Since the days of Alan Turing, the promise of a digital computer has been that of a universal machine, one that can be a word processor one minute and a robot brain the next. So why are radios, a technology even older than computers, still designed stubbornly to do one thing–like 3G, Wifi, FM, or GPS–for their entire lives? In fact, the era of the single-purpose radio is over, says Michael Ossmann, the founder of an Evergreen, Colorado company called Great Scott Gadgets. And he believes he’s built the one cheap, hacker-friendly radio to rule them all.
At the ToorCon hacker conference in San Diego Saturday, Ossmann and his research partner Jared Boone plan to unveil a beta version of the HackRF Jawbreaker, the latest model of the wireless Swiss-army knife tools known as “software-defined radios.” Like any software-defined radio, the HackRF can shift between different frequencies as easily as a computer switches between applications–It can both read and transmit signals from 100 megaherz to 6 gigaherz, including frequencies as low as the range used by FM radio up to the gigaherz frequencies used by Wifi or experimental wireless protocols for cars communicating in traffic.