Auxiliary Display Makes Ham Radio Field Operations Easier

As popular as the venerable Yaesu FT-817 transceiver might be with amateur radio operators, it’s not without its flaws, particularly in the user interface department. [Andy (G7UHN)] is painfully familiar with these flaws, so he designed this auxiliary display and control panel for the FT-817 to make operating it a little easier.

There are a ton of ways to enjoy ham radio, but one of the more popular ways is to bust out of the shack and operate in the great outdoors. From the seashore to mountain peaks, hams love giving their rigs some fresh air and sunshine. The battery-powered, multimode, all-band FT-817 is great for these jaunts, but to fit as much radio into a small package as they did, Yaesu engineers had to compromise on the controls. Rather than bristling with buttons, many of the most-used features of the radio are buried within menus that require multiple clicks and twists to access.

[Andy]’s solution is a PCB bearing an Arduino Nano, an LCD screen, and a whole bunch of actual buttons. The board sits on top of the case and talks to the radio over a 8-pin mini-DIN cable using both documented and undocumentedĀ  CAT, or Computer Aided Transceiver commands. The LCD displays the current status of various features and the buttons provide easy access to changing them, essentially by sending keystrokes to the radio.

Hats off to [Andy] for tackling this project. The only other FT-817 hack we’ve seen before was useful but far simpler, and didn’t require KiCad, which [Andy] had to teach himself for this one.

14 thoughts on “Auxiliary Display Makes Ham Radio Field Operations Easier

    1. SDR is the way to go nowadays, its only hpdsr here for serious work.
      On the other hand the FT817/818 is excellent for carrying around the neighbourhood for finding interference..
      Its also nice to have in the hotel room on a boring business trip.
      Don’t see me do that with a flex radio or hpsdr so I am planning to buy one soon.

  1. I don’t think anyone would argue that the screen on the 817 is not its best design feature. I had the ‘pleasure’ of using one and even wearing glasses it was very difficult to read.

    The use case for the 817 is generally for situations where people need portability (think SOTA, etc.) and a compact, self-contained QRP device like this is king. Despite the limitations, they are definitely popular and it’s a niche that won’t go away in a hurry.

    I wish Yaesu would come up with an upgraded version with this as an inbuilt feature – but with an even larger screen on the top. Include a power switch on the display so – if you don’t need it – you can turn the display assembly off to increase battery life.

    It’s a nice piece of work – I wouldn’t call it a hack but rather a great example of how HAM radio is about more than just buying a shiny new toy and switching it on.

    de, 73


    1. Col62, do you use reading glasses, or have any type of vision problem causing fuzziness in close distance reading or small print. Plus, some people do not have steady hands and fingers. This is a great help.

  2. With all the Arduino and Raspberry Pi’s available, it is a great time for a Ham that is into electronics to be in the hobby. I love my Pi projects and now am working on using the Arduino to collect data for telemetry.

  3. Why do people troll just to degrade what they don’t know about. Obviously this radio has great purpose, and varied as ham radio operators are varied in needs, limitations, and plans. They take the time to pass the test just to bully like a kid on a playground. Thankfully, we ignore them.

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