The average person’s perception of a radio ham, assuming they even know what it means, is more than likely a gray beard huddled on the knobs of a war surplus transmitter in the wee hours of the morning. It is a mental image which, of course, is not totally erroneous in certain cases. But it’s also a gross oversimplification and generalization that does the hobby a disservice when it comes to bringing in new blood.
In fact, a modern ham’s toolbox includes a wide array of technologies that are about as far removed from your grandfather’s kitty rig as you can get – and exciting new protocols and tools are looming at the horizon. To ensure a bright future for amateur radio, these technologies must be cultivated and the word must be spread about what they can do. Along the way, we will also have to tackle stereotypes that can prevent young operators from engaging.
At the forefront of these efforts is Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a private foundation dedicated to supporting amateur radio and digital communication by providing grants for scholarships, educational programs, and grants. promising open source technical projects. For this week’s Hack Chat, ARDC Executive Director Rosy Schechter (KJ7RYV) and Team Leader John Hays (K7VE) dropped by to talk about the future of radio and digital communications.
Rosy kicked things off with a brief insight into the fascinating history of the ARDC. The story begins in 1981, when Hank Magnuski had the incredible foresight to realize that amateur packet radio networks could benefit from a dedicated block of IP addresses. In those early days, running out of addresses was almost unimaginable, so he had no trouble securing 16.7 million IP addresses for use by licensed amateur radio operators. This block of addresses, known as AMPRNet and later 44Net, was administered by volunteers until ARDC was formed in 2011 and took ownership. In 2019, the decision was made to sell approximately four million of the remaining IP addresses, the proceeds of which were donated to an endowment that now funds the foundation’s grant programs.
So where does the money go? The ARDC maintains a list of recipients, which makes for interesting reading. The foundation helped fund the development of GNU Radio, supported the development of an open hardware CubeSat framework by the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT), and made a check to the San Francisco Wireless Emergency Mesh to improve communications in areas prone to forest fires. They even provided $1.6 million for the restoration of the MIT Radio Society‘s radome and 18-foot dish.
Of all the ARDC grant recipients, the M17 project generated the most interest during the Chat. This community of open source developers and radio enthusiasts is developing a next-generation digital radio protocol for data and voice that is patent and royalty free. In their own words, M17 focuses on “radio hardware designs that can be copied and built by anyone, software that everyone has the freedom to modify and share to suit their own needs, and other open systems that respect your freedom to tinker.“They’re really our kind of people – we first covered the project in 2020 and can’t wait to see it grow further.
John says the foundation has around $6 million a year that it can give away, and while there’s certainly no shortage of worthwhile projects to support, they’re always on the lookout for new applicants. Instructions and guides for grant applications are still being refined, but there is at least one strict requirement for any project that wishes to be funded by the ARDC: it must be open source and available to the hobbyist population. general.
Of course, all this new technology is useless if there is no one to use it. It’s no secret that getting young people interested in amateur radio has been a challenge, and frankly, it’s no surprise. When a teenager can already contact anyone on the planet using the smartphone in their pocket, getting a ham license doesn’t have quite the same appeal as previous generations.
The end result is that youth awareness is low. During the Chat, a participant told how he had to put Netflix stranger things paused so he could explain to his teenage son how characters from the 1980s show could communicate over long distances using a homemade radio. Think about it for a minute – in a show about nightmarish creatures invading our world from an alternate dimension, the hardest thing for this young man to comprehend was the fact that a group of teenagers would be able to keep in touch with each other. with others without internet or phone lines to connect them.
So it’s no surprise that John says the ARDC is actively looking for programs that can help improve the demographics of amateur radio. The foundation not only seeks to attract young people, but also to reach groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in the hobby. As an example, he cites a grant awarded to the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club (BARC) last year to strengthen its youth engagement programme. The funds were used to assemble a portable platform that would allow students to communicate with the International Space Station and to develop hands-on workshops where teens can launch, track and recover payloads on a high-altitude balloon. Let’s see them do this on their fancy new smartphone.
We not only want to thank Rosy Schechter and John Hays for participating in this week’s Hack Chat, but everyone else at Amateur Radio Digital Communications for their efforts to support the present and future of amateur radio and communications. digital.
The Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers to connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t stream it live, these roundups along with the transcripts posted on Hackaday.io make sure you don’t miss a thing.