2022 Hackaday Prize: Boondock Echo Connects Your Radios With The Cloud

[Mark J Hughes] volunteers as a part of a local community fire watch which coordinates by radio. The La Habra Heights region of Los Angeles is an area of peaks and valleys, which makes direct radio connections challenging. Repeaters work well for range improvement, but in such areas, there is no good place to locate these. [Mark] says that during an emergency (such as a wildfire) the radio usage explodes, with him regularly tracking as many as eight radio frequencies and trying to make sense of it, whilst working out how to send the information on and to whom.

This led him together with collaborator [Kaushlesh Chandel] to create Project Boondock Echo, to help alleviate some of the stress of it all. The concept is to use a cheap Baofeng radio to feed into a gateway based around an ESP32 audio development kit. Mount this in a box with a LiPo based power supply, and you’ve got yourself a movable radio-to-cloud time-shift audio recorder.

By placing one or more of these units in the properties of several of the community group radio operators, all messages can be captured to an audio file, tagged with the radio frequency and time of transmission, and uploaded to a central server. From there they can be retrieved by anybody with access, no matter the physical location, only an internet connection is needed.

The next trick that can be performed, is to reverse the process and queue up previous recordings, and send it back over the cloud to remote locations for re-transmission via radio into the field. This is obviously a massive asset, because wherever there is some urbanization, there is likely an internet connection. With the addition of a Boondock Echo unit, anyone that has a receiver within a few miles can be fully connected with what’s going on outside the range of direct radio communications.

Source for the ESP32’s firmware as well as the web side of things can found on the project Boondock Echo GitHub, complete with some STLs for a 3D printed box to sit it in. Like always, there’s more than one way to solve a particular problem. Here’s an amateur radio repeater based using an RTL-SDR and a Raspberry Pi.

5 thoughts on “2022 Hackaday Prize: Boondock Echo Connects Your Radios With The Cloud

    1. Good call on the “proper licensing required to transmit” note. The fines are steep (as they should be), so if you’re not licensed, don’t transmit! But folks can still listen without a license :)

  1. Rdio-Scanner could be a great fit for a playback front-end for this. It’s designed to ingest recorded radio transmissions from multiple sources and play them back sequentially, without mixing. It’s open source, so possible to add a button for the “transmit this message to everyone” functionality.

    1. Thanks so much Andy!
      we went back and forth over what the first iteration should do/be. What platform, what micro, whether or not to use SDR or not. We elected not to go a SDR approach on the proof of concept for two reasons.
      1) Cost — while a SDR receiver is roughly the same price as a Baofeng, it needs to plug into a computer of some sort — and that’s a significant price increase w/ limited availability. If the RPi’s were available, we could probably do it. So it’s on the roadmap — a little further on down the road.
      2) Transmit — SDRs can’t usually transmit — or do so at very, very low power. So we’d need an amplifier or a Baofeng anyway.

      But I don’t know if KC or I knew about Rdio-Scanner before — we’ll definitely take a look!

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