Since the advent of the home computer radio amateurs have explored the possibilities of using them in their shacks, and as computer technology and software have developed it has allowed more amateurs to be able to use a computer even if it is just for logging or using the internet to look up call signs on QRZ.com.
The Single Board Computer or SBC which as the name suggests has all the necessary components mounted on a single board whereas on a desk top computer the various components are attached to a central circuit board via cables.
There are a number of SBC’s available but the Raspberry Pi is probably the best known and I would regard it as a pioneer in the field of SBC’s.
Since its release in 2012 makers and hackers have taken up the use of the Raspberry Pi in a big way and use it in all manner of smart tech projects and so have radio amateurs. There is a lot of support out there for this SBC and in recent years there have been more and more articles in Amateur Radio magazines here in the UK and abroad relating to amateur radio applications using a Raspberry Pi.
So what is the Raspberry Pi ?
First and foremost, the Raspberry Pi is a product produced to be a fairly cheap way for children to get involved in computing and programming either through education in schools or for use at home. Initially the target cost of a Raspberry Pi was around the £30 mark. Despite being made to what you might consider to be a tight budget the Raspberry Pi uses the best components available at that particular time of manufacture.
The previous model the Pi 3B+ is still available and costs around £34 as well, this model is attractive as an old Android phone charger can generally be used to power it and it has a full size HDMI connector both of which reduce the costs slightly as most people the relevant cables or can normally acquire them off friends or family.
Due to its cheap price several of these little computers can be used at once for various radio applications. Consider if you ran two or three separate computers/laptops in your shack then the space required let alone the cost involved would be prohibitive for most people.
The Raspberry Pi does not come with an operating system loaded onto the board so in order to use it you have to load an operating system onto a micro SD card which then plugs into the appropriate slot on the Pi. The Raspberry Pi website has various operating systems that are available to download and when it comes to using the computer for amateur radio purposes then fortunately there are amateurs out there who have written software which is freely available to use.
Amateur Radio Uses for SBC’s
About three years ago I bought myself an SDRplay software defined radio. There are various software downloads available for the SDRplay which are supported by Windows, Mac, Linux etc. and one of the computers listed that is supported with compatible software is the Raspberry Pi.
For their cost and size these little computers are great fun to use and are a very cost-effective way of using a computer in the shack and I can potentially use several of these little computers at the same time for ham radio.
73’s Graham M0GAE