Friday, September 9, 2016

AREDN Mesh Weather Camera

PTZ HD weather cam on the mesh!

Last week Randy (KD9FGO) and I mounted a pan-tilt-zoom (ptz) camera up on a grain elevator. At 250 feet, the view is great. The purpose of the camera is to be able to watch the weather roll into the area. We do send out weather spottters occasionally, but there are few locations where you get such a great view as from 250 feet above the surrounding terrain! We used a Sunba 1080p HD IP camera, sold for $330 on Amazon. A single shielded CAT5 line runs from the camera to a Power Over Ethernet+ (POE+) injector, and then on to an ethernet switch where the AREDN mesh 5GHz node is connected.

We've added another AREDN node at the fire station (EOC) so that the camera can be viewed from there. And of course, it can be viewed from other nodes on the mesh. Right now, that means at the home of another ham and my shack as well. (Our other mesh sites are un-manned repeater sites.)

The picture above was taken with a cell phone, taking a picture of a laptop at the EOC. The actual picture quality is HD - it is absolutely amazing.

The next step is to add another ptz camera 5 miles north of town at another grain elevator. This site has a better view to the north and north west, while the first site has a great view from south to north west. We are also planning to showcase this solution to a couple of the other area emergency managers. Now that we have a solid mesh backbone established, adding additional sites is as easy as adding a $100 mesh node and a $330 camera. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Bug in my ICOM ID-31

I've had my ID-31 for a few years. It has been an excellent handheld for me...a little analog FM and a whole lot of D-Star. But this Spring it developed a bug...not a software bug, an actual bug in the display.

I take the radio along with me around the farm a lot. It seems a pesky ant decided to crawl into the radio and make the display its final resting place. I imagine it crawled in through the speaker holes. I had put up with it for a while, but bugs need to be either outside or connected to a radio (CW bug, hee hee) and not inside a radio.

A screwdriver and some patience and the radio is apart. The bug remains came right out and now my display is clean again. I did break the microSD card that I forgot to remove before popping the case! Doh! Oh well, $5 on Amazon and that problem is solved.

Here's to a bug free summer of ham radio!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Kenwood D-STAR tri-band handheld

Reports from Dayton are that Kenwood has a D-STAR tri-band handheld under glass in the booth, along with colorful brochures. None of my sources are reporting on price or availability, and the documents all show "Tentative". Never the less, this news along with the development going on within the dv4 group are pretty exciting!

UPDATE: Tom KJ9P on the ground in Dayton reports that the model name and number haven't been published yet, but it should be available by year end with an MSRP between $500 and $700.

I also had a D-STAR conversation with Tony N8NNX as he was walking the floor at Hamvention regarding the dv4mobile product. His inquires came back also with a 2016 availability date and prices between $800 and $1000.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

And so far from Dayton...

While I'm not at Dayton, I have been able to follow some of the announcements. Here's a quick list of  the interesting ones so far!

The Elecraft KX2 - a smaller version of the KX3, 80 through 10m and fits in your hand, $750!

The DV4Home and D4Mobile radios - built from the DV4mini adapters, but full function radios. No prices or availability yet, but a great concept. I'll be interested in the reports from the show floor.

I'm not expecting anything big from Icom. Yaesu might announce something in an HF QRP rig, but I'm not that interested (I think they are still covered up trying to get Fusion/WIRES-X going like they want). I would think Flex will have something new to show, and there is still the nagging rumor that Kenwood will do something with a D-STAR radio. Even if you don't make the trek to Dayton, you can certainly find out a lot with a few Google searches or watching the Twitter feed!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ham Radio Mesh Networks - fun and fulfilling

Two of the most rewarding aspects of ham radio for me are technical challenges and operational missions. My electrical engineering background has limited use in my day job as a technical leader for a Fortune 50 insurance and financial services company. Tactical missions (events, problems) are also not a part of my regular work as I focus on 6, 12, and 18 month strategies. I’m most content and excited when I can take my love of engineering and apply it to real missions in real life!

K9ECB - Erin - Using AREDN mesh to retrieve weather and soil data.
For me, that’s what the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network (AREDN) is all about. I’ve shared here before about using AREDN’s mesh software to provide access to our D-STAR repeaters. My daughter has also started usingAREDN to gather weather data from a home-brew Arduino weather station located in a corn field away from power and internet. Our local emergency management organization is considering a build-out of the mesh with remote pan-tilt-zoom cameras to be used for weather spotting. This use case provides us the ability to watch approaching storms from the EOC to confirm and augment our spotter teams. And hams in Southern California are working with emergency management teams to provide live video and audio of events.

The concept is to take commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology and re-purpose it into a mesh data network. Unlike my early days of playing with 1200 baud packet on the AMPRNet 44.x network, AREDN is using 2.4, 3, and 5GHz ham allocations with TP-Link and Ubiquiti gear to provide a mesh network with speeds over 100 Mbps.

An omni and point to point AREDN 5GHz mesh site feeding a D-STAR repeater.
For some parts of our hobby, the barrier to entry is price. That’s not the case for AREDN. For under $100 you can have a working node. With some careful purchases from eBay and some bargains from online retailers you can have a fully functioning mesh of 3 nodes for under $200.

When I play with HF, I never know who I’m going to find, what mode I’ll end up using, or if I’ll have a ragchew or a short contact. Mesh networking isn’t like that. It isn’t even like VHF/UHF repeaters. “Meshing” is about setting up some base infrastructure in an area and then using it for specific purposes (like my D-STAR repeater or weather spotting example) or preparing for on-demand deployments (like the Southern California local emergency management use case). There are groups in Tennessee doing large exercises passing incident command system (ICS) messages via Winlink that is self-sustaining on an AREDN mesh. There are those using Raspberry pi voice over IP gateway and IP phones to provide communication between tactical and command teams. And there’s even a group with an HF radio controlled across the mesh providing long distance off-internet communications using an existing station rather than doing a field-day like setup at a command post.

The core AREDN development team is made up of six volunteers. Because the software is open sourced, other assist, modify and customize to meet their needs. Depending on your level of interest, you can code and hack away or you can install the software and just stay in the graphical interface. It’s more than working with computers, as understanding microwave antennas and limitations are important for a successful implementation. Sure, you can plug-and-play two nodes in a hamfest parking lot and have a mesh. The real challenge comes when you want to build a data backbone between multiple sites and provide reliable service to your mission!

There are over 600 hams that have connected and registered on the website to interact with other hams wanting to do similar things. Thousands more have downloaded the software. The AREDN just released version of the firmware bringing with it support for new devices, faster throughput, real-time stats, and other operational management features. More impressive is that the team released a substantial upgrade in December. This team, with help from beta testers and early adopters is on pace to have two major releases each year.

The amateur radio community is quite diverse, both in people and technologies. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed experimenting with AREDN and with using it for a mission. If your local ham community is interested in a new challenge, especially if you’re looking for a way to get the next generation of hams involved, consider getting involved with mesh networking and AREDN.

Erin made the paper!

Erin's FFA arduino weather station, sending data over the ham radio AREDN mesh, made the front page of the local paper today!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Staying technical

One of the things I love about ham radio is the ability to experiment. Whether it be creating a circuit, doing some coding, building an antenna, or just operating, nearly every activity is technical!!! In my day job, I'm an IT leader. I get to work with some amazing people on some incredible projects. I'm currently involved with the migration of every piece of hardware, software, and data for a Fortune 50 company into new data centers. How cool is that!

But the one thing I don't get to do in my day job is code. Or create. Or build. Instead, I handle escalations, improve performance, resolve issues, and build teams. Troubleshooting is a part of my life - at work and in my hobbies. I'm pretty darn good at breaking a problem apart and coming with options, and then executing solutions.

Lately I've been staying technical by helping my daughter Erin build a weather station for the Heyworth FFA. She's built a station out of some sensors, an arduino, a solar panel, and the ham radio AREDN mesh software. It is pretty slick! Erin is getting some great press, along with lots of social media attention. The best part is she is learning to create, build, deploy, troubleshoot and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bahamas - sailing and ham radio

My wife and I have an upcoming trip the Bahamas. We'll be meeting our friends Keith and Terri on their live-aboard sailboat. I got a wild thought...I should take the KX3 and end-fed half wave antenna along, and I'll be maritime mobile from the Exumas! I submitted the paperwork via email, and anxiously awaited my callsign. I got a response back really quick from Ms. Linda with the Bahamian government, asking for an additional form to be completed. My credit card was quickly charged the $35 fee. Today I checked with Ms. Linda on the status. I found out that I won't receive my license until AFTER I return from my trip. This is all on me, as I should have planned this out sooner.

There's still a chance that my license will arrive in time, but it's a pretty slim chance. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Arduino DTMF Decoder and Relay Controller

Another Arduino project I've been working on is a DTMF decoder used to control a relay board. Using a ham radio receiver, I can switch lights, radios, computers...anything...on or off from miles away. Here's the video:

Here's the wiring diagram. And here's the Arduino code.

I'm using a Sainsmart 4 relay board, although pretty much any relay board would work. You'll also need a MT8870 DTMF decoder - these run about $2 on ebay. And of course, you'll need an Arduino Uno. Again, check out ebay for these as well. The total cost here should be less than $12 and you've got a fully functioning radio controlled DTMF relay controller!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Web Based Repeater Power Controller

This week we installed a new Yaesu Fusion DR-1X repeater at a very nice site in Central Illinois. One of the things I'm a big fan of is controlling supply power via the web. This ability to remotely control the repeater is great - even if the controller goes belly up, you can turn the entire system off or just remotely power cycle it. I've used the Digital Loggers data center type power strips before, but they are a bit expensive - over $100. So for this site, I used the Iot Relay - Enclosed High-power Power Relay for Arduino, Raspberry Pi, PIC or Wifi, Relay Shield also from Digital Loggers. At under $20 from Amazon, it's a great deal. It's a relay connected to four outlets, enclosed in a very nice plastic case. Hooked to a Raspberry Pi, this little box provides me the ability to power cycle or turn off any equipment via the web. How do I get the from the web to the remote repeater site? Well through AREDN ham mesh software running on 5GHz equipment of course!

Since I had an extra Raspberry Pi on the shelf, this quick hack made for a fun project. I'm also going to add a temperature and humidity sensor so that we can monitor the environmental conditions in the repeater building. Here's a short 3 minute video I made explaining the code and the connections. Have fun! Put the Amateur back in Amateur Radio!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

D-STAR VHF/UHF Handheld for $299.95

I'm happy to report I've been involved in adding three new hams to our ranks in the past two weeks. I had lunch with one today and we got to talking about radios. He wants to get on the local repeaters right away, and so we started talking about analog versus Fusion versus D-STAR. When we got to the topic of price, I was blown away to find out he had found brand new D-STAR ID-51 VHF/UHF handhelds for $299.95 shipped. It's a long way from a $20 Baofeng, but to have the ability to talk around the world on VHF or UHF for $299.95? That's a pretty good deal.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Internet access into ham radio mesh network

In my continuing work with the ham radio AREDN (amateur radio emergency data network) mesh software, I've come across the need to provide access from the internet to a host located across the mesh. Unfortunately,  the AREDN graphical interface doesn't provide a way to do this.

But don't despair! If you're capable of editing a file on a linux based platform, you can add your own firewall rules on the AREDN node that is connected to the internet to provide this access. On the AREDN mesh gateway you edit the /etc/firewall file and put in either a routing rule or a SNAT/DNAT rule. The difference is whether or not the gateway node will just pass the traffic through or if it will proxy (NAT) the traffic onto the mesh.

I'm working with the AREDN developers to add this functionality to the gui, and I'd expect that to come out later in 2016. In the meantime, if you're interested in making this work drop me an email and I'll send you some instructions! My callsign is KG9DW and I've got an address.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winter update from KG9DW

Welcome to 2016! Lots of big projects are going on here at the radio ranch. My youngest is working on an arduino powered weather station that will be located at the FFA field plot along US51 north of Heyworth. We're going to get the data from the site using the AREDN ham radio mesh software. It's a real cool project, and my daughter is doing a great job with the programming.

I finally got all of my coax run into the shack in a decent fashion, and I've got coax switches in place to be able to toggle between the two hf rigs and the two hf antennas. My next antenna will either be an hf beam, or I'm putting up a sky loop. Or maybe another windom positioned north to south. Who knows!

I played with the Yaesu Wires-X software and an HRI-200 box this past week. I hooked it to a Motorola CDM-1550 mobile radio. I really like these Motorola radios - great receive, easy to interface, and just all around bullet-proof. These are the same radios I've used for two D-STAR repeaters...hard to beat. Anyway, I've got the Wires-X setup on a UHF simplex channel linked into the Central Illinois room. Wires achieves the same as a D-STAR reflector, just done a different way. I'm running Wires in analog mode, and so my analog audio is digitized at my computer and sent on to the server running the room. From there it goes to whoever else is joined into the room. If someone is running Wires in digital mode, the audio comes out digital. If you're running analog, it comes out analog. I'm not sure if I'm going to hook this into our Heyworth analog machine, or if I'm just going to keep it as a simple simplex node (a hotspot in D-STAR speak).

We've got a DR-1X repeater coming to Heyworth to replace the Kenwood TKR-820 the club has up on the elevator. The big benefit for us will be to replace the old Kenwood that sometimes has problems in warm weather, along with getting rid of a crazy long squelch crash. The new repeater arrives on Tuesday, and I'll let it burn in for a few weeks (or months depending on the weather) before it goes up on top of the elevator.

That's it for now...have a great year everyone!