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Microcontrollers, SBCs and Amateur Radio N8LJJ

posted Jul 3, 2013, 5:56 PM by Stones River

Microcontrollers, SBCs and Amateur Radio

What in the world am I talking about? Are you an Inventor, Maker, Home Brewer or just a Tinkerer who needs a piece of Ham Radio Equipment but are on a limited budget? Then this information is for you. About 20 years ago, computers were almost the death of amateur radio after Al Gore invented the Internet. OK, it was funny. I can remember, before the internet, we used packet radio and satellites to deliver messages half way around the world. I can also remember typing to the ISS and other hams using only VHF.

Today, computers are an integral part of amateur radio because most people I know use eQSL, QRZ, LOTW, HRD and EchoLink, to name a few. Most radios today have a CAT port (
Computer Assisted Tuning). The CAT port does way more than just tune your radio as it replicates all of your knob, dial and pushbutton controls.

Most computers today have a CPU (Central Processing Unit), Memory, and peripheral interfaces. A microcontroller is a tiny device which has a CPU, memory, digital IO (Input/Output), analog IO and serial ports on a single chip. An SBC (Single Board Computer) has all of the microcontroller functions and in addition, has a USB (Universal Serial Buss controller) as well as IO pins.

The microcontroller has a Boot Loader program which, when power is applied, brings the chip up to operation and loads the program which is stored in flash memory. The microcontroller does not require an OS (Operating System) program which Windows or Apple OS requires. It simply runs a program which is stored in it’s memory.

OK, you have never programmed a computer or you think you can’t. No problem, it is easier than you think. Forget building circuit boards that do only one thing. If you want to change something about how your circuit board does it’s job, you can just plug it into your computer and with a few keystrokes, change what it does and how it performs. No longer do you need to get out the soldering iron to make changes in your project. What could be better than that?

Stay tuned for my next installment, I will give you all the tips and tricks to help you along the way with this new technology.

Best 73

N8LJJ Gary

Instructor at Tennessee College of Applied Technology

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