GNU Radio: Online Processing with MATLAB

Previously I talked about using MATLAB as a tool to read and process data from GNU Radio to help debug a flow-graph offline. If we can do some signal processing in MATLAB after GNU Radio has run, would it be possible to do so while GNU Radio is running? The answer is yes, we can move our processing from GNU Radio to MATLAB at almost any part of a flow-graph.

We’ll use a special file type called a FIFO which is able to be accessed by multiple programs to read and write data. GNU Radio will push data to the FIFO and MATLAB will read that data. In this example I will use my RTL-SDR software-defined radio to receive data, lowpass filter, take the magnitude, and pass the samples to MATLAB for further processing.

RTL-SDR Flow Graph

To direct data to the FIFO in GNU Radio we use a regular file sink and enter the path to where my FIFO will be located.I’m using my Keyless Entry Decoder (more detail on this to come in another post) as an example so I’ll call the file keyless_mag_fifo.

Then we hit the Generate button in GRC, but not the Execute button. This will generate a Python file. By default it will be named but we can change that by editing the ID field in the Options block in the flow graph. I’ll name my flow graph keyless_live.

Then we’ll create a shell script, in this example This script will create the FIFO and run the flow graph to start streaming samples to it. The script consists of just a few lines.

sudo rm keyless_mag_fifo
mkfifo keyless_mag_fifo

The script will need root privileges to create the FIFO so we will run the script with

sudo sh

Now we just need to pull the data to MATLAB. I’ll use similar code to that which was discussed in previous posts. First we open the FIFO. This is done once

fi = fopen('keyless_mag_fifo','rb');

Then we will write a loop of some sort to pull a certain number of samples out of the FIFO and process them. This line sits inside a while(1) loop

raw = fread(fi,buffer_len,'float');

I’ll need to correctly handle the data type of the samples inside the buffer. In this case they are floats. My buffer length is adjustable. I’ll also check that the function filled the vector raw with the number of samples I asked for.

The most important caveat concerning this process is that the shell script must be running before the above commands are executed in MATLAB. For some reason reading from a buffer that samples aren’t being streamed to will make MATLAB lock up quite unforgivingly. Make sure that you run the shell script then the MATLAB script to ensure all the code plays nice with each other.

In a future post I’ll use this style of processing to decode an On-Off Keying modulated signal from my car’s Keyless Entry remote.


1 thought on “GNU Radio: Online Processing with MATLAB

  1. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for the information. It has being helpful to my project.
    I am wondering if there is any way to read both real and complex information? to my record fread() doesn’t output complex number…


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