Monthly Archives: August 2022

Legitimate GPS Modules

I’ve been talking a lot about fake GPS Modules a lot……now let’s talk about legit GPS Modules.

First of all I’ll run over the actual legit GPS chips that I own and have dabbled with.

I have several GlobalSat BR-355S4 pucks.  These have Sirf Star IV chipsets in them which ONLY receive USA GPS system.  I use these with my Uniden Police Scanners.  Simply cut the plugs off of them and wire them to a plug that fits the Scanner.

I think it is important to note that as I mentioned above it ONLY receives GPS.  While this is probably fine for a police scanner, I don’t think I’d trust my life hiking out in the Mohave Desert with a device that had a Sirf Star IV chipset.  I’m not saying GPS would go down………but what if it did?

And I’m not knocking Qualcomm or their Sirf Star IV chipset.  I’m just saying I want redundancy in a life or death situation.

Then this leads me to my next GPS point.

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I’ve been on a Raspberry Pi project tear lately.  Somehow or another I stumbled into BirdNet-Pi and the best way I can describe it, is that it is like Shazam for bird songs.   It records the call and frequency and plots it on a spectrograph and identifies the bird.

Very Cool!

About a year ago I married my long time girlfriend and we bought a new home just outside of town.  We are on a 1 1/2 acre heavily wooded plot that also has a creek running along one edge.  So the birds love it here.  And my wife loves birds and keeps the feeders clean and full.  So I really did this for her but this project has got me super excited about all the different species of birds around here and their distinct calls.

It’s easy as heck to build.  You need:

  • Raspberry Pi – latest is best however I built this with an older Pi 3 B+.  It runs fine on there.
  • SD card to install Pi OS.  BirdNet-Pi says to use Pi OS 64 bit Lite.
  • USB microphone.  Initially I used an $8 USB mic  and it works but the better the mic…….the better the results you’ll get. I used a Rode mic that costs about $50.
  • OPTIONAL – if you use the better microphone you will need a USB Sound Card. to plug the mic into.  The better mic and sound card make the project a bit more expensive but I think you’ll be glad that you went that route.  if you just want to dabble then just use the cheap mic.

NOTE ON MICROPHONE:  Because the Rode mic I linked above costs $50 and it is a directional microphone I did some research and found an omni-directional mic that costs $20 less.   It is a Lavalier Clip On mic.   I’ve had it up several hours and my bird call detection is WAY up.

That’s it.  Install Pi Os 64 bit Lite with Raspberry Pi Imager.  Be sure to hit Command +Shift + X (Mac) (probably Control + Shift + X on windows) before you write the SD card. This allows you to  set up wifi and change the hostname  and change the timezone and set up SSH if you want.

Pi Imager

Lets proceed!
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More GPS Module Fuckery

I have this on-going project to find a GPS Module that works with my Uniden SDS200 police scanner.  Obviously this is so the scanner will auto update its location when a GPS Module is connected.

Uniden sells one for $50, so the goal is to manufacture one for less than that amount of money.  Actually, I’ve succeeded several times, with my last build costing about $20.

So, what’s the problem you ask?

Almost every GPS Module I have purchased is FAKE.  The GPS Modules that I know are not fake are from Manufacturer recommended sources, and all cost more than $50.  More like in the $70 range.

The most commonly counterfeited chips are U-blox and specifically the NEO-6 series chips.  An actual, REAL NEO-6M CHIP, not module at  Mouser in the US for is $60 for one.  A NEO-7 CHIP, not module, can be purchased from Digikey for $31 and I did find that Digikey calls the NEO-6 series “obsolete”.  In fact U-blox says the NEO-6 is an old product as well.

6=OLD, 9=NEW

So how is that you can do a search for GPS Modules and find $8 NEO-6M modules all over the place? If a legit chip is $31 or more how can a complete module be $8 or $12?

Answer: It can’t. It’s fake.
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Beware The Fake GPS Modules

I just started dabbling with GPS modules.  I got my first one from Amazon for about $12.  I didn’t know almost anything about GPS chips but I did know that U-blox chips are pretty prevalent in the Drone community, so I set out to purchase a module with a U-blox chipset.  The Amazon one I linked above (which now shows as unavailable, and I hope I had something to do with that) indicates that it has a NEO-8M chip on it.

Let’s see.

I plugged the GPS into my computer and started U-blox U-center software.  The GPSTXT data indicated

??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,u-blox ag -*50
??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,HW  UBX-G70xx   00070000 FF7FFFFFo*69
??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,ROM CORE 1.00 (59842) Jun 27 2012 17:43:52*59

Rebranded Old Chip

Say What? I got a U-blox chip all right but it is a U-blox 7th generation with firmware from 2012. Here’s what the label indicated on the chip.

It says NEO-M8N.

Soooooo, someone took a 7th gen chip that is 10 years old and rebranded it to a current production version.

Not only that, the 7th gen chip does have a firmware upgrade however you can’t apply it because whoever made the module board didn’t include flash rom so it simply cannot be upgraded.  How cool is that?
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