I recently got the Headless Raspberry Pi 3B+ powered Yaesu FT-891 working. So I decided to take a trip to Lapland, putting the station to the test!
Before we really get started this post is going to be rather abstract. a post like this will never be “complete”, so I am publishing what I have, and will update from time to time.
Topic of the day is the Raspberry Pi 3B+, and how I’m using it for amateur field communications. During May 18-21, I spent some days near the Arctic Circle, trying to answer a few important questions. Some of those questions were:
- Can the Raspberry Pi power a digital Field Station running wsjt-x and fldigi?
- Can we fit an entire HF station in an ammo can?
- Is It possible to carry that QRO station along with our hiking gear to the backcountry?
- Can we integrate the Raspberry Pi into a our portable battery and solar power system?
You must remember, we’re not talking about casual ham radio (although it very well could be). I know this is overkill, but if it works, I’ll no longer need to cobble things together. Raspberry Pi and HF radio combination will be as close as we’re going to get to a green modem embedded radio from CODAN in amateur radio.
I like to look at this size Lego blocks. it shouldn’t matter if I’m deploying the Yaesu ft-891 or the Yaesu Or the elecraft kx2 with one of their KX amplifiers in the system. The goal is proving the practicality of deploying a modular QRP-QRO field station, based on the Radio X, and the Raspberry Pi 3B+.
Getting the gear ready
The tasks were:
- Yaesu FT-891 CAT control settings
- The correct repositories for WSJT-X
- Setup the DigiMaster MiniProSC audio interface
- Configure the Vnc Server to start at startup
- Configure wireless wifi to get past the Android problem of “no Adhoc” networks.
Before we go any further, it’s important to point out the work done by Shawn Morgan W0FW, shared on this website, and in the Portable Digital & QRP group on Facebook. His work inspired me to start this project, and proved what I wanted to do, was not impossible.
Hiking with the ammo can
The trip wasn’t difficult. In fact, it was easier than I thought it would be. I used the 120w PowerFilm solar panel as the rigid back support in my rucksack . The ammo can actually took less space than carrying all those components loose in the pack. It also did a really good job of compacting and protecting all the components. The trip also validated the concept of a man portable, Rapid Deployment, QRO Field Station from a utilitarian perspective.
- Put together a Raspberry Pi to augment digital communications with a Yaesu FT-891 or FT-817.
- Use a tablet to wirelessly connect to and control the software running on the Raspberry Pi.
- Free the field operstor from his/her tether to the radio, allowing them to move freely in wifi range, yet maintain full control of the radio.
Why an Android Tablet?
At the end of the day I’m all about mobility and portability in the field. Most of the time I’m out man portable with the solar powered Field Station. There certainly are times when I’m with a vehicle of some sort, but not very often. Initially i thought a toughbook or some sort of laptop would have been ideal. In the end, it came back to the concept of using a rugged Android tablet, which is lightweight, consumes very little power, and is waterproof. The only problem with Android is the lack of software running on that platform. The hardware is cost-effective and pretty awesome in terms of performance, so as a VNC client for Raspberry Pi, it is more than capable.
there’s also the point of keeping things completely wireless. Many people ask me why haven’t I used the official Raspberry Pi touchscreen, or an HDMI output for a remote screen. the simple truth is I don’t want to be tied to the radio. I want the freedom of moving around the camp, having the ability to interact with the radio, without being Tethered to it constantly. so the Android tablet is acting as a wireless screen for a rig with an embedded computer.
Why WSJT-X and FT8?
To be honest I have grown bored with WSPR for testing, but wsjt-x as an application remains incredibly useful. there are a variety of modes used for probing the Bands, or initiating some sort of weak signal global communications. one reason for using wsjt-x is using wspr or ft8 as a beacon mode, during off-grid hikes. when using ft 8, the free text mode is also interesting from a ” here I am, I need help” perspective. Related to this, there is a new utility mode on the horizon. It is called FT8Call. it takes the concept of fsq as the underlying data mode. So no I haven’t started a new DXCC attempt. I’m just using what I have on hand right now, to familiarize myself with the capabilities of FT8.
Just like wsjt-x, fldigi is a utility app. It’s a tool box which used for testing and for fun. Running on a Raspberry Pi makes implementation available to everyone, without the Reliance on Windows hostage-ware in the field. By hostage-ware, I mean not being able to control what’s happening in Windows, or when it’s happening. Fldigi is a Swiss army knife of digital modes. regardless what platform it’s running on, it’s absolutely essential to the field radio operator
Why Raspberry Pi
I have to carry the Android tablet anyway, since it serves double duty as my phone. I am using a Windows laptop at home, but have not had much luck with it for man portable use. The biggest problem is the background processes. When I’m in the field, I have a finite amount of time to do what needs to be done. I don’t want to wait for Windows to stop doing whatever it’s doing in the background. In this regard the Raspberry Pi is singular and focus. I’m using the raspberry pi as an integrated part of my communication system. It’s no-nonsense approach means It’s simply ready to go, as soon as I am. Its only got that one job, running wsjt-x or fldigi. it won’t do anything else in the background unless I tell it to.
From a field radio perspective. Windows seems make Hardware power-hungry with all the background processes. It also wants to connect an update your computer at the most inconvenient times. No I don’t want to play a game, no I don’t want to read the news, just leave me alone to run the apps for my radio. Sometimes it seems like everything going on in the OS, is a distraction from the simple task of communicating over amateur radio.
Linux on a Raspberry Pi is Bare Bones. It’s stripped Beyond stripped, and naked as naked can be. It’s everything Windows is not. It’s also cheap and the OS is free. Adding a Raspberry Pi an integrated part of my ft-891 field configuration, means added complexity, but removes:
- The laptop.
- Problems powering the laptop.
- Removes all the connections between the laptop and rig.
- Reduces costs.
- Ultimately, it also lightens my load.
Just touching on the point of energy consumption from a Raspberry Pi perspective. running wsjt-x the Raspberry Pi pulls about 300ma load. while transmitting ft8, it pulls 1.2 amps.
The Raspberry Pi does have its software problems. Like Android, the RPi also suffers from a lack of utility software, but not to the extent of Android. If we were to take the size, energy consumption, and available software from Raspberry Pi, merging that with the ergonomics and portability of the Android tablet, we could have a pretty magnificent solution. That’s what I’ve started doing here today.
There are only two USB cables coming out of the radio and audio interface. Both of them connect to the Raspberry Pi. The third cable from the audio interface connects between the data port on the rear of the Yaesu ft-891 and audio interface. No drivers were required on Raspian for the Yaesu FT-891 or the MiniProSC.
I purchased a few short USB 3.0 cables for connections between the rig, audio interface and Raspberry Pi. There are no cables between the Android tablet and the Raspberry Pi or radio. This keeps things clean and extremely portable. It also allows the Androids usb port to be used for charging, and leaving the operator free from leashes and tethers.
CAT control settings
Actually setting up the FT-891 with WSJT-X on a Raspberry Pi, is almost identical to setting it up on the desktop. Choose radio, usb ports, audio interface, then set levels. Fldigi is an entirely different matter. For Ethel did you we need to use ft-991 settings for the ft-891, even then the rig is not completely supported, But it’s getting there. I’ll make tutorials when I have a second Raspberry Pi.
Portable power for the Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi has a couple of problems for the field operator. There’s no battery backup, real time clock, or soft shut down in the standard Raspberry Pi. it also can’t power itself in the event of a sudden power loss . The PiJuice hat solves these problems.
Adding source lists to Raspberry Pi
When I first installed wsjt-x, I got the wrong version. at least it was a version which did not include ft8, wspr, or recognize the Yaesu ft-891. I followed this tutorial from DL1GKK. He’s tutorial mentioned adding keys as a part of the process, but I omitted that step, since it failed on my machine. The steps in the above image work perfectly on the Raspberry Pi 3 B plus under Raspbian.
Seems to be working
the only thing I had to get used to was using a stylus or my finger to move the mouse. If you’re an advanced tablet user, you’ll already be used to the working style. If you’re a keyboard junkie, you’ll probably need some practice before getting used to it. I digress! Raspberry Pi seems more than capable to run wsjt-x and ft8. The MiniProSC is d4awing enough power from the Rpi usb port, but I did have some issues when using a cheap Chinese usb power supply. I believe it’s simply couldn’t provide enough current for the Raspberry Pi, and the audio interface. I switched over to the USB power supply for my Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the Raspberry Pi and audio interface work beautifully now.
I’m having an absolute blast with the Yaesu ft-891 and the Raspberry Pi. I don’t have the data to back it up, but for some reason I seem to be able to decode much better on the Raspberry Pi, than I can on either of my Windows laptops. I won’t even begin to speculate about this, but it’s something to keep in the back of your minds.
Ham Radio with a Raspberry Pi:
The episode notes are a bit different this time. this time there’s actually several different articles going along with this video.
Enjoy the read and images.
- Ammo can HF Station: https://oh8stn.org/blog/2018/05/20/portable-hf-station-in-a-5-56-ammo-can/
- Arctic Field Test 18-21 May 2018: https://oh8stn.org/blog/2018/05/19/arctic-field-test-chameleon-emcomm-iii-portable/
- Solar power for the station and the Raspberry Pi: https://oh8stn.org/blog/2018/05/15/solar-power-for-raspberry-pi-ft-891-gobox/
- Embedded computers in amateur radio: https://oh8stn.org/blog/2018/05/10/embedded-computers-in-ham-radios/
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