Posts Tagged ‘dhap’

D-Star & Pi-Star

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.

20200408_094549

Inside there’s plenty of room for the Raspberry Pi, the DVMEGA and four rechargeable batteries.

20200408_094607

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 [email protected] 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.

Burnout

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.

Power Up

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.

Pi-Star

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!

20200408_094617

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.

BINGO!

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.

More Frustration

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.

Next Steps

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)

Fire Destroys Hardened Power Systems Shop

A fire has destroyed the manufacturing facility of Hardened Power Systems, a research, design and fabrication facility in middle Tennessee. Popular among radio amateurs for their portable power hardware the DHAP, and other unique equipment. Current orders destroyed, but owner Bill Harrison says they will be back.

Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: business, dhap

On the Road With D-STAR (part 2)

Part 2 of 2 

If you purchase the DHAP with the Raspberry Pi, it includes a factory image of the OS and software. Configuration is easy enough. The DVAP software is set to auto-boot so you need only configure it once. If you connect the device to a wired network connection the Pi will boot up and obtain a connection. If you want to use the device with Wi-Fi, then you have to launch the WiFi configuration tool and set up the connection.

This is only slightly tricky because it would be handy to plug in a keyboard, mouse, and the network dongle — three USB connections while the Pi only offers two. A USB hub handles the multiple connections and you’re underway. After setting it all up once, there’s no need for reconfiguration as it all just boots up and obtains a network connection without the need for additional interface.

In other words, connection to a monitor, mouse and keyboard is only required for the initial configuration. After that, the DHAP can be operated “headless”.

Unless of course you’re thinking of taking this on the road with you and would like to connect it to a hotel’s Wi-Fi. Then you’re going to need to carry the input peripherals and a monitor, or use the TV in your hotel room if that’s possible.

This is all much more than I like to carry on out of town trips which is why I tether the DHAP to my cellphone. Carrying Wi-Fi in my pocket simplifies things considerably though this brings me to a tip I’d like to pass along when using it this way.

Wi-Fi and Tethering

If you set your home Wi-Fi and your tethered connection to have the same SSID, password, and encryption method, then there is never a need to reconfigure the Raspberry Pi. One of my home wireless networks (WPA PSK2) is called ‘GUEST’ and the password is ‘lemonade’ and I’ve made those settings identical on my phone.

When I’m away from home, I tether to my phone. When I’m home, the Pi auto connects to my home Wi-Fi. Simple. Easy. Clean.

It takes about 15-20 seconds for the Pi to boot up and another 20-30 seconds for the networking to kick-in, negotiate a connection, and begin working. When you power up the DHAP, give yourself a full minute before trying to connect to it with your radio.

Powering the DHAP

The DHAP comes with a brick charger that has an LED indicator. When it’s red, the batteries are charging and when it’s green the charge cycle is complete. Silly me. I plugged it in and started using it right away. The charger went through the cycle, the LED turned green and the voltage began to drop. Though I wasn’t paying attention and several hours later my D-STAR connection was dead. When I checked on the DHAP the voltage display showed 2.2 volts — not enough to keep the Pi or the DVAP alive.

This seemed odd. The battery voltage was low but the charger LED was green. There was no charging going on for some reason and I thought I had a defective unit.

Then I discovered that the charger is fairly “dumb”. It provides one charge cycle then stops. Removing power resets it for the next charge. This works well if you charge the DHAP, then unhook it and take it in the field. If, on the other hand, you want it to just sit on the shelf at home and provide a hot-spot, you should provide power via the USB Power socket on the front panel.

This bypasses the batteries altogether and directly powers the Raspberry Pi and the DVAP. By the way, *don’t turn the unit on in this mode* — and the voltage display will show the power being supplied via a USB power supply — probably something a little less than 5 volts.

A one amp USB power supply should do the trick nicely.

Odds and Ends

It makes sense to get things working with your DVAP connected to your desktop (or laptop) computer before installing it in the DHAP. It will operate exactly the same once it’s tucked away in the enclosure.

There is a small slot in the top of the DHAP that permits you to see the activity LED’s on the DVAP. You will find this quite useful.

The tiny antenna on the DVAP works well enough but it can be replaced with a more efficient “ducky” style antenna. The DHAP comes equipped with a built-in cable that can “remote” the antenna connection to the back panel. Don’t be tempted to try and interface the DVAP to a full-sized, outdoor antenna. Internet Labs has reported hardware failures that they attribute to doing just that.

Have Fun

D-STAR is not worth the bits it’s built upon if you don’t enjoy it. If you’re considering joining the growing crowd in this unique mode of operation let me first ask you one simple question: do you enjoy repeater operation?

Because at its core, that’s what D-STAR is. A global collection of repeaters and individual users who have the ability to communicate with each other using this digital technology. If you’re answer is “YES” and you enjoy rapid learning, then you will no doubt enjoy digging in and exploring this evolving mode of operation.

But if you’re answer is “NO”, well, then this facet of amateur radio is probably not for you. Don’t waste your time — or your treasure. Move on and find something you really enjoy. After all, amateur radio is a hobby with endless things to do, people to meet, and fun to be had.

[miss part one?]


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: dhap, dstar, dvap, hr, icom, id51a

On the Road With D-STAR

Part 1 of 2

I’m traveling this week with a DHAP and the Icom ID-51A dual-band handheld. This combination of hardware permits me to stay connected with my friends on the D-STAR network from wherever I happen to roam – no local digital repeater required. The DHAP is a custom-built enclosure and battery supply for a Raspberry Pi and DV Access Point – a DVAP.

If all this sounds like too much alphabet soup (it is!) let’s first break it down in pieces.

The DVAP is a small USB powered D-STAR transceiver that runs about 10mW of power on UHF. VHF is also available. It’s manufactured by Internet Labs. The concept here is that you plug the DVAP into a USB port on your Windows, Mac or Linux computer, running the proper software and connected to the Internet, and it looks a lot like a D-STAR repeater to your radio — albeit a micro-repeater with only about 100 yards of coverage.

With this arrangement, a user can connect to other repeaters and reflectors on the network. While it’s an effective solution, it’s not elegant or efficient to keep a desktop or laptop computer running all the time just to maintain that connection.

Enter the Raspberry Pi, a single board computer that’s smaller than a pack of cigarettes, costs $35, supports networking, and runs Linux. It didn’t take long for users to see the advantages of this arrangement over the desktop PC and the rapid migration was underway.

You can put all this together for the price of the DVAP and another $50-100 for a Raspberry Pi, memory, associated cables, power brick, and all that jazz. It will work perfectly well setting on your desk or workbench like that, but if you want to take it outside with you, an enclosure to house and organize it all is a really good idea.

Which gets us to the DHAP. Manufactured by Hardened Power Systems, this contraption is a robust enclosure for the DVAP and the Pi that conveniently brings all of the on-board connections out to the front and back panels. NiMH batteries run the show for several hours between charges while a front panel display shows the battery level.

It’s not waterproof, and I suppose you could break it if you tried. But it is a hardened, machined case that’s slightly smaller than a football. Once it’s configured and charged, you just pick it up and carry it with you wherever you go.

Of course, it requires a network connection that can be provided from a hardwired Ethernet cable or via a Wi-Fi network. That Wi-Fi link means it can be easily tethered to your cell phone, which is how I use it on the road, when I bring it home, it automatically connects to my home Wi-Fi.

It’s the ultimate in convenience and portability for the D-STAR enthusiast though it’s not cheap. $300 [US] for the unit with a Raspberry Pi, a little less if you’re bringing your own Pi. And that doesn’t include the DVAP

More about how I use all this on the road, and a few tips about the DHAP in the next post.


Filed under: Ham Radio Tagged: dhap, dstar, dvap, hr, icom, id51a

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