Now that people have Android phones that old ham radio thing is dead, right? You couldn’t be more wrong! The numbers of amateur radio operators in the United States of America are growing quite nicely and Android phones have a part to play in that growth. Rather than replacing amateur radio, these new small computers that happen to also make expensive phone calls can work with amateur radio output to produce nice results!
Recently I had to wait for my wife who had an eye appointment in Traverse City, MI. Rather than waste my time I decided to experiment with a new phone app that I had downloaded and installed on my new Samsung Galaxy S III. The app was called Droid PSK. PSK is a digital mode on ham radio. Originally designed to work with a ham radio and a computer it works by changing keyboard input from the computer into digital sounds that are transmitted over the ham radio. Once the digital sounds are received by another ham radio another computer is used to decode the sounds back into text on a computer screen that can be saved to a computer file. With an Android phone configuration the Android phone takes the place of the computer! Unlike a normal amateur radio and computer configuration no cable is needed to connect the Android phone to the ham radio.
My test was performed on the 15 meter band sitting in our truck in the parking lot of my wife’s eye doctor’s office. To complicate matters I had all windows rolled down and there was a high school marching band practicing a short distance away. There were also cars and people moving about the parking lot. I assumed that the noises from outside the truck would affect the accuracy of the data translation but it seemed to have acceptable accuracy in that environment.
Feeling a bit like 007 (James Bond) I simply held the microphone of the Android phone near the speaker of the amateur radio. I adjusted the volume of the ham radio and adjusted the distance between the ham radio speaker and the Android phone microphone. I was quite easily able to decode the PSK signals into very readable text on the phone. I was also able to copy the translated text and e-mail it to myself to demonstrate that this functionality actually worked.
While this configuration may seem like a very expensive toy it has some potential critical uses. One, for example, is during remote deployment as a member of organizations such as Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) or Radio Amateur Civilian Emergency Services (RACES). It would be a lot easier to carry a small Android phone than it would be to carry a full-sized laptop or other computer. I do not think that this technology is available on tablet computers or notepads yet but if not I am sure it will be in the near future!
I was quite impressed how two communication technologies could work together to produce a good result for the owner. Wouldn’t it be great if all people could do the same thing?