seemed reasonable to spend some time looking into fixing it before ordering a replacement.

This specimen doesn't appear to be getting any signal to the scope. The cable is probably fine, since I can see some resistance between the tip and the BNC connector on the other end. My guess is that the problem is most likely in the compensation circuit inside the box at the oscilloscope end.


So, how does one disassemble it? It's not like you want to apply the usual remove-the-labels-and-jam-the-screwdriver-under-the-plastic to this thing. I couldn't find any documentation on the web, so here's a quick guide. It's nothing complicated, but when working with delicate, expensive gadgets (that are not even mine in the first place) I usually feel much better if I see someone else has managed to open it before me.

First step is to remove the metal cable strain relief and the BNC connector. I used a wrench to unscrew washer at the back of the BNC connector while the strain relief was loose enough to remove by hand.

Tek P5050 probe partially disassembled.

The circuit case consists of two plastic halves on the outside and two metal shield halves on the inside that also carry the front and aft windings for the strain relief and the BNC connector. There are no screws or glue. The plastic halves firmly latch into grooves on the two broad sides of the metal ground shield (you can see one of the grooves on the photo above).

You can pry off the plastic shell by carefully lifting the sides. I found that it's best to start at the holes for the windings. Bracing a flat screwdriver against the metal at that point allows you to lift the plastic parts with minimal damage.

After you remove the plastic, the metal parts should come apart by themselves. The cable is not removable without soldering.

Circuit board inside Tek P5050 probe.

Finally, here's the small circuit that is hidden inside the box. Vias suggest that it's a two-sided board. Unfortunately you can't remove it from the shield without cutting off the metal rivets.

The trimmer capacitor in the center is user-accessible through the hole in the casing. The two potentiometers on the side appear to be factory set. From a quick series of pokes with a multimeter it appears one of the ceramic capacitors is shorted, however I want to study this a bit more before I put a soldering iron to it.

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