RPI + Docker + ACARS: Receive “Aircraft SMS”

After the fantastic feedback i got for my blog post about ADSB reception with RTL-SDR (and Docker), the next point in my list is ACARS.

The basics: What is ACARS?

ACARS is short for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, a digital data link between an aircraft and a ground station and/or satellite.

ACARS Terminal
ACARS Terminal

The on-board avionic computer system (aircraft) consists of the ACARS Management Unit (ACARS MU) and a Control Display Unit (CDU) for sending and receiving digital information messages from the ground-based stations.

Ground equipment is made up of a network of radio transceivers managed by a central site computer called AFEPS (Arinc Front End Processor System), which handles and routes messages. Generally, ground ACARS units are either government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration, an airline operations headquarters, or, for small airlines or general aviation, a third-party subscription service. Usually government agencies are responsible for clearances, while airline operations handle gate assignments, maintenance, and passenger needs. (Wikipedia)

 

This is a message send by the CFD (Central Fault Display) of an aircraft 😉

#CFB.1/WRN/WN1511161031 383100506MAINTENANCE STATUS TOILET

Or something like this

N12114 CO0070 1EHAM REQUEST GATE ASSIGNMENT ETA0447

You’re now interested how to receive such messages with minimal Hardware? You have your Raspberry Pi 2 ready? Docker installed? RTL-SDR attached? Then read on.

If not, start with my earlier blog posts to get the basics:

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Docker on a Raspberry – Q&A

Soon after i published my last blogpost (Raspberry Pi + Docker + RTL-SDR) i received a bunch of feedback, questions and critic.

“Why not just compile the applications directly?” – “I may be missing the point here but why bother with Docker on the Pi?” – “It does nothing to help the Dump1090 program at all.”

So I’d like to adress some of the points in this post and explain my motivation for using Docker.

 

Let’s start right away with the most controversial question: Why Docker on a Pi?

Well, because it’s possible 🙂 About two weeks ago i stumbled over a blog post from the guys at Hypriot. They not only managed to install Docker on a Raspberry, they also packaged a nice and easy to use SD-Card image which i used for my first experiments. I already have some substantial background in terms of Docker as we’re using this in larger scale in our company. The concept of Containers and Images is a nice fit if you want to build an orchestrated and reproducible toolchain for you RTL-SDR – Build your Image, upload it to the docker hub – the next time you’re reinstalling your Pi (or installing a new one) you just have to run one command and the exact same version, incl. all the dependencies will be downloaded from the hub and ready to use in minutes. So no problems with outdated Howtos, updated libraries, missing git repositories etc.

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Raspberry Pi + Docker + RTL-SDR

In the last days, i tinkered with different things: I installed Docker onto a Raspberry Pi 2, built several docker images [1][2] and got myself two new RTL-SDR-Sticks.

Today, I’ll bring all these Projects together and show you how to build a virtual aircraft radar (screenshot) – so fasten your seatbelt 😉

DUMP1090
DUMP1090 Screenshot

I’m ready – tell me what I need

  • You’ll need a Raspberry Pi 2  – yes, 2! – Of course, you can go with a Pi 1 – but to be honest, this thingy has just not enough ram and only one core so it’s not really suitable for docker. But hey, if you like the pain – go on 😉
  • The Pi has to be prepared to run Docker – You can use the guide from my blog post if you need help
  • And of course you need a RTL-SDR Stick – so if you ever watched DVB-T on your Laptop, the chances are good that you already have a suitable Receiver. Some people over at Reddit compiled a nice list of sticks which are suitable for our little experiment. Oh, and an Antenna would be awesome 😉

List completed? All points checked? Great, let’s go on!

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Docker on a Raspberry Pi

The guys at Hypriot did an awesome job to bring Docker to the Raspberry Pi world.

If you want to give it a try, you have two options

Option 1: Prebuilt images

Thats the best option if you want to have a full-fledged docker environment with optimized settings and hassle free installation.

Just download the image from this page and “burn” it to a sd-card. Plug the card in your RPi and enjoy.

Read more about this solution in their Blog: Get your all-in-one Docker playground now: HypriotOS reloaded!

Option 2: Debian Package

This option is the way you should go if you don’t have a spare sd-card around.

You can download a .dep file from this page and install it via dpkg -i package_name.deb

I tried this option on my current Jessie installation and encountered one problem: All docker command had to be issued via sudo. Thats because the docker.sock is only accessible for the root user. I didn’t follow up on this as i am going with option one 🙂

 

Quick test run? Here we go

After you have installed either the image version or the dep, you should be good to go for a first test.

Log in to your pi and kick of the following command:

docker run -d -p 8080:80 hypriot/rpi-busybox-httpd

Docker is now downloading the webserver image from the docker registry and start the container.

Now start your web browser and open http://<your-pi-ip>:8080

hyprion test docker images

 

Wait, there is one more thing

They also build an awesome hardware stack called “The Pi Tower” which consists of 4 Raspberry Pi 2 stacked on top of a 5-Port-Switch.

(c) 2015 hypriot
Pi Tower – (c) 2015 hypriot

Read more about this at their blog: Let Docker Swarm all over your Raspberry Pi Cluster

 

Downloads: http://blog.hypriot.com/downloads/