PortableSDR Needs A Cinderella Story To Finish Its Kickstarter

If you haven’t backed PortableSDR on Kickstarter, now’s the time to do it. [Michael Colton’s] project which frees a Software Defined Radio from being shackled to a computer is in the final three days and needs about $17,500 to make it.

We’d really like to see this one succeed, and not just because PortableSDR took 3rd place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. Many a time we’ve heard people forecast the death of amateur radio (ham if you will). The ham community is special, it’s a great way to get mentorship in electronics, and deals in more than just digital circuitry. Plus, as [Greg] has pointed out, having a license and some know-how lets you build and operate really powerful stuff!

We see the PortableSDR as one way to renew interest in the hobby. We especially like it that you don’t need a license to operate the basic model — the transmitting circuits aren’t enabled when it arrives. This means you can learn about SDR, explore what’s going on over the airwaves, and only then take the leap by applying for your license and hack the unit to transmit. To be fair, the transmitter portion of the project hasn’t been published yet, which is about the only real concern we read in the Kickstarter comments. But we have faith that [Michael] will come through with that part of it. And if he needs help we’re sure he’ll have no problem finding it.

Now’s the time… let’s pull this one out in the final days!

37 thoughts on “PortableSDR Needs A Cinderella Story To Finish Its Kickstarter

  1. I was excited by this project on hack-a-day and thought it should win over the other finalists. I was also excited to see this offered on kickstarter, that is until I saw the price. The price is high for a finished, unit but at $450 it is too high especially as that only gets you a kit that is hard to understand. Most of the parts aren’t too costly maybe if he offered a receive only version (without GPS and the TX electronics) it would have been more reasonable and affordable. With a family I can’t justify $450, maybe $200 $250 tops for a receive only version. I hope he relaunches with a lower goal and lower prices.

    1. Really? Have you priced the nearest competition lately? A $650 investment lands you a radio that is twice the size and has half the capabilities (Yaesu FT-817ND) of the PSDR. The next step up QRP radio will take you into the 4-digit range (priced a KX-3 lately?). I think that $499 is an excellent price point for this radio.
      I have a family and a fixed income, but I would save up for years if necessary to land a PSDR for my shack. I really hope this Kickstarter is successful. If not, I hope [Michael Colton] can find another way to get these awesome radios out to the hams all over the world that really want them.

      1. It’s not a question of nearest competition, really. It’s a question of what the crowd funding model will bear. I back a *lot* of projects, and am seriously interested in amateur radio, but I have a hard time stomaching the $450 for an unvetted designer/manufacturer chain. I would love to support him (and did for $50), but I’ve seen too many complex Kickstarter projects go under to be willing to bet with that much money.

        $50 to me is in the “angel investing” range.
        $450 is enough that I expect a polished product that I am guaranteed to be satisfied with or have some way to return if I’m not. I’d never think of returning a Kickstarter project, so I won’t back at that price point.

      2. There was a survey put out and I know a receive only version was mentioned, there was a question for it.
        I’m on the same page as Joe in that regard.
        People can save for years, that’s not going to help Michael in anyway unless they have saved enough to cover the cost at this time. So to meet the goal, a broke ham can starve himself/family or play radio depending on finances.
        Had there been a lower cost option I think It may have made the goal already. I would have pledged and possibly Joe as well, making up the cost of a tx unit.
        Guess I’ll stick with the rtl and hamitup for now, hopefully there are enough hams with full pockets to make this go forward.

      1. Well hell. After that comment I feel more like I do now than I did a little while ago.
        Yea it’s interesting and I’m sure it’s well-executed. It just hit me as a little more opaque than usual I guess. I felt like I was marketed to but I have high hopes for campaign.
        More power to the designer.

        (Hope that was a little better?)

  2. Portable SDR may be the device of dreams for someone…. However for me it just misses the mark, while I enjoy listening to HF every now and then, I do most of my radio activities at 50Mhz and UP often WAY WAY up! The project is interesting but not stellar or a must have nor even something that pushes my buy this trinket on impulse button!
    They are asking for far to much with to little of a return (the reward / to pledged funding ratio is not acceptable.) In order to get any useful hardware the donation required is to large to even consider, other equipment is available for the same or close to the same price AS an working orderable product! I would need at minimum a current generation PC board with the hard to get IC’s included if not already attached to the board with the requested amount at or below $80 dollars to make me think about funding this project. Higher level funding options that included as rewards a portion of ownership of the final product with a share in any financial returns generated on future sales of kits, completed units, licensing deals, or sale of the IP or rights to other manufacturers or investors might get some bigger funding pledges from more serious venture capital types of investors.

    1. That’s an unrealistic view of the market potential. I highly doubt investors and venture capitalists would touch this. And I think it’s still not legal to crowd fund shares of a business.

      DainBrammage above claims the closest competition is $650 and does less. If there is competitive gear for less, it would help to name them.

  3. My sense as a radio amateur is that this SDR project overreaches, particularly given the prices being charged. Someone who needs a powerful versatile SDR transceiver will get vastly more for only a little more by buying Elecraft’s well-designed KX3:


    What these Kickstarter people offer is an ill-equipped, bare-bones, hacker’s toy that’s alpha hardware and costs $450 for a raw kit. Twice that ($900) will get you a finished modular kit (just snap it together) that, as you can tell from the pictures and spec sheet, is infinitely times better.

    The real need lies in different area, for sub-$100 and perhaps sub-$50, single-band direct-conversion PSK transceivers for 40, 30 and 20 meters. They’d be compact, connect to smartphones/tablets via USB or Bluetooth, and off-load all but the radio capabilities to the attached device. The 20-meter model, for instance, could be made about the size of an iPhone, run off a few AA batteries, slip easily into your pocket, and allow users, under good band conditions to talk anywhere in the world.

    That would get attention.

    –Michael W. Perry, KE7NV/4

      1. It’s not a transceiver in its shipped form, whenever that happens. It’s clearly stated that you have to tear it open to modify it. Also, any kickstarters involving electronics or injection molding have a one year wait. Look at the hackrf. It took forever for Michael to get them to backers and it went through several design iterations — the finished product changed several times and manufacturing issues set back the project several months. I’ve been sitting on a backed project for almost two years! This is all a gamble, not worth the wait for the investment.

  4. Agree with the above – Too Expensive. $500 10 months from now for an assembled version.
    The HackRF is around $300 and it is fully assembled and has both Rx and Tx, and 20MHz bandwidth. And I have my own GPS boards (NavSpark which was Indegogo?). It goes from 20MHz to 6GHz, and a Ham-It-Up is only $50.
    0-35 MHz? Maybe for Ham radio, maybe for CB radio? The base $400 kit requires a hot-air rework station, I have one, but I’m not ordinary. Why is the circuit board alone $50? Is it a gazillion layers? I know RF needs more care, but really?
    If his target was much higher ($150k?), but the price of an assembled unit was $300 or less, it would probably be funded.
    I’m not sure if it can even transmit (not just modulate).

    1. I just posted a longer comment that speaks to the cost of the PSDR, but I wanted to comment on the $50 PCB reward specifically.

      Of course the PCB doesn’t cost that much, You could get a pack of 10 for about $100-150 from dirtypcbs (that doesn’t mean that you could get a single board for $10-15 though, as they don’t do one-offs, unless you care to organize a group buy) The $50 reward level is for people that want to support the project, but also want to get something tangible out of it. The gerbers are freely available, if someone wants the PCB for less, they can have it made themselves.

  5. Damn, real shame, I hope it pulls through. I can’t justify spending the money on it right now being a student. But I hope that one day when I am in the market for something like this it is still around. This is one of the most feature packed boards I have seen, not to mention the size.

  6. Not to +1, but yeah, I was really excited until I saw the price. It’s more than 2x what I’d be willing to spend on something like that. $200 would be the sweet spot I think.

    also by “Cinderella Story” I think you mean “Hail Mary Pass” :-P

  7. Would really like one of these guys that seem to have this RF design / SDR business down put together an SDR project that is 1. Understandable to someone with a solid radio and good computer background. 2. Is modular if you can afford only the basics now but want to add a feature in the future it should be possible without great effort or specialized equipment like hot air soldering equip. or a 9Ghz spectrum analyzer. 3. Uses parts that are available and reasonably priced not 200 buck development boards or parts that are phased out 3 months after project launch. 4. Covers bands and services interesting enough to justify its purchase or construction. HF can be interesting every so often but The action is up in the higher bands like 2m, 70 cm, amateur bands, public safety, aircraft, even my car key fob is in the 400 – 950Mhz range !
    5. The parts should be offered individually or as kits of parts (Board, main IC’s, Programmed CPU/FPGA,) and by modular functions.
    My advice is to spend greatest effort on design and PC boards, programming and not worry about cases and 3d printed enclosures, those are nice but drive up costs and increase lead times to astronomically long and painful lengths of time!

    And by the way if a device transmits with less than say 5 watts, IT STILL takes VERY expensive amplifiers to get the signal to respectable (read useful) levels sub watt signals out of a device require very clean and not very available pre-amplifiers before the power amps as most amateur linear Amps require 10 to 25 watts input to drive them less and you get between no gain and something less than the rated output. the costs of these final stages must be considered when comparing SDR transmitting equipment with radios that are commercially offered.

  8. While the ability to transmit (and read GPS) is nice, the base functions are: radio receiver, portable. As such it the extra functions need to be modular options – and the base unit needs to compete with other portable radios.

    Sangean, Sony, Tecsun and Grundig are the “big name” competitors in this area. They all offer receivers with HF coverage, and they all seem to have models that cost significantly less.

    As it stands, the Portable SDR seems like a variation of the HPSDR (with board called hermes, mercury etc). Its a nice try, but by trying to please everybody you end up with something that pleases [almost] nobody. Strip it back, make it cheaper and modular, then try again. If nothing else, stripping it down should increase battery life.

  9. Projects involving hardware will, more often than not, miss their scheduled release date (which is just the nature of the beast, don’t get me wrong), so it’s not like you are “ordering a ready made tool” from Kickstarter. You are BACKING a project without any guarantee at all that you will get what you pledged for.

    While I like the prospect of the project, I have been burnt by Kickstarter. Every single project I backed was, in parts, a cheat/fake/not quite true/didn’t deliver as promised, even the one (very expensive) I am still backing.
    No, I will not again back a Kickstarter project. When a project is pumped up on Kickstarter, this, to me, is a sign that there is something WRONG with the project, and you won’t learn WHAT is wrong before you got burnt. And telling the Kickstarter crew about projects that, taken seriously, break Kickstarter-rules, leads to a copy&paste “so what we don’t care”-response.

    Crowdfunding still seems like a good thing. But Kickstarter? No.

    1. hum, I have 5 backed electronics projects ( price range 30€ to 350€) on Kickstarter ( 4 who are done and delivered – all within specs ) and one not finished (intended – still on schedule).
      On Indigogo I have 4 (including mooltipass – which is still ongoing) and of the 3 other 2 are done and there is one that will most likely not see the light of day (50€ lost) and that’s simply because for once i did not do my homework (was one of the numerous arduino shield things – thought that’s so easy how can it go wrong .. :) )
      Not to bad, and normally if it’s to good to be true it is, hence don’t invest

  10. Hi everyone,

    Thanks for the comments and feedback. Seems like there are a few common thoughts, so let’s address those:

    Too expensive. I agree with you, I would have loved for the PSDR to cost $200, unfortunately it can’t be made that cheaply. People talk about leaving out GPS or using bluetooth and having a smartphone act as the screen, but those don’t save as much money as you’d think. Take a look at the BOM and you’ll see what I mean. See here for some more detail. http://hackaday.com/2015/01/14/portablesdr-makes-it-to-kickstarter/comment-page-1/#comment-2351186 the short version is that the PSDR costs a lot to make, especially as I want quality to be high, and am doing a small production run. I am also including the cost of FCC certification (which, by the way, is pretty much going to require a metal housing). I am NOT going to be making much money on this. I am open to ideas for how to lower cost as long as it doesn’t sacrifice too much quality.

    Can’t Transmit. Yes, in my mind this is the PSDR’s single biggest flaw. So why can’t it transmit? Because I couldn’t design the transmit portion in time for the hackaday prize competition. So why didn’t I fix that before kickstarting it? Because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it quickly by myself and there was so much demand for the radio “as is” (I can show you the survey results). The idea of this kickstarter was to get development hardware out into the wild so the community could help me develop the next version that would address the PSDR2’s shortcomings.

    Delivery: I tried to be conservative in my delivery time estimates. I have product design and manufacturing experience (it’s what I do for a living) so I wasn’t too worried about getting units out on time, but I certainly understand that people are frequently burned by kickstarter projects.

    Who cares about HF / Not enough GHz!: This may just be my personal experience, but I find most stuff ABOVE 30MHz to be sorta boring (talking to the locals on a repeater is too easy, listening to police and weather gets old, etc.) I say this from experience, I had my Tech license for years and lost interest in the hobby, but once I got my general and got into HF suddenly it was exciting! Also VHF/UHF isn’t a good fit for what the PSDR is trying to be: a backpacking radio. If I’m in the mountains, there is nothing line of sight, literally EVERYTHING above 30MHz is likely to be blocked by the terrain. But to each their own.

    While I’m at it, I feel like any comparisons to SDRs that require a computer to work (even a netbook, or to a lesser extent, a smart phone) sorta miss the point of the PSDR. I’m not going to take my netbook backpacking. Also I’m not going to use a pocket SDR to reverse engineer pager protocols, that’s not what this tool is for. I wanted something small, light, and quick, but didn’t want to give up the waterfall display and flexibility of an SDR.

    Anyway, I am happy with what I’ve created, and I really appreciate the interest and support from everyone. I have to say that even the comments that are critical of the project (or some aspect of it) have been offered constructively (which… isn’t always the case with comments on Hackaday….) I think that’s pretty cool.

    I plan on continuing development, even if it doesn’t fund, and I think I will still produce some units by hand so people can help with development.

    Thanks everyone!

  11. I hope this gets over the hump– it looks like a very well-though out project– but I wonder if it’s appeal is just very limited.
    Also, two points I haven’t seen mentioned:
    1) That housing is strange. Why the transparent face? And most importantly, what’s the deal with the beveled corner with the thing sticking out? I’m sure there are reasons for the design, but I can’t figure them out.
    2) The video could show the unit more. The video is the most important part of any Kickstarter, and this video shows far more of the creator than the creation.

    1. I believe the “beveled corner with the thing sticking out” is an integrated morse code keyer paddle. The idea is you could that like an iambic paddle to send morse code without having to hook up an external paddle/keyer.

      Take a look at the Elecraft KX3 or older versions of the Hendricks 3 Band Portable Field Radio kit…

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