Ham Radio as an Extreme Sport, Ozone Mapper
FlexRadio Systems, based in Austin, Texas, in some ways has gone where no other ham radio company has gone before. When CEO Gerald Youngblood (K5SDR) sat down at his kitchen table a decade ago, he wanted to control his ham rig from his computer. Instead he turned his PC into a radio and helped put software-defined radio (SDR) on the map. In 2002, FlexRadio Systems produced the world’s first SDR experimenter’s kit for amateurs.
Today, advances in analog technology make it possible to offer amateurs a new class of radio once affordable only to commercial, government, and military users. What that means is more people can hammer their signal through at the same time just like a social network.
- Hurricane Katrina: In an emergency, when traditional computer networks go down, amateur radio operators step in to create ad-hoc social networks. In times of disaster, ham radio is often the only way to get the word out. In fact, FlexRadio radios helped save lives after Hurricane Katrina.
- Ozone: In a research project in Alaska, high above the clouds, their receivers are being used to map out the ozone layer.
- Extreme Sports: On Malpelo Island, a barren spot off the coast of Columbia surrounded by hammerhead sharks, it’s not easy to connect with the rest of the world. Yet in January 2012, a team of radio amateurs set up camp, assembled their “shack” and made nearly 200,000 contacts with other ham operators around the globe. In “radio contesting,” individuals and clubs compete to see how many ham stations they can reach. It can be an extreme sport. Organized “DX-peditions,” like the one to tiny Malpelo Island, involve travel to distant, sometimes dangerous places—maybe just a spot on the grid where no ham operator has gone before. It’s a test of survival and technical skills.
See my EDN Analog Design Center article “Social media meets morse code”