What do you need to make a radio transmitter? There are builds that work with just a couple of transistors. But how about a GPS-disciplined small signal beacon? You can actually get the job done for less than the cost of a fancy hamburger, thanks to [RPiks]’s pico-WSPR-tx and the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network (WSPR).
WSPR is a digital protocol where a beacon encodes its callsign, location, and transmitting power, and then sends it out to a network of receiving stations worldwide. The idea is to use the data coming from the beacons to determine whether radio propagation conditions are good or not; if you hear a quiet signal from afar, they’re good in that direction. [RPiks]’s beacon design simply includes a Raspberry Pi Pico and a GPS receiver. Everything else is software.
Of course, this means that it’s using the Pico’s GPIO pins for transmission. Maybe you want to add some filtering to take off the rough square-wave edges, and/or maybe you want to boost the power a little bit with an external amplifier. If so, check out our own $50 Ham column’s advice on the topic. But you don’t need to. Just a Pico and a GPS should get you working, if you want to test the WSPR waters.
Last week we featured a story on the new rules regarding drone identification going into effect in the US. If you missed the article, the short story is that almost all unmanned aircraft will soon need to transmit their position, altitude, speed, and serial number, as well as the position of its operator, likely via WiFi or Bluetooth. The FAA’s rule change isn’t sitting well with Wing, the drone-based delivery subsidiary of megacorporation Alphabet. In their view, local broadcast of flight particulars would be an invasion of privacy, since observers snooping in on Remote ID traffic could, say, infer that a drone going between a pharmacy and a neighbor’s home might mean that someone is sick. They have a point, but how a Google company managed to cut through the thick clouds of irony to complain about privacy concerns and the rise of the surveillance state is mind boggling.
Speaking of regulatory burdens, it appears that getting an amateur radio license is no longer quite the deal that it once was. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a $35 fee for new amateur radio licenses, license renewals, and changes to existing licenses, like vanity call signs. While $35 isn’t cheap, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s better than the $50 fee that the FCC was originally proposing. Still, it seems a bit steep for something that’s largely automated. In any case, it looks like we’re still good to go with our “$50 Ham” series.
Staying on the topic of amateur radio for a minute, it looks like there will be a new digital mode to explore soon. The change will come when version 2.4.0 of WSJT-X, the program that forms the heart of digital modes like WSPR and FT8, is released. The newcomer is called Q65, and it’s basically a follow-on to the current QRA64 weak-signal mode. Q65 is optimized for weak, rapidly fading signals in the VHF bands and higher, so it’s likely to prove popular with Earth-Moon-Earth fans and those who like to do things like bounce their signals off of meteor trails. We’d think Q65 should enable airliner-bounce too. We’ll be keen to give it a try whenever it comes out.
Look, we know it’s hard to get used to writing the correct year once a new one rolls around, and that time has taken on a relative feeling in these pandemic times. But we’re pretty sure it isn’t April yet, which is the most reasonable explanation for an ad purporting the unholy coupling of a gaming PC and mass-market fried foods. We strongly suspect this is just a marketing stunt between Cooler Master and Yum! Brands, but taken at face value, the KFConsole — it’s not a gaming console, it’s at best a pre-built gaming PC — is supposed to use excess heat to keep your DoorDashed order of KFC warm while you play. In a year full of incredibly stupid things, this one is clearly in the top five.
And finally, it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our airline pilots, or at least a subset of them, aren’t seeing things. There has been a steady stream of reports from pilots flying in and out of Los Angeles lately of a person in a jetpack buzzing around. Well, someone finally captured video of the daredevil, and even though it’s shaky and unclear — as are seemingly all videos of cryptids — it sure seems to be a human-sized biped flying around in a standing position. The video description says this was shot by a flight instructor at 3,000 feet (914 meters) near Palos Verdes with Catalina Island in the background. That’s about 20 miles (32 km) from the mainland, so whatever this person is flying has amazing range. And, the pilot has incredible faith in the equipment — that’s a long way to fall in something with the same glide ratio as a brick.
Amateur radio enthusiasts in the US will be interested in Faraday, an open-source digital radio that runs on 915 MHz, which amateur radio enthusiasts may know better as the 33 cm band.
You can transmit on 915 MHz without a license (in the US), taking advantage of the Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) exemption. This means that there’s commodity hardware available for sending and receiving, which is a plus. But you can’t do so with any real power unless you have an amateur radio license. And that’s what makes Faraday interesting — it makes it very easy to transmit and receive digital data, with decent power and range, if you’re licensed. The band is currently under-utilized, so go nuts!
The hardware design and documentation is online, and so is the firmware. The founders of the project would like you to build out a big network of these devices, possibly meshing them together. Our only regret is that the 33 cm band is only really open for use in the US, both with a license and without. Of course, there’s very little the Faraday team can do about that.
We’re no strangers to digital-mode amateur radio around here. But if you’re an amateur who hasn’t played around with digital modes yet, this might be a good way to get your feet wet.