FT8: Saving Ham Radio or Killing It?

It is popular to blame new technology for killing things. The Internet killed newspapers. Video killed the radio star. Is FT8, a new digital technology, poised to kill off ham radio? The community seems evenly divided. In an online poll, 52% of people responding says FT8 is damaging ham radio.  But ham operator [K5SDR] has an excellent blog post about how he thinks FT8 is going to save ham radio instead.

If you already have an opinion, you have probably already raced down to the comments to share your thoughts. I’ll be honest, I think what we are seeing is a transformation of ham radio and like most transformations, it is probably both killing parts of ham radio and saving others. But if you are still here, let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in ham radio right now and how it relates to the FT8 question. Oddly enough, our story starts with the strange lack of sunspots that we’ve been experiencing lately. Continue reading “FT8: Saving Ham Radio or Killing It?”

An Autonomous Drone For Working Rare Squares

Amateur radio is an extremely broad church when it comes to the numerous different activities that it covers. Most of the stories featuring radio amateurs that we cover here have involved home-made radios, but that represents a surprisingly small subset of licence holders.

One activity that captivates many operators is grid square collecting. The map is divided into grid squares, can you make contact with all of them? Land-based squares in Europe and North America are easy, those in some more sparsely populated regions a little less so, and some squares out in the ocean are nigh-on impossible. As an attempt to solve this problem, the Jupiter Research Foundation Amateur Radio Club have put an HF transceiver and associated electronics in a WaveGlider autonomous seagoing vehicle. The idea is that it will traverse the ocean, and you can work it, thus getting the contact you require to add those rarest of grid squares to your list.

The transceiver in question is a commercial portable one, an Elecraft KX3, and the brain of the payload is a Raspberry PI. It’s operating the FT8 mode, and will respond to a call on 14074 kHz in an automated fashion (Or it would, were its status page not telling us that it is offline due to power issues). It’s currently somewhere in the Pacific ocean, having been at sea now for a couple of months.

We spotted this through a spirited online discussion as to whether working an automated station is really a proper contact at all, with one amateur commenting that it might be a way for him to keep on going post mortem. But the ethics of the contact aside, it’s an extremely interesting project and one we hope eventually will come back online.

Thanks Sotabeams, via [AE5X].