PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

22 thoughts on “PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

  1. Nice idea, but at $400 with all the parts or $475 mostly assembled, the price is far from appealing. Were I interested in an HF-SDR transceiver, I’d spent more but get far more with the nifty Elecraft KX-3. It’s perhaps twenty times as versatile and powerful for about twice as much ($900 for the basic model). It delivers what the PSDR may only be promising (i.e. digital modes).

    http://www.elecraft.com/KX3/kx3.htm

    Prices here:

    http://www.elecraft.com/elecraft_prod_list.htm#kx3

    I’m absolutely delighted that Hackaday projects are moving on to Kickstarter. I like these projects, but lack the time to hand-build them. Kits interest me. I came into ham radio building Heathkits.

    But I’m not sure this particular project suits the market well. Most of us have tablets or smartphones. It’d make more sense to move all the functionality they can handle onto them and create a SDR transceiver that does only what only it can do. The result would be something that could be sold for perhaps $99. That would attract far more attention.

    —Michael W. Perry, KE7NV

    1. To be fair, this offers an

      – antenna analyzer capacity – plenty of hams pay $100 to $200 for a dedicated unit – and allied VNA functionality it seems
      – a GPS unit – making a WSPR beacon 99.5% realize-able out of the box
      – opportunity to code on an open source software, not just hardware, radio platform

      Furthermore, I expect Michael has spent many unpaid hours refining the PCB design and software which may never be recouped in a low volume kickstarter.

      And finally, the design is open. This is being released to the world in its entirety and joins a legacy of open designs and contributes to a code base allowing further experimentation by, contribution from and learning amongst radio amateurs into the future. Paying a commercial concern for an “appliance” that “just works” which is “twenty times as versatile and powerful” does not do this.

    2. I own a KX3, and it is a fine radio.

      This project still has some appeal to me, because it has some functionality that the KX3 lacks. It’s smaller, more portable, with a VNA built-in. The display could function as a built-in panadapter. This device could serve as an antenna analyzer like the Youkits FG-01 line. The fact that it’s open source means that people can add support for new digital modes in the future.

      I guess I’d view it as a nifty ultraportable antenna analyzer, SDR receiver with panadapter, with some ability to transmit, as well. I’d be pleased if this radio offers the performance to make lots of HF contacts, but even if its transmitter isn’t that practical, the unit as a whole still could be worthwhile.

      I use my KX3 in the field with a Buddipole portable antenna system. I’m in the market for a portable antenna analyzer to fine-tune the Buddipole setup for the frequencies I’m operating on. Instead of a standalone analyzer, for not much more money, I could get this box that does so much more.

      Is it a mini-transceiver for traditional CW and SSB? A super analyzer? A computerized receiver? An all-in-one portable box for digital modes like JT65 and WSPR? It seems to be a combination. The cost might make it a hard sell as a straightforward replacement for a ham transceiver for CW and SSB. That market has
      plenty of competition, mostly with greater output power. But this seems to offer a combination of abilities which no other device has.

      And it really looks cool.

      The cost of production arguments are elsewhere in these comments — I’m only addressing the “is it worth buying” side of the equation here.

      73 de Rich/AG6QR

  2. The numbers don’t add up. I can get a Blade, HackRF, or practically a USRP for those prices. You can’t expect to
    recoup R&D costs in consumer electronics when you are setting your prices according to projected order quantities <500!

    Having not seen the digikey BoM:
    -WTF are his margins?
    -how badly are his suppliers gouging him for basic machine work?

    IE: The Aluminum case should be $25 MAX in order quantities of 100, the Polycarbonate cover should be $10 in order quantities of 100.

    That's $35 for the case.

    Add $55 for the components(STM32F4 is <$20@1pcs, GPS is another $20, $15 for misc. SMT devices)

    Is there a crazy expensive FPGA involved here that I'm not aware of? He shouldn't be spending more than $20 for those PCBs in quantities of 100, and the LCD display isn't worth more than $15(a cell phone can be had for $40 so you might as well tether over bluetooth at that point!)

    Yes, the setup cost for the pick and place machine is going to be expensive, and it looks like the gain knob will need to be hand soldered at $20/hour(20 knobs/hour = $1/unit).

    So drop the price for an assembled unit to $150, take the $59 proft for yourself/unit and scale production until the setup cost is <$10/unit.

    This isn't indiegogo or gofundme where you have to set the reward prices according to the assumption you'll only sell 10 units. Take the project seriously enough to plan for 100-1000 sales or why even bother? At $50 est price buffer for overhead/incentive you're not going to make more than minimum wage on a project like this unless you hit 1000 unit order quantities. If you consider development time labor hours, you're already paying money for the self-promotion benefits.

    1. You raise the question that I think a lot of people are thinking. Some of your numbers are a little off (btw, if you can make the PSDR for that much, I will hire you to do it for me!) Here’s my breakdown, everything is calculated for hitting but not exceeding the funding goal. So a little over 100 units sold. Part of the reason I am not aiming higher is that the PSDR2 is really not complete. When it’s ready to compete with radios like the KX3, then I’ll push for a more ambitious goal. This is for the many people that asked to buy the current version so they could help with development.

      The biggest issue with your breakdown is that you are severely underestimating component cost. The actual BOM cost (at Qty. 100) is $160 (did you know, for example, that each DDS costs $11, that the Magnitude/Phase chip is closer to $30) Quotes I got for metals/polycarbonate were $40. I ~am~ using an expensive PCB assembly house because their quality is incredible, and I believe that it will pay for itself in reduced returns, failures, unhappy customers, etc. $54 for that (it is a double sided board, so costs are higher there too) I included $30 for the PCBs, that may be a little high, I’m not sure yet. The prototypes PCBs were $15 each, but without ENIG and color, and not quite to the standard of quality I’d like.

      Some things I imagine you weren’t factoring in are Kickstarter’s 10% off the top (so $6000), and FCC certification ($7000~ depending on whether it passes on the first try, not an easy thing for a radio like this.)

      And then, yes, there is a little profit for me, which I am also using as a buffer for unexpected expenses. My estimates are that if everything goes very smoothly, I would make something like 15% profit ($10,000) if things go very badly, I’ll loose maybe $2,000. I hope that last point stands out. I am not sure I will make any money on this, I am even willing to pay to get it finished (though, I don’t think I would do that more than once.)

      I am totally open to ways to cut costs, as long as it doesn’t cost too much in quality. And it still needs to be worth my time, or like you said, why even bother. One other thought, in sales, it’s more about what people will pay, not how much the thing costs, that determines the price, though I would have been quite happy to sell it for less if I could make it for less.

      1. profit or “take home” is always really tough to estimate. Trying to price things such that they are of reasonable cost to the consumer yet make it worth the time to do, all at low volumes is damn near impossible.Consider the time and trouble invested in designing, prototyping and organization, then factor in the time on the other end working with manufacturers and suppliers. Now factor in are you doing all the assembly yourself or having them fully assembled and tested at the factory? NOW consider the failure rates (which will differ significantly from factory vs assembled by yourself), AND the time to ship..

        Most people dont realize that the typical markup is 3X in order to cover all those hidden costs. This is known to be ture for Sparkfun, Adafruit, and all the other shops, small and large, that supply makers. RAW materials, sure, it should be cheap. Under 150 usd each, even at low volumes. In reality, there is a lot of invisible loss.

        Bottom line: Custom and low volume hardware development is expensive. Even before the consultants and engineers charge 200 dollars an hour.

      2. Thank you for taking the time to respond and the explanation of costs incurred.

        Sort of off topic, but if the PR team at onlycoin.com had put an engineer with your communication skills forward, I wouldn’t have requested a refund from them! Candor goes a long way and your realism regarding price the market will bear makes this campaign a sort of unique opportunity to contribute to further development of the product in my mind.

        I didn’t realize from watching the video that:
        A) FCC certification was one of your expenses
        B) You aren’t ready to scale production and intend further work on the project for future releases(that this kickstarter is helping to offset the costs of).
        C) I had assumed you were direct sampling with the STM32F4 GPIO and didn’t take the time to realize you had added value like high quality DDS chips.

        Frankly, now I’m embarrassed about being so flippant, I won’t even get out of bed to deal with red tape like the FCC/FDA for less than $20/hr. The number I carry in my head is ~$10,000 to compensate for the risks, so if you’re budgeting $7,000 in red tape for a <500 unit order quantity, my remarks about the pick and place seem like an example of not seeing the forest through the trees.

        Best of luck with your project. It was one of my favorites from the Hackaday prize contest. I would contribute but I'm between jobs right now. Point is: I was out of line trying to assign NooElec.com price points to something on an apples to oranges basis. I know HackRF started as the Jawbreaker and that had a "Cyber Fast Track" grant from DARPA to offset the R&D cost.

      3. I just wanted to say thanks for the transparency in your process. When developers like yourself are open about what their costs are along with the goals and risks it really helps the rest of the community understand and recognize the value in what it is they’re choosing to support or not. Well done.

      4. Now this is integrity. You have it dialed in. I own HackRF and it’s a bear to get it to work. Your product looks much simpler – out of the box.
        Once you have the FCC compliance, and you get an idea of sales forecast, then I would focus on bringing the cost down to make it worth your while. It’s a lot of work for litte return, otherwise.
        I would buy from you anytime.

    2. Then don’t buy one. Better yet, do it better. That is the great thing about capitalism, nobody is forcing you to play. I think it is a great project. At least Michael is doing it and not just setting on the sidelines.

    1. It is a good SDR, but it doesn’t do HF, only 100 MHz upwards. Michael’s PSDR is very unique in that it is small, portable, and HF.
      HF radios are about 20 years behind. Just compare a FT-817 with a cellphone or Baofeng radio. The state of current HF transceivers is an embarrassment to the HAM community, which prides itself to be at the forefront of electronics.
      PSDR will change this, because PSDR is really at the forefront.
      I applaud Michael for using the Kickstarter to fund further development. This is a great project that will revolutionize HAM.

    1. Addendum: You might say billionaires can afford professional systems, but many kickstarters are either unique or just have a design with features that you can’t buy commercially, no mater how rich you are.

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