Raspberry Pi Takes Control Of Ham Radio

Today’s ham radio gear often has a facility for remote control, but they most often talk to a computer, not the operator. Hambone, on the other hand, acts like a ham radio robot, decoding TouchTone digits and taking action — for example, keying the radio and reading off the weather — in response to the commands received.

The code is in Python and uses numpy’s fast Fourier transform to identify digits. We’d be interested to test the performance of that compared to doing a Goertzel to specifically probe for the 8 digit tones: there are four row tones and four column tones. On the other hand, the FFT is handy and clearly works fast enough for this application.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Takes Control Of Ham Radio”

Dipole Antenna Is Off Balance

A dipole antenna is easy, right? Two wires, each a quarter wavelength long, emanate from a coax or other feedline. Unless it is an off-center dipole. The length is still the same, but you move the feed point to a different part. [KB9VBR] explains how this changes the antenna’s impedance from the nominal 70 ohms of a standard dipole.

Why would you want to do that? The trick is to find a feed point that has acceptable impedance on multiple ham radio bands. Most automatic tuners can handle a certain range of mismatch so using an antenna like this with a tuner can allow one antenna to serve multiple bands with no traps or switches.

Continue reading “Dipole Antenna Is Off Balance”

Tackling Trunked Radio With Software

For those starting to wade into radio as a hobby, one of the first real technical challenges is understanding trunked radio systems. On the surface, it seems straightforward: A control channel allows users to share a section of bandwidth rather than take up one complete channel, allowing for greater usage of the frequency range. In practice though it can be difficult to follow along, but now it’s slightly easier thanks to software defined radio.

This guide comes to us from [AndrewNohawk], who is located in San Francisco and is using his system to monitor police, fire, and EMS activity. These groups typically used trunked radio systems due to the large number of users. For listening in, nothing more than an RTL-SDR setup is needed, and the guide walks us through using this setup to find the control channels, the center frequency, and then identifying the “talk groups” for whichever organization you want to listen in on.

The guide goes into great detail, including lists of software needed to get a system like this started up, and since [AndrewNohawk] is a self-identified “radio noob” the guide is perfectly accessible to people who are new to radio and specifically new to trunked systems like these. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not too hard to scale up, either.

ATMega328 SSB SDR For Ham Radio

The humble ATmega328 microcontroller, usually packaged as an Arduino Uno, is the gateway drug for millions of people into the world of electronics and embedded programming. Some people just can’t pass up the challenge of seeing how far they can push the old workhorse, and it looks like [Guido PE1NNZ] is one of those. He has managed to implement a software-defined SSB ham radio transceiver for the HF bands on the ATMega328, and it looks like the project is going places.

The radio started life as a QRP Labs QCX, a $49 single-band CW (morse code) HF transceiver kit that is already one of the cheapest ways to get on the HF bands. [Guido] reduced the part count of the radio by about 50%, implementing much of the signal processing digitally on the ATmega328. On the transmitter side, the SSB signal is generated by making slight frequency changes to a Si5351 clock generator using 800kbit/s I2C, and controlling a very efficient class-E RF power amplifier with PWM for about 5W of output power. The increased efficiency means that there is no need for the bulky heat sink usually seen on SSB radios. The radio is continuously tunable from 80m to 10m (3.5 Mhz – 30 Mhz), but it does require plugging in a different low pass filters for each band. Continue reading “ATMega328 SSB SDR For Ham Radio”

Beat Your Coat Hangers Into Antennas, Not Plowshares

If you are looking for a fun project while you are cooped up and you have some spare coathangers, why not try this 4-element Yagi antenna (PDF)? [Pete N8PR] showed it off at his local ham radio club and it looked like something good for a lazy afternoon. If you aren’t a ham, you could adjust it all for a different VHF or UHF frequency.

For the boom, [Pete] mentions you can use wood, but it isn’t weather resistant. He chose half-inch PVC pipe. He also offers you a choice of material for the elements: #8 wire, welding rod, or — our favorite — coat hangers.

This is a big upgrade from a simple dipole or a vertical made from coax. The yagi should have about 8 dBi gain in the direction it is pointing. The center of the boom doesn’t have any elements, so that simplifies mounting. The insulating boom also makes mounting the driven element a breeze.

If you use the coat hangers, we’ve heard an easy way to get them very straight is to put one end on a vise and the other end in a drill chuck (see the video below). The method will weaken the wire, but the elements won’t have much stress. If it worries you, just go slow on the drill and you might consider annealing the wire with a torch afterward.

It would be easy to make this portable like some other designs we’ve seen. If you want the history and theory behind the venerable yagi antenna, you’ll want to revisit this post.

Continue reading “Beat Your Coat Hangers Into Antennas, Not Plowshares”

Hams Cross The Atlantic On UHF

We often think of ham radio operators talking to exotic faraway lands, and that’s true for hams using the HF bands (below 30 MHz), especially if they have nice antennas. Modern living has made it much harder to have those big antenna farms, and today’s ham is more likely talking on VHF or UHF frequencies with very limited range under normal circumstances. Sure, you can use a repeater or bounce your signal from a satellite or the moon, but normal direct communication is normally going to be less than a typical commercial FM radio station. But on April 7th, two hams communicated across the Atlantic on 432 MHz — a UHF frequency. The distance was almost 4,000 km.

Notice we didn’t say they talked, but they communicated. The contact was via a somewhat controversial mode called FT8 which uses weak signal techniques to allow two computers to send limited amounts of information to each other. However, on April 10, the two stations reported a single sideband voice contact after they noticed the band conditions improving on the FT8 signal.

Continue reading “Hams Cross The Atlantic On UHF”

Hackaday Links: March 22, 2020

Within the span of just two months, our world of unimaginable plenty and ready access to goods manufactured across the globe has been transformed into one where the bare essentials of life are hard to find at any price. The people on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 are suffering supply chain pinches too, often at great risk to their health. Lack of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), especially face masks, is an acute problem, and the shortage will only exacerbate the problem as healthcare workers go down for the count. Factories are gearing up to make more masks, but in the meantime, the maker and hacker community can pitch in. FreeSewing, an open-source repository of sewing patterns, has a pattern for a simple face mask called the Fu that can be made quickly by an experienced threadworker. Efficacy of the masks made with that pattern will vary based on the materials used, obviously; a slightly less ad hoc effort is the 100 Million Mask Challenge, where volunteers are given a pattern and enough lab-tested materials to make 100 face masks. If you know how to sew, getting involved might make a difference.

As people around the world wrap their heads around the new normal of social distancing and the loss of human contact, there’s been an understandable spike in interest in amateur radio. QRZ.com reports that the FCC has recorded an uptick in the number of amateur radio licenses issued since the COVID-19 outbreak, and license test prep site HamRadioPrep.com has been swamped by new users seeking to prepare for taking the test. As we’ve discussed, the barrier for entry to ham radio is normally very low, both in terms of getting your license and getting the minimal equipment needed to get on the air. One hurdle aspiring hams might face is the cancellation of so-called VE testing, where Volunteer Examiners administer the written tests needed for each license class. Finding a face-to-face VE testing session now might be hard, but the VEs are likely to find a way to adapt. After all, hams were social distancing before social distancing was cool.

The list of public events that have been postponed or outright canceled by this pandemic is long indeed, with pretty much everything expected to draw more than a handful of people put into limbo. The hacking world is not immune, of course, with many high-profile events scuttled. But we hackers are a resourceful bunch, and the 10th annual Open Source Hardware Summit managed to go off on schedule as a virtual meeting last week. You can watch the nearly eight-hour livestream while you’re self-isolating. We’re confident that other conferences will go virtual in the near-term too rather than cancel outright.

And finally, if you’re sick of pandemic news and just want some escapist engineering eye candy, you could do worse than checking out what it takes to make a DSLR camera waterproof. We’ve honestly always numbered cameras as among the very least waterproof devices, but it turns out that photojournalists and filmmakers are pretty rough on their gear and expect it to keep working even so. The story here focuses (sorry) on Olympus cameras and lenses, which you’ll note that Takasu-san only ever refers to as “splash-proof”, and the complex system of O-rings and seals needed to keep water away from their innards. For our money, the best part was learning that lenses that have to change their internal volume, like zoom lenses, need to be vented so that air can move in and out. The engineering needed to keep water out of a vented system like that is pretty impressive.