A Rough Guide to Wingbits

I’ve been watch­ing Wing­bits for a while now. They’re a new DePIN reward­ing you for track­ing com­mer­cial and pri­vate planes, and some parts of the project remind me of the ear­ly days of Heli­um, back when I wrote the orig­i­nal Rough Guide for Heli­um. Wing­bits is a project that allows you to choose your hard­ware and that rewards you for pro­vid­ing “bet­ter” ser­vice. In the ear­ly days of Heli­um I gained a sig­nif­i­cant advan­tage by try­ing to pro­vide the absolute best ser­vice over just stick­ing a Hotspot in a win­dow. I *think* the same kind of think­ing will be use­ful for Wingbits.

First, let’s go through what Wing­bits is. Wing­bits rewards you for plac­ing hard­ware (a small com­put­er like a Rasp­ber­ry Pi con­nect­ed to a radio receiv­er and an anten­na) and receiv­ing auto­mat­ic trans­mis­sions from most com­mer­cial air­craft regard­ing where they are and how fast they’re going. If you want to fast for­ward and just buy the gear now because you’re all excit­ed, skip ahead here. Just remem­ber to come back here and keep reading.

The trans­mis­sions you’ll cap­ture are called ADS‑B, or Auto­mat­ic Depen­dent Sur­veil­lance — Broad­cast. They pro­vide the GPS loca­tion, alti­tude, ground speed, and oth­er infor­ma­tion about an air­craft. This trans­mis­sion is pub­lic, and can be received by any­one. It is more accu­rate than radar, and is required for most air­craft in the US.

Basi­cal­ly, ADS‑B is a way for an air­craft to say, “Hey, I’m here, I’m going this fast, at this alti­tude; DON’T HIT ME!

Like all DePINs, in return for you set­ting up the hard­ware and pass­ing data, in this case ADS‑B data through Wing­bits, you receive tokens. Those tokens can be trad­ed for oth­er currency.

Ok, so why has Wing­bits par­tic­u­lar­ly caught my atten­tion? Because unlike many oth­er DePIN projects, you can build your own hard­ware, you can make that hard­ware bet­ter, and bet­ter hard­ware means poten­tial­ly more tokens.

Now, NONE OF THIS IS FINANCIAL ADVICE, so don’t go spend­ing mon­ey just because you read about it on some guy’s blog on the inter­net. Do your own research before jump­ing in.

For me, Wing­bits rep­re­sents three oppor­tu­ni­ties: First, the chal­lenge of build­ing some­thing in the radio world. Sec­ond, the chance to learn about some­thing new. Third, the abil­i­ty to write about this and share it with folks. All of those are super fun for me. Take care­ful note that earn­ing tokens is NOT in my top three rea­sons for doing this. Yes, it’s fun and a way to keep score, but for me that’s about where it ends.

Before we get to how to build a rad ADS‑B set up for Wing­bits, let’s talk about why this par­tic­u­lar DePIN exists. 

ADS‑B data has tra­di­tion­al­ly been gath­ered and sup­plied by vol­un­teer hob­by­ists. These are the kinds of nerds who just like find­ing things out and shar­ing what they know. For years, these hob­by­ists have pro­vid­ed the data they col­lect to a com­pa­ny called ADS‑B Exchange for free; the com­pa­ny made it easy to see all the oth­er infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed, and most hob­by­ists were sat­is­fied with that arrangement. 

Then, in Jan­u­ary of 2023, ADS‑B Exchange sold to Jet­Net for a report­ed $20,000,000. All of a sud­den, the hob­by­ists who’d been pro­vid­ing free info real­ized that what they’d been doing had val­ue. They just did­n’t know how to cap­ture it. Enter Wing­bits, an attempt to cap­ture the val­ue pro­vid­ed by hob­by­ists and return some of it to them for their con­tri­bu­tions, using the DePIN model.

Ok, so HOW do you make the best pos­si­ble set­up? Let’s approach this from two angles: What the net­work “wants”, and how best to pro­vide that.

Let’s start with the size you’ll have to cov­er. In the Wing­bits Litepaper (a rough sketch of what the project is about), the rewards sys­tem is set up around hexa­gons from the Uber H3 sys­tem. The hex sizes are res 3, or about 4,600 square miles of area and about 73 miles between par­al­lel edges. In the below view you can see those hex­es. Pur­ple indi­cates the hex is pur­chased and owned by the view­er (in this case, me), yel­low means that some­one else has pur­chased the hex, and no col­or means the hex is unpurchased.

There are 41,162 res3 hex­es in the world, most of which are in the ocean and prob­a­bly can’t be cov­ered. That leaves us earth-dwellers with about 15k hex­es to pop­u­late. Each hexa­gon has a fixed amount of Wings tokens assigned to it dai­ly. This amount is deter­mined by mul­ti­ply­ing the num­ber of anten­nas in the hex x the “base rewards”. “Base rewards” will be deter­mined by the Wing­bits team. For the sake of con­ve­nience (and as of Nov 4th, 2023) we’ll use 100 as the base rewards. That base num­ber could be wrong!

Rewards in this sys­tem are direct­ly tied to the quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of uploaded teleme­try data

Wing­bits Sky­Hex Medi­um article

One point here (that Wing­bits will prob­a­bly fix by the time this is pub­lished) is that an “anten­na” in the Hex Rewards def­i­n­i­tion means “an anten­na owned by a per­son who holds an NFT for that hex”. 

Ok, what does that mean for you? Wing­bits wants you to RELIABLY cap­ture LOTS of HIGH QUALITY data. The bet­ter you do at any of those, the more you’ll be rewarded.

So, let’s do a cou­ple of examples. 

Wings Tokens Earning Example 1

You’re out in Mon­tana, all alone in your hex and you’ve deployed 1 anten­na. There are a total of 1 anten­nas x base rewards of 100, so 100 Wings are avail­able. Let’s say you’re try­ing to be awe­some and keep this thing on all the time, for 100% uptime.

You’ll earn: 100% uptime x 100% of data (you’re the only anten­na) x 100 rewards x 1 Wing = 100 Wings.

Wings Tokens Earning Example 2

For this one let’s imag­ine you’re also in the hex I bought, here in San Diego. Up to 3 peo­ple can buy a hex, and you’ve gone ahead and also bought the San Diego hex. You’re com­mit­ted to excel­lence (like me) but you’ve got janky inter­net, so you’re up 80% of the time. Still, you’re in a great loca­tion, so you actu­al­ly cap­ture 70% of the data to my 30%.

We’ve got 2 anten­na own­ers, each with an NFT and an anten­na in our hex, so the avail­able Wings are 200.

You’ll earn: 80% uptime x 70% of data x 200 rewards avail­able x 1 Wing = 112 Wings.

Wings Tokens Earning Example 3

Worst case sce­nario here: You’re in San Fran­cis­co. Aside from the excel­lent food and being in the heart of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, you’ve got some seri­ous down­sides; name­ly the num­ber of peo­ple com­pet­ing with you.

The hex you’ve bought also has 2 oth­er own­ers, and they’ve put in a total of 5 anten­nas, plus yours makes 6 anten­nas in the hex. Now, the max mul­ti­ple for a base is the num­ber of NFT own­ers, which in this case is 3. It’s NOT 6, which is the total amount of anten­nas in there. We’ll imag­ine you’re stuck with good inter­net, 95% uptime, but you’re only cap­tur­ing 15% of the unique data; the oth­er anten­nas are just out­com­pet­ing you.

Avail­able Wings: 3 own­ers x base rate of 100 = 300 

You’ll earn: 95% uptime x 15% of data x 300 rewards x 1 Wing = 42.75 Wings

Now, HOW you cap­ture that data is where I think the fun part comes in. Remem­ber, you want to RELIABLY cap­ture LOTS of HIGH QUALITY data.

RELIABLE means you’ve got a strong and fast inter­net con­nec­tion so your hard­ware does­n’t go down. I know some of you are going to use the WiFi side of the Rasp­ber­ry Pi, and to be hon­est, that’ll prob­a­bly work fine. I’ll be using an eth­er­net cable. I’m aim­ing to win, yo.

LOTS of data will depend on where you are as far as your “sight­lines” to air­craft and where you place your anten­na. I know, I know, it’s easy to put it inside near your win­dow and call it good. Just remem­ber, if there’s one per­son like me any­where near you, they’ll be putting that anten­na up high where it has clear lines of sight every­where, and they’ll crush you. This is a con­test, after all.

The oth­er thing to remem­ber with LOTS of data is where YOU are vs where your anten­na will cov­er. In many cas­es you”ll have a range of over 100 miles, so even if you’re in the mid­dle of a hex (and you buy the one you live in) you could rea­son­ably buy sur­round­ing hex­es and pick up traf­fic there.

HIGH QUALITY data is where we start to ven­ture into the black mag­ic of radio. You’ll want to be cap­ture exact­ly the right sig­nal, and you’ll want that sig­nal to be clean and strong. Get­ting that com­bi­na­tion will require an anten­na tuned to the ADS‑B fre­quen­cies. There are 2, the main one is 1090 MHz and the oth­er one, much less used, is 978 MHz. I’ll roll with one of each just to see what hap­pens, although my focus is on 1090.

Just for clar­i­ty on that, the 1090 is the world­wide stan­dard. 978 is US only, and real­ly for small­er craft. I’ll go after 978 because it’s fun and I’m in the US. Most folks should focus on 1090.

The next part of high qual­i­ty data, once you get a sig­nal on a tuned anten­na, is fil­ter­ing out the “trash” around it. For that, you can use any num­ber of fil­ters. I’ve linked one that is fine below. If you want to go bat­shit crazy and get the cus­tom-made pure glo­ry, DM me. It prob­a­bly does­n’t make a dif­fer­ence, but I like nice stuff, so I bought one. 

Third is an LNA, or Low Noise Ampli­fi­er. This is built into the gear linked below, so as long as you get that you don’t need to wor­ry much about it.

Now, I’m POSITIVE some radio-nerd will read this and point out how I could read the ADS‑B off the UFOs on the back­side of the moon if I just did [insert your favorite radio hack here]. That’s what makes this fun; there’s all kinds of stuff you can do to lev­el up your game. Remem­ber, this is just the Rough Guide. It’ll get ya 80% there, and prob­a­bly 95% if you buy every­thing below. 

Gear List

You’ll need at a min­i­mum a small com­put­er (Rasp­ber­ry Pi), an SDR (radio receiv­er) and an anten­na. Sep­a­rate the Rasp­ber­ry Pi from the SDR with a USB extension.

You may want to invest in nicer gear, although I’d cau­tion against that unless you know what you’re doing. I’ll cov­er opti­miza­tion in a lat­er post; the first big step here is to use gear spe­cif­ic to 1090. I know, I know, you have some old Heli­um anten­nas lay­ing around. It’s true that they work, but it’s like bring­ing a knife to a gun fight. You want to win, right?

If you want to sup­port the Gris­tle King enter­prise and say thanks for writ­ing this blog, use the fol­low­ing Ama­zon refer­ral links to get a sol­id set up. 

ItemSourceApprox Price
Sig­nalPlus AntennaAma­zon$89
Rasp­ber­ry Pi 4 Mod­el B 4GBAma­zon$65
Saw­bird+ Fil­ter (Option­al)Ama­zon$85
Air­Nav Radar­Box Flight Stick (SDR)Ama­zon$40
USB Cable ExtenderAma­zon$6

Build It

Build instruc­tions are straight­for­ward. I used Sime­onon­se­cu­ri­ty’s DeFli dual guide set­up the first time. Then I cut out the DeFLI set­up part and focused on Wing­bits for mine. If you don’t mind me assum­ing you know a bit about the Pi, here’s what to do: 

Start by “Reg­is­ter­ing an anten­na” on your Wing­bits account.

The ID will be the sta­tion name, some­thing like “super-secret-scor­pi­on”.

Next, we’ll turn to your Rasp­ber­ry Pi.

  • Set up your Rasp­ber­ry Pi, con­nect­ing your SDR Navflight stick to the Pi using the USB exten­sion cable, then the SDR to your anten­na. If you bought the fil­ter, put that between the SDR stick and the Pi. It’ll look like this, from the top: Anten­na, fil­ter, SDR stick, USB exten­sion, Rasp­ber­ry Pi.
  • Flash an SD card with Ras­pOS Lite. Use the Gear set­tings to enable SSH, set the host­name, and time­zone. Fancy.
  • Insert the SD card in the Pi and pow­er it up.
  • SSH in and run the com­mand found in your Wing­bits dash­board, some­thing like this:
curl -sL https://gitlab.com/wingbits/config/-/raw/master/download.sh | sudo bash

You’ll prob­a­bly find that the first time you run this code you’ll get an error at the end, some­thing like

vector is active. ?
readsb is inactive. Waiting 5 seconds...
readsb is still inactive.

Just reboot and install again. Yeah, I know, a lit­tle janky. Hope­ful­ly you won’t have to do this, but as of Novem­ber 5th 2023, that’s what I had to do. By the way, I was able to get mine work­ing on PoE with a split­ter that was 5V and 2.5A.

You’ll be asked for your “anten­na ID” once that fin­ish­es. You got the anten­na ID in the first step, remem­ber? It was some­thing like super-secret-scor­pi­on. Make sure you include the dashes!

  • Set up your loca­tion using YOUR coor­di­nates, not the 33/-115 ones below. You can use Google Earth or latlong.net to find yours.
sudo readsb-set-location 33.67854 -115.12356

You CAN set auto­gain if you’d like, but I’d rec­om­mend against it.

Trou­bleshoot­ing isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly easy or clear, and I’ve found that most times if you just check your con­nec­tions (Pi-Don­gle-anten­na) and then reboot a few times, it all works. 

Wei­de­hopfs Tar1090 and Graphs1090 are includ­ed, so you can see what’s work­ing by going to http://192.168.x.yy/tar1090 and http://192.168.x.yy/graphs1090 mak­ing sure to replace the .x.yy with what­ev­er your appro­pri­ate details are.

The Tar1090 is a cool local (host­ed on your Pi or what­ev­er com­put­er you use) inter­face to see what flights are being tracked. It’s fun to watch. It looks like this:

Graphs1090 gives you some more stats to geek out on. I expect with­in the next few months we’ll sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments in both of these regard­ing test­ing anten­nas and setups and how it effects token earn­ings. Here you can see where I went offline for a few hours as I moved from a test rig inside on my desk up to the roof, with an accom­pa­ny­ing bump in stats.

Ok, that should do it! As a teas­er, I’ve heard that these things use 40–60 GB a month, so an off-grid set­up might be some­thing fun to explore, although as a long-last­ing solu­tion it’s prob­a­bly not the best move with cur­rent toke­nomics if your goal is to max­i­mize earnings. 

In the mean­time I’d strong­ly rec­om­mend join­ing the Wing­bits Dis­cord to learn more and stay up to date, please say “Hi” when you come in (I’m @gristleking in there). Huge thanks to @!simeononsecurity, @acci, and @gwosty on the Wing­bits Dis­cord for all their help with this. Now let’s track some aircraft!

Extra Credit for the Nerds

Air­space is bro­ken up into sev­er­al class­es; you can think of them as areas where there is more or less con­trol by “the tow­er”. Class A is the most restrict­ed, gen­er­al­ly begin­ning at 18,000′ above mean sea lev­el and up to 60,000′. This is where com­mer­cial air­lines, car­go oper­a­tors like FedEx, and high per­for­mance air­craft fly. 

ADS‑B is also required in Class B air­space (all around your busy air­ports) and Class C air­space (less busy airports). 


11 responses to “A Rough Guide to Wingbits”

  1. […] writ­ten about the basics of Wing­bits in a recent post; if you haven’t read that yet or you’re new to the project, take about 7 min­utes and read […]

  2. Scott Mitchell Avatar
    Scott Mitchell

    So how am I paid for this? Is there a wal­let that gets attached to the sta­tion name? Is there or will there be app like Heli­um that you will onboard the sta­tion in, and tie into a wal­let that way? I cur­rent­ly feed ADS‑B exchange, Flight Aware and Flight Radar 24 with 3 dif­fer­ent units. 2 are home built Rasp­ber­ry PI and 1 is bought from Flight Aware, so I don’t think I can mod­i­ly it.

  3. No tokens yet, so no pay. Even­tu­al­ly they’ll sort that out, you’re still what we might call “uncom­fort­ably ear­ly.” 🙂 You should be able to add in Wing­bits to one of the Pi units, but I’m not sure.

  4. Warren Bowman Avatar
    Warren Bowman

    I have spare heli­um min­er sit­ting around. I under­stand it can be repur­posed for Wing­bits, would rasp­ber­ry pi per­form bet­ter, or is it more a ques­tion of anten­na size/placement?

  5. Hi War­ren, the per­for­mance will be much more about anten­na place­ment than what kind of Pi you’re run­ning. Does that help?

  6. […] so ya caught the Wing­bits bug and are will­ing to play the game just to see how good you can get? It’s fun to mess around […]

  7. Great post, thanks for the detailed intro!

    Are there any con­sid­er­a­tions for the anten­na cable? I’m look­ing at a 25–30ft cable run from anten­na to filter/stick to get the anten­na high up on the roof.

    Heavy on Heli­um and this was a key fac­tor for set­ting up the gear, e.g. LMR400+ for long cable runs to min­imise sig­nal loss. Can’t see much of an impact for wing­bits though as just receiv­ing sig­nal, no POC etc.

  8. Yeah, cable loss will effect how much your rig can “hear”. I’m using LMR400 for any­thing over a foot of run.

  9. Baron Hall Avatar
    Baron Hall

    Is there any work being done to shim Wing­bits into an exist­ing PiAware setups?

  10. I think so; def. check in on the Dis­cord, lots of folks are run­ning mul­ti­ple projects on a Pi there. Cheers!

  11. Baron Hall Avatar
    Baron Hall

    I found bale­na-ads‑b which sup­ports all the ADS‑B feed sites, includ­ing Wing­bits. It took me just a few hours to port my exist­ing PiAware set­up (since 2014) over to it and I am now feed­ing both from one install.

    I’d also rec­om­mend the FlightAware Pro Stick Plus as it includes the 1090 band pass fil­ter for the same cost as your rec­om­mend­ed SDR.

    Last­ly, if you both­er to also send the data to FlightAware, they upgrade your account to Enter­prise lev­el for free (a $99/month val­ue), which is non trivial.

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