I was first introduced to D-Star some twelve years or so ago. I purchased the ICOM IC-92AD hand-held and managed to get setup on one of the local D-Star repeaters. Being one who (at the time) preferred all things HF, my D-Star activities were almost non-existent. But it was fun to tinker and learn.
Some time passed and I experimented with various DVAP type devices that came onto the market. I preferred using these to the local repeater, since I could connect into reflectors around the world and share in all the fun of digital radio.
Around the early 2016 timeframe, I purchased the Hardened Power DHAP Mini Mega Self Powered Enclosure along with a Raspberry Pi 3 and the DVMEGA Dualband add-on for the Pi. The DHAP case is a 3-D printed plastic.
Inside there’s plenty of room for the Raspberry Pi, the DVMEGA and four rechargeable batteries.
I setup the Raspberry Pi with a popular image at the time from the Maryland D-Star group. As I have never claimed to be a Raspberry Pi expert, even though I do own three devices. One being an ADS-B aircraft tracker and second which has been running SETI@home and then the third running the Maryland D-Star setup.
Anyway, the Maryland D-Star image was easy to setup and at the time (2016) the group was active. They had a website which contained more knowledge needed to setup the Pi and a very helpful forum community. I could fire up my DHAP and via my radio connect/disconnect reflectors all around the world, reboot or shutdown the Pi. It was all very cool.
When the burnout occurred in late 2016, I wasn’t doing any form of operating and as a result I shut down the D-Star Pi and placed it (along with the IC-92) in a closet. It sat there until just about two weeks ago when (like many of you) found myself bored out of my skull from the self-isolation COVID-19 routine. I decided this was a project that might take my mind off the events of the world and might even help rekindle some of my amateur radio interests.
After being sat idle for over three years, everything needed a good charge. Surprisingly my ICOM batteries all came back to life and even the DHAP powered on just fine. Everything worked (just as it did when I shut it down) but I figured at the very least I needed to update the software. That’s when I realized the Maryland D-Star Pi was no more.
While everything worked (best I could tell), in my hunt for what happened to the Maryland group, I discovered Pi-Star. The Pi-Star group is an active group and appears to be the best thing since sliced bread when it comes to all things D-Star hotspots. So I downloaded their latest and greatest image (4.1.0), installed it onto an empty SD card and began noodling around.
Of course “Noodling” around is much like driving around trying to find something without actually stopping to ask for directions. The end result left me sort of frustrated and wondering if I should just go back to using the old Maryland setup. At least it worked…for now. But it’s not like I don’t have time or the mental capacity to figure this out. So, diving head first into the forums I began to find the answers I needed and more importantly, I knew once I had everything working…it would be a much better setup.
All the Pre-requisites
As my DVMEGA was several years old, one of the first things required was to update the firmware so it could take advantage of all the features in Pi-Star. This wasn’t as straight forward as I had hoped it would be. It required some risky soldering of a short wire so the firmware of the DVMEGA could be updated. I found all the documentation required for performing this risky step located here. Well…almost!
With soldering iron, wire and some solder in hand, I completed the risky step and proceeded to update the firmware. However, each time I attempted to perform the update it failed. What have I done? Did I ruin the DVMEGA? I decided to go to bed and then take another stab at it the next day.
With a strong cup of coffee in hand, I proceeded to double-check all my work. I felt confident in the soldering job, so hardware was all GO! I then looked at it from the software perspective. I decided to try using an older version of Pi-Star to rule out some issue with the latest version.
Once I rolled back to version 3.4.17 (from earlier this year), the process of updating the DVMEGA firmware worked just as it should. In just a few minutes I had managed to update the firmware of my DVMEGA board from 2.19 to the latest 3.26.
With the DVMEGA updated to 3.26 and my Pi running Pi-Star 4.1.0, I began digging into the programming requirements of my radio. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how I needed to setup the radio so I could still control the system from my handheld. After a bit of swearing and more digging in the forums, I discovered a fairly significant difference between how the radio needed to be setup from what was required with the Maryland D-Star setup.
I got there in the end
Yep, all appears to be working perfect. I can easily connect and disconnect from any reflector I have programmed into my IC-92 from anywhere in the house. While I tend to leave the setup in my shack (basement man cave) connected via Ethernet cable, I also can move the device around the house and use wi-fi.
From within my QTH the device is fully self-contained. I can run it off the batteries and wi-fi and have coverage anywhere within the house (or even from back deck) should I choose.
I do have a few additional setup steps which I plan to experiment with in the coming days. With the old Maryland setup I had my smartphone hotspot configured which would allow me to take this mobile. Pending I had good broadband coverage, I could activate my hotspot, turn on the DHAP and place it all in the car for mobile ops.
Want more info on Pi-Star?
Your first stop needs to be the Pi-Star homepage. From there you can join the forums, download the software and learn everything you need to know about Pi-Star. I also found another great source of information on the Amateur Radio Notes blog site which is managed by Toshen, KEOFHS. He’s a fellow Coloradoan living in Lyons.
Well I think that just about does it for this posting. I wish you and your family a very Blessed Easter weekend (if you celebrate). I’ll return soon with another update.
73 de KDØBIK (Jerry)