Wingbits For The Advanced User: Tar1090

I’ve 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 through it; it’ll make the rest of this much eas­i­er to understand. 

This is the first in a few of the “Advanced User Series” posts on Wing­bits. I’ll be mak­ing a few assump­tions for these: First, you under­stand the basics of the project. Sec­ond, you want to do the best job pos­si­ble. Third, you’re not try­ing to do this the cheap­est way pos­si­ble. You can def­i­nite­ly do a shit­ti­er job more cheap­ly and eas­i­ly than what I’m about to describe. If min­i­mum effort is your game, this ain’t your post. Fourth and final­ly, you don’t mind muck­ing about (a lit­tle bit) with code, most­ly copy/paste.

Let’s start with set­ting you up to see how your rig is work­ing. We’ll do that using two tools that came with Wing­bits and that are built by a Github user named Wiede­hopf. Those are called Tar1090 and Graphs1090. This post will focus on Tar1090.

Tar1090 allows you to see what air­craft your rig is cur­rent­ly track­ing, includ­ing their alti­tude (by col­or), the fur­thest point they were picked up, and if you want to dive into details, their air­speed and how far from you they are. It looks like this, and is host­ed on the machine you’ve got Wing­bits on.

To see this, once you’ve installed Wing­bits on your Pi and have it up and run­ning, go to replac­ing the with your IP address.

Ok, so why do you care about see­ing that (oth­er than that it’s pret­ty cool to watch all those planes zing around the sky)? Well, you might want to know what you’re rig is cov­er­ing so you can decide whether or not to buy or bid on a Sky­Hex. The Sky­Hex map is made up of large (Uber res3) hex­es, and looks like this in my local area:

I live in the red cir­cle, in San Diego. You can see that a cou­ple of hex­es around me have been bought at least once. Each Sky­Hex has 3 slots avail­able. Own­ing a slot allows you to earn off sig­nals received from that Sky­Hex. You don’t have to be deployed in the Sky­Hex to earn from the sig­nals cap­tured from it. 

The ques­tion here is: Should I just buy the San Diego hex I’m in, or should I buy a few of the ones around me? What could I actu­al­ly earn from?

To fig­ure that out, I’m going to over­lay the Sky­Hex map on top of my tar1090. Now, in the instance below I used my mas­sive graph­ic design skills to make it super easy to show you this. There isn’t cur­rent­ly a way to over­lay the Sky­Hex map on the tar1090, so I did it in Can­va. I high­light­ed the edge of my range (using a bone-stock anten­na) with the blue.

On the sur­face, I should prob­a­bly buy all the hex­es above me (I’m the black dot with the white ring) and the one to my south­east, but not the south or south­west one. But wait…the next thing you’ll want to know is how much traf­fic is hap­pen­ing with­in the blue lines. 

With a few tweaks, tar190 will allow you to see a heatmap of where most of your flights are tracked. This makes is eas­i­er to decide whether or not you want to buy sur­round­ing hex­es. After all, it’s prob­a­bly not ultra use­ful to buy a hex where you can only occa­sion­al­ly track aircraft. 

How do we set up the heatmap? Get ready for some geekery!

First, open up a ter­mi­nal win­dow and log into your Wing­bits instance. In my case, it’s on a Rasp­ber­ry Pi and I’m on a Mac, so I’m using (duh) Ter­mi­nal. We’re going to add a direc­to­ry and change own­er­ship of it to let readsb store heatmap data. All this is detailed over in Wiede­hopf’s guide, but I found some of it hard to under­stand and put togeth­er, so @acci over on the Wing­bits Dis­cord helped walk me through the basics. Thanks @acci!

Start by past­ing in the fol­low­ing, one line at a time:

sudo mkdir /var/globe_history
sudo chown readsb /var/globe_history

Once those are done, you’ll want to go into your readsb file and add some lines to it. To do that:

sudo nano /etc/default/readsb

Add in the heatmap com­mand --heatmap-dir /var/globe_history --heatmap 30 to the bot­tom, like this:

JSON_OPTIONS="--json-location-accuracy 2 --range-outline-hours 24 --write-json=/run/readsb/ --heatmap-dir /var/globe_history --heatmap 30"

Once that’s done we’ve got two more steps. First, we’re going to restart the service.

sudo systemctl restart readsb

Then we’re doing to go set up the URL so you can actu­al­ly see the heatmap. It will be dif­fer­ent than your nor­mal tar1090 URL. Copy and paste the fol­low­ing address, chang­ing out the xx to match your address, then book­mark it so you don’t have to remem­ber it each time.

It may take a few hours (or a few days, depend­ing on your air traf­fic) to real­ly fill in. You can change how it looks and what it dis­plays using Wiede­hopf’s sys­tem, but the above “args” will give you some­thing like this:

Obvi­ous­ly that gives you a much bet­ter idea of how much area you’re con­sis­tent­ly cov­er­ing, and you can decide what hex­es to buy based on that data. Feel free to play around chang­ing out those args to suit what works best for you; you can change how long a time­frame you’re look­ing at, how big the indi­vid­ual heatmap dots are, their opac­i­ty, and more.

Now that I’ve seen that, I have a bet­ter idea of what I might rea­son­ably cov­er and what Sky­Hex­es I might buy. 

Anoth­er impor­tant tool you can use with the tar1090 map is use the Hey What’s That instruc­tions to get an idea of what your max­i­mum the­o­ret­i­cal range should be. 

If you’re hit­ting it or com­ing close, you’ll know you don’t need to do much more. If you’re not, well, there’s work to do!

Remem­ber, this is a cryp­to DePIN project, which puts it as a high-risk enter­prise. Don’t put any mon­ey in you can’t afford to lose! I’ve got­ten the most joy par­tic­i­pat­ing in these projects by focus­ing on learn­ing new things and doing the best job pos­si­ble. Earn­ing tokens is a great way to keep score, but fair­ly obvi­ous­ly not a reli­able way to pay the rent. 

Huge thanks to @acci over on Dis­cord for help­ing walk me through the heatmap work­flow! Any mis­takes are mine, no war­ran­ty or guar­an­tee is made on any of this, have fun learn­ing & pur­su­ing excel­lence with me!


4 responses to “Wingbits For The Advanced User: Tar1090”

  1. […] how good you can get? It’s fun to mess around with the Tar1090 tool (which I’ve cov­ered in a pre­vi­ous post) and see the pret­ty pic­tures, but…what about them […]

  2. Warren Bowman Avatar
    Warren Bowman

    This is great infor­ma­tion and real­ly help­ful. Thank you so much! I just got my anten­na, reg­is­tered and active today, so tomor­row I will work on get­ting that heat map going. Thanks again.

  3. […] I’ve writ­ten up a tuto­r­i­al on how to get a lit­tle more out of Tar1090 than just the basic install, if you want to do that, go here. […]

  4. Tracy Johnson Avatar
    Tracy Johnson

    Thank you Gris­tle King for this write­up! Much appreciated.

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